Adventures in Africa 2012 – Part 2
The Kilimanjaro Climb
It’s September 12, 2012–exactly year and one month to the day after our wedding, and our official honeymoon is about to begin. (If you missed the first part of the Africa story, read it HERE.)
Gladys herself–the energetic, cheerful and ambitious owner/founder of Gladys Adventure–was at the hotel to pick us up at 8:00 a.m. and we waited in her office a short while during the final preparations. Soon our guide summoned us to the van to begin the trip. With our gear on top, 5 porters in the seat behind us, 4 more workers (2 porters, assistant guide, and chef) in the row in front of us, plus the guide and driver in the very front, we were loaded. Lemosho, our chosen route, started at a trailhead several hours outside of Moshi.
We stopped for a bathroom break at a cafe where all the guys got some breakfast (they offered us some but we were still full from the breakfast buffet at the hotel). Most toilets in this part of Africa are the squat toilet variety, which I actually find more pleasant in a public restroom–no yucky seat to hover over and try to avoid touching!
We registered and all the porters had their packs weighed at the park entrance. It is nice to see that there is a semblance of an attempt to make sure the porters do not get overloaded, but it is common knowledge that there is a lot of cheating and bribing going on and many companies cut expenses by overloading and underpaying, under-feeding, and under-equipping their porters. We carefully chose a company certified by KPAP to help ensure that the men carrying our things would be treated right. When they found there were several excess kilos of gear, our guides themselves shouldered the extra weight–it was either that or hire another porter. The extra weight was all food and water, which we would be using up soon enough.
From the park office we proceeded on a very fun and rough road to our trailhead. Along the way we saw a troop of black and white colobus monkeys in the trees. Our guide, Caspar, and assistant guide, Yesse, hiked with us most of the way through the lush rainforest, while Deo, our chef, and all our porters–Max, Robert (which he insisted we pronounce “Robot”), Isufu, Richard, Joseph, Mwingi and Albert–ran ahead to set up and fix lunch.
Meanwhile, we hiked along “pole pole” (slowly, slowly–at the insistence of our team who wanted us to acclimatize properly) taking pictures and talking to our guides. We saw a few more colobus monkeys in the trees as we hiked along.
We arrived to a prepared camp with our tent ready for us, plus a toilet tent (we had our own clean porta-potty instead of having to use the dirty public outhouses), and a dining tent with a table and chairs all set and ready for us to begin our lunch. There was bread, fresh fruit, then soup, then spaghetti with an amazing vegetable sauce. By now (2:30 p.m.) we were hungry, so we gorged ourselves.
More visiting and settling in, and before we knew it it was time to wash up for dinner! I wasn’t hungry, but the food tasted so good that I ate anyway! We had more soup followed by potatoes and steamed cabbage and more of that wonderful sauce. Caspar came in to talk to us and we had a nice conversation about the differences between North American and East African cultures, and many other things. The stars are beautiful.
The next morning we woke and packed and were called to wash with warm water. Joseph, our waiter, had brought toast and fresh fruit for us, then millet porridge, and finally eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers. We also had tea. Unfortunately a sore throat I’d been nursing the day before turned into a full-blown cold with stuffed-up ears, runny nose, and sore throat. I spent the day blowing my nose, drinking lots of fluids including echinacea tea, and taking extra Vitamin C, plus Dayquil. I hiked along mostly in silence because it is useless to have a conversation when you can’t hear. Still, it was a pleasant hike through the remainder of the rain forest and into the next zone beyond the moorland.
At the top of a hill we came across a pitched tent and I wondered if we were passing through another camp, but then we found our porters there and the tent was our dining tent where they prepared us a wonderful meal of soup, beans, veggies, potatoes, and mango juice, plus some fresh avocado and bread. Thus refreshed we continued up the “Elephant’s Back”–a ridge that took us into the Shira Plateau and Shira 1, and at camp, when the clouds lifted, we at last got our first view of the beautiful summit.
At mid-afternoon when we arrived, they prepared us a snack of tea, cookies and popcorn. I spent some of the afternoon resting, trying to give my body a chance to heal. Keith went exploring and found a grass mouse. We also saw many alpine chats and streaky seed eaters in camp, and some white-necked ravens.
After dinner–soup, bread, fresh fruit, green beans, potatoes, rice and sauce–the stars came out, more spectacular than the night before, and we had another nice visit with Caspar.
Thankfully, I woke up feeling a little better. We had an easy walk from Shira 1 to Shira 2–Keith took the longer Cathedral route with Caspar and I took it easy on the regular route with Yesse. On my route we saw a lammergeyer (type of eagle) and Simba Cave–small, but it was used to sleep in by porters about 80 years ago and is still sometimes used by wildlife such as jackals or serval cats.
When we reached camp they were still setting up. Keith showed up about 12:15–15 minutes later. At 1:00 our lunch was served: a hearty banana soup, bread, fresh orange slices, and tea. We explored the campsite for awhile, visited with some other campers, and returned to our camp to relax. At 4:00 Yesse took us on an acclimatization walk up the hill where we observed some interesting plants and lava formations and nice views.
Dinner was pumpkin soup and macaroni with a mushroom sauce, and fresh pineapple slices. Deo is an awesome chef.
More tea and conversation with Caspar before going to bed in the tent under a brilliant starry sky.
We were told to expect a 6-8 hour hike with a lunch stop at Lava Tower. We began shortly after 8:00. Now we were hiking in the Alpine Desert Zone. An hour or two into the hike we were offered a break, but we were on a roll–quite close to our record altitude of 14,433 feet (Mt. Elbert)–and decided to keep on going. We reached Lava Tower–and our highest altitude now of 15,217′–at about 11:40.
We found our dining tent pitched for us and stepped in to have lunch out of the wind. Delicious pasties filled with veggies and eggs, soup, fresh fruit, and mango juice. The food and service provided to us amazed me to no end.
It was mostly downhill after lunch and we cruised along at a good speed. This day we met up with all the hikers on the Machame Route, and boy, was it crowded. I am so glad we chose Lemosho, where for the first 3.5 days it had been very quiet with maybe 3-5 groups at each camp. We arrived at Barranco camp in approximately 5 hours, signed in, and found our tents on the hill right at the edge of the camping area and well away from the tent city below. There were literally dozens of groups down there.
We had a primo spot. Our camp was situated in a forest of Dendrosenecio kilimanjari (tree groundsel), a 15′-20′ tall plant endemic to Kilimanjaro. We enjoyed an awesome view of the peak with its glaciers, and the dramatic Barranco wall which we would climb the next morning. Supper (after a snack of popcorn, freshly roasted peanuts, and tea a few hours earlier) consisted of cucumber soup, spaghetti with a bean sauce, fresh mango and finger bananas, and tea. We’re getting spoiled each night–they boil drinking water for us and give us the warm bottles to put in our sleeping bags. Mmmm…
Our morning began as usual–after breakfast of porridge, eggs, toast, tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit, and tea, Caspar came into do his medical check. Not all guides do this, but Caspar is thorough. He checks oxygen level, pulse, lung sounds, and asks if we have headaches, nausea, etc., etc. Shortly after that we began our day’s hike.
We had a short hike this day–only 3 hours of walking–but went up and down several steep ridges, including the infamous Barranco Wall which consists of several hundred feet of steep switchbacks up its face. When we reached the end of the steepest section Yesse told us, “This is the end of the very bad part.” We replied that we had climbed much worse in Colorado and it wasn’t bad at all. He asked, “Is this easy for you?” and we nodded. Several ups and downs later and we arrived at Karanga Camp. Again we found ourselves at the edge of the tent city rather than in the middle of it. After an hour or so we were called to wash for lunch–a chunky potato and veggie stew, bread, fresh watermelon slices, and tea. The clouds settled on the camp for most of the day, making it hard to find any views.
At 4:30 Yesse took us on an acclimatization walk during which the clouds parted enough to get a glimpse of the mountain. There was still a long way to climb. Just before the walk we had had a snack of popcorn, cookies and tea, and shortly after our return from the walk, supper was ready. It was delicious as always but we weren’t able to finish it all–zucchini soup, steamed cabbage, rice with a vegetable sauce, bananas, and watermelon, plus tea. We went to bed early. Tomorrow is our last camp before summit!
I had to get up at 1:30 a.m. for a bathroom break. I grabbed my camera and tripod while I was at it. The clouds had cleared completely from Moshi far below to the summit above, so I took some night pictures of the stars and the city lights.
In the morning we went through our pack-breakfast-medical check-bathroom-begin routine and hiked our all-uphill trail to Barafu Camp, at 15,350′.
This is our new altitude record and highest we may ever camp. In the afternoon we rested, physically preparing ourselves for the final push. Summit hike begins at midnight!
We woke up to our alarm at 11:00 p.m. and began pulling on our extra layers, snow pants, down jackets, and gaiters for the summit hike. At 11:30 we had some hot tea and cookies and shortly after midnight we turned on our headlamps and joined the throngs already snaking their way up to Uhuru Point. We kept a steady, decent pace until around 17,000 or 18,000 feet where the altitude started getting to me and I had to slow my pace and take more frequent breaks to catch my breath.
Yesse and Caspar were very attentive, always making sure I felt ok, was warm enough, etc. At one point they noticed me messing with my gloves, trying to get my fingers warm, and Yesse gave me his warm mittens to wear. Caspar took my pack and carried it for me. At the top of the steepest section of trail we reached Stella point. Yesse and Caspar cheered and gave us hugs and Yesse pulled out a thermos of hot tea for us. Joseph had also sent a bag of snacks with each of us for the hike. They really thought of every detail.
From Stella Point it was an easy, gradual slope up to Uhuru Point: the highest point in Africa. What a beautiful walk, too–past glaciers, above the clouds, with a rising sun behind us. We could see Mt. Meru in the distance, next to the shadow of our Mt. Kilimanjaro. We took several pictures at the famous (now new) sign, sent out a FaceBook message via the DeLorme,* and headed down.
Most of the trail down was loose dust, gravel, and rock, so we bounded down quite quickly and made it back to camp around 8:30. We rested/slept for a couple hours, ate, then made our way down to Mweka Camp–our last night on the mountain. It made me happy to see trees again! I felt triumphant.
We woke up at 6:00 and packed up for the last time. After the usual delicious breakfast, all our guides, porters, and chef sang some Kilimanjaro songs for us. The first one goes like this:
Here’s the video:
We thanked them all for their hard work and excellent service and several of them thanked us also and asked us to be ambassadors for their work. We were so glad we had selected a company certified by KPAP. Not all the porters we saw on the mountain were as well clothed, fed, or equipped as ours. After a 3-hour hike through the rainforest we reached civilization once again. Back at the Gladys office we handed out tips, received our certificates, and paid a visit to the KPAP office around the corner to thank them for their work.
Back at the Sal Salinero hotel we took our first shower in 8 days–it was so refreshing! We sent our laundry into town for washing and went to the pool for awhile, but it was too cold to swim. In the afternoon a group of singer/dancers arrived and did several dances in front of video cameras, using the beautiful hotel grounds as a backdrop.
At dinner we saw a man sitting by himself and invited him to join us. His name is John, a Canadian known around here as “Dr. Canada.” He is helping establish some labs in Tanzania to track/control the spread of TB, HIV, and malaria. We had a nice chat. Now it was time to pack up for our next adventure: Safari!
To be continued…