Vietnamese journal: Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Friendly Tanzanians. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

A seasoned Vietnamese trekker has recounted his group’s experience of ascending Mount Kilimanjaro, the ‘roof of Africa.’

Tran Giang Le Vu, 38, a marketing consultant in Ho Chi Minh City who has traveled to over 40 countries on four continents, has narrated a thrilling six-day climb to Mount Kilimanjaro, and urged thrill-seekers to make it to the summit once in their lifetime.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain on earth.

The first leg of the taxing expedition. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
The first leg of the taxing expedition. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

Crowned by an everlasting snow-cap, this resplendent mountain stands tall inside the Kilimanjaro National Park of Tanzania, at 5,895m above sea level, and is considered a national gem.

After arriving in the African country, Vu and 11 other trekkers spent one day resting and acclimatizing before embarking on their journey, one which would soon push them to breaking point.

Departing at 1,800m from the Machame Gate, the group trekked 11 kilometers through expanses of rain forest featuring century-old trees which appeared through the mist.

The sunset from Machame Camp. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
The sunset from Machame Camp. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

After five hours of walking amidst the clouds that first afternoon, they arrived at Machame Camp, where they would spend their first night at an altitude of 2,835m.

On the second morning, they proceeded to Shiva Cave, perched some 3,750m above sea level.

The 5km trek over steep rocky slopes proved arduous.

Pitching tents at night at Shiva Cave. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Pitching tents at night at Shiva Cave. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

Reward came as the extreme hikers crossed the heather moorlands brimming with knee-high shrubs and wild flowers in full bloom.

After six hours of hiking to Shiva Cave for lunch and a rest, Vu and the others covered a short distance on foot to adapt themselves to the 4,000 meter-plus altitude before descending to a camp at 3,750m for a well-earned night’s sleep.    

It was freezing cold when they woke up on the third morning, with dew from the previous night condensing into a layer of thin ice on their tents as the temperature dropped to minus 8°C.  

The Alpine Desert dotted with rugged black rock. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
The Alpine Desert dotted with rugged black rock. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

As it gradually got warmer, the climbers ascended to a height of 4,600m to reach Lava Tower Camp.

As few plants can survive at this height, what unfolded before them were arid expanses dotted with jagged rocks of various sizes.

After eating lunch and acclimatizing to an altitude of 4,600m, the group moved back down to Baranco Camp at 3,900m, which was located across rows of huge groundsel trees and babbling springs formed by melted ice.

Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

More than 100 tents of various colors – where the hikers would sleep – could be seen from afar. 

Then came morning four – the journey’s decisive day.

At an altitude of 3,900m, the trekkers made their way slowly through the steep, treacherous Baranco Wall to the other side of the Kilimanjaro summit.

Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

The ascent, considered a scramble in climbing terms as hikers have to move on hands and feet, was the most thrilling of the expedition.

From the other side, they could see the summit amidst more glaciers, which motivated them to cover another 10km and reach Barafu Camp at a height of 4,673m.

At the camp, the group’s final rest stop before attempting to reach the peak, they began to feel the toll a lack of oxygen was taking on them.

Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

The temperature hovered at around 0°C by day and plummeted to minus 20°C at night.

With up to five layers of clothing, two pairs of socks, gloves, scarves and caps, the trekkers started their quest to the Kilimanjaro summit at 12:00 am sharp the fifth morning.

They joined other groups and stumbled their way by moonlight in a long line.

Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Food and drinks used during the journey. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

Snow on the Kilimanjaro peak mirrored the glistening moonlight, giving it the appearance of a pearl crown.

The trails then turned even more precipitous as the group approached the summit.

The air they breathed was dry, freezing cold and paralyzing, forcing them to stop from time to time and take sips of hot ginger tea to keep themselves warm.

The trekkers take on a steep cliff to get to the other side of the Kilimanjaro peak. Courtesy of Tran Khac Tung
The trekkers take on a steep cliff to get to the other side of the Kilimanjaro peak. Courtesy of Tran Khac Tung

At around 3:00 am, the hikers had to struggle hard to stay alert and fight off drowsiness.

“You cannot fall asleep, or you’ll die,” the guides and porters kept telling them. 

At 6:00 am, the group was awed by the overwhelming dawn splendor.

The trekkers plod through expanses of huge Groundsels, which are among the few plants that can survive the hostile environment. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
The trekkers plod through expanses of huge Groundsels, which are among the few plants that can survive the hostile environment. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

Spurred on, they then proceeded to Stella Point, the second highest peak of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5,756m.

The distance from Stella Point to Uhuru, the highest peak of Kilimanjaro at 5895m, was a mere 2.3km away, but it proved a daunting task for most members of Vu’s group, who were by now drained and gasping for air in the minus 20°C temperature.

Their persistence paid off though, as they finally set foot on Uhuru.

A moonlit night on the Kilimanjaro peak. Courtesy of Ngo Hai Son
A moonlit night on the Kilimanjaro peak. Courtesy of Ngo Hai Son

Being on top of Africa, Vu and the others were elated and felt as if they were giants amidst a resplendent landscape.   

The climbers then returned quickly to Barafu Camp for a rest before their bodies succumbed to oxygen deprivation.

They then descended to High Camp at 3,950m, where they pitched their tents and stayed the night.

Dawn at the Kilimanjaro peak. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
Dawn at the Kilimanjaro peak. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

On the sixth day, the happy trekkers left Kilimanjaro behind and successfully wrapped up the 70km adventure.

A certificate for conquerors of Uhuru, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
A certificate for conquerors of Uhuru, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

From Hanoi, prospective trekkers can fly to Nairobi, Kenya, and take another flight to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

From Kilimanjaro, it takes two hours by bus to Moshi City.

The Kilimanjaro trek can take several different routes, but the Machame Gate route which takes five to seven days is considered the best.

One of the glacier walls on Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
One of the glacier walls on Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

Tour prices vary depending on the number of participants and routes, with packages generally fluctuating from around US$1,500, including a $150 daily fee per person to the mountain’s management.

Trekkers are also expected to ensure they are in the best physical condition by working out intensively before setting out on their adventure.

The moon is seen at 5:00 am on Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu
The moon is seen at 5:00 am on Kilimanjaro. Photo: Tran Giang Le Vu

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