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Photos & Track Log: Documenting an 8-day Kilimanjaro Trek

We’ve been dreaming about trekking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for quite some time. Last October, we finally made the trip. Climbing Africa’s highest mountain, crossing its different climatic zones and finally reaching the summit was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. We documented this unique vacation by taking hundreds of photos – and by recording a track log.

Snow-covered peak of Mount Kilimanjaro
Looking through rainforest foliage at the snow-covered peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

What devices to bring? Main concerns: weight and power

When preparing for the trip, we thought a lot about what photography equipment to bring. The first issue is weight because everything needs to be carried the whole way. We therefore decided against a relatively heavy DSLR camera with separate lenses but went for compact cameras with integrated zoom lenses instead.

Our main concern regarding electronic devices was their power consumption. We would trek for eight days without access to electricity. Furthermore, low temperatures on the mountain may drain batteries faster than normal.

How to recharge? How to conserve battery power?

To address these issues, we brought extra batteries – fully charged, of course. We also invested in a power bank that charges all kinds of devices via USB: iPhones, GPS Track Logger, camera batteries – and even a Kindle.

At night, we stored all electronic equipment in our sleeping bags to prevent damage from potentially icy temperatures.

Our Kilimanjaro Trek photography equipment (from left): Power bank and USB chargers, cameras with spare batteries, GPS track logger

Preparing the cameras for the Kilimanjaro trek

We also wanted to ensure that the cameras use as little energy as possible. Therefore, we turned on eco mode and turned off or down all non-essential features that would consume power – like WiFi or display brightness.

I also turned off my digital camera’s GPS. Preliminary tests showed that with GPS on, the camera could go for about one day only. With GPS turned off, the battery would last for several days.

For geo information, I would rely on our GPS track logger anyway.

The case for a separate GPS track logger

Track loggers are devices about the size of a camera battery. Their sole purpose is to record your path. We used an older model we’ve had for some time, a Wintec WBT-202. We knew it was reliable, and that its battery would last for about a day. Nevertheless, we also carried a spare battery.

With track log files being very small – just a couple of kilobytes per day – the device’s 1 GB SD card was more than sufficient for eight days.

GPS logging device versus smartphone app

There are also smartphone apps for recording track logs. But with the separate track logger, we avoided our iPhones or our cameras running out of power for the sake of recording GPS information.

This way, we kept the task of writing a track log separate from more important things like taking pictures or sending a text message to our families (there is cell phone reception at several locations on the mountain) – or even being able to place an emergency call.

If you’re interested now in getting a track logger, you might want to check out David Coleman’s extensive post on GPS trackers for photographers.

Track log and photo geotagging

While trekking, we switched the GPS track logger on every morning and slid it into a pant pocket. In the evening, we turned it off and recharged its battery using the power bank. The device never ran out of power on the way – not even during the 16-hour summit day. Eventually, we ended up with a continuous track log of the path we walked:

Later on, the track log allowed us to assign location information automatically to all our photos using HoudahGeo. To ensure a smooth geotagging process, we set our cameras’ clocks to local Tanzanian time (for more information, see “Geotag your photos automatically – part 3“).

Screenshot from Google Earth
Screenshot from Google Earth, showing the path we walked and geotagged photos pinned to the locations where they were taken (see “Export Geotagged Photos for Viewing in Google Earth“)

Ways to showcase photos & track log

There are several ways to present your geotagged photos and your track log. Google Photos, for example, has a nice way of displaying a map and additional information next to the images (see “Photos on a Map in Google Photos“).

Google Photos Screenshot: Photo taken at Uhuru Peak with Map
Screenshot from Google Photos, displaying image information and a map alongside photos

You can also combine both geotagged images and track log into an interactive Google map (see “Publish Your Photos on a Map“). Click on the camera icons to see photos taken at these locations:

Alternatively, you can create a KMZ file to be viewed in Google Earth (see “Export Geotagged Photos for Viewing in Google Earth“). You may add place names or other features, and the whole thing can be exported as a video.

Excerpt from a Google Earth video showing the path we walked.

Footnote for those interested in the details of our trek: We chose the 8-day Lemosho route and went with the trekking company “Majestic Kilimanjaro“. We can highly recommend both.