Which is how, a few months ago, we found ourselves on the slopes of Kili, dead smack in the middle of the rainy season, cold, wet and thoroughly unimpressed with the weather forecast. As with many of our adventures, it was hard and miserable and awe-inspiring and life-changing all at once. If we had to do it all over again, we absolutely would. In summer.
(Cont'd after photos)
We took one of the trails less traversed, the eight day Lemosho Route, because it gave us the most time to acclimatize, and took us through some very diverse topography on the mountain. This also meant that we spent a good deal more time in the rain! But we travelled with a crew of porters who laughed and sang and danced their way through the wet, frigid days and nights, constantly inspiring us to tough it up.
To sustain and support the local economy, expeditions have to be booked through a registered Kilimanjaro tour operator, and they usually come with guides and porters and chefs and hot meals and a mess tent to eat in and almost the kitchen sink. No really, they actually had plastic basins with hot water for each of us, to wash up every morning, I kid you not.
Now we're used to roughing it, so we didn't think the half of it was necessary, but it was just the most affordable + ethical way to go about it. Let me assure you, after just one long day of being buffeted by icy winds and rain, we were SO grateful for that mess tent!
If we could give just three bits of advice to anyone who wants to climb Kili - 1. Do it. 2. Don't do it in the rainy season, and 3. Do it with a KPAP registered operator.
A little plug for KPAP here: There are a lot of Kili tour operators who offer really cheap tours, but make no mistake, the dollars you save come at the expense of the porters, who will get fewer meals, less wages and shoddy gear. Last year alone, three porters died of hypothermia and exposure, because they didn't have the right gear. The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) has been working hard to ensure that porters are treated well and get fair wages. So finding a tour operator who is KPAP registered is an absolute non-negotiable. (There are ethical companies who are not KPAP registered, but you really have to do your research.) It's not cheap, and we had to swallow hard a couple of times, but we told ourselves from the beginning that if we couldn't afford the KPAP fees, we couldn't afford to do it at all. Because putting someone's life and/or livelihood at risk to satisfy our dreams is nasty business. No-one does it intentionally, but the travel industry is rife with examples and we've all been a little guilty of it at some point, so a little self-education is a good thing!
As we've said before, the porters of Kilimanjaro are its real heroes. They work harder than you could possibly imagine, and we've tried to capture some of those moments in this photo-essay.