Kibo peak, the highest of 3 peaks on Kilimanjaro, is your goal for the whole trip. Each day, the mountain gets a little bit closer, a little bit more intimidating, and Kibo becomes your physical and mental goal for the whole trip. You keep your eyes set on each next step on the trail, but look up every few hours to see if Kibo has got any closer.
The hardest part, both physically and psychologically, about climbing Kilimanjaro is the day you attempt to summit, and the day after on your hike back down. (This applies mostly to the Machame route, and a little bit to the Marangu route)
You probably never realized that you actually don’t end up sleeping for about 2 solid days straight – and hike close to 20 hours.
Imagine this (again this applies to the popular 7 day climb on Machame): you are on the Machame route on Day 5 at Barafu camp, having just arrived from Karanga Camp. It’s the night before you make the final ascent to the top of Kibo. You are nervous because it’s the hardest part of the trip, you are tired and cold because you have hiked about 40 miles through wind, snow, rain, heat over the last 5 days, and now you are about to tackle the most difficult part of the trip. You are having trouble breathing, you have a headache, all your muscles hurt.
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You head to bed around 8:00 p.m. but with the lack of oxygen, your mind runs wild, you really don’t end up getting too much sleep. Your guides wake you up at 11:00 p.m. – that’s just maybe 2 or 3 hours after/if you went to sleep. You have to leave pack and leave camp by midnight, in order to arrive at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro for sunrise. You have a six to seven hour hike to the top, so you end up arriving around 6:00 or 7:00 depending upon how many breaks and if you can make it through the most difficult part. Now, after you enjoy the sunrise, maybe hang out for 30 to 45 minutes, you begin a long descent, 10,000 ft, over the course of the next 8 hours. Don’t forget, you just had MAYBE 2 hours of sleep, hiked six hours to 19,000 feet, and now have to descend to almost 10,000 ft over the next 8 hours. That’s a total of around 12 to 14 hours of hiking without any sleep, and hiking for 6 to 8 hours the day before.
When you arrive at Mweka Camp, near the forest, you will quickly fall asleep and not wake up for about 12 hours. The next day, you will have a short 3 to 4 walk outside to the park gate.
NOTE: Many people try to stop at Barafu Camp, on the way back down, and have a power nap, before continuing on the trail for the next 6 hours.
ANOTHER NOTE: Although this is not recommended, if you are a bad ass hiker, and can deal with another 3 hours of hiking after Mweka Camp, you can actually get out of the park a day early. It means you end up hiking around 17 hours the last day. Make sure to have a vehicle arranged to pick you up – you still have another hour drive to get back to Moshi. Public transportation is rare.