Live From Kilimanjaro

BACKPACKER writer Nick Heil reports live from Kilimanjaro on a climb with the Love Hope Strength Foundation

Writer Nick Heil is on assignment for BACKPACKER in Tanzania, where he's climbing Kilimanjaro with the cancer-fighting Love Hope Strength Foundation. Keep checking back for updates on the climb, and to learn more about the expedition, visit

Day 1: Base Camp

The wegeni—literally, “strangers” but more colloquially, the guests or clients (in other words: us)—have arrived, in good shape and good spirits, , and settled into our base in Arusha National Park, Tanzania. There are 25 of us, mostly Americans, with assorted Aussies, Welsh, and Brits. Several professional musicians. A few cancer survivors. A year of fundraising for the LoveHopeStrength Foundation now behind them, everyone seems buoyant, eager.

Our hosts and guides for the climb are African Environments, one of the most reputable operators on the mountain (they recently hosted Ann Curry and a crew from the Today Show). Camp’s a comfortable tent village, tucked under sprawling camphorwoods drapped with moss. My tent has a shower. It doesn’t suck.

We're about 25 miles from the Kilimanjaro summit (19,341), at the eastern foot of sister peak Mount Meru (14,967 feet), at about 6,000 vertical feet. We’ll spend a couple of days here to acclimatize. Today involved a leisure game drive photographing what might fairly be described as “starter fauna”—cool but more common critters including water buck, dik diks, giraffe, buffalo, blue and colobus monkeys, baboons, and a lake’s worth of pink flamingo. I was feeling a bit emasculated with my little point-n-shoot—definitely had lens envy since my teammates showed up with serious fire power—but what can you do?

After lunch, we toodled up a jeep road for an hour or so to start getting a little altitude in us. Meru looks huge from here, and it’s a good 4,000 feet smaller than Kili. One more day in base tomorrow, sorting gear and getting organized, before we head out for the Shira Plateau route. Five days later, with luck, we’ll be standing on the summit.

—Nick Heil