Tripreport: custom 7summits Kilimanjaro trip, Machame/Western Breach route, late 2003 by Tony Biacco
Oct 12th - Day 1
I arrive at Denver International Airport, check-in, and find
(not to my surprise), that they won't allow matches in my
checked luggage. Unfortunately, it's one of the 10 essentials, but I have my backup magnesium, so i'll make do. I fly to Detroit, then Amsterdam, with no problems.
way to Amsterdam, I sat next to a man going home to India.
We didn't talk too much, except for how the personal enter tainment system on the plane was flakin' out. Funnily enough, I find out when I'm getting off the plane, the whole system is run under Linux embedded and X-windows!
Amsterdam's airport was interesting, in that there are so
many types of people there. AMS is a HUGE hub. People
flying direct to Africa, Russia, Israel, India, you name it.
I found my gate without any problem, ATMed a shitload of
U.S. dollars, so as to use and exchange in Tanzania, and
I was out of there!
Oct 13th - Day 2
I sat next to, on the plane to Tanzania (Kilimanjaro Airport), one of the most unlikely of people. This guy had a Vail, Colorado shirt on! So I was like, hey, another Coloradoan? He said that he lives in Atlanta now, but
grew up in Greeley (about 1/2 hour from me). Still, a pretty
small world. He's climbing Kilimanjaro too. A different route,
and he's already climbed it once before. He gave me some
Africa pointers, which were much appreciated.
thing about this flight is that I saw the Alps in Europe, from
above. The snowy peaks jutted up above the fluffy cloud
layer and just looked so cool. I'm sure the pictures I took
with my camera won't do them justice, as the camera had to focus through
like 3 panes of glass to try and get a decent shot.
The other good thing about this flight, was, 2 dutch flight at tendants that were soo hot. :-) The one had thin rimmed
glasses, and I have a weakness for those.
Unfortunately, by the time we got into Tanzania, it was dark,
and we could not make out the mountain from the air.
We landed, went through passport control, and were immedi ately helped with our luggage by
teenagers carrying our bags, putting them on our bus, obviously for a fee. Tipping is a huge income over here for people, and they'll do
just about anything for a tip.
Our bus driver, "slim" was very cool. He talked very good English, and was quite friendly. "You feel right at home here" he would
say. There were 4 other hikers on the bus. Greg, from Dublin,
Ireland, Alexander/Sasha, from San Francisco.. clearly Russian,
and Annet and I forget her husband's name, 2 newlywed
Swedes on their honeymoon.
Slim was kind enough to point out the sights on the way. Where
the routes started, where the town of Moshi began, etc..
It took us about 45 mins. to get to the hotel in Moshi, which
just seemed so out of place in this third-world town. The hotel is amazing for this place. Real beds, running water, lights,
flushing toilets, garden lights, and even a swimming pool.
I started to get to know Greg and Sasha, as we realized that
we were doing the same route up the mountain (we were the
only ones), and would be together the whole trip.
Oct 14th - Day 3
We get up at 6am, showered, ate breakfast (eggs, pineapple, cereal), packed up our gear, and waited for things to get
organized with the outfitters, which took a while. When this
finally happened, Greg, Sasha, and I jumped into the Land
Rover with our gear, and headed out to the outfitter's office
In the daylight we saw how run-down this town really is in most
places. Few paved roads, farm animals wandering about, and
people carrying bananas, wheat, and lettuce in huge baskets/ bundles on their heads.
At the office, we met our guide, August, and sat down to dis cuss a climbing strategy, and get porters together. We again jumped into
the Land Rover after this and headed for
Machame gate (in a village of the same name), to start
climbing. I remember us trying to see the mountain through
the clouds on the way, mostly just getting views of the shoul ders of it. Sasha would say, "no, I don't believe it, it doesn't
And then when we first spotted it, summit and all,
finally, I just stared in total awe, thinking, holy mother of god, look at this huge motherf**ker. And not just tall, but covering
this massive area of land some 80 km east to west.
At the gate, about 40 mins. through forest and sparse villages, we met
everyone else starting the Machame route, signed in,
and got acquainted with our porters.
Once again we saw most of the people from previous days,
and even at the lower camps on the way up. I had chosen to
carry all my gear on this trip myself, about 45 lbs, which some
people think is a little wacky, given the fact that porters
usually do that for you. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't do it my self
though.. I would have felt like a fraud. I remember one of
the porters saying early on, "you strong American!"..they
have a habit of leaving certain words out of their English sentences, as
you would expect. "a", "an", "will", "do", etc.. I
found myself starting to do this too when I tried to say
something to them in English.
The 1st day's climb was fairly moderate. The first half was
slightly uphill, on this soft, almost squishy dirt through the
jungle. We stopped for lunch, caught a passing shower through
the jungle canopy and trudged out the last steep half slowly, up
steps and through overgrown tree roots.
We set up camp finally around 4pm, pitched our tents, sorted
stuff out, and just hung out 'til supper at around 6, which was cucumber
soup, jerky, potatoes, and some orangish cabbage.
Apart from the dry jerky, everything was great. I put aside my
partial vegatarianism for the trip, as I had little choice. This
was survival..food is food. We drank tea until the sun set
over the hills and headed to bed around 10:00 for a long sleep.
Oct 15th - Day 4
We got up around 7am today, ate breakfast, which was bread
and a hard-boiled egg (which strangely enough, had a white
yolk), closed up camp, and headed out for Shira Hut at 8:30,
up a seemingly looong ridge.
We found the climb shorter all-in-all, but
harder and steeper today. We moved slowly up
and down over the ridge, a lot of steps along the way, until a
storm settled over and right on us at about 12,000 ft., bringing quite a bit of rain and hail. We hiked in this for about 15 to 20 mins. before waiting it out in Shira Cave, 200m from the
For the trek so far, we have passed and stayed
ahead of the main pack of hikers (20?), and left Shira Cave
when the pack finally caught up. The storm cleared up for the most part the rest of the way, and we had shed our rain gear by the time we hit our camp. Drizzles of rain were off and on at
set up our tents
quickly and took some pics of the summit and glaciers as the clouds permitted.
Greg remarked that the clouds parting
from the summit was like a woman taking her clothes off.
Clouds parting from the very top was the mountain taking her top off, and clouds parting from the base was the mountain
lifting up her skirt.
We had dinner around 6:30..chicken, a curry tasting rice,
potato soup, and these thin parsley pancakes. Went to bed
at about 7:15, which didn't prove good for sleeping at all, as it was just
too long between then and 6am. I must have
woken up 5 times during the night, as I wasn't tired enough to
sleep for any more than 8 hours.
Oct 16th - Day 5
I woke up at 6am, before sunrise, to the beginnings of some
cold weather.. frost on the ground and tent. Temperature had
to be around 20F. Put on all of my clothes just about, and sat
on a rock while the sun rose over the mountain.
Had eggs, hot dogs (which they call sausage), toast, bananas,
and an orange which looked like a lime! Green rind, oval, but tasted like
an orange. Odd.
Today's climb would vary from easy to hard. The first half was a series of slight steady inclines, and flats. 45 mins. into it I
was warmed up, feeling really well, with little pain (surprisingly). I started smoking the trail like it wasn't anything, through volcanic basins and ridges, and made it up to the huge lava tower
in what seemed to be record time.
We broke here for a rest at
something like 15,000 ft, before the last steep incline 1000 ft.
up to Arrow Glacier camp. I tore this up too, chuggin' along, and
was the first to reach camp.
As I crested the ridge at 16,000 ft. I had
this great sense of joy come over me, as the glaciers
(now in close view) just awed me. I was feeling no effects of
elevation yet no headache, no short breaths, no hallucinations. I was even feeling ready to do some
more. I would have to
save this extra energy for tomorrow though, as the ominous,
steep Breach Wall ahead of us remained.
We set up camp quickly again, as clouds rolled in steadily.. from above, from below, just from every
frequent light hail, and what looked like a scene out of Dr.
Seuss's worst nightmare upon us. I took some time to solo rock climb lava
towers close to camp, which seemed, at hard-
est, around class 5.4 or 5.5.
After this I got very tired, laid
down for a nap, and didn't even feel like getting up for dinner.
I forced myself though, since I was having some nausea from
an empty stomach. I ate some, and went to bed around 7.
I didn't sleep too much during the night, and the pattern
seemed to be that as we went up in elevation, I slept less
Oct 17th - Day 6
This would prove to be the hardest day of the trip, as expected. The Western Breach to the crater rim.
On the way up I
remember thinking, "This is torture that I would not wish on
my worst enemy. One that doesn't love mountains, that is.
For me, it's a day at the beach."
This 3,300 ft. went very slow, something like 5 hours with
some semi-rough, exposed scrambling but on a pure technical
level, nothing worse than the Sawtooth ridge back home. Add
on the elevation though, and it's a whole other ballgame.
I finally started feeling elevation problems at around 18,200 ft., but
nothing going pole-pole (Swahili for slowly-slowly)
At last we made it to the crater rim, and immediately this
emotional wave came over me. Seeing the huge summit ice field, the vastness of the crater, the summit just 400 ft. above us,
and accomplishing the Western Breach, just brought me so
close to tears. It's quite possibly the happiest and proudest I've ever felt.
We set up camp in the crater, just feet away from the base
of the summit, close to 18,900 ft, and prepared for a short summit day.
I again ate little for dinner, and the elevation just sucked the
energy right out me.
I didn't move a muscle without a good reason. In addition, we
also noticed the elevation made us more on edge and agitated.
I slept even less tonight, probably 2 hours in the 11 I laid down for.
Oct 18th - Day 7 - Summit Day
I swear there was thunder and lightning the night before. I
didn't have the energy to look out of the tent, but I heard thunder, and a
white flash came in the tent every 30 seconds
We awoke at 6am to new snow on the ground, and closed
down camp. I wasn't feeling good at all when I got up, almost
passed out taking the tent down, but after a little breakfast
I was ok.
I believe we left for the summit at 7. When we started the climb, I actually felt really
strong, I'm not sure what changed. We went very slowly though, and by the time we
reached the crest of the summit, I was still strong, saw the
flats to the peak, and in a pure adrenaline rush, just kicked it into high
gear, passing everyone, and running the last 100 ft.
to the summit.
I hugged our guide, August, thanked him, and
just looked around with tears in my eyes. I sat down for a
little, and then took out the necklace Elisa gave me 5 years
ago, which hasn't come off my neck, and attached it around
the summit sign as a thank-you gift to the mountain, and the gods of the mountain, for letting me climb it.
We took pictures, shook hands, signed the register, and start- ed to head down all the elevation we had climbed in previous
days. We downclimbed nearly 9,000 ft., some of which was on tons of loose scree (probably moraine left by glaciers long ago), so
coming down was actually like skiing down, just on rocks
instead of snow.
We stopped at Barafu Hut for a little rest and water, and
ended the day back into the climate zone where trees
ACTUALLY exist, camping at Mweka Hut.
Here we set up
shop, and then just relaxed after our long downclimb, talking
and drinking beer until nightfall. Tomorrow we'll finish down
to Mweka Gate (2 hours?) and head back to the hotel.
While I started the day with, I think, every piece of clothing
on me, by the end, I was down to less than 1/2 of that.
Oct 19th - Day 8
Ah, finally a good night's sleep at a decent elevation. With a
warm sunrise, what a perfect day to finish on.
Today we finished out the last leg of the trek, back through
the jungle, on Mweka trail. Greg and I quickly moved on ahead
of the others, mostly to take pictures, as I hadn't taken many
in the jungle on the way up.
There was nothing to focus on now, and we could just relax
and have a nice walk to the gate. I took many pictures of the
jungle, mossy trees all around, and flora galore.
Greg and I
arrived at the gate quite early, almost an hour ahead of the
rest of the group.
We sat around and relaxed, until this girl came over to me
(putting on a Wisconsin sweatshirt, which I can only assume
was a ploy to relate to me), and proceeded to subtlely and
then not so subtlely, hit on me (Greg still thinks she was a
pro! i'm not sure). Then she wanted my email and my phone
When the rest of the group arrived, we signed things, paid
people, and took a small hike down to the village, where many
shops were around, selling trinkets, beverages (coke, water,
etc..), and even soliciting t-shirts.
Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes to August, and just
took it easy. We met up with our south african friends that
night in the hotel's garden patio, while we talked about our
journeys and got drunk on well-deserved beer. I stumbled
back to my room later on, and got some good rest.
Oct 20th - Day 9
After smelling up the mountain for 6 days, finally, this morning, a shower! Had some breakfast, then just hung out all morning
listening to music, reading, and packing. (We leave this evening
for back home).
We sat down for a few drinks in the afternoon, and headed out
to the airport, gear and all, around 6pm.
Once there, we just
hung out, talked, and drank for a while, waiting for our plane.
Greg, Sasha, and I ended up on the same plane back to
Amsterdam (they actually don't run often at all from here to AMS), but
what a loooong ride back. Something like 12
hours on the plane. We had to first fly SOUTH, out of our
way for an hour, stop for 45 mins. to pick up people, and
then make up that distance with another extra hour, before
making progress back towards Amsterdam.
Once in Amsterdam, we had something to eat, talked, before saying goodbye to Greg (as his flight to Dublin was earlier than
our flights to the U.S.). Sasha and I had a coffee, played on the internet, checking email and the like, until I had to go. Minneapolis, through customs, Denver, and home.
What an amazing trip. The only thing that disappointed me a
little was that we didn't see more wildlife. No elephants,
giraffes, lions, hefalumps, woozles or even a snake maybe
next time, probably a few years from now, when I go back
to do some icicle climbing on kili's breach wall.
But next, who knows we're thinking Mt. Elbrus in Russia,
Vinson Massif in Antartica, or maybe for me a shorter trip,
like the massive volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea,