The view atop Mount Kilimanjaro

The trek up Mount Kilimanjaro was an adventure of a lifetime, for two city-based women. They relive their experience of trekking up the world’s highest free-standing mountain

November 24, 2018 12:46 pm | Updated November 26, 2018 03:55 pm IST

‘I was commanding my feet: walk, walk, walk’

Asha Krishnan is reeling under the excitement of having hiked for five and a half days, on the trot, to reach “just about” the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. She made it, propped by attenders, half bent, taking one step at a time, in the last lap, to Stella Point, 150 m below Uhuru, the summit, of the world’s highest free-standing mountain, in Tanzania, East Africa.


“When I found out that Martina Navratilova could not make it, I found some solace, but I could go no further, I was spent, ” says the 58-year-old entrepreneur and nutritionist, who beat cancer about six years ago. The Krishnans live in Ernakulam.

Asha, her husband Krishnan, daughter Padmini and a friend have just returned after scaling the mountain that stands at 5,895m. As a family that is into adventure, Kilimanjaro took some motivation before consensus came about on the choice. A dormantvolcano Kilimanjaro can be accessed by different routes. The family chose the Machame Route, also called the whisky route, which is supposedly the toughest.


Machame, a popular route

“The route is popular with adventure seekers and we chose to not go there during high season so as to have the mountain to ourselves,” says Padmini who does one adventure trip every year.

Escorted by guides, porters and cooks who set up base camps, sleeping and dining in tents after a day’s or night’s trek, they began their upward journey on November 3, taking five-and-a-half days to reach the top and a comparatively quick one and a half day of descent.


There were many firsts for Asha and Krishnan who were on this daring treacherous route for the first time. Sleeping in tents, in sleeping bags, experiencing hail and snow, using hand, foot warmer pouches and toilet pouches were some of the first experiences of their lives.

The two had trekked upto Malayatoor Church, in preparation, and learnt to use the pole to climb. Asha had joined zumba to increase stamina. They trekked carrying a knapsack weighing 8 to 10 kilos, with three litres of water, snacks and layer clothing —raincoats and warm clothes.

“Though Machame is the toughest route, it is the most scenic,” says Padmini. The first day was a trek through equatorial forests under dense canopy of trees which allowed very little sun to filter down. Here they saw the famed shaggy Colobus monkeys, mountain mice and large ravens. They trekked daily for seven to 15 hours.


Steep Baranco Wall

The final trek to Stella Point was overnight, planned in a way to catch the sunrise. “It was bitterly cold, -10 degrees Celsius.

I wanted to give up,” recalls Asha. It was their friend who motivated her with choices of either going back or finding a second wind. Asha made up her mind to go ahead. “I was commanding my feet- walk, walk, walk.” she recalls. Another tough trek was negotiating the 300 m steep Baranco Wall.

Arriving at Stella Point was an achievement and had them all in tears of joy and disbelief. Padmini trekked up to the summit, Uhuru, drenched by tiredness and exhilaration.

The descent, though fast was unusual and they skied down, helped by porters in what is called ‘sand skiing’.


“When I had my first baby, I said never again. After this trek I said the same and was reminded by my husband. Maybe we will do something as adventurous again,” says Asha adding that she never thought that climbing the Kilimanjaro would be so tough and so thrilling.

‘Every one should do a Kilimanjaro’

“What’s the plan? Going up or down?” the guide asked Prasanna Varma as the group reached Stella Point on the way to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro last July. Tired and panting after the six-day trek up the Machame or the ‘Whisky’ Route at temperatures below freezing point, the choice was ‘tempting’. The group had started the trek, up from the base camp at 11 pm the previous night.

“You cannot stop along the way, if you stop you’ll freeze. Moving one step at a time, it was torture but I kept telling myself repeatedly ‘this is just one night in your life. Keep moving...left, right, breathe...’” says the 49 year-old Tripunithura-based writer/translator. On the other side of, what she calls the ‘longest’ night lay a stunning sunrise, the immediate reward for ‘surpassing the night’.

The long-term was ‘transformation’, and it is something she recommends. “Everybody should do a Kilimanjaro. You push the limits, way beyond what you believe your limits to be and learn something about yourself along the way.” It was also one thing off the to-do list before she turned 50.

Last year, in 2017, she went up to the Everest base camp and before that she made the Kailas Manasarovar yatra via the traditional route. She confesses a liking of the mountains, the Himalayas - she and her husband used to travel together, until a stroke made travelling to high altitudes difficult for him. The Kailas Manasarovar trip was her first solo journey.

For Prasanna each trip is about enjoying the journey than getting to the destination, this one too. It was an impromptu plan with a cousin, Prajod in March this year. Prasanna and Prajod were joined by a father and son pair of New Zealanders. The team comprised besides them, porters, cooks and guides - the porters carried the heavier stuff required for setting up camp.

“There was a co-incidence too...the New Zealander Mike and I share a birthday. Same day, same year - me in Tripunithura and Mike in New Zealand.” It was Mike who kept telling her head that she shouldn’t quit at Stella Point, however tempted she might be and that she just had to keep going.

Although she wouldn’t recommend mountain climbing or trekking without the necessary (read physical) preparation, her adventure was sans any such. “I didn’t get the time to get myself physically fit - I just packed up and set out. Not that I didn’t try but it just didn’t happen.”

Where to next ? So far no plans, but when the ‘itch starts’ there will be another mountain to conquer.


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