Towering above the landscape at a mighty 5,895m (19,340ft), Mount Kilimanjaro is a majestic sight and trekking to the top of this snow-capped stratovolcano is on the bucket list of many adventurous people.
Today approximately 25,000 people per year attempt to reach the summit, Uhuru Peak, and amongst these trekkers are men and women, young and old from all over the world and with thousands of different reasons why they want to attempt the summit. They may be mountaineers ticking off Kilimanjaro as one of their Seven Summits expeditions, they may be mothers whose children have left home and they want to challenge themselves or they may be enthusiastic fundraisers raising money for a good cause at home; whatever the reason that brought them to Tanzania, they all share the aim of getting to the top.
While you are trekking Kilimanjaro you become part of a family with your local guides, staff and fellow trekkers and bond with each other. In this unusual and extreme environment, where etiquette goes out of the window and bodily functions becomes an encouraged topic of discussion at mealtimes, you forget your day-to-day worries and concentrate on being part of a team and trying to reach the top.
Each morning you eat a huge hearty breakfast, refill your water bottles, pack your rucksacks and get out onto the trail without knowing exactly what delights are waiting for you. Sometimes it is the smallest things like a dramatic view of the summit from camp, or the moment the sun peeks out from behind the clouds when you’re starting to feel cold. Other times it can be something as simple as being served your favourite meal at dinner time after a long day trekking!
One of the most fascinating things about Kilimanjaro is the range of eco-zones you pass through on your journey to the top; from verdant jungle to barren moonscapes and the arctic glacier strewn summit which feels a thousand miles from Africa, let alone being the roof of the continent! The going can be tough, with parts of the trail being steep or featuring exhausting scree slopes or areas with huge boulders to scramble over but every challenge you confront rewards you with a feeling of achievement and renewed enthusiasm to test yourself further.
It goes without saying that the highlight of trekking Kilimanjaro is reaching the summit. The feeling of elation and happiness is beyond belief and is incredibly difficult to describe. It overwhelms you, intoxicates you and is a feeling you are unlikely to find replicated in any other life experience outside the mountaineering world. However, for me Kilimanjaro is more than that. It’s the smile someone gives you when they see you struggling; it’s the words of encouragement that help you take that next step and it’s the person who shares their last piece of chocolate with you because they can see you need it which make the experience so special.
Getting to the top is just the icing on the cake.