Mt. Kilimanjaro Adventure

My friend, local pharmacist Jimmy Bennett, and I are working through our bucket list.  We've knocked out some interesting ones, so far, including swimming the Mississippi River, a kayalathon and kayaking 50 miles down the MS River while the river was in flood.  If you have time to waste, visit www.drew.ms and check out photos of various adventures. (click on 'details' to view script and larger photos.) 

Our next adventure could be described as a ‘high’ adventure.   

This is the "Day by Day" Record of our trip.

We are departing for Tanzania Wednesday, Feb. 25th.  We arrive late Thursday night, Tanzania time.  (Tanzania time is 9 hours AHEAD OF CORINTH time….if it’s noon in Corinth, it’s bedtime, 9 p.m., in Tanzania).  Hopefully, we can rest up on Friday and Saturday, but when Sunday gets there our first challenge begins.  I am running the Kilimanjaro Marathon, a typical….well, non-typical….marathon of 26.2 miles.  This one takes place at 3,000 feet…a manageable altitude, but challenging.  Jimmy is running the half.  Much of the race is a long climb nearly straight up…then a long downhill to return.  Our goal is to finish, not to run it fast.   Actually, I do expect to set a record…for the slowest of my 45 previous marathons.  My goal is to run it between 5 and 6 hours.  Considering I ran the St. Jude Marathon in early December in 3:39, you can see how it will be ‘slow’.   

Assuming we finish the marathon runs, we have a climbing briefing the night of the Marathon and begin the 5 day ascent of Kilimanjaro the next day, Monday, March 2nd.  

Mt. Kilimanjaro, made famous perhaps by Poppa Hemingway’s short book, “THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO”, is the highest peak in Africa. It’s nearly 20,000 feet.  It’s climbable, even by those not normally accustomed to climbing mountains.  Depending on which of the 7-8 ‘routes’ taken, it can be a long and difficult hike, or it can be a technical climb.  We are climbing the Machame Route, which has been described as “the most scenic of the easier routes”, which is to say that it’s not a technical climb, i.e. using ropes, fixed ladders, etc.  There is another route, called Marangu also known as the Tourist Route, the easiest route, and about 90% of climbers use it.  Ours is less traveled and somewhat more difficult route.  Regardless of which route climbers take, less than 50% of the people attempting to summit are able to make it successfully to the top.  The strenuous nature of the climb is not the thing that gets most of the people, it’s altitude sickness, a progress sickness that strikes both the strong and fit, as well as those  that are not.  It’s simply whether one’s body adapts to the lack-of-oxygen or it doesn’t.  Altitude sickness, in its most severe form can easily be fatal.  The cure for altitude sickness is to descend quickly.  Therefore, if one exhibits signs of advanced altitude sickness, the guides (required by Tanzanian law for each climbing group) can force you to descend.

 One of the most unique things about the climb is that you pass through 5 different climate ‘zones’.  You go from jungle (Kilimanjaro is only about 200 miles from the equator) to arctic conditions at the summit, this in 5 days.  The zones are Bushland, Rainforest, Heath, Albine Desert and Artic.    

Our goal is to text messages to supplement information that we already have about where we will be and the conditions we are being subjected to.  .  We will hope that this method is successful.

Thanks for your thoughts and PRAYERS....and yes, I can say this on my website!




Wed 25 Feb 2009                  

We leave from Memphis, then to Detroit.  From there it's over the Big Pond to Amsterdam.  After a layover of a few hours, we are off directly to Kilimanjaro.  I would never have dreamed it was large enough to host an international airport with nonstop flights all the way from Amsterdam.


Thu 26 Feb 2009  

Arrive Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Arrive Kilimanjaro International Airport and

Transfer to Keys Hotel- Mbokomo           

We hope our outfitter will be waiting on us so we can get to Moshi, our destination, and get some rest.  We will arrive about 9 p.m. Tanzania time (noon, Corinth time) and we will be dead tired.

Here's our hotel...check out the mosquito netting!


Fri 27 Feb 2009         

We wake up in a new world with lots to see and lots to do.  We explore the town today and rest.

Overnight at the Keys Hotel -Mbokomo


Sat 28 Feb 2009   

Day spent at leisure

NO INTERNET SERVICE!!! Just a little at a hotel about 3 miles from where I'm staying....and I'm outside sittiing on a porch. This is my absolute first view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are having a blast. The Tanzanian people are so nice, friendly and glad to have us here. They are almost as amazed at seeing us as we are to be here. We are tooling around today, and trying to acclimate to the sleep (9 hours ahead) and to the 85 degree weather. Hotel is nice, but spartan....as one of the other guests said..."not a fan of sheets that allow you to view the mattress underneath". Sat. The weather is very hot today. Probably 90. Will be tuff running tomorrow. I plan to run very slowly. Lots of excitement about the climb and the marathon.

Marathon briefing and carbo loading dinner

Overnight Keys Hotel - Mbokomo


Sunday 1 March 2009

Today is Marathon Day! The Kilimanjaro Marathon takes place at an altitude of 3,000 feet – a lot different than we are used to in Mississippi! The marathon route leaves Moshi stadium and heads down towards the town, and then along the main road to Dar-Es-Salaam, the capital city. This section of the route is relatively flat, and there will be plenty of well-wishers along the road. We turn around and head back to the town of Moshi, tracking down into the actual town itself before turning toward the mountain and heading up a long, steady ascent towards Mweka. The uphill climb is gradual, but with Kilimanjaro towering above and all the local villagers out to cheer you on, the time will pass quickly. The route passes through many small holder farms, villages, parts of town, banana and coffee plantations and patches of forest, providing great excitement to the residents who give ample vocal support. The turnaround point marks almost 20 miles and the last section is a fast downhill run back toward the stadium.

I will be running the marathon – aiming for a SLOW PR of 5 to 6 hours and Jimmy will participate in the half marathon. Plenty of time to think about our upcoming adventure!

Hopefully, I will be able to finish my 46th marathon!!!  AND, Jimmy will have completed his 2nd half marathon! 

Once we cross the finish line, there’s no time to rest before thinking about the next adventure: climb briefing tonight!

First ordeal is over. I ran 4:17. Jimmy did great in his first half. The Big Event begins tomorrow. We will be on the mountain a week! We are doing good physically! Thanks for all of your love, prayers and support!!

The ecological zone for the marathon is:


Altitude: 2,600 to 6,000 ft (800 to 1,800 m)
Precipitation: 20 to 70 in (500 to 1,800 mm)

Cultivated land, grasslands and populated human settlements characterize this zone.


Monday 2 March 2009                

Today we will begin Machame Climb

We are climbing one of several routes up Kilimanjaro.  Ours is called the Machame Route.  It’s a more difficult route than others and there will be fewer people using this route.  Click on the link below to see a great map of Mt. Kilimanjaro. 


 After an early breakfast, and a climb briefing we depart the hotel in Moshi for the national park gate (approximately one hour drive) where we will meet our climb guide and porters.

 After the formalities at the gate have been completed, we start our walk through the spectacular tropical rain forest.  This section of the climb should take us 5 hours to complete, after which we arrive at Machame Hut (3,000 meters, or 10,000 feet).

Today we have been traveling in the rainforest ecological zone:

Rain Forest

Altitude: 6,000 to 9,200 ft (1,800 to 2,800 m)
Precipitation: 79 to 40 in (2,000 to 1,000 mm)

The forest receives 6 feet of rain annually, supporting a variety of plants and wildlife while clear nights can produce low temperatures.

Shorts and t-shirts will be the attire of the day, with wet weather gear at hand.  There are patches on the route where it is very wet and muddy, and we may end up with pretty wet boots this evening. 

 We will take it SLOWLY today – the climb is made in the first two days, so we need to get a slow and steady pace going.  There are some steep parts on the climb – but generally it’s not too strenuous.  We carry our personal gear that we need with us in our daypack, and local porters carry our duffel bags.  We’ve been encouraged to eat well because at higher levels our appetite will diminish. 

We are now in Machame Camp at 9,000 feet!!  It's been a TOUGH day.  We climbed for 6 hours in the Rain Forest.  It's raining now.  We will be having supper soon.  We climbed 4,000 feet today...it was VERY difficult.  We have NO cell service.

Please continue to pray for us!


Tuesday 3 March 2009                  

Machame – Shira

Today we ascend to Shira Hut (3,800 meters).  When we depart from Machame Hut, we will be in the heather zone, and will be climbing up one of the ridges on the mountain.  It is a fairly steep start, followed by an hour or so of hard uphill, then 2 hours at a gentler angle through the lower moorlands, which brings us to the top of a rocky bluff and a place to stop for some well needed lunch!

From the lunch stop we will start traversing westwards, up towards Shira Cathedral.  The last section of this route is relatively flat and easy but we will take it slowly to save our energy.  It will cool down considerably during and after lunch.  We will probably need to add layers and again have our wet weather gear handy.

To prevent altitude sickness, we will be taking Diamox and keeping our fluid intake high.

Tonight we camp at Shira – it’s a pretty exposed and cold campsite, and we may get rain and sleet, and in the morning the ground and tents will be frozen over. 

Most of today we traveled in the Heath ecological zone:


Altitude: 9,200 to 13,200 ft (2,800 to 4,000 m)
Precipitation: 51 to 21 in (1,300 to 530 mm)

This semi-alpine zone is characterized by heath-like vegetation and abundant wild flowers. The unique Senecio trees are abundant here

We have arrived at Camp Shira!!  12,000 feet and we are making it fine!  The climb was more technical today...boulders, sheer walls, and narrow paths.  Straight up over rocks...it's slow, but BEAUTIFUL views.  It has been very intimidating.  We have a long day tomorrow.  We are in the clouds, but we saw the peak just for a second.  Ohh the clouds are breaking...we may have a glorious sunset with the summit visible after all!

Jimmy and I are both doing great and feel good!!

Please continue with the prayers....


Wednesday 4 March 2009                 

Shira – Barranco

From Shira we set off to Barranco (3,900 meters), skirting just below Lava Tower – we are now walking at an approximate altitude of 4,500 meters, around the southern side of the mountain.  A few steep sections and valleys, some parts that look like a “moon landscape” and quite a steep decent to Barranco – it’s going to be a long and fairly tiring day. 

 This is part of our acclimatization to the altitude – walking in height from 3,800 meters up to 4,500 meters and then staying overnight at 3,900 meters.  We must pace ourselves to graduate slowly.  The night temperature at camp will again be cold. 

We went to 15,000 feet today at Lava Tower.  It is a cold desolate moonscape place.  Not a beautiful place.  We are camping at Barafu at 12,000 feet.  We climb to a higher altitude but sleep at a lower one. It has been raining but is clearing now at last light!  I am looking down into a small valley about 2 miles below...it is a magnificent view! When Kilimanjaro appears out of the clouds it seems as though we are sitting at the throne of god!!

There has been NO altitude sickness in the group!!!  But we sure are tired puppies! 

Please continue with the prayers....


Thursday 5 March 2009                 

Barranco – Barafu

Today we continue from Barranco across and up towards Barafu Hut (4,600 meter).  Today we will cross the Barranco Wall – it’s a climb over rock – not technical, but tiring and long and hard – and the guides will help us use rope on some sections for peace of mind.

There is a steep decent down to Karanga Valley, where we will have lunch on the other side.  After lunch, we start the ascent to Barafu.

It’s going to be a long day and our guide will set the pace.  We have to pace ourselves with our breathing and not try to rush to catch up with anyone.  If we go at our own most comfortable speed we should arrive at base camp relatively comfortably. 

It will be very cold today – especially when we stop for lunch and rest.  Today calls for warm clothes and layers. We will probably have sleet as we will be walking through the clouds.  After supper, we are encouraged to drink as much tea as possible and settle down for an early night.  Tomorrow will be a long, hard day!

Today we have traveled through the Alpine Desert ecological zone.

Alpine Desert

Altitude: 13,200 to 16,500 ft (4,000 to 5,000 m)
Precipitation: 10 in (250 mm)

The alpine desert receives little water and correspondingly light vegetation exists here. The temperature can vary from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to below freezing at night.

We are at base camp at 15,000 feet!  We are all doing OK...but it is VERY TOUGH!!  We were FREEZING last night...we should be at the top in 24 hours!!

And again, thanks for your thoughts and prayers...


Friday 6 March 2009                   


SUMMIT DAY! Today will be a very long and strenuous day.  Again, we will try to drink lots of fluids before we start and carry as much water with us as we can today.

Our guides will wake us a little after midnight with tea and a biscuit.  We will put on all our clothing to be ready for the final ascent.  We will be climbing up scree (loose volcanic rock) for approximately 4 to 5 hours.  This is like climbing a pile of gravel.  The guide will stop frequently to rest and check on our group.  It is very important for us to listen to our body and breathing and try to get into a rhythm.

Because of the slowness of our walk, our fingers and toes are likely to get extremely cold. 

Of course, today we travel in the Arctic ecological zone.  We have come from the equator to the Arctic in 5 days!


Altitude: 16,500+ ft (5,000+ m)
Precipitation: <4 in (100 mm)

Characterized by ice and rock, there is virtually no plant or animal life at this altitude. Nights are extremely cold and the day's unbuffered sun is powerful. The oxygen level is half that of sea level.

The views from the mountain (on the way up) will be spectacular – we gain incredible height over a short distance. We will arrive at Stella Point (5,750 meters, 18,500 feet), just at the top of the crater, and have a rest – the sun should be shining by now!

From here, we continue on around the crater rim to Uhuru peak (5,895 meters, 19,347 feet), the highest point in Africa.  We won’t tarry long at the summit, but will be happy to have reached it! 

We will descend from Stella to Barafu.  Depending on the timing of our summit, we should be able to have a short rest here and maybe a short sleep and something to eat before continuing down the Mweka Route.  We will travel down quickly on the scree, gasping in more oxygen step by step.  This will be long descent after a tiring day.

We arrive at Mweka (3,100 meters) in the late afternoon for overnight camping.  We will have been climbing more than 18 hours this day!!!

Only now will we have time to reflect on the day’s achievements and be thankful.

I've climbed to the TOP of the mountain and seen the other side!!!  It took 11 hours ...hardest thing I've ever done in my life!!

Today I earned the Purple Heart on Kili...I took a tumble on our way back down...Jimmy tried to catch me, but I brought him, as well as 4 porters down into a pile about 20 ft down.  A few scrapes, bumps, and a fat lip...the only casualty was my yellow Lance Armstrong sunglasses. 

It took us an additional 4 hours to get to the base camp for tonight.  More later...we are all DEAD TIRED!

Please continue the prayers...we aren't home yet.


Saturday 7 March 2009        

Descend – Moshi

Today is a 3 to 4 hour pretty descent through the rainforest to the park gate at Mweka, where our outfitter will have a vehicle to meet us. They sell Cokes at the park gate. I’m sure there will be some celebrating here!

 We will return to the hotel (approximately 45 min drive), ready for a shower after a week’s worth of dirt accumulation has formed on us.  Then an evening of celebration by the swimming pool should be in order! We will receive a certificate of completion documenting our successful climb.  

We made it down the mountain!! We have blisters all over our feet from coming down. There were 14 people in our group not including the support staff. 11 made it to the summit!! The others had altitude sickness and were rushed back down. There were 7 countries represented on this adventure. The climb was TOUGH!! But an awesome experience! I acquired a nickname from the guides: Babu which means Grandfather. The first thing I did when I came off the mountain was get a COKE!! And then I headed for my FIRST shower since Monday! Again, thanks to all of you for your support and prayers through out this adventure!


Sunday 8 March 2009                  

Safari – Depart

Assuming we wake up after sleeping in a real bed tonight, our guide will pick us up for a  day game drive and picnic lunch in Arusha National Park.

The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safari-goers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours.

The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colorful turacoa and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen.  In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.

Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue.  Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes.  Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.

Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon.

It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 30 miles distant.  But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 meters (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon.

We’ll return to Moshi in the late afternoon, and then be transferred from the hotel to the airport for our departure.


Monday 9 March 2009

Right now we are on our flight from Amsterdam to the good ole USA!!

Our flight arrives in Memphis at 5:05 PM.

Thanks again to everyone for your support, thoughts, and prayers...this has been an experience of a lifetime.  I will be posting more about the experience as soon as possible.

Tanzanian coffee leaves slight residue in bottom of cup…but sure is good!!


Copyright 2008 Kenneth Williams ALL RIGHTS RESERVED