It’s a strange feeling sitting in the shadow of the tallest object on a continent – yet not being able to see it!
It was the day before the start of the climb and we were in the hotel just killing time when we started to wonder why, after two days in the country we still had yet to catch even a glimpse of the mountain. The local staff had advised us that the mountain was visible only in the early morning or late evening when the clouds shifted but still…at 5,895m we should be able to see something?!
Earlier in the day whilst at Moshi and at the school we had snatched a glimpse of the rising landscape that would form the base but in my own minds eye I had thought that we would see the mountain in all its glory. When you type Kilimanjaro into Google images you see the iconic mountain and maybe the odd giraffe or elephant but here we saw nothing.
It was maybe an hour or so before dinner when we heard excited shouts over by the gate. The clouds had lifted; you could see the mountain. We all rushed, camera’s in hand to the gate and there it was. The peak was clearly visible and appeared to be floating in space, it was massive - there and then the enormity of the forthcoming challenge hit us. Holy cow!
After dinner we had a chance to meet our guides, Bruce in charge had Ringo and Seba where they offered advice and warned us that the biggest challenge would be dealing with the altitude. This we knew and was the one overriding fear that we had for completing the challenge. Kertrina and I had made a pact that if either of us suffered so much that we had to be brought down, the other would continue to the top. Whilst at dinner we meet a solitary young lad who had been brought back after day 2 with altitude sickness, his girlfriend was still on the mountain and he looked a little like a spare part…just waiting.
Sleep wasn’t easy that night as I played through in my mind what we needed and what we could leave behind. With a day sack each for the daily essentials, all remaining equipment for the seven days on the mountain had to stay with the single large Bergen that would be carried by the porters as part of the camp equipment. With a weight limit of 15kg we needed to make sacrifices.
We all gathered after breakfast, boarded the minibus and headed off to the start point – Machame Gate. En-route we met another of the guides, Innocent who split his time between working as a guide on the mountain and working the land in the foothills. Incredibly well versed and knowledgeable about the flora and fauna he proceeded to explain everything we could see as we drove along the route.
We arrived at the gate, and to put it in perspective our elevation at this point was already at 1,800m (Ben Nevis sits proudly at 1,345m). We signed in, gathered ourselves and set off through the forest behind Ringo. Spirits were high and we saw for the first time the porters in action. Carting not only our kit but also the camp equipment, tents and food.
Day one had us cover around 12km to the first camp – Machame Hut which saw us climb from 1,800m to 2,900m to the very edge of the forest. Taking things slowly we arrived at camp around 6 hours later and came face to face with the tents and more importantly, the toilet arrangements!
High carb meals were the order of the day, pasta and rice being a favourite of our chef and in the morning – porridge followed by eggs and sausage. Now when we say porridge, this isn’t the concoction you pick up in the local supermarket, this is a strange brown liquid which has very much an acquired taste. Bit like a cross between soup, coffee and…well, let’s leave it that really but if it would help me up that mountain I’m all for it!
The second day’s climb took us through the clouds and what an impressive sight it was looking down on the world from our lofty position. Now out of the forest we were in a scrubland and with the searing sun, the application of lotion and a good hat became incredibly important. Starting at 2,900m we trekked for around 7km taking us up to 3,850m by the time we reached our second camp – Shira. The climb was a little more severe here and the toll could be felt by the group in some areas, we were in desperate need of the break when we fell into camp 5 hours later.
Shira camp, by comparison was roomy compared to Machame Hut. Located on a large plain we noted a rudimentary helipad nearby for emergencies. With some time at the end of the day before sunset, one of the guides led us to see the local Shira caves before a short climb where we found a great view of the mountain.
Back in camp just in time to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets ever as the sun dipped behind the distant peaks towards Mount Mura, she kept Kilimanjaro peak (Uhuru) illuminated right to the very end. Up on the mountain the temperature dips incredibly quickly and as the sun disappeared the shivering started but then when you look up – wow. With zero light pollution you could see nothing but stars, constellations, everything. If it wasn’t so cold, you could spend all night just staring upwards.
The next day though was to mark the start of our height acclimatisation with a trip to Lava Tower (4,590m), we needed to rest and prepare so head down time!
Guest Blogger - Barry Jones