After Qatar Airlines moved our flight to Arusha forward by a day, we were left to decide what to do with our extra day. We first thought about extending our safari by a day and maybe visiting another national park. However, our safari provider Gosheni Safaris, suggested that we add a day trip to Kilimanjaro National Park and do a day hike across the Shira Plateau. I hadn’t even thought about that and once he mentioned it, it made perfect sense. As we’d be sitting in a safari jeep for 10 days, a little exercise before we started was called for!
The evening before the hike, our guide for the hike, Richard, came to see us to discuss our fitness levels. There are a few hikes to be done in the Shira Plateau and he wanted to make sure we chose a suitable one.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s Shira Plateau is one of the most fascinating and scenic areas on Kilimanjaro. It’s also the oldest peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, at 3872m altitude. We are experienced hikers and have hiked at altitude before, so we didn’t want something too easy. He suggested Cathedral Point, which was the most rewarding but not an easy one at 20 kilometres return and at 3872 metres altitude. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially since we weren’t yet acclimatised but who doesn’t like a challenge? We certainly do!
The start of the hike
After a 7am pick up from our hotel and a 2-hour drive, we made it to the Londorosi Gate in Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. After formalities, registrations, and a toilet break, we drove up through a rain forest to the Morum Barrier Gate which is at 3400 metres of altitude. This was the start of our hike. Because we started walking on a very gradual incline, it didn’t seem so hard at all; at least for now.
As soon as we started the hike, we were amazed by the views. We were surrounded by incredible wilderness and spectacular mountain scenery. The best part was that the clouds that covered the sky in Arusha had disappeared and we, for the first time could see the snow-capped summit of the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was so exciting for us. Mount Kilimanjaro really is incredible to look at and it was so nice to finally be standing there right in front of it. Our guide said that it wasn’t often people get such a nice, clear view of Kilimanjaro, since it is often obscured by clouds. We were lucky.
Along the way, we saw many blossoming blankets of tiny wildflowers, they were beautiful and made for some great photos. As we kept walking, we eventually got to see what we were aiming for, the Shira cathedral.
As we walked toward the Shira cathedral, it didn’t seem far away. However, as our altitude increased and the incline became steeper, the walk became much more of a struggle. We were doing quite well until we got to kilometres 8. Then we both started feeling exhausted.
The altitude was getting to us. We were out of breath and that’s when we started to walk a lot slower, or “pole pole” (slow in Swahili). The views kept getting better, and as we began the final ascent to the peak, we started walking above the clouds. It was breathtaking.
As we scrambled up the ridge for the last stretch, we could see the sign of the Cathedral Point Peak. It looked so near to us, but it felt so far away as we struggled over the last 250 metres. I started feeling nauseous and Simon started to get an upset stomach. I had to stop after every second step, and I thought we’d never get there.
But we aren’t ones to give up. We kept going and going and going. Eventually we made it and suddenly we both started feeling so much better! It was incredible to be standing up there and we were so happy we made it and were able to witness that scenery in front of us. Standing at 3872 metres, above the clouds.
The way back down
After some time spent enjoying the peak, we started making our way back down. We thought this part would be easier, and it was for a while, until I suddenly felt exhausted and began to get a headache from the altitude.
It was hard, so we made sure we drunk a lot more water and we walked “pole pole”. Our guide kept encouraging us, making sure we were ok, and we took some short breaks. The last 5 kilometres were the hardest. I kept wishing our safari jeep was around the corner, and it never was. The weather started changing and we could see some very dark clouds coming our way. I was adamant that I wanted to make it back to the car before it poured down!
We made it eventually, before the rain. The best feeling was when I finally sat down in the jeep to eat my lunch box. I was so exhausted but so proud to have made it. I was now totally ready for 10 days of sitting in a car!
Driving back through the rainforest back down to the Londorosi Gate, our guide stopped the car. In the trees on the side of the road was a big family of Colobus monkeys. We watched them for a while and drove on. Outside the national park, driving back to Arusha, we also spotted some giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest. I was so excited to see them and couldn’t wait any longer for our safari to begin.