Kilimanjaro - 2 March 2003
At 7 am on Saturday, I made it to Uhuru peak, the summit of Kilimanjaroat 19,340 feet. It was an incredible experience.
The Machame-Mweka route I took, can be done in a minimum of sixdays, but I signed up for seven to help with the altitude. Unlike thetypical route (Marangu), this one has no huts, so you sleep in tents.
My hike started in the rainforest with a six hour hike on a moderategradient. The park gate is at an altitude of 6500 feet, somewhat similarto the altitude of the surrounding region. At the end of the six hours,we gained about 4200 feet, so the environment was now cool in MachameCamp (which is fortunate, because there were no longer any mosquitos).The next day, we hiked another four hours and climbed 2600 feet to ShiraCamp. At this point the altitude was kicking in (mostly headaches,fatigue and shortness of breath) and it gets quite cold (below 40F), withperiods of strong hail. Day three was a rest day at Shira to allow thebody to produce more red blood cells. We did a side-hike for about fourhours to work out a bit. A little rain and a more hail.
The next day we gained a good amount of altitude, climbing about fourhours up a steep path to Lava Tower Camp, set under a really impressivevolcanic formation. As you can see, there's not a lot of hiking eachday. Most of your time is spent acclimating. Day five was a short hikeof about 90 difficult minutes, gaining another 650 feet. Most of the daywas spent trying to eat (difficult at altitude) and staying warm. Therewas snow, wind, cold (about 10F) and a lot more hail, but at this point,I felt I could make it to the top. I felt prepared in terms of training,equipment and experience.
Day six was summit day! We woke shortly after midnight, had some tea,broke camp and left a little after 1am. My guide and I took day bagswhile the support staff brought our gear to another, lower camp where wewould later meet them. We went with another party, a group of threeother Mazungos (Swahili for "crazy white guys") who had two guides andset off under a moonless sky, seeing only with the aid of our headlamps.It was much more difficult than I had imagined. I thought I was a foolfor underestimating the mountain the night before. It was extremelycold. I was wearing two pairs of gloves, two pairs of sock, underwear,long thermal upper and lower underwear over that, shirt, pants, fleecesweater, heavy down jacket, fleece headband and fleece balaclava hood.Even when we stopped for only three minutes, the wind would howl and coolus off frightningly quickly. I almost never had to vent body heat.
We were slogging up the remaining 4200 feet in the space of about 1.8miles. It was very rocky with a good amount of hands-and-feetscrambling, lots of scree (sharp, loose volcanic rock), snow and ice. Wewere racing to get to the edge of the volcanic crater before sunrise(when the sun could melt some of the scree). About five hours after westarted, we hit the crater rim. We couldn't believe it when we saw thehuge glaciers inside the crater. We were thrilled.
However, there was still Uhuru peak to conquer. Although it was justbarely getting light, we could now see well enough without our headlamps. We moved across the rim of the crater and started the climb up a largesandy trail. Knowing that it was only about an hour and a half on a mucheasier route, we figured we would have no problem. Maybe it was theemotional high of the crater rim, the extra altitude, or the fact thatthe sun was about to rise (which warms the air and reduces oxygen), butit was extremely difficult physically. I was trying to force myself tocontinue taking tiny steps so I wouldn't stop. My head was pounding, mymuscles were aching, and my nose was bleeding constantly (this isunusual: I have weak nose veins). Breath was so short I was alwayspanting. But an hour later we saw the peak and that inspired us to keepgoing. Twenty minutes later, we got to the top and were both elated andwiped out.
We spent about twenty minutes there, took a few pictures and started downthe Mweka route, a sand / scree mix. Although going down was easier, itwas still very very difficult. We were planning to stop and spend thelast night at Mweka Hut, but when we got there six hours later, wedecided we were feeling good enough to head out of the park and go home aday early. So about eighteen hours after our day started, the adventurewas over: a total of 5 1/2 days up and 1/2 day down!
I'm not sure about my next move. I'm pretty wiped so I might rest herein Arusha for a day or two and catch up on world events. Then I might goto Dar es Salaam and from there to the beach. Alternately, I might headup north. I heard Rwanda is great now (wonderful forests and veryun-touristed), but it's so difficult to arrange flights into Kigali. Maybe I'll try Uganda.