Joburg2Kili cyclists, Warrick and Camilla Kernes and Gareth Pickering successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro on the morning of the 15th October 2016 which was also a special day for the Kernes as it was their 5th wedding anniversary. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the final challenge of the #Joburg2Kili for Qhubeka powered by Tarsus Expedition which was an emotional and incredible experience for the team to be on the top of Africa after cycling 4650km on Qhubeka.
Here is a daily recap on the teams Mount Kilimanjaro Experience.
Day 1: Machame Gate (Elevation 1800m) to Machame Camp (Elevation 2835m)
From Springlands Hotel we were bused to Machame Gate on the Eastern side of the mountain. At the Gate we had to sign in and wait whilst our porters and guides finalised preparations. We were all amazed at how many other tourists were also there to climb the mountain – there must have been over 150 people. Eventually after an hour of waiting we were called to start making our way to the start of the climb where we met up with a group of three British guys called Simon, James and John who were all mates and a girl called Kate. We ended up hiking with them and their guide Frankie all the way to the camp. Our guide Gilbert still had to get some permits sorted out at the Gate but he caught up with us after about an hour of walking. The hike from the gate to Machame Camp is around 11km through a beautiful rainforest. You climb from 1800m in elevation up to just below 3000m so it is a steady incline the whole way. We arrived at Machame Camp in the late afternoon and it was very misty all around. We were shown to our tents and given a bowl of water each for washing. We then had tea and popcorn followed by a delicious dinner in our dining room tent.
Day 2: Machame Camp (Elevation 2835m) to Shira Cave Camp (Elevation 3750m)
The next morning, we were woken up at 7am and given a bowl of water for washing. By 7.30am we had to be packed with our big bags so the porters could take them and start making their way to the next camp. After eating a very decent breakfast we got our Camelbaks and water bottles refilled with water and finalised our day packs before heading off on a 5km hike to Shira Cave Camp along with the British group from the previous day. It is amazing how the vegetation changes so drastically the higher you climb. We were now hiking through the Moorland area which is very rocky with short trees which are covered in old mans’ beard. Although it is only 5km to the next camp it is a very tough day of hiking as you are climbing up a very rocky and steep pathway for the majority of the day. The route starts to flatten out a bit and this is where we got to finally start seeing the peak of the mountain.
About an hour away from camp, Cam had a sugar low and felt like she was going to faint. Both Gilbert and Frankie used a device they were carrying to check her blood pressure which was very low but the oxygenation of her blood was normal. At first the guides suggested she should go back but as Cam has had this happen before she asked if she could just eat something sugary and rest a bit to see if she feels better again before making a decision on whether to carry on or not. Gareth and the British group decided to continue hiking towards camp whilst Warrick, Cam and the two guides Gilbert and Frankie rested in some shade for a bit. After a Gu and some biscuits and lots of water, Cam started to feel a lot better and so it was decided that we would carry on hiking very slowly towards the camp. A few tears were shed when Cam and Warrick made it to Shira Cave Camp.
After eating a late lunch, we rested up in our tents before being called to go on an acclimatisation afternoon walk up to just below 4000m in elevation to Shira 2 Camp. On the walk, Gilbert showed us one of the caves where the porters used to stay in the past but now they all stay in tents. Whilst walking the weather changed from being misty and cold to being sunny which cleared the clouds around the peak of the mountain giving us an incredible view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Once back at camp we had an early evening dinner in our dining room tent which was mounted next to the British groups tent so we could all socialise which was great.
Day 3: Shira Cave Camp (Elevation 3750m) to Baranco Camp (Elevation 3900m) via the Lava Tower
The morning routine remained the same as the previous day with a wake-up call at 7am, breakfast at 7.30am and leaving camp just after 8am. We were led by Mzui, who was the British groups assistant guide, who set a very pole-pole (Swahili for slow) pace as we were going to be climbing up to an elevation of 4600m at the Lava Tower and then descending to 3900m at Baranco Camp where we would be camping for the night.
It is amazing to see how the vegetation changes along the way from small bushes to a desert of lava formed rocks and sand. The climb up to the Lava Tower is gradual but what makes it challenging is that you start to notice that it is getting harder to breathe. At the Lava Tower we rested and ate our packed lunches that the chef had prepared for us. We then started our descent down to Baranco camp.
On our way down the British girl, Kate, started to have issues with her knee so we ended up walking pole-pole and taking a lot of breaks as we made our way to the camp. When we arrived at Baranco camp it was very misty and cold but in a few minutes it cleared up a bit to present us with an incredible view of the mountain.
Day 4: Baranco Camp (Elevation 3900m) to Karanga Camp (Elevation 3950m)
We woke up to a beautiful clear, blue sky with a spectacular view of the mountain. We had quite a tough start to the day ahead of us as we had to get up and over Baranco wall, which is an almost vertical rock face that you have to ascend and end up rock climbing in some sections. It was very crowded climbing up the wall but it was impressive to watch how the porters manage to carry so much on their heads, shoulders and backs up some of the hectic rock climbing sections of the wall.
After climbing Baranco wall, the rest of the hike through to Karanga camp is relatively easy going other than just before the camp where you have to descend this hectic pass down to a river and back up again to the camp. This was our last hike with the British group as they were on a 6-day package so they had to carry on hiking past Karanga camp onto Barafu camp, which is the base camp where you start your summit climb. Once at Karanga camp we had a delicious lunch followed by a short rest period before going on a acclimatisation walk with our assistant guide Ngwasha. It was very misty and cold on our afternoon walk so we couldn’t really see much but that evening we had one of the clearest nights on the mountain with a sky filled with stars and an almost full moon.
Day 5: Karanga Camp (3950m) to Barafu Camp (Elevation 4673m)
We woke up to a crisp morning with blue skies and once again breath-taking views of the landscape around us and the mountain. We had a short 4km hike through to Barafu camp where we would be starting our summit climb. The first few kilometres of the hike was up a steady incline where we just continued walking pole-pole following Ngwasha. The rest of the hike was fairly easy with one final steepish climb up to the camp. As we got to our tents we were very happy to bump into the three British guys who had all successfully summited that morning. They were in a bit of rush though as they had decided to rather hike all the way down the mountain to go back to the hotel for the night instead of camping once last night. They informed us that Kate was still ascending up to the summit when they had started their descent. After congratulating the guys we had a quick lunch and went to rest in our tents. Whilst we were resting up we were pleased to hear Kate return back to camp having successfully summited but she was looking absolutely exhausted. In the late afternoon, Ngwasha took us on another acclimatisation walk up to an elevation of around 4800m and back down to camp. He was also able to show us the route we would be taking up the mountain to summit leaving at midnight. We then had an early dinner followed by a briefing by Gilbert on what we needed to prepare for in terms of our summit attempt in terms of what to wear to stay warm, how much to drink and eat and some breathing techniques. We were all very quiet that night and you could feel the nervous tension in the air.
Day 6: Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro
Just before midnight we were woken up to start getting ready for our summit attempt. We layered up in all our clothes and grabbed a quick coffee and popcorn before starting our hike up the “small hill” as Gilbert our guide put it. We seemed to be one of the last groups to start climbing as you could see all the headlamps creating a pathway of lights up the mountain. Gilbert set a very pole-pole pace for us as we started the big climb up the switchbacks of the mountain. It is very hard going as you are hiking on scree so whenever you step on a steep section you feel your foot sliding back down a bit. The summit climb is a lot tougher than you would expect and as you reach over 5000m in elevation you start to notice how the altitude really effects people. We ended up passing fellow hikers that were seriously not well which is quite emotional. We had quite a bit of wind on our way up which made our fingers and toes go numb. Gilbert also tried not to stop too often as the longer you stop the colder you get so instead we just kept moving pole-pole up the steep slope.
Just before sunrise, Gareth started to feel a bit dizzy and nauseous. After taking a bit of time to let him rest we then continued up the mountain at a very pole-pole pace whilst the sun came up. We eventually reached Stella Point after over 5 hours of climbing where we took a short break to have some tea and something to eat. From Stella point you can finally see where the summit point is which definitely helped lift spirits. We then continued onwards at a pole-pole pace along the rim of the crater and enjoyed viewing the incredible glacier formations along the way.
It was tough going for us all on that last stretch not only because of the altitude but also because it just seemed to be taking forever to get to the end point and so many fellow hikers were passing us that had already summited. We finally saw the famous Mount Kilimanjaro sign where our assistant guide Ngwasha was standing next to a table he had prepared with a bottle of champagne and a cake in a box which was a surprise for Cam and Warrick for their 5th wedding anniversary. Lots of tears of joy were shed as we all felt the enormity of what we had achieved cycling 4650km to Moshi and climbing up to the top of Africa. After popping the champagne and cutting the cake, we had to deal with the crowds of hikers to get our turn to have a summit photo.
One of our sponsors, Tarsus Distribution, managed to arrange for us to all have a “Conquering for Gugu” bracelet made by Absa that we all left behind at the top of mountain in memory of the legendary South African racing driver Gugu Zulu.
After spending close to an hour at the summit it was time to start our descent back down to Barafu camp. Gareth and Warrick loved the descent and were running/skiing down the loose scree on the mountain. Ngwasha helped Cam who was a bit terrified of sliding down the loose scree. We eventually got back down to Barafu camp just after 10am where we decided that we wanted to skip camping the last night on the mountain and rather go straight back to the hotel so that we could all have a decent shower and good nights’ rest.
After eating some breakfast we packed up our bags and set off on the long trek down the mountain. It ended up taking us 7 hours to descend the mountain which was a lot harder than we had expected. Warrick was suffering as his one knee started to hurt whilst hiking down the rocky section between High camp and Mweka camp. From Mweka camp it is 10km to the Mweka Gate through the rainforest which is really beautiful; however, we were all feeling exhausted and were so over the constant pounding on our legs from the descent. We did manage to see Black and White Colobus monkeys in the rainforest which was awesome.
At the end of the Mweka hiking trail you get to a dirt road which is the last stretch before the Gate and luckily there was a car waiting that was in fact an ambulance. Gilbert told us all to get into the ambulance and arranged for them to kindly drive us down to the gate much to our relief as we were all absolutely exhausted. At the Gate we had to fill in a few forms and then we were shown to a table that had been set up for us to have dinner which was such a wonderful surprise after an incredibly long day on the mountain. We then got into a bus with the rest of the crew and were taken back to Springlands Hotel in Moshi. Despite being absolutely exhausted we were all very grateful to be back at the hotel to have a shower and to not be camping for a change.
Day 7: Certificate ceremony & Goodbyes
After having a good nights’ rest, we all met up for a late morning breakfast at the hotel. Derrick had driven through to Moshi from Arusha as he and Gareth were going to be leaving together on their own return journey. We then met up with Gilbert and Ngwasha and the rest of the team from Zara Tours including our chef, waiter and some of the porters for a short certificate ceremony where we also got to say our thanks to the team for making our Kilimanjaro experience one to remember.
It was then time to part ways as the Kernes are going on a Tanzanian safari for a week and then driving back to Johannesburg and Derrick and Gareth are heading on their own adventure back to SA starting with a trip to Zanzibar.
The Joburg2Kili for Qhubeka Expedition has been an incredible journey for the whole team but what has made it extraordinary has been all the wonderful support we have received both in terms of donations for Qhubeka as well as words of encouragement along the way from our sponsors, family, friends and fans. We are all extremely grateful for this and would like to say a massive THANK YOU to you all.
Click below to check out our video we have put together of the Joburg2Kili Mount Kilimanjaro Experience: