Sierra Jess

While many students use the holiday closure to sit back and relax, Physics and Astronomy student Sierra Jess used her time to reach new heights on an exciting adventure in East Africa before her final term at the University of Waterloo.  

Along with her best friend Elizabeth and her mom, Sierra climbed the tallest peak on the continent: Mount Kilimanjaro. Standing at 5,895m above sea level, her journey involved eight days of hiking on the 71 km Lemosho route. Continue reading to learn more about her six-day journey climbing to the top!  

By Sierra Jess 

The night before the hike I was nervous about the climb, frantically packing and repacking, and changing my mind on what day pack I wanted to bring. I opted for a smaller 20L day pack instead of the 44L one I intended to use. Once packed, we relaxed before the days of hiking ahead. 

DAY 1:

The start of the climb was a three-hour drive from the hotel through the countryside. Once we arrived at the mountain, we had a quick lunch before we set off. We climbed through the forest zone gaining 600m of elevation from 2,300m to 2,900m. It was muddy, but sunny and relatively warm. My favourite part that day was seeing the monkeys! It was only two hours of hiking, so it was a good introduction to what was to come. 

Day 1: At the start of the trail

DAY 2:

On the second day, we moved out of the forest and into the Hagenia zone where the terrain became rockier. We climbed for seven hours and gained another 600m of elevation, finishing at 3,500m. We saw the summit for the first time, which was both encouraging and discouraging. It seemed so far away from where we were, making it hard to imagine we were going to be there four days later.  

Day 2: Selfie with camp and summit in background

DAY 3:

After a good night's sleep, we started our third day of climbing through the Heath zone where we gained 600m of elevation. It was a long six hours of climbing uphill on rocky terrain. Once we got to the camp, we hiked up another 400m and then back down so we could get our bodies used to the altitude. Elizabeth and I went on an extra acclimatization hike to take in the view.  

Day 3: Extra acclimatization hike

DAY 4:

Day four was more difficult as we made our way through rocky terrain and valleys that brought us up and down its winding paths. Four hours into the climb we stopped at the Lava Tower, sitting at an elevation of 4,600m – the highest elevation so far. On this last push my breathing became heavy, and I knew it was going to be a long and difficult day. It took another four hours to reach Barranco Camp, where we saw interesting plants that looked like giant succulents! 

Day 4: Cool plants and trees

DAY 5:

As a rock climber, day five was my favourite day because we climbed the Barranco Wall! It was the steepest part of the entire climb, which was challenging and made me feel a bit sick, but the views were spectacular.  

We stopped at Karanga Camp at an elevation of 4,000m. Despite being rainy and cold, we made a logistical decision to continue to the next camp. We hiked for two hours in wet conditions up a rocky zig-zagged hill, totalling eight hours of hiking that brought us to Barafu Camp – the last camp before the summit.  

DAY 6:

Summit day had finally arrived! I was both nervous and excited to finally accomplish what we had set out to achieve. The air was thin, so we took a slower pace out of necessity. A seven-hour hike up zig-zagging rocky trails brought us from the camp to two summits. We reached Stella Point first at 5,765m elevation. I made a snowman complete with a gummy worm nose to celebrate.  

We continued the hike to Uhuru Peak, which took another hour. During this last push, a member of our group started showing signs of altitude sickness and had to descend back to camp. I had a small headache, but it was nothing too concerning.  

I am proud to say that I made it to Uhuru Peak on December 31st, 2023. All the work it took to get there was worth it and being on the roof of Africa was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The views of the cities below and the three glaciers sitting around the summit were unlike anything I had seen before. We took lots of pictures and after about 15 minutes we began our descent. While it took us seven hours to reach the top, it only took us an hour and a half to get down! We quite literally ran down to the camp. It was a steep, sandy trail, and the quickest and easiest way to go down it was, what I can only describe as, controlled falling.  

Once I made it back to Barafu Camp, I was sad to realize that I had done what I had come to do. I knew that reaching camp was the beginning of the end, but I was still happy knowing what I had accomplished.  

Day 6: Uhuru peak

DAY 7 & 8:

The two days spent descending were very peaceful and the views were unbelievable. The first day we hiked down rocky terrain and by the second day, we were back in the forest. When we finally reached the end, we took pictures and received our summit certificates.   

I enjoyed climbing Mount Kilimanjaro much more than I could have ever imagined. Since I knew it was going to be a very physically taxing experience, I figured there would be times when I wouldn’t want to be there and so I prepared myself to feel that way. Luckily, I ended up thoroughly enjoying my experience the entire time. I enjoyed it so much that I am considering doing more climbs in the future!  

Day 8: Finishing sign