Everyone in our group had put some thought into what their time on Mt. Kilimanjaro would be like. Sitting together, we’d reflect upon what each of our expectations had been for our early July expedition. As can be expected, the levels of pre-trekking research had varied from A-plus students poring over guidebooks and travel blogs, to those who’d only reflected on the looming adventure when purchasing necessary equipment. It was evident we’d all considered what life on the mountain would be like. And while some fantasies proved accurate, reality was often (and joyfully) quite different.

Uhuru Peak, Tanzania.

The crew

Expectation: There will be two guides and a few porters. Reality: We rolled in a caravan of 38 deep.

I knew there would be a solid support team, but I failed to appreciate how much gear would need to be carried. A standard porter-to-hiker ratio is 3:1 so for our group of 11 hikers, we had a team of five guides and 33 porters. We were definitely a motley crew with a vibrant collective soul.

The food

Expectation: Meat will disappear after the first day. Reality: We feasted on chicken legs almost daily.

People would dub me a foodie, but when going on a hike, I give little thought to the expected culinary experience. I know food will be served because it’s included and don’t think anymore about it.

The food on the mountain was divine with meals being thoughtfully designed for trekkers. We’d start the day with eggs, millet porridge, sausage and toast. A regular lunch would be a roasted chicken leg with a hardboiled egg, the unforgettable “meat in pastry,” fruit, and a cookie or cake. Along the way, a traditional stew called matoke (of beef, potatoes and root vegetables) made a few appearances.

The food on the mountain was divine.

The music

Expectation: Tanzanians listen to bonga flava. Reality: Tanzanians love Céline Dion.

I was expecting our Tanzania soundtrack to be the rhythms of local artists. I would have never anticipated that the voice of one of Canada’s best-known exports would accompany me up Kilimanjaro. I wish I were joking, but throughout our trek, we were never far from The Power of Love or Because You Loved Me.

The gear

Expectation: We’ll play Frisbee. Reality: We never played Frisbee.

I once read that every hiker has at least one item of useless baggage, which I believe is actually a good analogy for life also. On Kilimanjaro, the weight limit per porter is around 30 pounds. There is no need to overload the crew with needless items. Pack smart. Here are five items to keep in mind while packing:

  • Quick dissolve water-purification drops are more convenient than the tablets.

  • Extra zip lock bags will never go to waste.

  • Body wipes can be a luxurious bathing experience after seven hours of hiking in the sun at high altitudes.

  • Will you actually read that hardcover novel?

  • Be kind to your feet. Bring extra socks.

Every hiker has at least one item of useless baggage.

Expectation: A water bottle will be convenient to have. Reality: It actually makes an incredible hot water bottle on a chilly night.

Having a water-bladder in addition to a water bottle was an excellent decision. The bladder enabled quick and convenient re-hydrating, while the water bottle was ideal for relaxing and taking a few long swigs. We quickly realized that filling our bottles with hot water at night turned them into effective means of warming our sleeping bags. And hot water was nice to sip on during the chilly nights.

Summiting night

Expectation: It’s going to be cold. Reality: My water froze after forty-five minutes.

My mother’s warning, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only improper gear,” smugly echoed in my head as I realized the water in the tube of my water bladder had frozen. It was 1:00am and we’d just begun our final leg of the trek 45 minutes earlier. Should I have known to bring an insulated water bottle? Probably.

My water froze after forty-five minutes.

Training

Expectation: I’m young and have enjoyed a handful of multi-day hikes. I don’t need to train. Reality: Kilimanjaro is a cardiovascular test.

It’s important for everyone to train because ability and enjoyment are not synonymous. The strength and stamina required for a successful summit of Kilimanjaro is not gained by merely thinking about the climb. Our guides said even they take the time to train. From weight-training to long-distance runs, they all have some kind of off-mountain training regime.

Kilimanjaro is a cardiovascular test.

The motto

Expectation: You can do it! Reality: Ushindi daima!

I usually keep some inspirational words in the back of my mind while hiking – a line or two of wisdom to help me push through. I had anticipated the need to cheer myself on. Everyday on the hike, guides and porters will encourage you with the phrase ushindi daima, which translates into “victory forever.” What a beautiful thought to help transcend the trail. This phrase assisted me to the top of Kilimanjaro.

Ushindi daima!

Getting There

Stephanie did the Mt Kilimanjaro Trek - Machame 8-Day Route tour with G Adventures. Are you curious to have a likewise experience? G Adventures runs a number of trips to Kilimanjaro and to Tanzania. Check out our small group trips here, and get active, today!