The first day of the climb on Kilimanjaro via the Machame route begins at the Machme Gate at about 1800m. The area just inside the gate is a staging area for everyone preparing for the climb. You’ll see backpacks, boxes, and duffel bags for each group all over the parking lot. All climbers have to check in at the ranger station by signing in with their name, age, country, passport number, etc. After signing in, each guide checks their climbing permit, and you’re off, at long last.
Throughout Day 1 you hike along a well developed and easy to follow trail surrounded by Kili’s cloud forest. The path starts out as a gentle slope and it’s easy to make good time, even though the guides will implore you to go “Pole! Pole!” (Slowly! Slowly!) even at this relatively low altitude. Reaching the summit is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s a good idea to pace yourself each day.
After about two hours of hiking, the trail changes from a gentle slope to a number of long, and steep, inclines. You’ll find that the leisurely walk you started out on has now become a challenging cardio workout. The first day’s hike takes about five to six hours in total, and by the time you reach Machame Camp, the cloud forest begins to give way to grasslands and wildflowers. You’ll camp that night on the edge of the moorlands.
My experience with Day 1 is that it was far more vertical than I had expected. You do gain 1200 meters of altitude throughout the day, which is nothing to sneeze at to be sure. Still, I expected the gain to be a little more gradual, with more switchbacks, but honestly the trail is, for the most part, straight and true. And up!! While I was expecting a challenge, I have to admit, Day 1 was harder than what I thought it would be.
I chose the Machame route for my climb because it’s considered one of the more scenic of the routes. Our guides also told us that it is considered one of the more challenging routes as well. By the time we signed in at the ranger station at Machame Camp that afternoon, I had a new respect for the adventure I had undertaken.
(The photo above is me with our assistant guide Peter. Courtesy of my climbing partner Colm Donohoe.)
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