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Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)

Total Pictures Taken: 113




Tribute to Bryan Mundy

Getting There


We climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft), the highest point in Africa.  We joined Tonya on her already planned trip through Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), a high end travel group.  Tonya had chosen the 7 day/6 night route starting at Machame Gate and ending at Mweka Gate, because it is less traveled and the longer trip provides better opportunity for acclimatization and thus higher likelihood that you reach the summit.  The actual climb is more like a very long walk up stairs (~60 miles up/down).  The pace was rather slow for Dan's liking -- the world record for the fastest climb/descent is 18 hours!  Enduring 6 nights of very cold camping, no matter how luxurious, is always challenging, and 7 days of continuous hiking with the final trek to the summit as a midnight-to-6AM very steep very-sub-zero temperature hike makes for sore legs!  But we reached the summit and have the pictures to prove it!

Below are general points about the trip, and then we provide the day-to-day details. 


There are a number of routes up Kilimanjaro, all requiring the use of a guide and porters.  Many people (~35%) do not reach the summit because of altitude sickness.  The Machame Route offers a varied and gradual ascent, taking longer than other routes to provide better acclimatization.  In addition to the longer route, we each were taking Diamox to reduce the chance of getting altitude sickness.  Since Diamox is a diuretic, one side effect is having to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  And you also have to drink lots of water to avoid altitude sickness, so there was no way around the late night wake-ups.  However, it did force (or enable) us to see the beautiful full moon, stars, and moon-illuminated summit each night.

The weather followed a consistent pattern for the entire trek. It was beautiful and sunny in the mornings, clouds would roll in and out very quickly late morning through early afternoon, then typically it would rain in the later afternoon, then beautiful and clear, but cold, over night.  Of course, the lowest and highest altitudes varied from that pattern, but the majority of the trip was consistent.  Our goal was always to get to camp before the afternoon rain, though that was not always possible.

The terrain on Kilimanjaro falls into very clear categories. The lower altitudes are forest, the middle is heather and moorland, and the top is basically desert.  It was very easy to tell when we crossed the terrain boundaries.

We were a bit taken aback at the number of porters required for our trip.  For the 3 of us, we had 2 guides,  and 15 porters.  They said we each needed one porter to carry our luggage, one to carry our 12 bottles of water for the week, and then the additional porters to carry the camping equipment and food.  Each porter carried 40-50 pounds on their heads.  Still, they always beat us to each campsite.  Since every touring group required a large number of porters, the camps were always full with many more porters than trekkers.

We were fortunate that another A&K trekking couple from Chicago (Liz and Ian) was going the same route at the same time with us.  We each had our own guides, and mess tents, but the porters set the tents up next to each other so we were able to hang out at the camps.  They were pretty cool, and we all supported each other through the trek.

An A&K tour typically has maximum 'coddling' (Tonya's word for the right amount of attention).  A great example -- they set up a private toilet for us at each camp!  It was always the last item to be removed when the porters broke up the camp.  In a camp with hundreds of people (majority are porters), where everyone is finding their bathroom in some of the few huts or in nature, we had a private curtain with a freshly dug hole and a toilet seat.  We know this seems like way more information than you wanted, but a toilet seat changes a whole part of camping (for the better!)  Other A&K luxuries included their cleaning of our boots after the first day's hike through the muddy forest, hot water and soap outside our tent to wash our hands before every meal, tea delivered to our tent as a wake-up call each morning, and lunch tents on the trail.  Also, when in Arusha, the A&K vans never had to stop at the frequent police road blocks.

Food on the trek was plentiful at our 3-4 meals a day.  After wake up tea at 6:30 AM, breakfast was served at 7:15.  Typically breakfast was porridge, toast, cereal (if we wanted), fruit, and a fried egg.  Lunch varied somewhat but typically included soup, chicken, a pasta, and fruit.  Dinners varied also but included soup, pasta, potato, and a vegetable.  If we had not been careful we could have gained weight on this trip!

One of the biggest complaints by Dan on the trek was the painfully slow pace at which we walked each day.  Even with his very limited breathing situation (see Hospital), he was mentally strained from the snail's pace.  He counted the the pace as "step-one-thousand-one-step, step-one-thousand-one-step, etc."  So the trip was aerobically disappointing (exercise-wise) but definitely a great leg work-out given that we hiked nearly 60 miles of varying steepness in 7 days.


Day 1 - Machame Gate to Machame Camp (~9000ft)

We started at the Machame Gate and walked up a slightly ascending path into the forest.  The slow pace was already evident, even on this almost level easy path!  But once we got into the forest and the deep mud, we had no choice but to go slowly as we searched for roots and logs to walk on to get through the mess.  As it started to rain, the mud got worse.  We wore rain pants and Tonya had gaiters, so the mud was not that big a deal, except that at times it was deep enough to go above the boot line.

We hiked 18km in 7+ hours on this first day.  Towards the end of the hike, it was on the verge of raining, so fortunately one of the guides allowed us (Kristen and Dan) to pick up the pace to avoid the rain.

When we had our midnight bathroom break on this first night, we saw the first moonlit views of the summit -- it was very cool.  The full moon lit up the ground so brightly that we did not need flashlights to walk around.

We took pictures of the summit and the moon, but the summit pictures did not turn out -- still have not mastered night pictures with the digital camera!

Day 2 - Machame Camp to Shira Camp (~12,800 ft)

On the second day the path was a bit steeper, and so we went even slower!  We hiked for about 6.5 hours to Shira Hut.  It was cloudy most the day but did not rain on us.  

This was our first day of the tented lunch.  As we came over the top of a hill, we saw two tents set up with all the porters sitting around.  We thought that maybe we had completed the hike and made it to the next camp site already.  When we realized it was set up just for lunch we were a little embarrassed (Tonya was very pleased with it:).  When some of the other non-A&K trekkers passed us and sat out in the open with their bag lunches, it made us even more uncomfortable -- of course, we could live through it!

On that night's midnight rising, we witnessed an amazing lightning storm in the far-off clouds on the horizon.  Even though it was only 20F we stayed out there for 20 minutes watching the amazing show.  We took about 20 pictures but it was hard to time it just right, so we only got a few good ones.

Day 3 - Shira Camp to Lava Tower (~16,000 ft) to Barranco Camp (~13,500 ft)

On the third day we ventured to almost 16,000 feet to Lava Tower to help in the acclimatization process.  We only stayed up there for a few minutes then descended to the Barranco camp for the night.  We hiked for 7+ hours on this day.  The terrain for most the day was only a gradual incline, so Dan asked the guide if we could split the group and go a little faster -- he said 'no way'.  Of course, it was the guy who could not take in more than a 1/4 to 1/2 breath since we started the hike asking to go faster, so he must have thought we were crazy!

The descent from Lava Tower gave us the first sense of what it would be like to walk down the mountain after reaching the top.  It was extremely painful on the legs and especially the knees.

It rained on us most the afternoon, but was again clear at night. We could see the Arusha city lights from Barranco Camp.

Day 4 - Barranco Camp to Karanga Valley Camp (~14,000 ft)

Our route provided for higher altitude but shorter hikes on day 4 and early day 5 to better enable us to make the summit in late day 5.

The day 4 climb from Barranco Camp to Karanga Valley was our favorite hike of the trip.  We got to climb the 1000m nearly vertical Barranco Wall.  It was definitely not real rock climbing but we had to climb with our hands along somewhat dangerous edges so it was fun.  We also did it at a pretty fast pace.  It only took 3 hours to scale the wall and get to Karanga Valley camp.  The porters had the hardest time on this day -- it was very difficult for some of them to climb the steep rocks with 50 pounds of uneven weight on their heads.  Understandable, of course.

Day 5 - Karanga Valley to Barafu Camp (~16,000 ft)

We only hiked 2.5 hours to get to Barafu camp but it was all up hill.  It was a short hike because we had to depart at midnight for the summit.

Even though it was mostly sunny it was very cold.  We rested after lunch, had an early dinner, then slept for a few hours before our departure for the summit.  We wore everything we planned to wear to the summit to bed, so that we could be ready to go when they woke us.  It is a bad sign when even with all the warm clothes on, we were still cold in the tent -- a worse sign for the cold to come at the summit!

Day 5/6 - Barafu Camp  to Uhuru Peak (19,340 ft) to Mweka Camp (~9,000ft)

 We woke up at 11:30PM and left for the summit at 12:15AM.  The plan is to reach the summit around sunrise, take pictures, then descend back to Barafu camp for lunch, then descend to Mweka Camp for the night.  This plan enabled us to get off the mountain the next day, and removed all altitude issues at day 6 camp since Mweka is only 9,000 ft.  It makes for a long day 5/6 but most of the treks have you climbing to the summit overnight and descending that same day. 

Tonya had planned the climb around the full moon, and it was paying off.  It was so bright at midnight that we did not need to wear our headlamps to see the path up the mountain.  We were wearing everything warm we had, but it was still very cold.  The first 30 minutes of the hike was pretty flat, but then it got very steep. for the rest of the way.  Both of us were going bonkers at the super slow pace we were taking on the hike.  It was not that we were in a rush, but we were barely moving, which was doing nothing to help warm us up.  Also, on that level of incline, when you "take a small step, wait one-thousand-one, take another small step", it is very hard for us to keep our balance.  Kristen started double stepping to keep warm and help with balance, and Dan moved his arms to try to stay warm.  

As we increased altitude, Dan's breathing became much more of an issue.  Even though we were not moving very fast, he was taking in less than 1/4 breaths and was at times dizzy.  His breathing had been at that level most of the week but with the thinner air it was having a bigger impact.  Dan had some light thoughts about not continuing the climb for safety reasons, but figured we would know if it got too bad.  One saving grace, as odd as it seems, is that Wilbard, our lead guide, let us move a bit faster.  This helped our motivation, warmth, and balance (not much impact on breathing).  The last 45 minutes of the ascent to Stella's Point, the plateau just before an easy ascent to the Uhuru Peak was extremely steep and over frozen 'scree'.  We had to concentrate on each step to ensure that we did not slip back 3 steps! We passed a number of groups and could hear a bunch of people coughing and vomiting from altitude sickness.

We reached Stella Point in about 5.5 hours.  We waited for Tonya and the other guide for about 10 minutes, but then decided we would wait at Uhuru Peak instead.  The path from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak is all snow/ice, but not that steep, especially not compared to what we had just gone through.

We reached Uhuru Peak at 6:17AM.  The sun had not yet risen and it was bitterly cold!  We checked our thermometer and it was -10F.  With the 20-30MPH wind the windchill was 40-50F BELOW ZERO (according to the graph on the back of our mini-thermometer)!  The pictures are not perfect because it was that pre-sunrise light when camera flash is too bright, but it is not light enough to take a good picture without it.  We took our pictures and then waited for about 25 minutes for Tonya to arrive so that we could get a picture with her.  During this time we got to see the spectacular sunrise!!  It was quite cool to be on top of Africa watching such as magnificent event. As soon as Tonya got there we took some quick pictures and started the descent.  Actually, by that time the sun was up and it had begun warming up to an almost bearable temperature.

We descended by a little different path than the we came up, but it was very difficult.  The route was a very steep decline over scree (no longer frozen ), which is a light layer of dirt and gravel intermixed with bigger rocks.  On any step, one foot could slide out from under you and lay you on your back, sliding on the gravel (happened a couple of times!)  The safest but slowest approach was to walk sideways down the slope.

We took a quick 20 minute nap when we got back to Barafu camp.  They had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch -- that was a treat!  Right after lunch we walked another 4 hours down to Mweka camp.

Day 7 -- Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

For some reason Mweka camp was extremely crowded.  We were not sure where all the people came from since it is on a descent-only route.  But since it was our last night camping and we had hiked the whole night before, we were so tired that nothing mattered but getting some sleep.  

The 4 hour hike from Mweka camp to the gate was similar to our first day on the trek -- all mud!  With tired legs from the previous 6 days it was quite a challenge.  Poor Tonya had 3 big falls all on the same spot of her back side!

When we reached the gate, the porters sang us the 'Kilimanjaro Song' as congratulations for reaching the summit (not sure what they did for those that did not).  We also received numbered certificates for reaching the summit.

tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sign-dan-kristen-tonya-600.jpg (85710 bytes) We all reached the summit (Uhuru Peak)!  Before sunrise it was quite cold at -40F with windchill.
View of the Tanzanian countryside on our way into Arusha from Serengeti. tz-kil-arrival-airplane-view-1-600.jpg (54871 bytes)
tz-kil-arrival-arusha-airport-kristen-tonya-600.jpg (97020 bytes) Kristen and Tonya in front of the main building of the tiny Arusha airport
Just before our departure from the Mt, Meru lodge -- our last clean moments. tz-kil-d1a-hotel-departure-kristen-dan-tonya-600.jpg (104465 bytes)
tz-kil-d1a-kili-view-from-road-1-600.jpg (38304 bytes) View of Mt Kilimanjaro on our way to start the climb.
Dan in front of the 'warning' sign at Machame Gate, our starting point for the hike. tz-kil-d1a-machame-gate-sign-dan-600.jpg (134547 bytes)
tz-kil-d1a-group-porters-dan-kristen-tonya-2-600.jpg (135538 bytes) Our 2 guides and 15 porters with us at Machame Gate.
Kristen and Tonya early in day 1, looking clean and refreshed. tz-kil-d1-kristen-tonya-600.jpg (128560 bytes)
tz-kil-d1-mud-trail-rain-kristen-tonya-600.jpg (122341 bytes) And then the rain starts on day 1.  Lots and lots of mud!  Staying on the tree roots was key to not sinking up to the shins. 
On the side of the muddy path, our porters set up a nice table for our first day's lunch. tz-kil-d1-lunch-dan-kristen-600.jpg (122041 bytes)
tz-kil-d1-machame-camp-kristen-600.jpg (100700 bytes) Kristen standing at our Machame camp on day 1.
Our nightly Diamox-induced midnight wake-up call gave us this amazing view on night 1. tz-kil-d1-machame-camp-night-moon-1-600.jpg (22296 bytes)
tz-kil-d1-machame-camp-kili-view-600.jpg (63290 bytes) Our view of the summit from day 1 camp.
Kristen climbing one of the few steep parts on day 2. tz-kil-d2-climbing-kristen-600.jpg (70609 bytes)
tz-kil-d2-rock-kristen-dan-600.jpg (121275 bytes) We are practicing the summit climb on day 2.  This was not quite like the summit climb!
On day 2 Kristen approaches with surprise our daily tented lunch setup on the trail. This is the A&K way!  tz-kil-d2-lunch-kristen-600.jpg (135120 bytes)
tz-kil-d2-shira-camp-night-view-clouds-600.jpg (17916 bytes) Midnight lightning storm in the clouds on the horizon at day 2 Shira camp. 
tz-kil-d2-shira-camp-night-view-lightning-2-600.jpg (21655 bytes) It was hard to catch the lightning, even though it went on forever.  Here is one good picture when we caught it.
View of the summit from day 2 camp. tz-kil-d2-shira-camp-view-kili-2-600.jpg (69140 bytes)
tz-kil-d2-shira-camp-view-mt-meru-2-600.jpg (51504 bytes) View of Mt. Meru from day 2 camp.
On day 3 we went up to Lava Tower at almost 16,000 feet for acclimatization. tz-kil-d3-lava-tower-kristen-dan-600.jpg (84993 bytes)
tz-kil-d3-clouds-dan-kristen-600.jpg (60244 bytes) On the steep decent from Lava Tower we had many climate changes, but generally lots of rain.
Every day the weather would change very quickly with little notice.  Here is a sequence of the clouds rolling in...  tz-kil-d4-clouds-moving-kristen-1-600.jpg (77463 bytes)
...same view 1 minute later... tz-kil-d4-clouds-moving-kristen-2-600.jpg (37720 bytes)
...same view 2 minutes later... tz-kil-d4-clouds-moving-kristen-3-600.jpg (28653 bytes)
tz-kil-d4-lunar-landscape-dan-600.jpg (89598 bytes) At the higher altitudes in the desert or 'Alpine' zones, the landscape looked much like the moon's surface (this one on day4).
The difference between high-hassle camping and A&K camping! tz-kil-d4-karanga-camp-toilet-600.jpg (83860 bytes)
tz-kil-d4-karanga-camp-view-kili-dan-kristen-600.jpg (79161 bytes) View of the summit from day 4 Karanga camp.
The morning of day 5 Kristen climbing to day 5 Barafu camp. tz-kil-d5-climbing-kristen-600.jpg (83827 bytes)
tz-kil-d5s-barafu-camp-departure-tonya-kristen-dan-600.jpg (61207 bytes) At midnight on day 5 we departed for the summit.  It was bitterly cold -- we wore everything we had.
Dan doing the Rocky stance in moonlight (5:20AM) at Stella Point, past the major summit ascent, less than an hour from Uhuru Peak, the actual summit.  tz-kil-d5s-stella-pt-moon-dan-600.jpg (60733 bytes)
tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sign-dan-kristen-2-600.jpg (71592 bytes) We reached summit at 6:17AM on Feb 10, 2001.
The sunrise was amazing on the top of Africa. tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sunrise-dan-kristen-600.jpg (47220 bytes)
tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sunrise-2-600.jpg (27473 bytes) The sunrise sequence...
tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sunrise-4-600.jpg (42909 bytes) ...from the top...
tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-sunrise-5-600.jpg (43597 bytes) ...of Africa.
tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-view-glacier-600.jpg (49053 bytes) A view of a  summit glacier from Uhuru Peak. 
On our descent, at Sella Point, looking towards Uhuru Peak with the moon. tz-kil-d6-stella-pt-view-uhuru-pk-moon-600.jpg (51190 bytes)
tz-kil-d6-stella-pt-tea-kristen-tonya-wilbard-sarrafin-600.jpg (102066 bytes) On our descent, Kristen and Tonya enjoying tea with the guides at Stella Point.
Dan on the 'scree' during our descent from the summit.  This stuff is like a thin layer of loose dirt/gravel on a very steep incline -- we had to walk sideways to avoid slipping. tz-kil-d6-scree-dan-600.jpg (139168 bytes)
tz-kil-d7-forest-mud-kristen-600.jpg (150748 bytes) Day 7 descent  from Mweka camp was 4 hours of slippery mud through the forest.  Fortunately no rain!.  Kristen negotiates her way down a mud slide.
Tonya, on her 3rdfall of day 7! tz-kil-d7-forest-tonya-falling-600.jpg (142042 bytes)
tz-kil-d7-mweka-gate-certificate-kristen-1-600.jpg (131902 bytes) Kristen receiving the certificate from Wilbard (our guide) for reaching Uhuru Peak .
Our last night at the Mt Meru Game Lodge with our new friends and fellow A&K traveling summit climbers, Ian and Liz, from Chicago. tz-kil-depart-mt-meru-lodge-dan-kristen-tonya-liz-ian-600.jpg (117688 bytes)
tz-kil-arusha-cultural-heritage-sign-600.jpg (94235 bytes) Entrance to 'Cultural Heritage' center in Arusha -- the A&K preferred vendor because there is no haggling, and the merchandise is good.
Kristen in front of the Cultural Heritage store.  It is definitely the best place to buy the very rare gem, Tanzanite.  tz-kil-arusha-cultural-heritage-building-kristen-600.jpg (104164 bytes)
tz-kil-tanzania-countryside-600.jpg (81081 bytes) A view of the Tanzanian countryside with houses/huts, on our drive from Arusha to Nairobi.
A closer look at a hut in the Tanzanian countryside (btw, picture taken while going 80 kph!) tz-kil-tanzania-countryside-huts-600.jpg (126085 bytes)
tz-kil-six-day-spec-crop.jpg (85473 bytes) A summary of a 6 day route, courtesy of the Kilimanjaro map.  We split day 4 into 2 days, so our route was 7 days.  


Currency: Tanzanian shilling (760:$1USD)

Kilimanjaro height: 5985M/19,340 ft (Uhuru Peak)

# of times our guides had climbed Kilimanjaro: 300+

Number of porters in our group: 15

% of meals that were mostly starch: 100% 

Getting There

We arrived in Arusha from Serengeti on the Sunday afternoon before the Monday morning hike.  We stayed at the Mt Meru Game Lodge, supposedly the nicest hotel in Arusha.  There were no phones in the rooms, even to call the front desk, and any room key opened every room door!  Our wake-up calls were really wake-up knocks on the door.

On the flight to Arusha we sat behind Nigel, an Arusha resident and professional guide who had climbed Kilimanjaro many times.  He asked what gear we had brought, and his first comment on our sleeping bags (15 bags) was 'wow, those are light, did you bring some warm clothes?'  When Dan told him that he had some capilene shirts, one fleece, and a shell jacket, Nigel said that was not enough (he was very right!).  He offered to let Dan borrow a fleece of his for the trek!  We gave him a ride home on our way to the hotel, and he grabbed a great thick fleece from his closet for Dan.  He asked that we just leave it at the hotel after the trek for him to pick up in the next couple weeks.  As we had said, Tanzanians are very nice!  Another interesting note...Nigel's buddy had just broken the world record on the fastest climb/descent  of Mount Kilimanjaro -- he did it in 18 hours!

The Hospital Visit 

During the flight to Arusha, Dan's breathing got worse than it had been during the safari.  Because of the terrible issues he had in the Andes camping at 13,500 feet, we were worried about climbing Kilimanjaro with this condition. We wanted to get in touch with the IAMAT contact listed for Arusha (like we did in Sao Paulo), but the hotel wanted to charge us USD$34 just to call the doctor, about 15Km away!  Instead, our A&K driver drove us around Arusha looking for a doctor who would see us on Sunday afternoon.  We ended up at the top-end hospital in Arusha since it was open 24x7.  They took Dan in immediately and did the standard tests including temperature, weight, and blood pressure.  He saw the one doctor on site right away. The doctor listened to the symptoms, then listed to his chest.  He said he could hear no congestion at all.  He wanted what he called a 'full picture' to be sure.  He ordered a urine test and many blood tests, including malaria, typhoid, blood sugar(??), and cholesterol test (??).  Dan double confirmed that they used clean needles and he said 'yes, we always use new disposable needles and gloves -- HIV is a big problem around here!'.  All the tests came back normal.  But he strongly recommended that Dan NOT try to climb Kilimanjaro in this condition.  He said that Dan would be much more susceptible to altitude sickness, and was at risk at the higher altitudes.  We decided we would make the call before we left for the actual trek.

See Worst Medical Crisis for more information.



Our Tribute to Bryan Mundy (1964-2001)

We were already on our world trip when our friend  Bryan Mundy died in a tragic house fire in Atlanta.  Both our last conversation and our last email exchange with Bryan were about climbing Kilimanjaro.  He had climbed Kilimanjaro (3 times, we believe) as well as the highest mountains on 4 other continents.  Since we were away and could not share in the memorial services and grieving process with our friends, we decided to do our own tribute to Bryan.  At our last camp before the summit on day 5, we found the perfect flat rock, and carved Bryan's name into it with our Swiss army knife.  Our plan was to place the rock at Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa, where Bryan had stood before.  Knowing we needed to reach the summit to fulfill our plans helped drive us during Day 5/6's early morning, very cold, steep climb to the summit.  We placed the stone about 20 feet past the sign at the summit in snow near the edge of the ridge (see pictures at right).  We expect that Bryan's name will forever live on top of Africa.

Our tribute to Bryan Mundy - Dan holding the tribute stone in front of the Uhuru Peak sign. tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-bryan-tribute-sign-dan-600.jpg (56029 bytes)
The tribute stone on the sign -- we decided it would not remain safe in that position. tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-bryan-tribute-sign-close-up-2-600.jpg (59082 bytes)
The stone with Bryan's name carved into it now lies about 20 feet past the Uhuru Peak sign, on the top of Africa. tz-kil-d5s-uhuru-pk-bryan-tribute-final-600.jpg (49534 bytes)




Name Contact Info Comment
Mount Meru Game Lodge 

Douglas and Beryl Haigh (mgrs)



Supposed to be the best hotel in Arusha.
Lonely Planet "Trekking in East Africa" 

ISBN: 0-86442-541-4

Book that covers the trek in detail.
Cultural Heritage Center 

www.culturalheritage.com (soon)

Best non-nonsense craft shop in Tanzania. Definitely best source for Tanzanite.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro