Conquering Kilimanjaro


At 5 895m, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain, the world’s highest free-standing peak and one of the renowned Seven Summits. Every year, over 35 000 people attempt to conquer it. Sarah Kingdom led a group to the top…

Know before you go

• Physical challenge: The oxygen level at the summit is only 50% of that at sea level, so altitude sickness is an ever-present threat. Roughly 60–70% of climbers attempting Kilimanjaro will reach
the top.
• Routes: There are six routes up Kilimanjaro. They vary in length, cost and scenery, as well as difficulty and success rates. Selecting a route is one of the most important decisions you will make. My favourite is the seven-day, scenic Rongai route, as it allows five days to acclimatise before your final assault on the summit.

Glaciers seen from the top of Kilimanjaro. Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

It wasn’t my first time up Kilimanjaro and it won’t be my last, but it was great to be climbing with a team passionate about wildlife conservation. The team were lacing up their boots to raise funds to support African elephants and lions.

This was a trip that would take them out of their comfort zones and force them to confront their inner strengths and weaknesses. After all, the summit of Kilimanjaro is not only the highest place in Africa, it is also one of the highest points in the world that can be reached without mountaineering equipment.

Kilimanjaro seen from a distance at the start of the hike. Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

We had selected the Rongai route and our path started in rainforest. We moved at a relaxed pace, letting our legs get used to the walking. The only way to tackle the mountain is inch by inch, unless, of course, you are one of the super-fit porters who climb it several times a month. We had 30 porters, and they sped past us with the group’s luggage, camping gear and food supplies balanced ontheir heads.

Reaching our first camp by afternoon, the group set about getting comfortable for their first night on the

Setting up camp. Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

mountain; with dark the temperatures on Kilimanjaro plummet. After dinner, the group headed off to their tents, hoping for a good night’s sleep. From my own tent I could hear them settling into their sleeping bags and trying to get comfy on their wafer-thin mattresses. I knew exactly the sort of thoughts going through their minds. Eventually rustling and fidgeting stopped, silence descended and the group settled down to sleep.

The next few days saw the team take in beautiful scenery as they climbed higher and higher, and their goal drew ever closer. They found their walking rhythm and got accustomed to the daily routine and camp life.

Finally day five dawned. We had a long day ahead of us. We needed to reach base camp, at Kibo Huts, as early as possible, because just before midnight we would be setting off for the summit. The path to the summit was clearly visible and appeared terrifyingly vertical. Reality kicked in.


Some of the scenery that can be expected near the top. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Arriving at Kibo camp in time for lunch and a summit briefing, everyone was rather subdued. Lunch, a nap, dinner, another nap, then at 11pm it was time to get up. This was it. A cup of tea and a few biscuits later, I gave them all a few last minute instructions and then we were off, slowly zigzagging up the slippery shale slope.

In the dark, with only our head torches to light the way, I could hear rasping breaths all around me. The night sky was clear, the stars and moon seemed very close. Heads down, focusing on the feet of the person in front, the group got into ‘climbing mode’. I could see the head torches of other climbing groups strung out across the mountain like fairy lights.


The summit. Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

After plodding on for nearly eight hours, the team finally reached the top. Unfurling the banners they’d brought with them, they posed for photographs to prove they had indeed conquered Kilimanjaro. Everyone savoured the moment. They had achieved what they had set out to do – raising both awareness and funds for the future of some of the continent’s endangered wildlife.

Climbing Kili for a good cause

An estimated 25 000 elephants are killed in Africa every year, approximately one elephant every 15 minutes. ‘Askari’ is the Swahili word for ‘soldier’ and The Askari Project raises funds to support elephant conservation, particularly the protection of some of Africa’s last Great Tuskers, found in Tsavo, Kenya.

Photo: Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

Lion numbers in Africa are declining too. KopeLion aims to foster human-lion coexistence in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where intensifying human-wildlife conflict has been tough on the lions and lions have begun to disappear from their former ranges.

KopeLion, comprising local experts and international scientists, employs former lion hunters to protect the remaining lions. We were joined on our climb by one of KopeLion’s llchokutis (Maasai lion guardians).
The groups raised in excess of $10 000 from their climb.

Find out more at and


Written by Sarah Kingdom

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