Win a camino trek for two! Enter our competition here

Christmas up Kilimanjaro, New Year on Safari

10 years before I started working in the marketing department at KE Adventure Travel, I embarked on my first KE trip, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. This... Read more
Christmas up Kilimanjaro, New Year on Safari

10 years before I started working in the marketing department at KE Adventure Travel, I embarked on my first KE trip, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. This was more than just an adventure as you will find out....


When looking for an iconic mountain to climb, few can compete with Kilimanjaro. Jetting high out of the wild Tanzanian savanna, the contrasting snowy peak of Kilimanjaro has entranced climbers for decades, and now it had ensnared me.

Weaving our way through the foothills, we could look out across the orange dusty plains of Tanzania, but back on the mountain, the mineral rich volcanic soil with its abundance of cascading water from the melting mountain glaciers, made the foothills of Kilimanjaro one of the most fertile areas in all of Tanzania. As such we initially found ourselves walking through vast fruitful farmlands before climbing higher into the wild forests.

We were the only people to set off from the Rongai lodge that day, and that’s inpart why we had picked the route. One of the many comments of Kilimanjaro is that it's such a popular climb. However; how many people do you know that have done it? It’s true that there is a route renowned as the Coca Cola route, for its popularity. But we had picked the Rongai route as it was not only famously quieter, but with KE it would take a little longer and include an acclimatisation day; all of which would increase our chances of a successful summit.

Having left the farmlands behind, we were really starting to work the legs up through the steep jungle. Our pace setter was a local guide, a real friendly giant. He gave one bit of simple advice: “You must travel slowly so your body can adapt to the altitude better. In Swahili we say 'polepole', which means slowly.” and with that, our trip motto of “polepole” was born.

After much polepole walking we reached our first camp, tucked into some delicious home/camp cooked food and crashed. The next day we carried on our climb up the mountain, watching the florna changing with every step of the climb. Stopping for lunch next to a cave, our guide told us we were now at 2,500m and to start to prepare for the effects of altitude. Instantly I started to feel a bit queasy, all I could do now was drink water and hope things got better.

I managed to keep going for another couple of days and we made it to Mawenzi camp in the shadow of Mount Mawenzi, a rocky outcrop of Kilimanjaro. By now we were on Day 4 and it was 23rd December. Booking the trip over Christmas really wasn’t by coincidence. As a young working couple we didn’t get much leave, and this utilised what leave we had. Equally, what an awesome place to spend Christmas!

Day 5, Christmas Eve, was also our acclimatisation day. After a couple of long polepole walking days we were very glad for a day to recoup with just a short midday walk to help acclimatise. While short, it was a momentous trek as we broke the ridge and got our first glimpses of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a truly stunning sight, the vast flat saddle in front of us helped give composure to the stunning view of the mighty Kilimanjaro. Be warned; not every route actually gives you a view of Kilimanjaro and you can leave without having actually seen the famous volcanic outline.

For the previous couple of days altitude sickness had really kicked in and we were both feeling the effects, with a headache and nausea. That night, doubt started to circulate; were we going to make it? However the next morning, thanks to that extra day of acclimatisation, we woke feeling alot better, a huge relief! 

On Christmas morning we were treated to a festive breakfast put on by the ever cheerful guide and his team. Christmas hats were donned, crackers pulled and presents shared, but a certain mountain lay ahead so we suited and booted, for what would turn out to be a near 48 hour push.

Temperatures had been plummeting as we climbed higher, but at Mawenzi the temperature had really dropped and we were now wrapping ourselves up with lots of layers, bouncing around to stay warm. However; we can categorically confirm that Bob Geldof is wrong. It does in fact snow in Africa at Christmas time.

This was a big day. We were traversing the shoulder of Kilimanjaro from Mawenzi to Kibo hut. It was then just a couple of hours kip before a push to the top that evening. While the first stage across the shoulder was a desolate plain of emptiness; it was, in a surreal way, very beautiful. A stark contrast from the forests we had walked through just days before, this dusty boulder strewn landscape was more akin to the moon than anywhere on earth.

We arrived into Kibo around 3pm and as we tucked into our early scran we had a final brief from the leaders. We were to go straight to bed and try to get some sleep. But at 11pm they’d start to wake us so we had time to get prepared for the final push to the summit. Realistically we just lay there, buzzing with adrenaline, we weren’t going to sleep.

11pm came and in the depth of the darkness we stirred, and began to layer up. It was well below freezing and would only drop further until just before sunrise. I definitely didn’t pack enough warm stuff!

Outside the tent we saw a disco of head torches, justling around the camp as everybody else prepared to set off on their walk. Looking up the mountain I could see a long snaking line of lights from the early-birders. Before long we were kitted and headed on our final polepole up the mountain.

Underfoot the solid ground had given way to looser scree and we were now zig zagging our way up the mountainside. At this stage it’s really just a 5 hour polepole plod with one foot in front of the other, gaining height as we go. Head down, in our own zones we kept going, all the training, the walking and the dreaming was leading to this last couple of hours.

As the day started to break and the sun rose, we approached Gilman's Point, the crater rim. We weren’t going to see the sunrise from the summit of Kilimanjaro, however many say that the view from Gillmans Point is just as impressive. So we geared up for a spectacular sunrise, only for the clouds to descend just at the worst time! But we had made it!

Gilman's Point isn’t the peak, but it may as well be. We were now just a short, much flatter, walk to the actual top, only a hundred or so metres in extra altitude. But critically we were on the crater rim of Kilimanjaro, and as the clouds lifted, we got our first view of the sun rising over the African plains. We sat down for a couple of minutes, caught our breadth and took in the spectacular scenery bathing in the golden hour of light in front of us.

But this wasn’t the top, so we picked ourselves up and set off around the rim. While at altitude, we were no longer hiking up a steep loose scree slope so this gentle walk around the crater was almost quite pleasant. Breathing was laboured, but the glory of Uhuru Peak was in sight. The walk along that crater rim is one of the highlights of our trip with stunning views across ancient glaciers, which are sadly diminishing fast.

After a final hour of trekking we could see a small cluster of people gathered beside a board, this was it, this was the top, we had really made it! We were ecstatic, in jubilation. Only those that have bagged a significant peak will understand the feeling of elation, but after so much effort, particularly the last couple of days, we were so proud of ourselves to achieve something that relatively few of the 8 billion people in the world achieve.

There was one disappointing aspect, that has since been fixed. To celebrate 50 years of independence, Tanzania had just, days before, decided to update the sign at the top of Kilimanjaro. The previous wooden sign, covered in prayer flags and stickers had been replaced with a metal motorway sign style board. It has since been replaced with a beautifully rustic wooden sign again, but it did slightly mar what happened next.

This trip was a very emotional one, particularly for my wife. 12 months before, just before Christmas 2010, her sister passed away very suddenly. Losing any relative is hard, but particularly somebody so young, and so unexpected. Doing this trip in her memory, and in her fantastic spirit of adventure meant there was only one thing to do, something she would have loved to have seen and been part of. 



At the top of Kilimanjaro I got down on one knee and proposed to my partner Heather. Giddy with altitude, she said yes!

Weeks before while in the Edinburgh market I was looking at rings with my future father-in-law when he made a very sensible suggestion; get an elasticated ring. It might sound a bit non traditional and naff; but when you’re nearly six thousand metres up and it’s well below freezing, you don’t want to be taking your gloves off! It worked so well (hint there for those planning on doing the same) and meant that when we got back, we had a jeweller friend make an engagement ring incorporating family heirloom gems. She still has the elasticated ring.

After lots of celebratory hugs and congratulations reality came back in. We were at the top of Africa's highest mountain and we still had to get all the way down. Our pace setter, who for the last week had been walking at speeds of under one mile per hour, with the chants of polepole, turned to us and said: “Polepole is finished, it’s now time for haraka” and with that he was off, running down the mountain. Haraka obviously meant fast!

Full of adrenaline we bounded off following our pace setter, but after just 100 metres our body reminded us where we were and what we’d done. We might not need to go polepole, but after 24 hours of walking our bodies were very happy to stick to polepole mode.

It had taken us nearly 8 hours to ascend, but barely 3 to scree ski back down to base camp. While we had been awake for 24 hours and done an extraordinary climb, we were far from tired. But we had to rest, in just a couple of hours we had to start our descent. Sleep didn’t happen.

Three hours later in a total daze we grabbed our boots and started the haraka paced walk down to the next camp where we finally got some rest before cracking on and making it through the famous Kilimanjaro gates the next day. These final couple of days blurred past as we reminisced on the amazing adventure we had just been on, but for us the adventure was not over.

One of the other reasons I had booked with KE Adventure Travel was for the safari extension. I’ve travelled thousands of miles for my first experience of Africa and while climbing Kilimanjaro was amazing, I wanted to explore more of this wonderful country. It was a tough call between the extension options, and while 4 days on the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar sounded lovely, we opted to ring in the New Year in a luxury safari lodge. 

We were really sad to say goodbye to those leaving us after Kili. Even now, 12 years on we we have fond memories of the whole team. The local porters and guides in particular were an amazing group. They helped support us and ultimately were the reason we made it to the top. I was quite warmed to see that some of the same guides and porters are still part of the KE team.

Back in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, we crashed on the soft warm beds of the hotel and fell into a deep sleep. But the next day our safari adventure began. As we drove into the first safari park our guide was pointing out some gazelles. While they were lovely I have to be honest; I was really hoping to see the big 5; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and african buffalo, amongst all the other incredible creatures I’d grown up reading about. It didn’t take long, we rounded the corner and found ourselves surrounded by elephants, zebras and even warthogs blocking the path with their baby pumbas.

Those 4 days on the safari were one of our many highlights. We ended up seeing an abundance of lions, giraffes, monkeys, hippos, rhinos and even cheetahs sleeping in trees. But it was possibly the accommodation that set this trip apart from the others. We later heard from groups who had done Kilimanjaro and were then based in a nearby city for their Safari extensions, whereas we actually stayed in some incredible lodges in the safari parks, including a bit under canvas. Not to dilute the word highlights too much, but sipping a Kilimanjaro beer while watching the sun set across an African gorge, with distant trumps of an elephant troop with my recently confirmed fiance is a memory that will stick with me forever.

Our last night of this epic adventure was December 31st and we couldn’t have been in a better place to ring in the New Year. It had been an incredible 2 weeks with Christmas on the side of Kilimanjaro, New Years on safari and nothing can top (ignore the pun) getting engaged at the top of Kilimanjaro.

Post script: 12 years have gone by and after a wonderful wedding we are preparing to celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2023 with our two you girls joining us for our mountain adventures here in The Lakes. In 2022 I made the leap from customer to employee here at KE Adventure as I joined the Digital Marketing Team, I couldn’t be happier.

Footer logos
Your Wishlist
No Wishlist Items

Start your next adventure.

Click the heart icon on the search or holiday pages to save a holiday to your wishlist.

Holiday Search