Kilimanjaro Circuit Run

Full pics are available online.
Light edits made 7/6 11:32 PST

Bombing down the northern circuit – Kilimanjaro

A possibly first of its kind –  a slow run around Kilimanjaro via high altitude trails averaging ~13,745ft, covering 27 miles, in 12:35 hours (with a couple significant stops) accompanied by Jacob Slaa. Huge thanks to PROBAR, S2Mountaineering,  Kilimanjaro Climbing Company Tanzania Ltd, RUNA Clean Energy for making it all possible.

I’ve been intrigued about running around big mountains for some time. When I was invited to work on an S2 trip up Kilimanjaro as an assistant guide, piggy-backing a circumnavigation run was a no brainer. Earlier this year, at the Rainshadow Running film festival before the Waterfall 50k, I watched Mountains of Greatness, an 8-day stage trail run around the base of Kilimanjaro, organized by Simon Mtuy. Following that up with a great read about Krissy Moehl‘s experiences during the run made me want to run the same course. I skyped with Simon to see if he could help me out, but he would be running the Western States 100m in California at the same time. Even if I had his GPS tracks of the trails he led people on, a lot crossed private land and I wasn’t in the position to arrange permission ahead of time.

I had looked briefly at a high altitude route around 13,000 feet, but received advice that there would be too much scree and permit issues, and then there was the altitude. So the next plan seemed to be sketching out a road running around the base using google maps – it came out to roughly 248km. Asking around, I was advised to have a vehicle escort at all times if I went the road route (about $400 total), especially for the northern section which had the very rare possibility of wild lion, buffalo, or elephants. Aside from being chewed, charged, or stomped to death, getting mugged was also a serious risk. Trying to run it continuously, through the night(s) was not an option. All in all – it didn’t sound fun.

But over hot drinks at ~13,000 ft, on my trip a couple weeks ago up Kilimanjaro with S2Mountaineering, a new plan was hatched to run the high altitude circuit trail. Our camp (Moire) was actually on the circuit. To run that high, I would need to be with a licensed guide. None better than Jacob Slaa, a guide I was sitting next to in the mess tent; he has topped out on the mountain over 400 times – working with our partner company Kilimanjaro Climbing Company.

Back in town (everyone made the summit!) and all cleaned up, goal number #1 was getting Jacob squared away with some trail runners. The only thing in Arusha were cast offs from trekkers. And over priced ‘to boot’!

This was the ‘hot shoe store’
Some literally drying in the sun

We also visited the local supermarket and threw $100 of crap into a shopping basket. And some pots and a non-functional, lethal,  Chinese ‘safety camping stove’. But, you know what? This is how it turned out… Friggin’ amazing!

A nice view of the southern half  with our gps tracks on google earth

And for those who are really into trail porn (as some would call it), I give you this graphic.

But I’m getting ahead of things. To make that happen, we snagged a long bus ride with the second www.s2mountaineering.com group to tackle Kilimanjaro. All made it to the top! We also shared our first site at Simba Camp with them. The hiking was gentle and lulled us into a false sense of complacency.

Simba Camp – the summit massif (block?) appears

I hired a porter named ‘Necko’ at the gate to help carry food and the second tent. It was important to me that all of us carried equal weights. I do academic research on high altitude porters and have a whole conflicted dialogue that I will spare you. But we also needed Necko to watch our belongings during the run, the relative cost of gear and annual salaries around $400 something to sadly consider. The next day the three of us made it above the clouds and onto the eastern corner of the circuit. I cooked ramon noodles and the guys thought I was a high class chef. The stove leaked gas everywhere.

3rd cave campsite & home base (3,936m 12,913 ft)
Make shift kitchen, carbo loading.

I froze that night and ended up putting my feet inside plastic bags. My tent may only weigh 2lbs, but it is not made for high altitude. (Sleeping bag too). The next morning we were off with minimal gear. We both carried Ultraspire packs, PROBAR energy bars and electrolytes, and RUNA Clean Energy.  A full gear list is far below.

5:03 am the next morning. July 1st. My birthday!

Most people don’t know I was the first baby born in Nova Scotia on Dominion Day. Revisiting my birthplace (running aorund it?) is on my bucket list. But too many years later, and a little over an hour later, Jacob told me to douse my head light so the rangers at Kibo huts wouldn’t see us running across the saddle. No need to raise questions since we didn’t technically have a running permit. The picture below is Jacob running with the sun rise over Mt. Mawenzi (5149m, 16,893ft), a cousin peak joined by ‘the saddle’ which we ran across sans trail. I think it is the best picture I took on the run.

We were always running above the clouds. It was some of the most surreal, serpentine, sweet, and beautiful trail I have ever run.
Up and down became to the mantra..
Primary energy and electrolytes =  PROBAR (Thanks!)

To get to the far side undetected by watching rangers…hmmmm…
Cross the northern circuit lava fields
At Pofu Campsite – 5k to go!
Finished  circuit 12:35 after starting – upper campsite.
(Jacob is a lot more happy than he looks)

And that was almost a wrap. Actually we tagged the summit rim the next day and then made our gradual way out of the part. Thanks for a great run everyone.

Gear

  • We both ran with ultraspire packs (a fast pack and the smaller one).
  • Jacob used a hydration pack, I used the two 750ml bottles in my fast pack.
  • Headlamps (Petzl Nao for me)
  • Space blanket
  • One ace bandage
  • A few bandaids
  • Water tablets
  • SPOT Tracker
  • Garmin GPS
  • SONY Action Cam
  • Canon S100
  • Patagonia Puffy Jacket and wind shell
  • Icebreaker 200 wt short sleeve
  • Merino wool arm warmers
  • Icebreaker 150wt long underwear
  • Shorts
  • Compression socks
  • Lots of PROBAR!
  • GPS Files: Cobbled together from all GPS devices. Happy to provide individual files. Right now the best thing to use is this gpx file.

10 Responses to “Kilimanjaro Circuit Run

  • We can’t wait to join forces and merge our crazy energy together in Nepal!

  • Congratulations! Glad you made it!

    Love

    Georgie and John

  • Good for you! And thanks for such thorough & descriptive postings.
    May the safe & exciting adventures continue, nephew.
    Love, Mimi

  • Fantastic!!
    See you again soon
    Donna

  • I get tired changing channels too vigorously. Now I feel guilty too.

    Keep up the adventures so the rest of us can live vicariously.

    Nigel

  • Wow! Sounds incredible! Love the part about dousing the lights due to ranger danger.

  • Congratulations Seth! You always inspire and amaze me with your efforts!!
    Ernie

  • Seth,
    Congrats on a beautiful running adventure. The pix were beautiful, too, but I’m sure not nearly so as the real thing.
    And, that was a great sunrise shot over Mt Mawenzi!
    Godspeed home and Peace,
    Arne & Betsy

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