The Climb

The Ndifo Crew Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro

After months of training and preparation, the Ndifo Crew took to the mountain in April for seven life-changing days and nights.  It was the most difficult thing any of us have ever done.  Gym training and cardio can get your physical body ready for this, but there are few experiences that ready your mind and spirit for the challenges faced on such a long climb.  The feeling of discovering that all the clothing that is currently not on your body is soaked through inside a faulty waterproof bag, and will not dry at any point on the trip, can be overwhelming (more about the rainy season below).  Altitude sickness trying to consume you more and more each day makes you question every step forward.  The experiece could make or break anyone.  And coming down the mountain is almost as hard as going up on slick piles of gravel and snow that feel more than quicksand than a mountain.

Steve Ngowi, Ndifo’s owner & lead guide, was born and raised on the southern slope of Kilimanjaro.  Although he’d spent his life gazing at the mountain, he never dreamed of climbing it.  “Climbing was for the foreign visitors to Tanzania,” Steve remembers, “it is not something that many local citizens can afford to do.  Much gear and training is needed for this climb.”  Steve did know young men his age who became porters for the tourist climbs – everyone knew what a hard life that was carrying up to 33lb (15kg) on their backs and heads up and down the 19,300ft (5,895m) slick rock mountain over and over with only the most basic gear.  So like most other Tanzanians, just the thought of making the climb never crossed Steve’s mind.

But now that Steve is a tour operator himself, he found guests asking his opinion about the climb.  To be able to consult in a knowledgeable manner, he knew that it was time to climb the mountain himself.  And as a Tanzanian, he felt that it was time to claim his own Tanzanian experience on Kilimanjaro.  The crew spent months working out and running each day to get ready.  It was a mission.  Below, we detail more of the experience and recommendations for prospective climbers.

Now that he’s done it, this is one more aspect of the wonders of Tanzania that Steve can share with guests when they want experiences beyond safari.  Read more here about what this climb means to Steve.


Want to do it, too?

Here are some tips for planning your Kilimanjaro climb

  • When you go is VERY important
Navigating the slippery rocks

We did this trip at the height of rainy season, which isn’t recommended for many people.  The rain caused the living conditions to be more difficult than the actual climb at times.  It rained inside our tents many nights, so everything we had stayed wet.  Wearing a poncho half the time kills the mood a little as well.  However, there are very few climbers on the mountain this time of year – the place belongs to you, and you move at your own pace.  When you go during the more physically comfortable high season, the mountain will experience incredible traffic jams at places like the Barranco Wall (described in harrowing detail below) where climbers must pass one-by-one.  When there are hundreds of climbers and porters passing through this bottleneck, you may wait for hours just to pass.

  • Rainy season: End-February to mid-May
  • Peak season: June to October
  • High season: Through the end of November
Steve having his daily medical checkup
  • Getting Ready
Carrying all our stuff!

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to climb Kilimanjaro whatsoever, but you have to be in the best shape of your life and able to climb for hours on back-to-back-to-back days. You’ll be navigating slick mountain rocks and incredibly steep snow packs for up to 8 hours in a day – and in some spots you’ll use your arms to pull yourself over a ledge.  Get your lungs ready for extreme altitude. It wouldn’t hurt to check in with a doctor before you go.  Train somewhere at altitude if you have a chance as your lungs will suffer far more than your legs if your cardio isn’t there.

  • Know Your Gear & Your Clothing

Be sure you have the right gear. (Full recommended list below.)  Don’t skimp on this step. Test your gear before you come. The first night of your climb shouldn’t be the first time you check the batteries in your flashlight.  Go camping with all your gear at least one night before so that you know what works before you are on the mountain.  Be sure you like the smell of the inside of your sleeping bag – you’ll be taking shelter in it more than you can know. Wear your clothes and hiking boots around flat groud for a bit before you wear them on your way up.  Be sure everything is very comfortable.  Your clothing should be as waterproof as possible.  Test everything out – we found out the hard way that there are different levels of waterproof.  This goes for your bag covers as well.

  • Tipping

Bring cash tip money for your guides and porters. When you see these human beings carry all your stuff – clothes, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, toilet, and all your toiletries for a week – up the same implausibly impassible route you are struggling up, you will want to thank them the best way possible.  So little goes so far, and they work so hard for your safety and happiness.  You’ll have 6-7 porters and one guide per climber.  Not only will they haul and prepare all your food for a week, they will assemble your tent each day before you arrive at camp and bring you tea in your tent each morning.

  • Route

Pick the Route that is right for you considering length of time you want and one that fits your physical capabilities. We took the Machame Route to the summit. It’s a 7-day route that we took in 6.  We’ll describe our experience by day below.

Machame Route Notes


This is now the most popular route on the mountain. Compared with Marangu, the days on Machame are longer and the walks are steeper. The Machame route is considered a difficult route, and is better suited for more adventurous folks and those with some hiking or backpacking experience. The route begins from the south, then heads east, traversing underneath Kilimanjaro’s southern ice field before summiting.

The minimum number of days required for this route is six days, although seven days is recommended. The Machame route is scenically beautiful and varied. However, due to the heavy crowds, it loses some of its splendor during high season.


DAY 0:
The day before our climb, our guides, Martin and Jackson, met with us to review our gear and make sure we had everything we would need.
(Elevation 5,400ft to 9,400ft, Distance: 11 km, Hiking Time: 5-7 hours, Habitat: Rain Forest)The drive from our hotel in Moshi to National Park Gate took about an hour.  It suddenly occurred to us what we were actually about to do.  A nervous anticipation began to set in.  We left all our belongings with the 12 porters who were going to carry it all up with them – on their backs and their heads the whole way.Then we set off up the mountain with our guides.  We had no idea how many times these guys would save our lives.  The walk goes through the forest on a winding trail up;; a ridge, and the was muddy and slippery.  We ended at Machame Camp where we had our first great, warm meal prepared in the camp over an open fire.

(Elevation: 9,400ft to 12,500ft, Distance: 5 km, Hiking Time: 4-6 hours, Habitat: Moorland)After breakfast, we left the glades of the rain forest and continued on an ascending path, crossing the little valley walking along a steep rocky ridge covered with heather, until the ridge ends then west into a river gorge.     
(Elevation: 12,500ft to 13,000ft, Distance: 10 km, Hiking Time: 6-8 hours, Habitat: Semi Desert)From the Shira Plateau, we continued to the east up a ridge, passing the junction towards the peak of Kibo. We reached the Lava Tower, then up to the Arrow Glacier at an altitude of 16,000ft. We then continued down to the Barranco Hut at an altitude of 13,000ft. Although we ended the day at the same elevation as when we started, the day is very important for acclimatization. 

NEW Day 4 (We combined day 4&5 of a suggested 7 day climb to finish in 6 days to get out of the rain.)

(Elevation: 13,000ft to 15,300ft, Distance: 9 km, Hiking Time: 8-10 hours; Habitat: Alpine Desert)

This was a tough day.  We decided to combine day 4 & 5 because the rain was so punishing that we feared that our cold, wet nights of getting no sleep would exhaust us more than pushing through with to shorter days together.  The day begins with a bang – the first thing is crossing a river to go right over to a sheer piece of rock called the Barranco Wall.  This part of the climb is seriously no joke.  This is the part you really need to be fit for as you are climbing slick, narrow patches of rock along a cliffside over to what is called “The Kissing Rock” or “Hugging Wall”. This reference is made because of the narrowness of the trail at this point. When climbing this portion, you need to flatten against the wall to avoid falling off a steep drop. It can be a bit intimidating. Many climbers will kiss the wall as they pass through. Although you do not need to be an expert climber to tackle the wall, you need to be a smart climber. The Barranco Wall is made up of steep and narrow paths that require climbers to use all four limbs to traverse the ascent.Then we passed the the Karanga Valley campsite and continue up to the Barafu Hut. That was the completion of the South Circuit.  Here we made camp and prepared for the summit day. The two peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo can be seen from this position.

(Elevation: 18,600ft to 10,000ft, Distance: 5 km ascent / 12 km descent, Hiking Time: 7-8 hours ascent / 4-6 hours descent. Habitat: Arctic)This was the toughest day hands down.  We began hiking at 1am in the pitchblack with side-ways sleety-snowy-rain pounding us.  It was cold and miserable, and nobody had slept much.  We made our way up to the summit between the Rebmann and Ratzel glaciers.  This is the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek.  Every step was made with extreme effort for the next 7 hours.  The sun finally made it’s way above the clouds as we reached Stella Point (18,600 ft).If climbing Kilimanjaro is the hardest thing we’ve ever done, coming down is the second.  From the very first step all the many hours back to base camp, every step is a mixture of snowy gravel that acted like quicksand with every step – forcing you to remain light on your feet and move quickly or risk being sucked into the mountain.


This is just as important as your own body’s physical readiness.

The right gear will make all the difference in your climb:

Outer Pants
  • 1 pair warm/ski pants for snow
  • At least 1 pair 100% waterproof pants for rain
  • At least 1 pair fleece pants/joggers for camp
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 larger rain poncho to cover everything
  • 1 cold weather/ski jacket
  • 2-3 fleece/sweater during rainy season (1-2 other times)
Under Clothes
  • 2-3 long underwear tops & bottoms
  • 3-4 thermal base layers tops & bottoms
  • 1 pair slightly large hiking boots to give your feet room to breathe & to accommodate thick socks
  • 1 pair warm casual shoes for camp
  • 5-6 pair wool hiking socks
  • 2 pair casual socks for around camp
  • Camel Bag
  • 2 head lamps & batteries
  • Phone charging bricks
  • Gaters to waterproof your shoes in muddy areas
  • Walking Sticks
  • Waterproof bags of various sizes for all your clothing
  • Mountaineer sunglasses
  • Backpack for you to carry your daily needs with you
  • 1 pair light “gripper” gloves for rock navigation
  • 1 pair of very warm winter/ski gloves
Sleeping Bag
  • 15cm for very cold weather
  • Don’t go cheap on this one.
  • Balaclava
  • Warm hat/beanie
  • Sun Hat
Duffle Bags
  • To pack your things for the porters to collect every morning for them to carry.
Sunscreen and Wet Wipes
  • Don’t forget to bring tons of sunscreen and plenty of wet wipes.
    You will not have access to a shower for a week.