Kili Day 1, 24 Jan 2011
I got up three hours before start time to double-check my packs and to ensure I had everything on the packing list. I started taking Diamox (drug that helps your blood carry more oxygen at altitude) the night before and I was already starting experience the side effect, a weird tingling sensation in my hands, as I made my final preparations. The hotel specializes in Kilimanjaro expeditions and offers a storage room where I stashed my "stay behind" bag with all the stuff I didn't need for the climb.
The bus and guides showed up at 9am and we drove 45 mins from the hotel to the Machame Gate (altitude 1500m or 5,921 ft) where our guides had to register us for the climb and pay the fees. At the gate we ate our sack lunches and bought some last minute gear from vendors who sold stuff through the gate. I picked up a pair of goretex gaiters for $20, which were previously donated to guides by their former patrons.
At 11am we started the long upward trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The walk begins by walking up a series of ridgelines through a tropical rainforest and we were fortunate to stay dry for the first five hours. Sunglasses and hats weren't needed with the thick tree canopy and we spent the beginning hours getting used to our 10kg loads (including 3 liters of water, snacks, rain gear and whatever else you wanted to carry) and the continuous stream of porters that flowed past. The temptation was to keep up with the porters or pass them back, but the guides repeated their mantra "Pole Pole" or "slowly slowly." I hate Pole Pole, but was thankful because the altitude was already hurting my lungs and pushing my heart rate.
We ate lunch on the side of the side of the trail and watched some monkeys swinging from tree to tree. Besides the monkeys there wasnt much to see besides trees, other groups, and thousands of porters carrying huge loads on their heads and shoulders. The rain at the end made the trail slick but cooled off the tropical heat in the forest.
17km and 7 hours after we started we arrived at Machame Camp (elevation 2980m or 9776 ft) as the sun set, soaked to the skin and tired. We signed into the camp office as the rain intensified, then trudged to our two-man dome tents to drop our packs and change into some dry clothes. I felt much better in a dry shirt and joined the group in the dining tent for some popcorn and "Milo," a powdered chocolate drink like Nestle Quik. An hour later, huge plates of potatoes and soup were served for dinner. There were also some boiled vegetables and some form of burnt fish that we tried to choke down. Outside we had a smaller tent that housed a small portapottie that got lugged from camp to camp during our trip. After dinner we crashed early to the peaceful sound of rain on the tent.