Stories about the Machame route.

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Climber Stories & Advice

  1. John Cavana
    June 24, 2010 | Permalink

    I climbed Kilimanjaro in October 2009, just before my 66th birthday. My two climbing friends were aged 70 and 71, we all reached the summit, trekking the Machame Route. We suffered very minor altitude problems, mainly loss of appetite and poor sleeping. Our summit ascent from Barafu was made in daylight hours, starting at 06.00 and arriving back at Barafu at 19.00 – a long and hard day but we could see what we were doing and were not too cold.
    Climbing Kilimanjaro is done with the head as much as the feet. It is the most difficult thing I have done and I would not wish to do it again. But … I could!
    Go as slowly as possible, listen to your body. Above all take your own toilet, it’s worth the extra.

  2. robert farrell
    June 24, 2010 | Permalink

    Kili Climb – Machame Route — Jan 10, 2006 through January 16, 2006
    Written: Mar 21 ’06

    Product Rating:
    Pros: Scenery Exercise You are on vacation You are probably with someone you like

    Cons: S–t happens

    The Bottom Line: Everyone that can go, should go. Although be prepared for something different. Why? Because it is called life, not work!


    rkfnbc123’s Full Review: Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park
    First and foremost, which company are you going to climb with? Buy Harry Stedman’s Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain, Kilimanjaro. We decided to go with Shah Tours because it was highly recommended in the book, the price was very reasonable, it included two hotel nights with breakfast and dinner, and they responded via e-mail promptly to all our questions. Also, I cannot say enough about our guide, John Shayo. More on John later.

    Here’s what I learned and would suggest to everyone to make it to the top of Kili. First, take the Machame Route because it is the more beautiful trek up the mountain and it gives you more time to acclimate. It’s best to give yourself an extra day at the hotel upon arrival and take an extra day on the mountain at Karanga Valley. Even though you might be tired, take as many pictures as you can, please. Take toilet paper, baby wipes are an even better idea.

    And now for something maybe no one has told you — the bathrooms. What bathrooms? They are three foot by three foot, maybe 6 ½ feet high, wood slats, barely put together, with a 5×5 inch hole cut in the bottom. Good luck and good aim! They were building new ones at Barafu camp. But still no chemicals for the smell. Pee hew! Oh well, s__t happens. Ha ha.

    British Airways lost my girlfriend, Susie’s, luggage. None of her gear ever made it to the mountain. Fortunately, our guide company (Shah Tours) at Mountain Inn in Moshi had a storage room with some used gear. If not for this, Susie never would have made it up the mountain. We were told at the first campsite, Machame, that when you transfer planes, Los Angeles to London, London to Nairobi, you should make sure your luggage gets transferred onward by going to the desk and making sure your baggage claim number and ticket number are both going onward with you. Also be sure to take all necessary medication with you on the plane just in case, including anti-malarial, Diamox, Imodium and Cipro, an antibiotic.

    We drove to the start, Machame Gate, signed the registration book and left with the assistant guide, Sayde. It was sunny and warm. We left everyone else behind — John, the guide, and porters, Peter, Good Luck, Osario and Oliver to organize the trip up the mountain. John had to get the permit and hold off all the Chagga men who were just trying to get porter work. There were hundreds of them waiting and hoping.

    Susie and I were dressed comfortably for the weather that was. But like we found out later on the mountain, the weather can change at any time. So of course, even though it was supposed to be their summer and dry season, it started to rain — not to bad though — because we were in the rain forest. We lost our only sunscreen because Susie’s was in her luggage and mine fell off my camelback at our first stop.

    It was a long first day, 11 miles or so, 5-6 hours. We made it to the Machame camp (first camp) approximately ten minutes before John and the porters, signed the registration book, and waited for the tents to be set up. Our tent was in, you got it, Susie’s luggage along with our trekking poles. The tent we rented from Shah Tours ended up working out for the best, big enough for all of our stuff and a big covered area to eat from inside the tent. It was a nice campsite right above tree line — beautiful scenery. From this campsite the path for the next day’s climb was clearly visible. If it seemed a little steep, it’s because it was. Do not worry, take it one step at a time. I don’t know if either one of us slept. That morning on Machame camp she woke up and promptly vomited. (Her anti malarial pills were in her suitcase, of course, which never made it to Africa.)

    The start of the second day’s climb is very steep. Once you see the top of Shira crest which you are climbing, it opens up and you are almost there. Here, the mountain really opens up. This is one big mountain. Take many, many pictures. You will be a little tired, but if you take your time and an extra day at Karanga, you should be able to make it. The second campsite, Shira, has no trees, is very arid, and dotted with boulders. The woodshed bathrooms are more visible to you and for everyone else to watch. I do not smoke, but I heard if you take some smokes with you to the bathroom you should break them in two and put them in your nostrils to kill the smell. I used ear plugs. They worked a little bit, not as much as I would have liked. It took about five hours to get to this camp. The sites from this camp were very beautiful so take a lot of pictures and walk around a little bit. We were so happy to see popcorn and peanuts as a snack before dinner. Most of the dinners were okay but we saw where the meat came from — a little scary. So Susie had a lot of soup and I had too much fruit. Later on that. We seemed to have slept better the second night at Shira camp.

    Breakfast was always good for me — eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, sliced tomatoes, and of course, hot tea. If you have certain foods you like or dislike, be sure to make this known to your company when making your reservation. You can ask for a certain meal selection and make sure they bring a lot of hot chocolate if you don’t like tea. The bacon was good. The pasta and soup were safe and delicious. And talking of safe, bring something for your stomach — Imodium worked for me.

    The second morning on the mountain from Shira Camp John told us he wanted to get started because the weather was going to get cold and wet. As we found out, he was right as usual. John was able to predict the weather within five or ten minutes, and also predict how long it would take us to get to each camp site. Amazing! Now that’s knowing his clients and the mountain. It took us 6 ½ hours to get to Barranco camp and it was very, very wet. If it is raining or hailing it’s not worth going past Lava Tower. Not worth the hassle — too hard to enjoy the view from there. By the time we reached the camp site, Susie was soaked to the bone because the rain was coming down so hard. Slow going for her, her hat on her head catching all the rain and having it fall down through her poncho to her cotton sweatshirt. She was in bad shape. Remember, she did not have any of her mountain clothes. She rented what she could from Shah Tours at Mountain Inn, but not enough. Remember, it was supposed to be their summer and dry season. John told us later the wet season lasted longer than usual. Oh well, what are you going to do. It was really cold that night but I noticed all of the porters hanging their clothes on clotheslines or on the rocks. When I woke up all their clothes had frost on them. But within a short time the sun came out and then out of the blue it was really warm, very warm (for a short period of time — maybe one hour). John told us it is not going to last so we put all our clothes out to dry and left a little later than usual. Also, because we were staying an extra day on the mountain at Karanga this extra time that morning to dry our clothes worked out well. It was a great idea because we were able to have dry clothes for those last few days and the extra time gave us the opportunity to look around at Kili’s peak and the glaciers. And we also got to see the famous Barranco wall which seemed almost straight up. By the time we started climbing the Barranco wall there was a line of people going up, which was okay with me because it made it nice and easy. Pole pole. You will hear that a lot, Swahili for slowly slowly.

    The amazing porters carry everything up the mountain on their heads and backs and pass everyone, even on the Barranco wall. Wow! After getting to the top of the wall it seems like a nice walk to Karanga Valley. The valley opened up before us. It was littered with boulders and we could see the unusual plants — Giant Lobelia and Senecions, exotic giant ground sels. It really started to seem a little surreal at this point for me. Maybe because of the fog or maybe just because. Who cares, I’m on vacation.

    It took a little more than five hours to get to Karanga camp. Karanga Valley might have been my favorite place on the mountain because the weather was nice almost the entire time and there were less people because some of the climbers stayed back to spend an extra night at Baranco camp, and some climbers went on to Barafu camp. But I know staying an extra night on the mountain at Karanga was the best thing for us. We walked around a little more at this camp and I remember John pointing out the last day’s trail to the summit which was clearly visible. It is easy to misjudge how much more work there really is, so take your time and do not worry. One day at a time, one step at a time, pole pole.

    By this time both our appetites were non-existent. Susie hadn’t eaten much since day one and mine was starting to decrease — not really sure why, altitude I guess. Had pretty good sleep that night The day’s climb to Barafu really seemed easy for me because we took it slow — it took about 4 ½ hours. There were many wide open views. We arrived at Barafu about 2:30 p.m. We knew we were going to get up about 11 or 11:30 p.m. but still could not sleep because of other guide company’s porters talking loudly outside and it started to hail. We had an early dinner. John talked to us about that night’s start. He also offered Susie an extra layer of clothes which was very, very nice of him. He also gave us hand and foot warmers and a chocolate bar. Make sure you bring warmers as they are a great idea.

    That night we started the summit attempt. I had five layers of clothes on and three pairs of socks. My gloves were good for 20 below but my fingertips were still a little cold. My bacalava was good but I should have used my North Face breather longer to keep my lungs warm. Neither one of us got any sleep that day before the summit attempt but I was really pumped up. Susie was just beat, which believe it or not was a good thing for me. Susie never slows down but medication, no sleep and very little food would slow anyone down. This day was going to be long and tough mentally, but not so much physically because we took our time, pole pole. We started our climb to the summit at about 12 midnight. It was zero degrees and one of the guides said that with the wind chill factor it was minus 18. But when I walked out of the tent I was not cold at all. It seemed a little surreal like I was on the moon. I could hear myself breathing in and out, just so unreal. At the very beginning of this summit attempt, at the speed we were going, I could have just kept walking all night. It was good for us to stop twice and have some hot tea and biscuits. I remember reading once about Stella Point. It was right after a large boulder close to the top. It really does take a lot longer from this point probably because of the lack of oxygen. I did have more time to look around and it was a full moon so I could see pretty good. Flashlights are an option on the night of a full moon. I think it was about 4:30 or 5 a.m. when I could see the mighty glacier on our left. By this time we had reached the boulder only to find out Stella Point was still a ways a way. As much as you train, at 17,500 feet you are going to slow down. So we just looked down and kept walking. About an hour later I looked up and could see people at Stella Point. I thought to myself, I’m almost there. Then I hear Susie say “we are here, we are here, we are at Stella Point”. A moment later I looked up, saw the excitement on her face, saw the Stella Point sign and I thought to myself , I really made it to Stella Point. It just amped her up with a lot of energy. We took some photographs, walked around a little bit and I just waited for something to happen. Susie screams out, let’s go, we can make it to Uhuru Peak. I was thrilled as I did not know if she had it in her. But boy did she try to take off only for John and I to tell her to slow down. Her energy did not last long. In about 50 feet or so she came back to her senses to a crawl, pole pole. After about half way to Uhuru Peak we saw a massive glacier to the left and we both just seemed to get more energized. We seemed to float the rest of the way to Uhuru Peak. When I saw the sign at the top I got a little emotional but I knew I could not use up my energy on that. I almost walked up to the sign and ignored the people taking photographs. I stopped and waited in line to sign the register. We made it. It was almost 9 a.m. now. I do wish now I had spent more time at the top, of this climb and many other climbs I have done, but never seem to think about it when I am actually there.

    Now for the important part about getting down in one piece. The way down is not the way up. At Stella Point you veer off toward southeast instead of southwest, the more direct way down the mountain. Here you will be in very deep scree, much deeper than the scree at Boundary Point in Nevada, which I thought I would never see. This is very important. Even though I didn’t seem tired, I had been walking for over ten hours at a high altitude. I did not realize how tired my legs were until I was going down at a 45 degree angle. In this scree you need to watch for large deep imbedded rocks when you are tired. We practically slid down the scree. It seemed forever to get back to Barafu camp. When we got to the point where we saw the camp site we both needed rest. John, again, was very patient and allowed us all the time we needed.

    We finally made it back to camp and stopped at the new bathrooms being built to take off some of our dirty clothes. We got back to our tent and Peter handed us both an orange soda which was fantastic. John told us we had one hour to rest and then had to start down the mountain to Maweke camp. During our rest period it hailed heavily. You would think that after 15 hours you would be tired and be able to fall asleep for at least one hour. But no! We got dressed and ready to go down and John advised us that Sayde would take us down the trail until he and the porters packed up. Yet again, John and the porters packed everything up, including the tents and all of our gear, passed us up easily, and had the last camp set up before we arrived. After about two hours of walking down to Maweke my knees started to really tighten up and I really needed to slow down. Again, John was patient and we took our time. The trail down was much steeper than the trail up — remember that — this is very important to remember! And it took us about 5 to 6 hours! We arrived at Maweke camp and I noticed right away this was the most populated camp so far. After we signed the register at the emergency hut, we both noticed some people leaving with sodas, so of course we had to get some. Even though there was no Diet Pepsi for Susie, it was still soda — Coke, Sprite and Orange. We ended up buying enough for ourselves and our porters and guide. Dinner tasted especially nice. I think it was because we had finished the hardest part and made it to the top of Kilimanjaro. Now to get some nice rest and make it to the hotel.

    It was really the most beautiful campsite and I knew it was going to be a nice walk down. But I did have a little problem and it was not just my knees, and it was going to follow me onto our safari the next week. Remember, the combination of the hard climb, too much fruit, and different foods can cause problems. I really never found out what it was but s__t happens.

    What a beautiful mountain, what nice people, what a great vacation and challenge. Have fun, be prepared and ready for something different. Maybe you will make it to the summit, maybe you won’t. But whatever you do, live life and go.


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