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The climb/walk was 7 days (5 up, 2 down). The machame route up is do-able in 4 days but I added an extra day to help me acclimatise (good move fellow 40 somethings!). It adds to the cost of course because the main bulk of the £700 cost is National Park fees - so 1 more day is an extra £70 or whatever the fee might be now.
Muddy underfoot on the first day, rocky and dusty on days 2-4. Steep climbing up and over large rocks on the last ascent day (day 5). If you've got to the top, to be honest you don't really notice the conditions on the way down because of that elation.
Hazards and warnings
Altitude, altitude, altitude. For me, the most difficult part was acclimatising as I ascended and stopped at each camp above 3000 metres (ie Shira onwards). Loss of appetite, particularly on the stage from Barranco to Barafu makes the long last day physically demanding. The thin air also means cold nights, chapped lips & lots of stops as you walk. The elation at the top is worth every inconvenience though.
The machame route is 1 day longer than the more popular Marangu route. Machame is reputedly prettier but camping in tents (as opposed to huts on Marangu).
Day 1 takes you through the wet lower reaches with water dripping off the trees and bushes. Lots of flowers and botanical interest for those so inclined. Night 1 is at Machame camp just above the clouds and at the top of the tree line at 3000 metres. Cold, even in a 3 season bag and all the clothes I had.
Day 2 up to Shira 3800 m. Straightforward walk not long at all 4-5 hours. Even colder at night - take a 4 season bag.
Day 3 was my acclimatisation day at Shira. I took a short local walk 2 hours around the surrounding area and spent the afternoon resting in tent and getting used o the altitude. I didn't really notice any altitude issue apart from feeling a little breathless when I walked.
Day 4 Shira to Barranco. I went up beyond 3800 m (to 4300m) before dropping down to Barranco camp (3800m). Probably the prettiest day walking, and mildly strenuous but nothing more than that. You pass underneath the Barranco Wall which is a sheer piece of mountain towering above you. It is the first glimse of snow to let you know that the scenery and conditions are changing all the time.
Day 5 Barranco to Barafu (4600m). More strenuous walking than previous days not because of degree of difficulty of climb, but due to effects of altitude. Very cold at night
Day 6 Barafu to Top. You get up at midnight to give you time to reach the top by sunrise and to get down to 3400m by the end of the day. Walking for about 15 hours. The whole point of acclimatising on the way up, preparing your strength etc is to be able to handle today. The hours from midnight to 6am are spent doing quite stiff climbing (over large rocks in places). If you make it to the top (most do) the moment of sunrise is brilliant. It is spectacular, it tells you that the summit is close, it lifts the spirit after a hard few hours climb, and a fabulous photo opportunity. Views from the top vary acording to cloud levels and the season. The buzz is sensational!
The rest of the day is spent 'floating' down to Barafu (for 2 hours rest) then on to the last night stay on the mountain.
Day 7 down to base camp 3 hours walk for a shower, certificate from the authorities, and lift home to tell the tale to family.
I went on my own ie not in a group of people. I had a guide, cook, and 3 porters. I can't really see how you can do it with less people as you need to have everything for 6 nights on a mountain. There are plenty of companies who will give you details of cost etc based in Moshi or Arusha. I booked through Nyika Treks in Arusha. They also took my family on safari, and while I was up Kili they took the others on a trek through the Northern Highlands from Ngorongoro with donkeys carrying the equipment. When I go back to Tanzania I will have no hesitation using them again. Our party included my 9 year old daughter and an 11 year old boy. They were looked after at every turn.
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