Finding Patience and Pride at 22,841 feet on the Summit of Aconcagua

“I feel drunk right now,” Nina groaned. She was wobbling, her balance impacted by the increasing elevation, though each teetering step continued to propel her up towards the summit at the rapid speed of 250 vertical feet an hour.

Hanne hiked quietly, deliberately placing one step in front of the other, occasionally looking up towards the summit with a glowing grin plastered across bright red cheeks. I kept meaning to remind her to cover her face with her buff as the sun gradually showed its strength on her fair Norwegian skin, but then my thoughts would float skyward.

We’d been hiking up the same gully for (seemingly endless) hours. The summit was so close we could practically reach out and touch it, and I knew that Nina – one of the strongest women I know, an ultra marathoner and mountain runner – was no doubt dreaming of jogging on up as she did her local LA peaks. However, our hands were tied by the high altitude’s oppressive demands. Even if we could move any faster, it wouldn’t be smart or healthy for our body’s acclimatization. Just as on the rest of this entire trip, we were forced to move at a snail’s pace.

This was a real test of patience for all of us.

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Neighboring peaks of Aconcagua shot at sunset from our first high camp.

 

For the first time in my life, I experienced what high-altitude mountaineers describe in books, speeches, and tales from higher places. My breath lagged, my legs adopting the weight of concrete blocks. Every step strained my muscles, every sharp inhale seemed to do the job of half. I moved the slowest I ever have on a hike or climb, and somehow my spirit still soared.

I was functioning very well for such a high altitude. I’ve summited three other peaks near the 20,000 foot mark and always felt fine and strong, but this was new territory. The extra 2,800 feet on Aconcagua was significant enough to demand my full attention, and every foot I moved higher on summit day, I felt my strength challenged.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into the physical challenge that mountaineering inflicts on your body. A lot of it is unseen.

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The shadow of Aconcagua stretches over the horizon at sunrise.

Summit morning

It’s 4am when we hear the familiar clank of stoves and shovels as our guides wake up to begin melting snow for breakfast. The three of us clients lay stiff in our sleeping bags, afraid to move just an inch in case the chilled air could leak into our perfectly warmed cocoons, while Miki, Charlie, and Ulises brave the cold. Our valiant guides had already melted 60 liters the night before, to ensure every climber would have enough liquids to get them through the night and the entire summit day. Each of them were strong, selfless, and big reasons as to how each of us remained healthy and happy throughout our expedition.

As to be expected, not one of the three of us really slept that night. Our high camp Colera was at 19,586 feet, two hundred feet higher than the summit of Kilimanjaro. Miki was right about one thing; it was a lot more comfortable squeezing three women into our two-person tent, the body warmth at least made our last evening more bearable.

But that’s not why we had tripled-up. We were warned that a solo inhabitant wouldn’t have the body weight to hold the shelter down in case of high winds. Our guides had dealt with a similar situation before: Chasing a willowy female client down the mountain as her tent catapulted her, body and all, past camp and towards a steep drop-off.

Besides, we were teeming with excitement, eagerness, and just a little bit of anxiousness for what the morning would bring. None of us quite wanted to get our hopes up.

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Killing time in the dining tent at 18,200 feet, where we were camped for three nights.

Two days before

The wind is too strong to entirely stand up, so we half walk, half bear crawl from sleeping tent to dining tent.

A howling 70 mph gust goes by, and we scramble to reinforce our shelters with 20, 30, and 40 pound rocks. Each of us is slowly, numbingly losing feeling in the tips of our fingers, toes, and nose as the temperature plummets with the lowering barometric pressure. We try to resist calls from Mother Nature, dreading the contact of wind on delicate skin, leaning against a small frozen rock more for the emotional comfort rather than any real wind block.

We’ve already spent two nights at Nido de Condores, our intermediate high camp at 18,241 feet. We’re behind schedule, using up our extra weather days for their very intent. Every day we see bluebird skies: The forecast doesn’t predict any precipitation; this is a dry, clear, yet deadly windy storm. With gusts reaching 100km at our current elevation, we can’t imagine what climbers up high were experiencing.

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Nina looks out over Argentina’s Andes mountain range on an acclimatization hike.

 

A few of the friends we’d made at base camp are turned around from their summit attempt, and we feel for them, in part because we’re all thinking the same thing: The longer we spend here, expelling energy at such a high elevation, eating our food reserves, and waiting for a last ditch chance for the weather, the lower our chances are for our own summit attempt.

We’d accepted this possibility, our most probable outcome at the moment, getting ready to spend our third night at Nido when Miki asks to meet with us.

“There’s been a change in the weather forecast. There’s a small summit window opening up in 36 hours,” he tells us. “Do we want to try our luck?”

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Photo courtesy of Hanne Lund Danielsen.

Sunrise

We’d been walking about an hour – or was it two? My watch was bundled underneath layers of jackets and gloves, and I was using the slow onset of dawn to measure time, as well as our progress.

It had been a beautiful morning so far, with a gentle wind (or “kiss from the mountain” as Miki insisted), and everyone seemed strong. We reached the broken down Refugio Independencia (20,930 ft.) just as the sun was making its final rise over the horizon, brightening up everyone’s faces and spirits. There had to be a dozen teams at this pivotal point in the climb, more climbers than any of us expected. We soaked up the rays, forced down some food, and lathered on sunscreen before strapping on our crampons and setting up the slope again.

We breached the ridge above Independencia and got a full view of our next few hours across the Great Traverse. Some of us thought it looked simple, some said it seemed like it stretched on forever. I stared out at this section draped in shadow as a gust of westward wind blasted us and had one thought only: Looks cold.

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The impressive South Face of Aconcagua looms down at us from Plaza Francia (13,300 ft).

Two weeks before

“I’m boiling alive,” Hanne complained, fanning herself with a baseball hat. She was wearing shorts and a thin t-shirt and looked more comfortable than I felt in my long pants and long sleeves. I hate coating my body in sunscreen even more than I hate the heat.

The Argentinian summer heat was oppressive at our Confluencia Camp (11,300 ft). We’d come up from the trailhead the day before at the mouth of the Horcones Valley (9,678 ft.), and we were already feeling like we’d never cool off from the desert climate’s wrath. Our bodies sticky from sweat, we lamented that we still had two and a half weeks before our next shower.

Our journey was just beginning. We had just started the ritual of massive hydration, not-so-secretly competing with one another to see who was drinking the most liquids throughout the day. Even so far away from our summit attempt, we were still counting down the days to the top and maximizing our chances of success down to every minute detail.

Even though we’d seen the mountain from a distance at the very entrance to Aconcagua Provincial Park, it wasn’t until that second day at Confluencia when we really got to understand what we’d signed up for. An acclimatization hike to Plaza Francia (13,287 ft.) brought us to an absolutely breathtaking view of the south face of the mountain, peering up nearly 10,000 feet – almost two vertical miles – to the summit we’d all flown across the world for.

I think we joked to each other about the heat, and the hydration, because all along we all really knew that things would get a lot less comfortable up high. But we still had a long way to go.

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Our descent on summit day, racing the sunset back to camp after 7pm.

The final slog

The long, undulating and gradual traverse led us to La Cueva (21,817 ft.), or The Cave, at the base of a large rock wall. Here, climbers gather strength and enjoy their last break before the final summit push, all while facing the objectively most difficult – and most dangerous – part of our day.

The Canaleta is the steepest section of the entire climb, beginning from the base of La Cueva and stretching up just a few hundred feet short of the summit. When dry, the Canaleta is plagued with deep scree that backtracks climber’s progress nearly two-fold. Sections reminded me of the volcanic ash I was so familiar with climbing back home on Mt. St. Helens, South Sister, Mt. Adams: One step up, two slides down.

We were lucky. Because of the last week’s storm, we greeted the hard-packed snow and ice that covered the Canaleta with gratefulness.

So here we were, with Nina’s restiveness, Hanne’s stoic march, and my haggard breaths slowly inching us towards our goal. Our guides Miki and Charlie coached us mentally just as much physically, as the impatience of the preceding two weeks crept up on us and I fought the urge to race ahead.

Finally, minutes blended into moments, and we were greeted with flashes of brightly colored parkas, national flags, and a decorations adorning the summit cross. We’d made it to the top.

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Nina, Hanne, and myself on the summit of Aconcagua (22,841 ft).

It’d be easy to say that our hard work and perseverance paid off. From the months spent training at home, to the days of load-carrying to camps. But I think that we owe the real credit to the mental battles each of us faced. Fighting through the internal protests of: “I’m too cold,” “I’m too tired,” “I’m not cut out for this.” Breaking the opposing mental walls of agony and boredom, seeing past the easy way off the mountain and silently suffering through the discomfort. I credit our success to our patience on acclimatization days, bad weather days, and mornings we were too cold to leave our tent.

We wouldn’t have shown up if we weren’t physically fit enough for the task at hand, but we wouldn’t have succeeded if our mental and emotional strength didn’t stand up to the challenge. Patience is similar to pride, gratefulness, and joy in that it can be invisible… but they’re the most valuable things we carried with us once we left that summit.

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Photo taken from a load-carry acclimatization hike. Aconcagua marks the third continent, and fifth summit, that Nina and I have tackled together.

Sea Level Training for High-Altitude Endeavors: My Regimen for Aconcagua

Just two weeks ago I made the plunge and decided to join one of my most fearless friends on another high-altitude excursion across the world: Aconcagua in Argentina. At 22,841 ft., this mountain will be the highest (and hardest) summit we’ve ever pursued, and I couldn’t be happier to be embarking on this expedition with one of my bravest, most driven and adventurous friends.

When I tell people I’m leaving in a week to climb the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, the highest point in the Western hemisphere, and the Seventh Summit of South America – the first question I get is inevitably: How are you training for high altitude while you’re here at sea level?

The easiest (and only) answer: You simply can’t prepare for altitude. But you can condition your muscles and mind to be ready once you arrive.

Here are the main ways I’ve been amping up my cardio, strength, and endurance training for Aconcagua the last three weeks…

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Viewpoint from Pittock Mansion in downtown Portland

(1) Trail Running

Despite its notorious rain, Portland is one of the top destinations for runners in the country, partly due to the trails it has right within its city blocks.

Hands down, my new favorite running trail has been Leif Erikson Drive. Super accessible from anywhere in NW Portland as well as right off of the freeway, this wide, gradual, and feet-friendly trail is over 11 miles long. Plus: this route features distance markers every 1/4 mile, which make it super easy to track your progress. I started out at 10 miles, then onto 12, and on my latest trip I reached 15 miles round-trip. It’s definitely my go-to spot for upping my mileage week after week as my climb approaches.

This has been my first winter back in Oregon since high school, and the adjustment from a California climate to the snowy season we’ve been having has been a learning lesson for my layering system. I’d read some time ago that cold air makes your lungs work harder to metabolize oxygen, so frigid temperatures should get you used to these same effects at high-altitude and help enhance your ability to acclimatize. So in a way, the winter weather is really doing me a favor.

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Hike Lower Macleay Park in downtown Portland

(2) Strength Training

Because I already love running, the first to-do of my training list was a cinch. I knew that my biggest challenges would come in strength training, which I hadn’t done since before I left on my worldwide trip in February (nearly a year ago). So I got to dust off my weights, and I now dedicate 3-5 days per week on different arm, abdominal, and leg muscles during 20-40 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions.

My strength training regimen also includes weighted walking, which is when the photo above was taken. On this brisk Friday afternoon I loaded my backpack up with 40 lbs of Nalgene water bottles, handheld weights, and heavy books to hike out of Lower MacLeay Park. I was not paying attention to how far I could go; I knew that distance and pace mattered little to me today. I simply set out with a goal of spending at least 2.5 hours without dropping my pack, continually moving, to get my entire body used to the strain that would be put on it on the slopes of Aconcagua.

At altitude, every little detail is over-exaggerated. Weight feels heavier, breathing feels harder, muscles are more sore and headaches are more severe. The more I can get my body used to this agony  while stuck in the city, the better I’ll perform in the mountains.

(3) Duration Over Distance

Throughout all of my training, no matter where, when, or what; my main focus has been on endurance. Endurance Athletics is all about how long you can last under extreme physical strain – and that all comes to how well you are prepared for it.

That’s why when you’re training to do a seriously intense athletic feat, it’s important to place a huge emphasis on duration over distance. Even if you find yourself trotting downhill and hiking slowly uphill (as I did on the day that this photo was taken), the most important part of training is to work through the hurt. And trust me, your training should hurt. After all…

Progress doesn’t happen within your comfort zone.

Like I mentioned, this mountain is close to 7,000 meters and poses all types of objective climbing hazards, and because of this – our #1 goal is getting down safely. Aconcagua has a 30% success rate, mostly for its subzero temperatures, unpredictable weather, and seriously high altitude. Because of all of these factors, this peak demands humility from those who attempt to climb it. I feel no pressure, I only have hope that all works in our favor and we can reach this incredible summit in the heart of the Andes.

I am excited, I am anxious, and I am ready to chase this dream with such a kickass friend by my side. Keep an eye out for my wrap-up post at the end of January!

Solitude at the Summit of Europe’s Highest Peak: Mt. Elbrus (18,510 ft / 5,642 m)

The tallest mountain in Europe is as unique as any other of the Seven Summits, tucked away in a small ski village of Elbrus on the border of Russia and Georgia. 
High seasons in the dead of winter and heart of summer attract Russian tourists and families, locals selling fur, jam, and sweets, plus a host of climbers from every corner of the world come to fulfill a huge mark off their bucket list.

Cheget Village


When I arrived at our hotel (based at 6,880 ft / 2,100 m), a stretching 3-hour drive from the small Mineralnye Vody airport, I discovered I was the only solo climber of their 60+ guests. I quickly made friends with larger expeditions who offered me tips, shared their perspective of the mountain’s current conditions, and invited me on day hikes.

Exploring the upper valley on my arrival day

I organized this trip through Pilgrim Tours, as part of their Lite Package, and I followed their suggested 8-day acclimatization schedule – which by all means was very speedy. This schedule allowed me a full three optional summit days – which is exactly what I was looking for. 

I spent my arrival day orienting myself around the villages, picking up food for day hikes, and securing rental gear for my nights on the mountain. I got my first taste of traditional Russian cuisine in our hotel’s dining room, a dish that would soon become all too familiar: mayonnaise-drenched salad, thin brothy soup, and a plate heaped with some kind of meat and potatoes.

Typical Russian traffic jam, en route from the airport



Day 1: Acclimatization hike up Mt. Cheget (11,815 ft / 3,601 m)



The Semerka hotel was conveniently situated in Cheget village, at the base of Mt. Cheget. I fought off hard suggestions to take the chairlift up to 3,005 meters, cutting off around 600 meters and two hours of elevation gain, and instead began the hike from the base of the mountain.

The single-seat chairlifts up to 3,000 meters

Cheget marks the border between Russia and Georgia, hikers need to carry their passports in case approached by Georgia border police


I was surprised to learn that most people take the chairlift shortcut, though I understood the reasoning to spend as much time up high as possible. Groups who cut off the first half of this climb would have more time to relax and adjust to the summit height of 3,600 m.

View from the summit of Cheget Peak

A second view from the summit

 

I sped up the trail after an early breakfast and reached the top in just under three hours. The views of the Caucusus mountain range were absolutely spectacular, with Mt. Elbrus looming to my side. Clouds shifted in and out of the sun all morning, hiding and then revealing this stunning scene.

Elbrus peeked out of the clouds on my descent

I spent about a half hour up top, mostly because I wasn’t completely sure whether I had reached the true summit. Two sister peaks rise up just ahead of Cheget, making me question whether I should be scrambling down the steep rocky path to follow their lead. After some in-depth photo journalism efforts (and further cross-checking these photos with other guides and Google images), I happily determined that I had in fact made it to the summit of Mt. Cheget.

One last view of Elbrus before retreating to Cheget Village


Day 2: First day on the mountain, acclimatization hike and overnight at Old Barrels (12,460 ft / 3,800 m)



This morning I took off right after breakfast and navigated my way up three separate chairlifts until I was on Elbrus proper. My first night I stayed at the Old Barrels, a hut that’s made itself infamous by outdated decor and less-than-first-world toilets.

Cable car ride up to the Barrel Huts


I’m here to shatter the rumors: I LOVED the Barrel Huts! The owner was the sweetest man who spoke a handful of English words – and who made sure I felt set up and at home. I ended up actually getting an entire hut to myself, whether from my early season arrival or a lack of popularity, I’m not sure. 

My hut slept six, much more comfortable than bunks

Here are the important details: The beds are wide, long, and seemed clean enough. There’s plenty of storage under each bed, along the walls, in cabinets, and in a mud room up front for shoes and gear. Each bed comes with a mattress, so don’t make my mistake of renting a sleeping pad. The kitchen is separated into two rooms with two sets of stoves, which (despite what I was told in the village) are absolutely open for guests to cook their own meals. Finally, and maybe most important, the toilets weren’t bad at all. Maybe Nepal numbed my sensitivity to this issue, but I was perfectly placated by the wooden room with a hole in the ground. It was absolutely, perfectly clean.

View from Old Barrel #3


Minutes after I pack away my things I meet a group with Adventure Peaks from the UK who eagerly invite me to join their afternoon acclimatization hike. We have tea and biscuits before setting off, their leader announcing to us that earlier in the morning a man had died on the mountain of a heart attack – heavy news to digest on our first night here.

Our hike goes smoothly and I feel strong and acclimatized, despite having only spent one day above 3,000 meters and no night yet at altitude. We hike upwards for two hours and take a break, where we watch the weather turn rapidly, and sprint back just in time to narrowly avoid a violent sleet storm. I’m laying on my sleeping bag in the hut when I hear the wind howling, and suddenly the entire building is rocking back and forth to the wild gale. A member from the UK team later tells me lightning actually struck one of the electric towers above our huts, causing a huge explosion. Then, two hours later, the clouds part to reveal a glowing sunset over the horizon. Things change quickly around here.

World’s most scenic toilets


Day 3: Acclimatization hike to Pastukhov Rocks (15,400 ft / 4,700 m), overnight at Pilgrim Tours huts (12,800 ft / 3900 m)



My Russian guide Brad had been living on the mountain for a while, shuffling clients up and down the summit, so he suggested not beginning our first day together until 10am. I spent my morning packing up from the Barrels and moving into Pilgrim Tours’ private huts, where I appreciated the nice upgrade and free meals.

Ascending our way up to Pastukhov Rocks

Brad tells me it’ll take us 3-4 hours to reach the bottom of the Pastukhov Rocks (13,700 ft / 4,200 m), a 500 meter long landmark of Elbrus’ south face. Instead, it only takes us 2.5 hours. Our goal was the bottom of the Rocks, but feeling good and accomplishing that early, we walk to the top before calling it a day.

Waving down at my bunkmates

Back at the Pilgrim Tours huts, I’m reunited with friends from South Africa and am placed in their last remaining bunk. Their group is on an expedition with Adventures Global, headed up by its founder Ronnie Muhl. I owe a huge thanks to these guys for their generous tips, encouragement, and all-around splendid company.
Day 4: Summit day up Elbrus’ West peak (18,510 ft / 5,642 m)



I wake up before 1am to the sounds of the 18-person Danish team finishing breakfast and gathering the rest of their gear. My “breakfast,” a nervous shoveling of food into my mouth and gear onto my body, ends just before 2am when Brad and I walk out to the main snowfield to meet the snowcat.

Our snowcat is carrying four other climbers and delivers all six of us to an (ever so slightly) even ground at 5,000 meters. We must have arrived by around 2:30am, where Brad and I dart ahead of the others to begin the climb. Brad breaks trail all morning long: we are the first people on the mountain.

Flickering lights from 1,200 meters below

The slope is steep at points, especially the traverse from the main snowfield to the saddle between both West and East peaks. The fresh snow has our feet slipping often; we place our weight – and trust – in ice axes pierced into the uphill slope. Far below, we can see the sparkling lights of the huts and chairlifts.

The Caucasus Range over the first rays of light


We take a break at the saddle where two young Norwegian guys catch up with us, and we all enjoy a few sips of liquids and a bites of food before heading up the steep summit slope – just two hours from our goal. 

Walking up from the saddle


The four of us slowly made our way up to the final summit mound, rejoicing in the early-morning solitude and the joy of having such a special spot to ourselves.

The slow slug up to the final summit

This is what it feels like to reach one of the Seven Summits!


The first person to sit atop the summit that morning!

 

On our descent we passed dozens of groups on their way up the mountain. All had chosen to follow the path that Brad had cut hours before. His new route had skirted around a typically-used slope laden with fixed ropes; so we didn’t even use our harnesses at all.

A beautiful kind of hard work

Looking back up at Brad’s new route

 

In the end, we arrived back at the huts by 9:30 in the morning – just 7 hours after we’d begun our walk in the early hours of the morning. The hellos, hugs, and second and third breakfasts all blended together before I made my way back to the village for a well deserved shower and assessment of sunburn damage. 

All in all it was a great trip and I owe a huge amount of my success to the perfect break in weather – teams just before and after our summit day weren’t so lucky. I’m so grateful to be able to walk away from Russia with another one of the world’s highest peaks reached, and one more of the Seven Summits checked off my list.

Summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341′) via the Rongai Route

Reach the Roof of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341’), on this high-altitude Tanzanian adventure, on the easiest non-technical climb of the world’s Seven Summits. Expect to spend 6-7 days hiking on the Rongai route.

Overview: 6 days, 43.8 miles, 12,945 ft. elevation gain

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Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world since it stands alone from any mountain range, making its size and height all the more impressive. Because of its reputation, ease of accessibility, and Tanzania’s affordability, this is an incredibly popular mountain to climb and therefore laden with lots of red tape. It is required to organize this climb through a licensed mountain operator, as well as follow one of the official climbing routes – so be sure to do your due diligence and research the right route for you!

The Rongai Route is one of the least traveled ways up Africa’s tallest peak, allowing a more remote hiking experience. Unlike the southern routes, Rongai is a moorland or high-altitude desert climate, with far less precipitation than rainforest routes. The Rongai route meets the Marangu route on the final night to follow this trail to the summit.

Most, if not all, of the routes up the mountain begin in the town of Arusha, Tanzania, accessed by the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). For this particular itinerary, you’ll head to the northeastern side of the mountain along the border of Kenya, about a five hour drive from Arusha. Expect to spend 6-7 days hiking on the Rongai route.

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Day 1: Nale Moru (1,950 m/6,400 ft.) + Simba Camp (2,650 m/8,700 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 6.5km/4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700m/2,300 ft.

Today is the start of it all, beginning at the Rongai Gate in Nale Moru. After registering with park officials and finalizing the last of your packing, your hike starts through fields and a few small villages. You’ll spend the night at Simba Camp, close to the First Cave, overlooking the Kenyan plains.

Day 2: Kikelewa Caves (3,600 m/11,810 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 9 km/5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950m/3,110 ft.

On the second day, vegetation grows thinner and you’ll enter into a truly high-alpine desert biosphere. Pass by the Second Cave (where you might stop for lunch) and end your day at Kikelewa Camp, next to the Kikelewa Cave.

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Day 3: Mawenzi Tarn (4,330m/14,210 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 6km/3.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 730m/2,400 ft.

As the week progresses, your days grow shorter, and this hike to Mawenzi Tarn should only take a couple hours as your body adjusts to the higher elevations. This is when proper hydration and a slow pace (pole, pole, as the Tanzanians would say) play a huge part in your successful acclimatization. You’ll spend this night at Mawenzi Tarn and have plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the plains and rocky outcrops in this vast area.

Day 4: Kibo Huts (4,330 m/15,420 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 9km/5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 370m/1,215 ft.

This is the point where the Rongai Route meets up with the Marangu Route for your final summit push. You’ll want to leave Mawenzi Tarn early this morning so that you have plenty of time to rest and prepare for your summit bid later in the night. The Kibo Huts are a little like a semi-permanent village, with huge crowds from both routes and plenty of noise and excitement.

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Dancing at the summit of Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro.

Day 5: Summit via Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak (5,895m/19,340 ft.) to Horombo Huts (3,700m/12,200 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 5km/3.1 miles ascent + 15km/9.3 miles descent
  • Elevation gain: 1,195m/3,920 ft.
  • Elevation loss: 2,195m/7,200 ft.

Day 5 begins late night of Day 4, waking, eating, and heading out of camp by midnight for your summit bid. The first half of your early-morning leading up to Gilman’s Point (5,700m/18,700 ft.) will be full of undulating switchbacks that may be made more brutal by biting cold and harsh winds, as we were. From Gilman’s Point you’ll get to look into the huge volcanic crater and surrounding ice caps, with the true summit just ahead. The crater rim to your left leads you all the way to Uhuru Peak with the famous summit sign of Kilimanjaro.

Unfortunately this last push is where hikers are most likely to feel the full affects of altitude sickness, and we saw lots of folks being ushered or even carried down the mountain at this point. That’s why it’s all the more important to limit your time at the top and descend quickly, back to the Kibo Huts for some fuel and a short break, before you’ll continue on to the Horombo Huts.

Day 6: Marangu Gate (1,860m/6,102 ft.)

  • Walking distance: 20km/12.5 miles
  • Elevation loss: 1,840m/6,040 ft.

After all of the climbing you’ve accomplished, this hike out should feel like a piece of cake. Descending on the southside, you’ll be immersed in a beautiful rainforest as well as the infamous crowds you avoided to the north heading up for their chance at the summit. Take your time, enjoy the scenery, and give yourself a huge high-five once you’ve reached the final Marangu Gate.

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The final crater rim walk up to Uhuru Peak from Gilman’s Point.

While this climb is truly non-technical and often described as “easy” or a simple “walk-up,” proper planning and packing is essential to any climber’s success. Freak weather storms, freezing temperatures, and debilitating altitude sickness can occur at any time without warning. Pack for everything, and be prepared for anything.

Packing List

  • Wool hat + sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen, +SPF chapstick
  • Heavyweight gloves
  • 3+ upper body layers – shirts, fleece, long underwear
  • Hardshell rain jacket
  • Down jacket
  • 2+ lower body layers – trekking pants, long underwear
  • Hardshell waterproof pants
  • Gaiters
  • 6+ pairs wool socks
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Trekking poles
  • Headlamp + extra batteries
  • 40+ liter backpack
  • Sleeping bag + sleeping pad
  • 2+ liter water bottles
  • Iodine or other water treatment
  • First aid kit
  • Deck of cards, journal, or charming humor for afternoons spent acclimatizing at camp