A Kilimanjaro reflection and what you should be looking out for
“I saw 2 shooting stars on summit night because I looked up rather than down… I knew then that I was going to make it,” ~ Carmen Camondo
Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain and certainly one of the continent’s magnificent sights, It has three main volcanic peaks: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. “The name itself “Kilimanjaro” is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans,” says Tanzania Tourism.
This ‘Roof of Africa’ climb is on the bucket-list for many from around the world. But when you stop to ask, “How was it climbing Kili?” Often these mismatched answers leave me wondering… Duly noted, we are all different and our mile-markers cannot be measured by traditional means!
Therefore we thought it might be interesting to get perspective from an adventurous soul Carmen Camondo and her reflection of her summit. It has nearly been one year since she climbed, and here she gives us honest and truly inspiring insight…
TB: What is your lasting impression of climbing Kilimanjaro, now that you have had time to reflect?
CC: It has nearly been a year since my climb, and my lasting impression is one of deep respect, immense gratitude and overwhelming appreciation. Respect for the mountain – I don’t think people really appreciate how hard it is despite it being a “long slow walk”. And further, deep respect & gratitude for the porters and guides – they all work so hard to take care of us, and to ensure that we summit. And lastly, appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.
TB: If you had to rewind and do it again for the “first time”, is there anything that you would do differently?
CC: I would definitely spend more time at the top of the mountain! And I would make sure I also get my solo photo at Uhuru Peak.
TB: What is your advice to others doing it for the first time?
CC: Pole-pole; listen to your body as you are the only one who knows your body best. Don’t bother with Diamox (used to prevent altitude sickness). You are stronger than what you think. Take time to look up at the stars. I saw 2 shooting stars on summit night because I looked up rather than down. I knew then that I was going to make it! Take time to learn some Swahili with your crew, and learn the Kilimanjaro Song. Take as many photos as you can, because that still won’t be enough. Get a really good playlist together – my music helped me through some of my toughest moments. Gratitude and appreciation!
TB: Do you think that the experience changed you as a person? Or was it mostly a tick-off from the bucket-list for you?
CC: It was a bucket list item of one of the experiences I wanted to achieve, along with a few other “working holidays”. I don’t think the experience changed me though. “Changed”, for me, is rather a strong word, and I feel my core is still the same. But I believe climbing Kilimanjaro enriched me and taught me more than I expected.
TB: How did the actual experience parallel to your expectation?
CC: I didn’t know what to expect to be honest! Therefore every step was an adventure of discovery. My Dad climbed a few years prior to me and he actually made sure to tell me nothing. That is until I came down, and the first thing he said to me was, “Summit night huh?” with a little smile on his face.
TB: Which route did you do? And please give us a quick roundup of your experience?
CC: I did the Marangu Route (Coca-cola Route). A lot of people prefer not to do it because it’s a very busy route. But I didn’t mind the crowds and the diversity of people. Our local team that looked after us were such lovely people, and they made sure that our every need was met. In the end it was very humbling to have had the privilege of hiking alongside these beautiful souls. Things get very real when you see climbers being run down on the stretchers! Even if you don’t believe in God, you end up saying a little prayer. The scenery takes your breath away! We took time-out to just sit and enjoy the views. It is actually mind blowing how it changes with each day. Again gratitude and appreciation. I feel very fortunate that I was able to have this experience.
TB: Did the team that you climbed with impact your experience? How so?
CC: Definitely. We became a family, and our top priority was invested in us supporting each other to summit.
TB: How were you feeling on summit?
CC: Summit night I was anxious! At Kibo Camp there were climbers significantly struggling with the altitude. And of course it didn’t help that I had a raging headache. You have 4 hours to rest and prepare yourself before you climb through the night. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at that altitude, so I just rested my body and did breathing exercises. My hot water bottle was a blessing. Before you know it, your guides are switching on the lights and rounding everyone up to ready themselves for the climb. Starting the climb I was still nervous, but once I saw my 2 shooting stars, that was my sign from the Universe saying to me, “You got this girl!” It is then that I started to relax and focus. Finally reaching the top, and seeing the sunrise, this was probably the most exhilarating feeling, despite of course being totally exhausted. Then capturing a glimpse of Uhuru peak in the distance… all you want to do is run! But you can’t! Your body is dead weight! There is no air to breathe, and you are totally exhausted. So you just keep on pole-pole until you eventually get there. I just laughed and cried… gratitude and appreciation. It is definitely the most amazing sense of achievement I have had in my life thus far.
TB: Would you do it again?
CC: Absolutely! I would like to climb with my brother and try a different route to get a different perspective of the mountain.
TB: Do you have any advice for people looking to summit and selecting an operator to climb with?
CC: I would suggest looking at operators that give back to the community. I was impressed with Zara Tours as her establishment is focused on supporting the porters and giving back.