Mount Kilimanjaro Climb July 13-20, 2023

by - Monday, July 31, 2023

 Mount Kilimanjaro Climb July 13-20, 2023

"The climb seemed interminable. My lungs were screaming for air. With every step my lungs were burning as if I had just done a sprint. I was breathing really hard but my body wasn't getting enough oxygen...". But what doesn't Kili you, makes you stronger! Read on for the full account of my Kilimanjaro climb.

Mount Kilimanjaro Uhuru Peak. 5,895 meters (19,341 ft)

This is a photo blog of my Mount Kilimanjaro climb from July 13-20, 2023. There were eight of us in the group. Meet the team:

From Top Left: Akshay, Jai, Kanika, Monika, Srinivas, Vibhakar, Vikram and Yashvi

Let me introduce them:
  • Monika Agrawal: My batchmate from IIT Kanpur. She is very athletic and is a marathon runner. She is incredibly helpful and is always concerned about everyone in the group. First time at high altitude.
  • Srinivas: Mr. Monika! Always calm and collected. I have never seen him perturbed. The very definition of Hakuna Matata. First time at high altitude.
  • Vikram Chalana: My batchmate from IIT Kanpur. Successful serial entrepreneur. Really jovial and fun. He was the life of the group. First time at such high altitude.
  • Akshay Chalana: Vikram's son. Works at a hedge fund. It was great to see a father-son duo climbing together. Quietly confident. First time at such high altitude.
  • Vibhakar Tripathi: My batchmate from IIT Kanpur. Avid hiker. We have done several hikes together in the past including Stok Kangri and Annapurna Circuit. Bird watcher with encyclopedic knowledge.
  • Kanika Khandelwal: My niece. She is so full of life and energy. It is really fun to be around her. She has accompanied me previously on Stok Kangri and Chadar Trek.
  • Yashvi Rawat: My daughter and the youngest member of the team. She is really petite but super strong mentally and physically. Loves outdoors. Happy to wake up at ungodly hours to join me for hikes. I am very proud of her. This was her first major trek with hopefully many more to come.
  • Jai Rawat: That's me! I discovered the love of outdoors at the age of 47 in 2016. Since then I have done a number of treks, long bike rides, marathons, ultra-marathons etc. Hope I can continue it for 20 more years to make up for the lost time!

Trek Overview

We signed up with the African Love Birds Adventure group for our trek. They were reasonably priced and barring a few issues, I would recommend them highly. It was planned to be an eight day trek but we completed it in seven days. Our final itinerary was as follows:
  1. Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp. Net elevation gain: 3,400 ft. Distance: 11km
  2. Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Camp. Net elevation gain: 3,000 ft. Distance: 5km
  3. Day 3: Shira Camp to Baranco Camp. Net elevation gain: 500 ft . Distance: 10km
  4. Day 4: Baranco Camp to Karanga Camp. Net elevation gain 300 ft: Distance: 5km
  5. Day 5/6: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp to Summit then down to High Camp. Net elevation gain: 6,350 ft. Distance 18km
  6. Day 7: High Camp to Mweka Gate. Net elevation loss 7,600 ft. Distance covered: 13.5km 
Having done several high altitude treks in the past including Everest Base Camp (17,598 ft), Stok Kangri (20,187 ft), Annapurna Circuit (17,769 ft), Mount Shasta (14,180 ft), Mount Whitney (14,505 ft) etc., I thought Kilimanjaro would not be much of a challenge. Boy, was I wrong! For several reasons, it ended up being the most challenging climb for me. So much so that I was ready to quit with the summit in sight. More on that later.

Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano located in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and is therefore part of the Seven Summits (highest mountains in each continent). 

Seven Summits

It is unique because it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world! All other peaks are part of a larger mountain range. Another unique part about Kilimanjaro is that it has three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo (this is where Uhuru peak is located which is the highest peak at 19,341 ft), Mawenzi (16,893 ft) and Shira (13,140 ft).

Three Peaks of Kilimanjaro (source)

As you can see from the picture above, it does not look like a traditional, conical mountain. It is spread out over 100km x 60km! It has its own climate and five distinct vegetation zones ranging from a tropical climate at the base to arctic conditions at the summit. It is like walking from Hawaii to Siberia in just a few days.

There are six different routes to climb Kilimanjaro. We chose the Machame Route because it is considered the most scenic and also has a high success rate.

Six Climbing Routes with Machame Route highlighted

Our actual trek route as captured by my Garmin. We started from Machame Gate (left) and ended at Mweka Gate (right)

Daily Elevation and Distance Profile from my Garmin. We covered 40 miles (64km) and climbed 17,220 ft.

Here's a bird's eye, 3D view of the entire trek.


I have been battling a painful ankle for over a year now. I stopped running but was determined to continue hiking. I led a group of friends for a 24 mile Grand Canyon hike on June 3 (south rim-phantom ranch-plateau point-south rim). The steep downhill really aggravated the ankle pain and I couldn't even walk without pain. I decided to take complete rest and started a routine of ibuprofen+icing. However, the pain proved to be stubborn. I finally decided to see a podiatrist. He found calcification/bone growth in my tibial tendon. This accessory bone showed signs of fracture healing and refracture! He recommended RICE therapy + custom orthotics. I rush ordered the orthotics but unfortunately they did not arrive in time for my trip. My ankle was still swollen and remained so throughout the trek.

X-Ray of my left ankle 15 days before the climb

Bottom line, instead of my usual 2-3 months of rigorous training before such climbs, I was on bed rest this time. I had no choice but to attempt the climb without proper training and with a bad ankle. My daughter was joining me for a trek for the first time, therefore backing out was not an option! Going uphill wasn't too bad and I got myself an ankle brace to tackle the downhills.

Ankle brace to protect my damaged ankle

One thing you cannot really prepare for is high altitude. Oxygen level drops to 50% at around 18,000 ft elevation. How your body reacts to that can be quite unpredictable. Previous treks can be an indication but no guarantees. During our Annapurna trek, we saw one of the sherpas get AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The best you can do is walk slowly and hope that attitude wins over altitude! While it is always tempting to go faster, it is utter foolishness to do so. This is not a race.

Having said that, safety is a serious consideration. Kilimanjaro is considered to be in the "Extreme Altitude Zone". It is important to know the AMS symptoms.
HAPE (High-altitude pulmonary edema) and HACE (High-altitude cerebral edema) can both be deadly. 

We also meticulously planned our gear list. I created a detailed packing list for our trek.

Here's how it unfolded:

Day 0 (July 12): Arrival to Kilimanjaro Airport

Yashvi (my daughter) and I arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport on July 12 at 10:30am.
Hello Kilimanjaro!

I have had a run of bad luck with my checked in bags. One of the stories was even covered by CNN!. Therefore we had only one check in bag this time which contained only non-essentials. I.e. gear that was either optional or could've been rented. I also use an airtag to track my bags.

After we landed, I checked the bag location and sure enough, I discovered that it was still in Cairo, which was the last connecting airport. I went to the baggage desk and told them that my bag didn't arrive. They were confused because I knew about the delayed bag even before all the bags were unloaded on the belt!  There was no way we were going to get our bag in time for the trek. Oh well. We were kind of prepared for it but it was still a bummer.

A driver was already waiting to pick us up from the airport. We drove to the town of Moshi which is about 25 miles (40km) from the airport. The rest of our group had arrived earlier and had already reached Moshi. The drive reminded me of India.  Auto rickshaws, vegetable vendors, road side stalls, donkeys carrying loads, gas cylinders, the works! We also saw miles and miles of sunflower fields.

Sunflower fields

We arrived at our hotel, Panama Garden Resort, in an hour. 

Panama Garden Resort
Last night in comfortable beds :)

We had Indian food for lunch in Tanzania at a place which sounds Mexican (El Rancho)! That's global unity right there 😃.

In the afternoon we met our guides who gave us duffle bags for carrying our stuff and also noted down the equipement we needed to rent. Every person would have:
  • A daypack which he/she will carry. The daypack will have water, snacks, clothing layers for the day and other essentials like sunblock.
  • A duffle bag which the porters will carry. It will have everything else like sleeping bag, extra clothes, extra snacks, footwear for the camp etc.
Duffle bag and daypack

We repacked everything in these two bags and left the rest of the bags and gear with the front desk, to be retrieved after the hike.

We also picked out a name for our team - Team Super Nane. Nane (naan-ay) means eight in Swahili.

It was Srinivas and Monika's anniversary month, so I had ordered a surprise cake for them. We did the cake cutting, had dinner, met our guides, got our overall briefing for the trek and then retired for the night.

Monika and Srinivas: lovely couple with amazing chemistry

Day 1 (July 13), Part 1: Moshi to Machame Gate to Machame Camp

We boarded a bus at 9:30am to go to Machame Gate, the starting point for our trek.

Bus ride to Machame Gate. Eight of us plus guides and some porters

We were all full of energy and excitement. Neverending shouts of Team Super Nane, Jambo (hello in Swahili), Kilimanjaro etc. filled our journey. We learned a few other Swahili words along the way as well, such as:
  • Mambo: How are you?
  • Poa: I am good, usually in response to Mambo
  • Twende: Let's go. ("Team Super Nane, Twende" beame our battle cry)
  • Karibu: Welcome
  • Asante Sana: Thank you very much
  • Lala Salama: Sleep well (peacefully)
  • Habari za asubuhi: Good morning
  • Pole Pole: Slowly. This is how you are supposed to climb. Sloooowly.
We found several similarities between Swahili and Hindi words. For example:
  • Morning is 'asubuhi' in Swahili and 'subah' (सुबह) in Hindi
  • Pen is 'kalamu' in Swahili and 'kalam (कलम) in Hindi
  • Medicine shops are called 'duka la dawa' in Swahili and 'dawa ki dukan' (दवा की दूकान) in Hindi
It was very interesting to see that. Overall we found the Swahili language to be very charming and full of interesting sounding words.

We reached Machame Gate at around 11am. We were asked to wait there for lunch which took forever to arrive. We took some pictures and talked to our guides while waiting. Kanika discovered that both of her hiking shoes had suddenly broken apart!! It created a bit of panic because the shoes looked completely irrepairable. We couldn't possibly tape them up and expect them to last the tough terrain.

Both shoes just broke apart

Fortunately the guides somehow managed to get a rental in her size within 30 minutes. It was nothing short of a minor miracle. A major disaster averted.

Signpost at Mchame Gate. There was a similar signpost at each campsite. It became a ritual to take a picture with these signposts everyday after arriving at the campsite.

Machame Gate, one of the Kilimanjaro National Park entrances.

As I mentioned previously, Mount Kilimanjaro has its own climate and five distinct vegetation zones. Our starting zone was Montane Forest which is essentially like a tropical rainforest. As you can see from the pictures, it was wet and rainy in the area. Fortunately it stopped raining before we started, so we got to enjoy the perfect, post-rain lush greenery without having to deal with the actual rain.

Day 1 (July 13), Part 2: Start of the trek. Machame Gate to Machame Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Machame Gate / Machame Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 5,905 ft / 9,301 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~7miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 3,851 ft / 16ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 9,325 ft / 5,483 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 1:35pm / 6:25pm / 4:50 hrs
We finally got done with our lunch at around 1:30pm and were ready to get going. Strangely enough, our duffle bags were taken through x-rays and examined before the hike. Apparently that's the standard procedure. I have never experienced that before. Not sure what exactly they are looking for but it was just a minor inconvenience.

We will probably need some good luck so this was an apt sign at the start of the trek

We immediately spotted some blue monkeys

The greenery was simply spectacular. It provided the perfect start for our trek

Dracaena fragrans also called the 'forgiveness plant'. It is special for Chagga people. A leaf tied in a knot is presented to ask for forgiveness. There are many other uses as well e.g. a leaf outside the door indicates that the owner is out of town.

Yashvi, Sriniva, Kanika - asking for forgiveness...should we? :)

The scenery was surreal. We felt like we were walking in some fairyland forest

We took our time enjoying the journey and reached Machame Camp at around 6:20pm. We were already at 9,000+ elevation but we all felt very good with no altitude related issues.

Jubilation at the end of Day 1

We arrived just in time to see the magic of setting sun. The mountain peaks are glowing as if they are on fire!

General Setup

This is a good time to describe the general set up, support staff, daily routine etc. which were common across the remaining days.

We had a total support staff of 24 people for just the eight of us!
  • four guides
  • one cook
  • one waiter
  • one toilet crew
  • one tent crew
  • five summit porters
  • 11 normal porters
Support Team

There was always one guide in the front and another one at the back, making sure that everyone was taken care of.

Porters carried our duffel bags, tents (including kitchen, dining and toilet tents), cooking supplies etc. Just like sherpas in Nepal, it was really humbling to see the porters zip past us while carrying insanely heavy loads. They would pack up everything after we started our hike in the morning and make sure that everything was set up by the time we reached our destination!

Porters carrying heavy load

We saw porters carry all sorts of things. This one is carrying a metal stretcher up a steep slippery terrain

Camp setup. At 10 o' clock is the small blue toilet tent. In the front is washing area with warm water. What luxury!

While I have used support crew in previous treks, this was definitely a notch above what we get in the Himalayan treks. For example, there was one person assigned to carry a portable toilet. We didn't have to use a smelly pit toilet or go out in the open. This was truly a game changer, a loo-tiful experience!

Don't pooh-pooh the importance of clean toilets, it is the #1 throne for happy campers!

Dining tent. This is where we had our meals everyday. Served hot by the cooks.

Wilderness gourmet food
Our daily routine was as follows:
  • Wake up at around 6am or 6:30am.
  • Hot coffee/tea was served in the tent.
  • Get dressed and pack up for our hike for the day.
  • Go to the dining tent for breakfast. Breakfast usually consisted of pancakes/crepes followed by toast and omelet.
  • Start hiking.
  • Arrive by lunch time.
  • Have lunch. Lunch was usually some kind of porridge or soup, boiled cabbage, fries etc. Not great but filling.
  • Rest and/or do acclimatation hike.
  • Have dinner. Dinner was usually again some kind of porridge or soup, rice and vegetables or pasta etc. followed by fruits.
  • Get briefing for the next day.
  • Sleep.
Some mornings I led a fun routine for warming up before the hike. I had learned this from our guides at Chadar Trek.

Day 2 (July 14): Machame Camp to Shira Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Machame Camp / Shira Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 9,301 ft / 12,303 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~3.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 2,798 ft / 197 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 12,303 ft / 9,297 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 8:30am / 1:45pm / 5:15 hrs
We woke up to a beautiful morning with a great view of the peak.

Paraphrasing John Muir "The mountain is calling and we must go!"

The terrain was totally different today. It was very steep and rocky. With sun beating down on us, our layers quickly came off. 

I discovered a shared love of old Hindi songs with Vikram. He also happens to be a good singer. Vibhakar joined in the act as well and the three of us started belting out songs non-stop. However, at 10,000ft, every action is at least double the effort. It is hard to talk without panting, let alone sing. Our solution was to team up and sing alternate lines between the three of us! Each person would sing one line and get the much needed break while the other two chimed in with their lines. The hills were truly alive with the sound of music.

Look at the steep, rocky terrain

This trek was extra special for me because my daughter joined me for the first time

One of the many rest stops we took along the way

Bad ankle or not, I can't resist climbing random rocks...

...or trying random antics :)

Yashvi loves to climb rocks too... wonder where she got that from :)

We were well above the clouds. The scenery was simply spectacular

How do you caption something like this?

It is recommended to walk slowly at high altitudes to help with acclimatation. We followed that to a tee and also took plenty of breaks, taking five hours to cover 5km.

Arrived at Shira Camp at 1:45pm

After lunch we went for an acclimatization hike on a nearby hill. We climbed another 300-400 ft, spent some time at the top and then went back to the camp. Climb-high-sleep-low is a standard altitude acclimatization technique.

Along the way we visited Shira Caves. Here's me jumping out of a cave 😄

Top of the hill with a view of Uhuru peak

Panoramic view of the campsite

Kilimanjaro in golden hue of the setting sun. Someone mentioned that it looks like a pregnant lady and now I cannot unsee that 😅

Night time was magical

The following pictures are credited to Sahil Palnitkar. He was in a group that immediately followed us for Kilimanjaro climb. These were taken at the Shira Camp and capture the night sky beautifully, putting my pictures to shame. I have borrowed these for my blog with his permission :)

Going out to the loo at night was never harder but never prettier. I often stayed out in the extreme cold just to stare at the night sky in amazement.

Uhuru peak

Day 3 (July 15): Shira Camp to Baranco Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Shira Camp / Baranco Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 12,303 ft / 12,795 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~6.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 2,605 ft / 2073 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 15,091 / 12,303 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 8:20am / 5:00pm / 8:40 hrs
Today's plan called for climbing up to the Lava Camp which is at 15,100 ft of elevation (same as the base camp for final summit), spend some time there and then descend down to the Baranco Camp. Although the net elevation gain is only ~500 ft, it would be a tough climb and first introduction to seriously high altitude for most of the group.

Mount Meru is in the background. We are pointing to Uhuru peak

The terrain changed again today and we found ourselves walking through large lava rocks. We split up into three different pace groups today. 

Srinivas and Yashvi were starting to feel the impact of altitude. Srinivas discovered a pace that worked well for him and was also clear about when he needed a break. This is exactly the right strategy for high altitude climbs. Yashvi felt tightness in her chest and found it difficult to breathe. I carried her backpack for some time and eventually our guide, Gabriel, took it. She slowed down and joined Srinivas. Monika  (Srinivas's wife) and I joined them to keep them company.

Vikram, Akshay and Vibhakar were in the middle group. Kanika had been ahead of the group everyday with today being no exception. She wanted to use this trek to get some alone time and reflect. 

Some lava rocks were enormous

Walking through the field of lava rocks

Even chest pain and breathing difficulties couldn't keep Yashvi away from climbing some rocks :)

Srinivas, Monika, Yashvi and I reached the Lava Camp at around 1:30pm where the rest of the group was waiting for us. Yashvi was clearly in bad shape but she was determined to brave through it. Later she mentioned that she was seriously questioning her ability to complete the climb at this stage. Lava Camp is at 15,000+ ft. For reference, the highest peak in contiguous US is Mount Whitney which is at 14,500 ft.

Lunch at Lava Camp
We spent over an hour at the Lava Camp for acclimatization and left at around 2:50pm.

Lava Camp signpost

There is a massive lava tower at the camp. You can get an idea of how big it is by looking at its size relative to us.

We saw all sorts of interesting lava formations along the way

This waterfall was partially frozen. It looked really pretty

In this area of the trek, we started seeing a lot of Giant Groundsel trees. These are prehistoric plants that have evolved over a million years ago and are found at high altitudes. They can grow up to 30 ft and have a very unique appearance of a cactus combined with a pineapple. They have several adaptations that help them survive bitter, sub-zero temperatures. E.g., the dead leaves fold over the trunk to create insulation.

Giant Groundsel Trees

We finally reached the Baranco Camp at around 5pm.

Happy to put a hard day's climb behind us

Yashvi felt a lot better on the way down. Her breathing eased significantly. Having navigated the Lava Camp altitude successfully, everyone in the team felt optimistic about the summit day.

Day 4 (July 16): Baranco Camp to Karanga Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Baranco Camp / Karanga Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 12,795 ft / 13,106
  • Distance Covered: ~3.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 1,500 ft / 1,190 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 13,841 / 12,795 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 9:15am / 3:00pm / 5:45 hrs
We had a late start today but we are rearing to go now

Today's itinerary reminded me of "Nepalese flats" which means you go up and down many hills but gain little altitude at the end. If you simply look at the start and end elevation, it would seem like a really easy day but the reality is far different.

The first part of today's trek involved scaling the Baranco Wall. It is a near vertical wall and is quite deceptive because more of the wall reveals itself as you keep climbing higher. It is mostly a rock scramble. We had to put our hiking poles away because we would have to use our hands to climb up.

Unfortunately due to our late start, we got stuck in traffic jam. There is very limited room for climbing up on the Baranco Wall and it was full of hikers and porters. We often had to wait several minutes to get our turn.

First section of Baranco Wall. You can see some climbers against the wall

Yashvi loves this kind of terrain and enjoyed thoroughly

Accumulated some rock climbing extra credits :) 

Vibhakar scrambling up followed by Monika, Akshay and Vikram

There was a section of the wall which contains a 'Kissing Rock'. The narrow passage here requires you to hug the mountain so tightly that you almost have to kiss that rock face. Legend has it that you can make a wish while kissing the rock. Most climbers wish for a successful climb!

Here's a video of some of us passing the Kissing Rock:

It took us a little over two hours to reach the top of the wall, partly due to the frequent traffic jams.

Yashvi enjoying the view from the top. You can see Mount Meru in the distance

We spent some time all kinds of cool pictures at this spot.

Akshay jumping above the clouds!

Kanika enjoyed her solitude and being one with the nature

We spent about 30min at the top. The next section was a long descent, undoing all the gains so far. Many of the downhill sections were quite treacherous and most of us slipped at some point or the other. Loose rocks, scree, steep downhill slope and tired legs is not a good combination.

After the downhill section came another climb. I felt pretty good so far and even jogged up the trail a few times. We finally reached Karanga Camp at around 3pm.

Karanga Camp

View from our tent

At night the clouds cleared up and we could see the city of Moshi down below. It was a magical view.

Day 5 (July 17), Part 1: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Karanga Camp / Barafu Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 13,106 ft / 15,331 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~2.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 2,225 ft / 0 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 15,331 ft / 13,106 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 8:20am / 12:30pm / 4:10 hrs
Today is the day! Plan is to go from Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (basecamp), rest, have lunch/dinner and start the summit push later in the night.

Morning sunrise lighting up the tip of Mount Meru

Last couple of days of waking up to this magical vista

Let's do this!

Keeping a slow and steady pace

Ab Killi Door Nahi !😀

It was a short but steep hike, climbing 2,200 ft in just 2.5 miles. This would be hard at any altitude. At 14K+ ft, it was definitely a challenge. But what doesn't Kili you, makes you stronger 🤣

Almost there..

This rock formation looked like a throne so I had to oblige.. :)

Vikram channeling his inner Shahrukh Khan

We arrived at the Barafu Camp at 12:30pm

Some of us were more excited than others 😃😅

Packet of chips nearly bursting at the seams due to the pressure difference!

We had our lunch and then rested for some time, trying to get some sleep before the overnight summit push. However, sleep was hard to come by. I wasn't able to get any sleep but tried to rest as much as I could.

View of Mawenzi Peak from the tent

We had our dinner at around 6:30pm and tried to get some rest again after that. High altitude plus excitement plus day time meant we did not really get any sleep. Looking back, this was not a good itinerary. We should've spent another day at the base camp to get proper rest and better acclimatization. There was another group of 29 friends starting the climb just after us. I suggested this change in itinerary for them which worked really well.

Day 5/6 (July 17/18): Barafu Camp to Summit and Back

  • Starting Point / Summit / End point: Barafu Camp / Uhuru Peak / Barafu Camp
  • Start / Summit / End Elevation: 15,331 ft / 19,341 ft / 15,331 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~6.5miles (round trip)
  • Ascent/Descent: 4,000 ft / 4,000 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 19,341 ft / 15,331 ft
  • Start Time/Summit Time/Duration: 11:25pm / 9:25am / 10:00 hrs
  • Summit Time / Descent Time / Duration: 9:55am / 11:45am / 1:50 hrs
Although trekkers in our group had significantly different "forever pace", we decided that for the summit push we would all stay together. "Forever pace" is a term I have coined to indicate the pace at which you feel you can go on forever without stopping. Going faster or slower than that pace will consume more energy and tire you out.

Most groups start at midnight but our guides suggested that we start at 11pm to accommodate the slower pace. This is a good time to discuss why it is recommended to climb Kilimanjaro at night. There are several reasons for that:
  • Sunrise looks spectacular from the top.
  • Mountain starts to catch clouds later in the morning, obstructing the views.
  • You have to descend back down to Barafu camp and then continue descending down to the Millennium Camp. If you start the ascent in the morning, you may not be able to complete the descent in daylight.
  • Sub-zero temperatures make the ground more stable. Rocks and scree are loose during the day, consuming more energy.
  • In case of emergencies, it is better to have a lot of daylight available.
However, the flip side is that it is bone-chillingly cold at night. We were asked to wear at least six layers of clothing. We also put on two layers of gloves with hand warmers and packed additional layers, food and water in our packs. Despite all the layers, we were feeling very cold already. It got even colder as we started climbing up.

We had three guides and five summit porters with us, creating a 1:1 ratio. They offered to carry our packs. Vibhakar and I refused and decided to carry our packs ourselves. Everyone else opted for porters' help.

Excitement was in the air but I also felt that I had not had enough rest. Oh well, I have done many overnight treks so I will be fine, I told myself.

Ready for summit push

It was pitch dark, we could only see a few feet ahead of us

Here's a short video capturing our state of the mind mid-way through the climb. Tired, cold but determined to keep going.

Along the way we saw several hikers being led back down by their guides. They were turning back due to various reasons. We could clearly see some of them suffering from disorientation, which is a big warning sign for AMS.

We made really slow progress which meant more time on feet, and I began to tire out. Lack of training, lack of rest, biting cold, ankle issues etc. all started adding up.

5:45am. Ray of hope?

Here's another short video capturing the tiredness 6.5 hours into the climb.

Our goal was to reach Stella Point by sunrise but we were far behind that goal due to our slow progress. However, we still had a clear view of the sky and were eagerly waiting for the sun to rise. Partly to soak in the magical moment but mostly for the warmth it would bring! Water in my CamelBak tube had frozen by now. Usually the trick is to blow the water back into the bladder after every sip. I was doing that but perhaps my lungs didn't have enough strength to push back all the water. The tube is exposed to the elements and once the water freezes in the tube, you can't use it anymore. I was carrying alternate water supplies including a Nalgene bottle and a thermos. The trick with the Nalgene bottle is to keep it upside down because the water freezes from the top!


Yashvi was doing quite well given her petite size and being a first timer. However, she was beginning to get very tired and very cold. She drove strength from Kanika who gave her an extra layer and comforted her. Later Kanika would recall - "At that moment I felt that I could do anything in the world for Yashvi". That's sisterly love for you. It was such an emotional moment.

This hug from Kanika gave Yashvi the much needed strength to carry on

Sunrise finally happened at 6:45. It was absolutely magical. I have not seen anything like this. It is impossible to capture it in pictures or words. The sun rose up from the middle of the clouds. A growing red dot in the sea of absolute white. It was mesmerizing.

Magical Sunrise

By this point the lack of oxygen was beginning to take a toll on me. I have been on other high altitude treks in the past but found this one to be the hardest. The climb seemed interminable. My lungs were screaming for air. With every step my lungs were burning as if I had just done a sprint. I was breathing really hard but my body wasn't getting enough oxygen. I wasn't physically tired but I found it excruciatingly hard to keep walking. At 18,000 ft the oxygen level in the air drops down to about half! If the body is acclimatized well, it can adapt to it. Clearly my body had not.

Stella Point was in the visual range. At 18,885ft, it is considered one of Mount Kilimanjaro's three summit points along with Gilman's Point (18,885 ft) and Uhuru Peak (19,341 ft). Therefore reaching Stella Point is a big, meaningful milestone. However, for the first time in my life, I was ready to quit. I have always finished strong on all my treks - hopping and jumping and singing. Today I felt like I could not go on at all. I also had minor high altitude symptoms - little disorientation, breathing difficulties with lungs beginning to feel like jelly, headache etc. At times I felt that I was sleep walking - dreaming about things while somehow continuing to walk. Even with the peak within sight, I told the guide that he should review my symptoms and send me back if needed. I was prepared go head back - safety first.

The guide reviewed everything and told me that I am ok. I was carrying my own day pack out of stubbornness so far . Now the head guide took my backpack and led me slowly to the peak.

We reached Stella Point at around 8:20am. After spending 10min to eat and hydrate, we set out for the summit. Yashvi and Kanika left first and I followed shortly after. At this point everyone was going at their own pace.

Icefields on the way from Stella Point to Uhuru Summit

Some sections felt like a different planet!

Kanika and Yashvi reached the summit first, followed shortly by Vibhakar and me. It was such an emotional moment to summit Kilimanjaro with my daughter. Both Yashvi and I had tears in our eyes. Yashvi later told me that she had started hallucinating a bit at the end. She saw me as an astronaut walking on the moon. She also lost the depth perception and thought that rocks were appearing out of nowhere as she walked down the trail. 

Rest of the team soon joined. It was really amazing that we had a 100% success rate for our team. Go Team Super Nane!!

After several failed attempt due to sheer lack of energy and oxygen, I somehow managed to do my headstand 🙂 I have done this at the end of all of my endurance events and I wasn't about to break that streak.

Since I am upside down, can I claim to have reached higher than the official peak?

I had designed and custom printed t-shirts for our group which said "Kilimanjaro, Been There, Climbed That". It  was in anticipation that we will all summit successfully. We all carried the t-shirts to the top and got some memorable group photos.

Our custom t-shirts

Feeling top of the world!

With our guides who were instrumental in our success
As much as I wanted to spend more time at the top to enjoy the moment, I did not want to risk worsening my symptoms and wanted to climb down as quickly as possible. Yashvi and I hightailed down at breakneck speed. What took 10 hours to climb, we jogged/fast walked down in 1:50hrs!!

We reached Barafu camp at around 11:45am. I was still feeling unwell and vomited shortly after reaching the camp. I decided not to eat anything and retired to the tent. I immediately fell asleep and it felt as if I was unconscious for a few hours. At some point the rest of the team arrived and had lunch but I did not eat anything. Finally around 4pm it was time to head out again and descend down to the Millennium Camp (High Camp). When I woke up, I found that the support team had not taken down the dining tent and had some food ready for me in case I wanted to eat something. This was incredibly thoughtful of them. However, I still felt a little nauseated and didn't eat anything.

I later discovered that Srinivas had developed blurry vision in his left eye during the climb. It got progressively worse to the extent that he had to keep that eye closed to see properly. This is known as High Altitude Retinopathy and is fortunately not dangerous or permanent. His vision started improving immediately with descent. The guide also gave him some oxygen on the way back on a precautionary basis.

Day 6 (July 18): Barafu Camp to High Camp

  • Starting Point / End point: Barafu Camp / High Camp
  • Start / End Elevation: 15,331 ft / 12,959 ft
  • Distance Covered: ~2.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 0 ft / 3,000 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 15,331 ft / 12,959 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 4:30pm / 6:15pm / 1:45 hrs
At 4:30pm we set out for our final destination for the day - High Camp, which is also known as the Millennium Camp. We recounted our experiences over dinner. It was a great moment - culmination of months of preparation, anticipation and hard work.

We discussed what the trek meant for us. Here is a clip capturing some thoughts about the climb from Kanika, Vibhakar, Vikram and Yashvi. 

Kanika: It was a hike in a parallel world with no signals, no judgements, no sense of hygiene but pure liberation!

Monika: This was an very enriching experience that has made me more confident. Our guides were the best, very caring and professional. 

Srinivas: The camaraderie, both within super nane and with the guides made all the difference. It was arduous with spartan like existence and we all bonded well comiserating with each other. In hindsight, the eye issue I faced was par for the course, not significant to deter me from completing. Great experience over all.

Vibhakar: Kilimanjaro terrain is unique but also mostly barren and there were very few birds to watch ! But then my eyes were mostly peeled to the rocky terrain interspersed with loose soil while mind was busy recalling next line that Jai and Vikram were singing. Like somebody said, the company is more important than both the journey and the destination. And the company kept me going !

Vikram: For me, the summit day was the most profound. It was the hardest experience I have been through physically. Once the sun came out and we could see Stella Point, it looked so close, but felt so far. It felt so discouraging and so hard. But I kept telling myself that alll you have to do is take one small step at a time, stay with the team, and you will get there. While the end point felt intimidating, small steps felt easy. A lesson for just about any hard thing in life.

Yashvi: The whole trek was truly a mental battle for me. It showed me what I can do if I refuse to give up and am willing to push myself to further limits

Jai: Disconnecting with technology truly allows you to connect with nature and friends. Pushing yourself beyond limits is how you find what you are capable of. For me, this trek was about both these elements.

Day 7 (July 19): High Camp to Mweka Gate

  • Starting Point / End point: High Camp / Mweka Gate
  • Start / End Elevation: 12,959 ft / 5,380 ft
  • Distance Covered: 8.5miles
  • Ascent/Descent: 0 ft / 7,600 ft
  • Max/Min Elevation: 12,959 ft / 5,380 ft
  • Start Time/End Time/Duration: 9:20am / 2:50pm / 5:30 hrs
We enjoyed our last day of waking up to this view

Our guides and porters then arranged a really fun celebration for our successful summit. They sang and danced and really made us feel special. It was a fun and fitting celebration of our long and arduous trek. One by one we joined them in dancing and let ourselves be consumed by the moment.

I was carrying an Indian flag and got it signed by everyone including the support staff.

Gabriel, the head guide is a budding artist and drew an outline of the mountain on the flag

Group picture with the support staff and guides. They were instrumental in our success

I was completely rejuvenated and felt ready for a rematch with Kili! 

After the fun celebrations, it was time to start our final day of hiking. The original plan called for only 3.5km of hiking today and resting at the Mweka Camp followed by 10km tomorrow to Mweka Gate. We decided that we could tackle the entire 13.5km today. The thought of sleeping in proper beds and a hot shower was much too tempting :) And thus we began our long and steep descent.

We reached Mweka Camp in just an hour and half at 11am. Our decision to continue down to the Mweka Gate was further validated. There was no point spending the day here.

Vikram felt that he is doing all the heavy lifting :)

We were now back in the tropical climate from cold arctic climate in just one day! The path was steep and slippery and we had to be really careful. We played antakshri (song game) to pass time and distract the mind. We sang dozens of songs and made good progress without realizing the passage of time. I was wearing my ankle brace but the navigating muddy and rocky terrain was not easy and it got more and more painful to walk. I decided to throw caution to the wind to avoid time on feet and sped up - at times almost running down the slope.

What a change from the cold, harsh, outer-worldly landscape just yesterday morning.

Steep, slippery, rocky and muddy terrain

We reached Mweka Gate at around 2:45pm. Some enterprising guys had set up a shoes and gaiter cleaning operation there! They said we have to clean our shoes before we could go into the office to get our certificates. It wasn't true! We wanted our shoes cleaned anyways and negotiated them down from $5 to $2 per person.

Shoes Cleaning Operation. They did an amazing job with just a brush and a bucket.

Waiting at the parks office for our official certificates

From 13,000 ft down to 5,300 ft in just a few hours

We may have descended but we still felt 'top of the world'
We were taken to a nearby restaurant for lunch. There a couple of musicians stopped by to serenade us. They played the Kilimanjaro song which is really catchy. Listen to it.

Here are the words to the full song and the English translation:

Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Wageni, mwakaribishwa!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!

Tembea pole pole. Hakuna matata!
Utafika salama. Hakuna matata!
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna matata!

Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro, mlima mrefu sana.

Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
Na Mawenzi, mlima mrefu sana.

Ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka!
Ewe nyoka, mbona waninzunguka.

Wanizunguka, wanizunguka
Wanizunguka wataka kunila nyama

English translation:

Hello! Hello sir!
How are you? Very well!
Guests, you are welcome!
Kilimanjaro? No trouble!

Walk slowly, slowly. No trouble!
You’ll get there safe. No trouble!
Drink plenty of water. No trouble!

Kilimanjaro! Kilimanjaro!
Kilimanjaro, such a high mountain.

Also Mawenzi, also Mawenzi!
Also Mawenzi such a high mountain.

Like a snake, like a snake!
Like a snake you wrap around me

You wrap around me, you wrap around me
Trying to eat me like a piece of meat

It is a really catchy tune and has stayed with me even after several weeks.

It was so much fun that we couldn't stay seated and joined the musicians in dancing.

At night the guides presented us with the certificates. These are really nice, official certificates confirming the date and time of our ascent.

Since we completed a day early, we were able to meet the next group before they started their climb. I was originally scheduled to go with this group but due to some date conflicts, had to go a week earlier. I will add a link to their climb details once it is available. We shared our experiences and tips with the group and also loaned them some of our gear, snacks etc. I suggested that they change their itinerary to spend an extra day at the Barafu Camp. They followed that change and felt that without that change their success rate would've been much lower.

The next morning we saw a clear view of Kilimanjaro from the rooftop. It now looked so distant and formidable.

Did we really climb THAT!

Five of us (Srinivas, Monika, Kanika, Yashvi and I) stayed back for a three day safari trip which was simply amazing. I will add a link to our safari experience and pictures later.

This was a really memorable experience. It was the hardest of all my treks so far. I had to summon up all my resolve to make it to the top. Looking back it still feels like a dream - or more like a dream come true!

If you have made it this far, would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below :)


  1. Wow! Amazing to read it. I can imagine how much you guys had fun! Congratulations to all!

    1. Thanks Awadhesh. It was hard but totally worth it!


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