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Trip Report: March 07 Kilimanjaro Climb with Tusker

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Just got back from Kilimanjaro, and I thought I'd pass along some of my thoughts on our Kilimanjaro climb (I'll post our safari trip report separately).

Some background on us: My husband and I are in our 30's and from the Midwest. We've never done mountain climbing before, but we're in pretty good shape. We've done lots of bike trips internationally, but nothing like this!

CLIMBING COMPANY CHOICE: We used Tusker Trail for our climb. They were absolutely wonderful! The food was fabulous, service was great, and medical attention extraordinary. As a woman who loves the outdoors, but doesn't like to camp that much, I was so thankful for their "toilet tent." Although it's a bucket with a seat, it is a lot better than the outhouses on the mountain (at least on the Machame route).
Tusker seems to be one of the best on the mountain. As we hiked from camp to camp, we'd come across many other Tusker camps, and were able to share their mess tent and toilets for lunch breaks. Also, Tusker was the only company that I saw that used ropes on Barranco wall, just to be sure we were safe.

PORTERS & GUIDES: They were phenomenal! They worked hard and always had a smile on their face. These folks made the trip. Our guides were medically trained, which is so important. One of the climbers in our group had an oxygen level of less than 65% on our midnight ascent to the summitt. He was given oxygen and made it to the summitt with no problem. I got sick on that same night, but my oxygen level was fairly high (80's). They knew that my problem was lack of sugar, so they gave me about 1/2 cup of pure sugar. Without their knowledge, I wouldn't have made it to the top. In fact, on that same night, we saw another climber coming down, who did not make it. Tusker's guides really know their stuff. Also, we were so impressed with other staff members. For example, our waiter would sit for hours in our mess tent with us teaching us native songs, and helping us with our swahili. It was such a great experience!

HOTEL: Tusker uses the Keys Hotel as its base. It's not a luxury hotel, but has adquate facilities, and the food is actually cheap and pretty good.

GEAR: We brought about 50 power bars. We gave them away. The food was so good, we never really needed them. We made the mistake of not taking camelbacks- you definately need these on the mountain. I also took body wipes. I think some companies tout a hot shower, but we never felt like a shower because it was so cold. We brought body wipes, which worked great. Also, Tusker had hot water and soap for us to wash-up with when we got to camp. They also had chlorinated water for us in the mess tent to wash our hands. Sleeping bags: we rented these- they were warm (it gets really cold at night).

DIAMOXX: Many people take 125 mg twice daily to help acclimitize. My husband did this dosage. I didn't use it except on summitt night (I used Gingo Biloba throughout the climb). I had higher oxygen levels than my hubby during the climb, but it is probably due to other reasons. People all acclimitize differently.

TIPPING: Tusker recommends a $350 tip to the crew. We had 20 crewmembers. You can give extra tips to those that went out of their way. We took a little extra cash and gave an extra tip. The crew works so hard. You might want to take extra $ just in case. Also we left some clothes to donate to the Porter Assistance Project.

CONDITIONING: We did the Machame route in 5 nights and 6 days, which is pretty quick. The only problem we had was on the midnight ascent. We were in pretty good cardio shape before the climb, which I think helped throughout the climb. Going down is actually more difficult on the legs (esp. your knees). Trekking poles are a must!

WHEN TO GO: We went on the border of the rainy season. We noticed the fog, mist, and then rain came into camp everyday around 4:00pm. While it was sunny, we'd walk around in t-shirts, but when the mist came in, I put on 2-3 more layers. I'd try to climb during the dry season, if you can.

OVERALL SERVICE: Tusker sent out trip manuals and updates months in advance. Because of their advice, we got a VISA before we went to avoid waiting at the airport. Our safari company, Kiliwarriors, didn't provide us with our trip packet until a few weeks before our departure date. Tusker's customer service was really superior. We also talked to another group with Good Earth. While they told us the service was adequate, it wasn't what we experienced. For example, their guides forgot to boil water, so they were delayed about an hour out of camp one day. One of their members also got very sick, and he came to our tent to get the medical supplies he needed.

If you are not use to doing a lot of camping/climbing, or just want more of a comfortable (and fun) climbing experience, I'd recommend Tusker.

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