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Our Life Time Journey to the highest point in Africa

It started as a simple thought in one of our normal discussions. “Why don’t we do something different during Earth Hour this time around?” A colleague asked. Like taking Earth Hour to Mount Kilimanjaro, Big and unexpected! And it was a unanimous agreement without a second thought! So we got into how we can do this, we agreed that we will talk to the tour guides who trek the Kilimanjaro day by day and request some of them to take our Earth Hour and WWF flags with them the next time they go up there. Phone numbers were exchanged, calls were made and agreements reached. But then I was like hey, why don’t we make this even more exciting and have a few staff actually take the flags to the Kilimanjaro. When the thought was shared everyone was for it and plans begun! That was in January. The big question was; are there individuals from the team who will be ready to take up the challenge? Discussions started on a serious note, a few individuals were suggested, it was agreed that we will have people who have the zeal, the stamina and make good company as these people will be spending almost seven days together through the gruesome trek

© Efatha Moleli
The Team from left: Langen Mathew, Joan Itanisa, Novati Kessy, Japhary Kiwanga and Gladith Yoabu

 It was finally time! We travelled from the different parts of the country where we were and met in Moshi ready for the trek, Our first briefing was kind of unlearning to learn Our lead guide Julius John popularly known as Whitey left us with mixed feelings (doubt and hope at the same time). He said conquering Kilimanjaro doesn’t really require you to be physically fit with a bodybuilder’s physique but how your body takes up the challenge as you ascend! He shared stories of people you would least expect to succeed who succeeded and those you would expect to conquer Kilimanjaro effortlessly, who failed to do so. Anyway, here we were and there was no turning back!

At the gate were met by our Country Director Dr. Amani Ngusaru and the SOKNOT (Tanzania) lead Dr. Noah Sitati. This in itself was very encouraging and it gave us the motivation we really needed. In his speech Dr. Ngusaru congratulated the team for the courageous move and indeed for taking up the challenge and taking the WWF and Earth Flags to the highest peak in Africa. He was in awe of the team and assured us that we were already winners just for showing readiness and willingness to take up the challenge. We said our goodbyes and we were given the flags (a tough responsibility!)

The air is filled with anticipation as we register with park authorities and with our backpacks packed and hiking boots laced up, our small group set out, of course after showing our camaraderie and saying a silent prayer together.

© Efatha Moleli
The flagging
© Efatha Moleli
A silent prayer for success
© Japhary Kiwanga
First steps of the journey

The first day's hike takes us through dense rainforests, where sunlight filters through the canopy above, casting dappled shadows on the forest floor. We're surrounded by a symphony of exotic bird calls, the chatter of monkeys swinging through the trees and the sound of waterfalls. The trail is relatively gentle, with occasional uphill sections to get our legs warmed up. It rained in the rainforest, expected right? We were not disappointed!

By late afternoon, after 8kms we arrive at the Mandara Hut, our home for the night. Nestled amidst towering trees, the hut offers basic but comfortable accommodation, with bunk beds and communal dining areas. After a satisfying dinner prepared by our porters, we had our daily briefing and a health check. The health check was more scaring than the trek itself. When we were told about it the table went completely silent, you could hear the pin drop, who wanted to start? Whitey asked and we all looked at each other. You know why? The checks are actually the determinants if one is fit enough to take the next step of the trek.  We took the test and our heartbeats were all high males higher than females (I wont go into the why here as no one could tell us why). Whitey though assured that it was normal and all the five of us were healthy enough for day two, we were finally ready to retire to our bunks for a well-deserved rest. Ohh did I mention that during our first briefing we were told that we will not have baths until we come back down? Yes, that is the idea. So warm water is brought in small basins for us to freshen up as much as we can and this is going to be the same throughout the six days!

© Efatha Moleli
Mandara Hut

Day 2: To Horombo Hut (Altitude: 3,720m)
As the first light of dawn filters through the trees, we woke up and freshened up with the promise of another day of adventure. After a hearty breakfast, we bid farewell to Mandara Hut and continue our ascent through the rainforest. Today is going to be a long walk of 11kms
The trail gradually opens up to reveal sweeping vistas of lush valleys and distant peaks, a reminder of the vastness of the mountain landscape. We take regular breaks to catch our breath and admire the scenery, snapping photos to capture the beauty of our surroundings and documenting our trek. One of our guides (Efatha) volunteers to take our photos when the comms team is too tired to hold cameras or when we want all of us to be in the photos. He turned out to be the best and most of our photos are his work of course with the guidance of the able comms people.
By midday, we reach the halfway point at the Maundi Crater, a natural amphitheater offering panoramic views of the surrounding plains. Here, we pause for a picnic lunch, replenishing our energy stores although you could notice that people didn’t feel like eating, as good as the food was we just looked at it and only managed a few bites. Could this be the sign of the thinning of the air? Julius confirmed this. Nevertheless, we paused and and marvelled at the sheer magnitude of the mountain towering above us. It is beautiful up there!
In the afternoon, we resume our trek, the trail becoming steeper as we ascend higher into the alpine zone. The air grows noticeably thinner, and we're forced to take slower, more deliberate steps to conserve our energy. By late evening, we finally arrive at the Horombo Hut, our home for the next two nights. Perched on a plateau overlooking the valley below, the shelter offers stunning views of the sunset painting the sky in shades of orange and pink.

© Efatha Moleli
© Efatha Moleli
A short break to catch breaths
© Efatha Moleli
At Horombo

Day 3: Acclimatization
We are promised an easy day for acclimatization.  The word that all of us feared, it was a big elephant in the room, none the wiser of what it entails, how it works and how it will after our trek to the top. I personally say a silent prayer every time I think or hear this word. Because imagine coming all this way up only to be told that you cant proceed to the remaining leg of the trek! Thank would be very very disappointing! A peak in the office WhatsApp group we are viewed as heroes and our progress is discussed in detail. How could we not reach the peak! We see some gurneys around and I couldn’t help but ask what they were for, although at the back of my mind I thought I know what they were for. We had our breakfast leisurely and were ready to go face the monster: Acclimatization. We were told that we will go up for only 4kms and come back. This was important to test ourselves and get used to the change in oxygen levels.  We started out going to a place called Zebra rocks. a natural rock formation resembling a zebra's stripes, offering spectacular views of the mountain. You could see Mawenzi and Kibo from afar and of course beautiful scenes that nature offers.

We came back to the camp, very motivated believing that now that none experienced terrible sickness or hardship in breathing, we are certified for the next and almost final leg of our trek. We had our lunch and used the remaining hours talking to other trekkers, porters and playing cards. We heard stories of triumph and stories of failures. We heard stories of old sickly people making it to the top and stories of healthy people who ended up coming back on gurneys or ending their trek all the way up at Stella or Gilman’s peak. And not a single person told us it was going to be an easy trek. We were assured of a really tough final ascend. But we were not discouraged. Our health status although Whitey assured us we were fine, most of us were complaining of headaches, nausea, stomach upsets and alarming loss of appetite.
We finally retire to our bunks, the distant twinkle of stars overhead serving as a reminder of the vastness of the universe and the magnitude of our undertaking.

Sleeping was really hard, couldn’t breathe, I was becoming increasing short of breath. This got me really scared, was I dying? Is this going to be the end of it all? The struggle was real until the morning.

© Efatha Moleli
Leaving our mark
© Efatha Moleli
At the Zebra Rock

Day 4: To Kibo Hut (Altitude: 4,700m)
At the breakfast table we were a little quiet, each with their own thoughts. I debated if I should share my last night’s experience or just let it be. Eventually I decided to share, you could imagine the relief I felt when almost all the team members mirrored my experience! We all turned to Whitey waiting for him to drop the axe and tell us we can’t proceed. But in his calm aura he said that is very normal and good that we have started experiencing this early as gradually our bodies will adjust. We set out early in the morning for the next leg of our journey. 9 kms today. The trail ascends steadily through rocky terrain, with each step bringing us closer to our ultimate goal.

As we climb higher, the air grows thinner, we tire easily and are forced to have even more rest stops. Our backpacks with only two or three litres of water and a few necessities become really heavy by the minute. But we keep on pushing, sharing stories on soccer, music, nature etc. Anything to keep us moving. Whitey had given us a strategy for success: “Move slowly and stick together, here what counts is not how fast you move but rather making sure you reach your destination in one piece”. This advice became very handy on this day and undoubtedly the remaining kilometres up. The landscape becomes increasingly barren, devoid of vegetation. Did you know there is a complete desert up there? Yes, in deed there is! It is such a beautiful feel to get to look at the world from a higher point like this, standing next to the clouds, sometimes above them. Nature is indeed awesome! We pass through a surreal lunar landscape of volcanic rock and scree, our footsteps echoing in the silence of the mountains.

We finally arrive at the Kibo Hut, our basecamp for the final push to the summit. Perched on the slopes of the dormant volcano, the hut offers basic accommodation in dormitory-style rooms, with communal dining areas and shared bathroom facilities.

As much as the day was successfully, the team is anxious for what is laying ahead. The Summit night! The chief guide is serious tonight, giving briefing of the last leg of the exciting journey. He lays it down that it is not going to be easy, but reminds us of how far we have come, insists on endurance and courage. Wakeup call is at 2230! After a hearty meal and some final preparations for the summit bid, we retire to our bunks for a few hours of rest before the long night ahead. The anticipation is palpable as we drift off to sleep, our thoughts filled with visions of standing atop Africa's highest peak.

© Efatha Moleli
Step by step towards our destination
© Efatha Moleli
Kibo Hut

The Summit (Altitude: 4,700m to 5,895m)
The wakeup alarm sounds in the dead of night, jolting us from our slumber and signaling the start of summit trek. It is dark, cold and indeed scary. I look at my colleagues and it is hard to read their faces. We are given some porridge and coffee but most of us feel like we can push anything down our stomachs. We are bundled up in layers of clothing and armed with headlamps, we gather around for a few motivational and moral buildup. We hold hands and one of us leads us in prayer. At this point we believe that it is just Godly intervention that will push us through. At around 2300hrs Whitey like makes that final whistle and we set out into the darkness, our breath forming puffs of steam in the frigid air.

The trail winds its way up the steep slopes of the crater rim, switchbacking through loose scree and rocky outcrops. With each step, the thin air weighs heavy on our chests, and our progress slows to a crawl. Despite all the briefings nothing had prepared us to what we came across. The cold, lack of oxygen and the steep stony terrain was brutal! By the time dawn comes we are almost unconscious, some were walking as if they were drunk on in a zombielike trance. At this point even talking is an effort only the guides are talking to help us keep on moving. Oh our guides are amazing, beacons of hope, courage and patience! They even help with tying up our shoe laces and even hold water bottoms at our lips for us to take sips! Our stops are almost doubled at this point. Looking back now we are just laughing! Requests for refreshment stops come in like after every few minutes and whenever one of us suggests a break we just sunk to the ground without waiting for Whitey to say ok, and indeed without looking at where you are sitting. We just drop to the ground and savour the rest! They were heaven set! We have lost count of time and everything else the only thing that matters is making sure your left foot moves in front of your right foot! At this time even tying our shoes laces is a tough task, Whitey and his team help with this. Nevertheless we swore to make sure all of us make it to the top even if we will need to really crawl or carry each other!
After what feels like eternity we reach Stella Point, a rocky outcrop on the crater rim and the gateway to the final push to the summit. Exhausted but exhilarated, we pause to catch our breath.

With renewed vigor, we continue along the crater rim, the trail narrowing to a rocky ledge with sheer drops on either side. We pass through a long ridge of snow, so beautiful, The white of the whitest blanket going for miles below! Looking at it is indeed mesmerizing. Finally, after what feels like another eternity, one by one we reach the summit of Uhuru Peak, after of course passing the Gilman’s point. We are surprised to be told it is midday already. How many hours has it taken us? More than 10! This is how tough it was!

Emotions run high as we embrace each other in tearful hugs, our voices mingling with the howling wind as we celebrate this monumental achievement. We take turns posing for photos at the iconic sign marking the summit, our faces beaming with pride and exhaustion. We raise our flags high crying out our mantras: WWF: One Team One Dream and Earth Hour: Biggest Hour For Earth again and again! It was indeed the biggest hour for earth and the biggest moment for each of us!

Looking back now we realize we spent a very brief but unforgettable time at the summit. You can’t stay up there for longer because of the fierce weather but again nature decided to play its trick on us, it started drizzling and getting completely foggy. We had to start the descend! Whitey had to repeat this again and again as we didn’t really want to go back this soon. Imagine all the hours and you spend just a few minutes at the destination! But as they say it is what it is.

We begin the long descent back to Kibo Hut, our bodies weary but hearts overflowing with a sense of accomplishment. The journey down is no less challenging than the climb up, with steep, rocky trails and the relentless pull of gravity testing our tired muscles. Sometimes we had to let ourselves just slide down, letting the steep slope take us down (Tunaserereka in Kiswahili)

By evening, we finally arrive back at Kibo Hut, where a warm meal and a well-deserved rest await us. As we gather around the dinner table, we reflect on the incredible journey we've undertaken together, savoring the memories of breathtaking vistas and shared triumphs that will stay with us for a lifetime.

Back at the Marangu gate celebration awaits us. Accompanied by the SOKNOT landscape lead, Dr. Sitati returns to receive us as WWF heroes. Champaigns are opened, we dance and the Chief Waden of course hands over certificates that we will surely put on display in treasured locations!

The Guides, the porters: Our  heroes

We are deeply touched by the incredible dedication and warmth of the porters and the guides who accompanied our group. From the moment we set foot on the trail, they were there, tirelessly trekking ahead of us, ensuring that our meals were prepared, and our gear was safely transported.
Their smiling faces and encouraging words were a constant source of inspiration, motivating us to push forward even when the going got tougher. Despite the challenging terrain and heavy loads they carried, the porters never once complained, their commitment to our comfort and safety shining through every step of the way.
Their kindness, resilience, and unwavering spirit left a lasting impression on us, reminding us of the power of human connection and the beauty of coming together to achieve a common goal. We will always be grateful for the invaluable role that the porters played in making our Kilimanjaro adventure truly unforgettable.

Our guides Whitey, Efatha, David and  Michael were the cornerstone of our journey, offering not only their expertise but also their non stop support, encouragement and patience every step of the way. With their deep knowledge of the mountain's terrain and weather patterns, they skillfully navigated us through the ever-changing landscape, ensuring our safety and well-being at every turn.
But beyond their technical skills, it was their passion for Kilimanjaro and their genuine care for each member of our group that truly set them apart. Whether it was offering a helping hand on a tricky section of the trail or sharing fascinating insights into the mountain's history and ecology, our guides went above and beyond to make our experience as enriching and memorable as possible.
Their calm demeanor and reassuring presence provided a steady anchor amidst the challenges of high altitude and physical exertion, instilling us with the confidence to push beyond our limits and reach for the summit. And when we finally stood at the Uhuru Peak, , it was their cheers that made the moment truly magical.
As we descended back down the mountain, our guides continued to inspire us with their infectious enthusiasm and positivity, turning what could have been a grueling trek into a once in a lifetime adventure filled with laughter, camaraderie, and a deep sense of accomplishment. We will forever be grateful for their guidance and friendship, and the role they played in making our Kilimanjaro dream a reality. They had become more than just our guides and porters but our friends and team members

© Ahsante
With our team

Climate Change Effect in The Kilimanjaro Mountain Ecosystem

As we stood on the Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking beauty of the landscape was contrasted with the stark reality of climate change unfolding before our eyes. Gazing out at the vast expanse of glaciers stretching across the summit, it was impossible to ignore the signs of their rapid retreat.

During our trek up, we witnessed firsthand the effects of rising temperatures on the mountain's fragile ecosystems. The once towering glaciers now appeared diminished, their once pristine surfaces spoilt by patches of exposed rock and ice. According to data from the UN, Mount Kilimanjaro's glaciers have lost more than 80% of their mass since the early 20th century, with an average retreat rate of approximately 1.6 meters per year.

But it wasn't just the glaciers. As we ascended, we encountered areas of charred vegetation, evidence of recent forest fires that had ravaged parts of the mountain. These fires, fueled by increasingly dry conditions and aggravated by human activity, posed a significant threat to the mountain's biodiversity. According to reports from the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority, the incidence of forest fires on Mount Kilimanjaro has increased in recent years, with larger and more frequent fires occurring due to a combination of factors, including climate change.

As we made our way through the different vegetation zones, from lush rainforests to sparse alpine deserts, it was evident that Mount Kilimanjaro was undergoing a profound transformation. According to research published in the journal "Nature Climate Change," temperature records indicate a warming trend in the region surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro, with temperatures increasing by approximately 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade over the past century. This warming trend has significant implications for the mountain's ecosystems, including its unique flora and fauna.

Standing at Uhuru Peak, we indeed felt a sense of urgency to address the challenges facing the Mount Kilimanjaro ecosystem. Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated approach that involves local communities, governments, NGOs, and the international community working together to mitigate the impacts of climate change and safeguard the ecological integrity of this iconic mountain.

© Japhary Kiwanga
Burnt vegetation in Kilimanjaro Ecosystem

This venture of a life time Top of Form up Mount Kilimanjaro, has given us the lessons of perseverance and gratitude. Ascending to Africa's highest peak tested our physical endurance and mental resolve like never before. Each step taught us the importance of pushing through adversity, despite exhaustion and doubt. Looking at the porters in their tireless labor, carrying heavy loads and ensuring our comfort despite the challenging terrain, has deeply humbled us.
Their cheerful spirits and steadfast dedication underscored the importance of valuing every resource and opportunity. Each meal prepared reminded us of the privilege of having basic necessities met and the luxury of pursuing personal goals. We came back with a renewed sense of appreciation for the simple joys of life—a warm meal, a comfortable bed, and the support of loved ones. We were indeed taught to approach challenges with gratitude and to embrace each moment with appreciation for all that we have.

Joan Itanisa Photo
Joan Itanisa, Head of Communications Tanzania

With experiences, thoughts, contribution and beautiful images from colleagues Japhary, Gladith, Langen and Novati

The Video showing the Kili expereince