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Friday, September 4, 2009


When we decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (Kili) as part of our East African experience, I must admit I didn't know much about it. I didn't know about the three volcanic craters, Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. I didn't know that while Shira and Mawenzi are extinct, Kibo is considered dormant (although it has not erupted for a gazillion years). I did not know that the highest point of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, is actually located on the peak of Kibo.

What I did know was that Mt. Kilimanjaro was, well big. I knew that they probably didn't call it 'The Rooftop of Africa' for nothing! I also knew that there were several routes to climb the mountain. When I contacted a local guide months ago, he gave me a number of route options. At one end of the spectrum was what was coined the 'Coca-Cola' route. This route could be ascended in as little as five days with accommodation in huts along the way (where, you guessed it, coca-cola is available!). At the other end of the spectrum was what he coined 'The Whiskey' routes. Theses routes are camping routes and should take about seven days.

We went for Whiskey and chose the Lemosho route. Just a clever name as it turns out as there was no whiskey to be had...
We had met a number of people throughout our travels who had attempted and/or summited Kili and had heard all accounts and stories. From altitude sickness, to massive headaches, to loss of appetite, to freezing cold, to sleeplessness, everybody shared their tales. They all agreed on one thing though, that it was worth it.

With our packs filled to bursting with rental equipment including -20 rated sleeping bags, thermal pants, beleclavas, fleece jackets and mittens, we felt prepared. We met the team on Friday morning and learned that apparently it takes a 'village' to climb Kili.... With our tour operator, driver, guide, assistant guide, cook, and four porters in tow, we crammed into a single land cruiser and headed out.

After a sketchy drive which made last week's dhow and ferry ride seem like smooth sailing, we arrived at the Londorossi Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park to register. The 'village' weighed our supplies and got thet nod from the warden (each porter is allowed to carry 25kg, which is embarassing as I am convinced that some of these guys couldn't have weighed more than me), and we headed toward the trailhead.
Today's hike, beginning at an altitude of 2200m was to be a gentle introduction to the mountain. We were pumped to be in the great outdoors and were almost giddy breathing in the fresh air as we cruised through the forest reaching our first camp in less than two hours. What, that's it?? A gentle introduction indeed. We arrived at camp with tents already pitched and hot water at the ready (guessing it probably only took the 'village' a half hour to arrive).

Sure, we were surrounded by luxury operators toting their dining tents, complete with dining tables, full back chairs and silk flower centerpieces. Sure, some groups were afforded the luxury of toilet tents and even toilets were being carted up the mountain to accommodate them. One group of porters actually burst into song when their clients arrived in camp (like at a restaurant when it's somebody's birthday!).

We, however, were on a budget. Our 2x2 table would do just fine and when it was too cold, we would eat inside our tent. We were no strangers to latrines, and so what if these ones didn't have doors? What our team lacked in frills, they made up for in flair! We would rough it.

The next morning, we were up bright and early, enjoyed our first of countless bowls of porridge and white bread and headed back into the rainforest.

We emerged from the rainforest, entered the moorland zone and got our first glimpse of Kibo!

Now, with Kibo like a beacon ahead, we carried on, moving through the first campsite (Shira Camp 1) and on to the second. We were feeling fine and it was early so what the heck. We stopped only for lunch (a honey and carrot sandwhich??) and to assess the direction of the lion prints (what? lions? nobody said anything about lions!) along the way.

Shira Camp 2 at 3700m offered us great views of the mountain and the outhouses even had doors :).

We watched the sun set over Mt. Meru in the distance, ate dinner at our private table for two, Jeremy (our 'waiter' and assistant guide) delivered my Nalgene bottle filled with hot water for the bottom of my sleeping bag (soon to become a ritual) and we settled in for the night.

1 comment:

  1. oooo, nalgene bottle full of water for cold toes! Why didn't I think of that, even after burning countless towels, I couldnt' think outside the box enough to fill a bottle with hot water! Brilliant!!! :)