Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro will not be like any other wilderness experience I have had. On most backpacking trips, the desire is to get as far away from civilization as possible, to be "alone" in the untouched wilderness. I still laugh about the time I backpacked in the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had been hiking for a few days, and after the first day had not seen others on the trail. One day, we set up camp, and then decided to climb a nearby mountain. When we reached the top, South Lake Tahoe and it's many casinos were spread out just below us! I thought of all the dehydrated food, trail mix and stream caught trout we had been eating, our dirty, sweat soaked clothes, my balled up sweatshirt pillow and it was just too funny to see "civilization" right there on the other side of the mountain.
The lower section of the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite is well-traveled, populated with unprepared tourists wearing flip-flops and toting one water bottle for five. Stretches of the trail above Nevada Falls, however, are fairly hiker free, and the wilderness experience is possible.
Mt. Whitney is another popular trail, and hikers abound, but there are times when no others can be seen, the gurgling of clear water tumbling over stones can be heard, deer wander into a meadow.
Pictures I have seen of the Mt. Kilimanjaro trail show stunning scenery and varying micro climates: lush jungle foliage to scrub brush to rocks and glacier ice. We will be hiking the Machame Trail which I have been told is not as well-traversed as others. Still, our group of 13 hikers will have up to 37 support "staff." There will be three porters for each of us as well as guides for the group.
The woman organizing our trip (this will be her seventh Mt. Kilimanjaro climb) said she once passed a group of 50 hikers with a support staff in the hundreds. It is hard for me to imagine what that will look like on the trail.
A bonus in all the hikers: Mt. Kilimanjaro is a destination for international travelers. I'm excited about encountering people from other countries and hearing their stories, giving wilderness exploration a whole new meaning.