Hiking the snows of Kilimanjaro

Travel Destinations — By on January 28, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Mt Kilimanjaro. It’s a mountain adventure that is accessible to people without mountaineering skills and is one of the great dreams of many travelers. This Tanzanian peak can also lay claim to one of the world’s most famous images, the “snows of Kilimanjaro.” Neil Modie decided he wanted to climb Kilimanjaro before melting glaciers removed most or all of the snow from the mountain. He wrote about his weeklong hiking experience for the NY Times.

Given Kilimanjaro’s snow, glaciers and volcanic upbringing, it didn’t look all that different from peaks I’ve climbed in my native Northwest. From my living room in Seattle, I can gaze at Mount Rainier, which I’ve climbed a dozen times. Even in the dead of summer, it retains a mantle of ice that makes it seem like a hulking life form. Kilimanjaro is almost unimaginably bigger: nearly a mile higher, it covers 1,250 square miles abutting Kenya.

And yet, unlike Rainier, climbing Kilimanjaro required no real mountaineering skills, no ice axes, ropes or crampons, merely strong legs, hearts and lungs for trudging more than three and a half vertical miles above sea level. That, and a supply of Diamox, to fend off altitude sickness.

Our approach was on the Machame, the most scenic and second-most heavily traveled — a distant second — of the six designated routes to the summit. Even so, our six camps along the way, five on the ascent and one on the descent, were 200-tent metropolises.

The most heavily congested approach is the Marangu, called the “tourist” or “Coca-Cola” route, a reflection of its overcrowded, touristy ambience and the ubiquitous soft drink, which is sold at camps along the way. Our longer, more macho Machame is known as the “whiskey route.”…

We passed through ecological zones of spectacular diversity: equatorial rain forest, followed by misty heath and moors dotted with outsize, otherworldly flora, then alpine high desert and finally the frigid, dry summit zone. It was all on trail, but several steep stretches required grabbing handholds on near-vertical rock.

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1 Comment

  1. That sounds like an awesome experience. I would love to climb it the old conventional, not-touristy way.

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