First new post in a while!
It took me a while to write this, but the January before last I climbed Kilimanjaro with my dad and uncle. Laura was supposed to join us on this adventure, but she threw her back out just a couple days before the trip and had to stay home. She had trip insurance, luckily! The pictures suffered significantly BUT I DID MY BEST.
I got into Tanzania after a long couple flights from Australia (layovers in Bangkok and Nairobi) and spent the first couple of days just after Christmas waiting for the others to arrive, wandering around Moshi taking my Malaria pills (read: pooping a lot), hanging out at local restaurants like “Chrisburger”, and avoiding local panhandlers that try to sell you banana leaf art and cigarettes.
Our Kilimanjaro climb/safari company was African Scenic Safaris. We’d recommend them – they’re an affordable (relative to other groups) local company, and they’re members of the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project. So our porters get to sleep 2-3 person tents, they don’t have to carry obscenely heavy loads, and we tipped them individually at the end so you can be sure that the head guide or company can’t take more than their fair share. Everything ran smoothly, the food was great (porters ran down to get fresh fruit for meals on the last day), and the guides kept reprimanding me for not taking enough pee breaks. Also, our trip pictures are all over their website (particularly the Kilimanjaro section)!
We did have an army of porters on this trip, I think maybe 15 for the three of us? We had head guide Dennis, assistant guide Richard, camp manager David, a cook, and a bunch of porters. Including David (not the camp manager), whose job was to carry the portable toilet, among other things. He got tipped slightly better :). The private toilet was a fantastic investment…more on that later.
After a drive up to Machame gate, we waited around while our guides got permits and filed our paperwork. My uncle (Glenn) in particular was less than pleased with a lot of the driving on this trip but we got there ok! One of my favorite memories of the trip (something an African probably wouldn’t think anything of) was watching blue monkeys steal from the tourists while our porters got organized. A woman was feeding them Clif bars by hand, and one ran up and stole a box of Clorox wet wipes and started pulling the wipes out one by one once it was a safe distance away. I almost had my camera stolen by a monkey as well…
The Kilimanjaro Machame route ascends to about 13,000 feet and then wraps its way around the mountain for several days as you acclimate. The first day we hiked up from 6,000 feet to our camp at 10,000 feet. Our assistant guide Richard’s mantra (and every guide’s mantra on Kilimanjaro) was “pole pole” (pronounced pulley pulley), or “slowly slowly”. Even when I thought I was going slowly slowly, it often wasn’t slowly slowly enough for Richard.
On day two, we ascended up to 13,000 feet which was basically the elevation we stayed at for the next couple days. After day 1, we were also well about tree line for the rest of the trip (but not above giant cactus-y things line) and got a great view of the surrounding area although there’s a fair amount of haze all the time at lower elevations. We could see Mt. Meru to the northwest, in Arusha National Park, which is supposed to be a great climb for seeing animals – giraffes, cape buffalo, etc. Next trip!
This is as good a place as any for a note on the private toilet. Kilimanjaro toilets are pit toilets with no seat, which is just fine except that some people are better at getting their poop to land IN the toilet than others. Some people choose to poop next to the hole, or partly in the hole, or maybe just on some rocks nearby. The pee situation is pretty similar. So I know it seems stupid and over-privileged to pay $100-200 for a porter to carry your portable toilet up to 15,500 feet, but just do it, ok? It’s worth it. And by the way, the campsites are pretty clean for how much use they get, but there’s some trash around – it’s certainly not perfect.
On day 3 the trail ascends to 15,000 feet before it goes back down to around 13,000. I don’t have much to say about this day except for my second best memory of the climb (after the monkeys), which was Glenn projectile vomiting into a groundsel plant. One of my biggest regrets from the trip was that I was too concerned to take out my camera and start taking pictures. Those pictures would have been treasured for years. There was a several-inch thick stream of vomit, projecting nearly horizontally. Amazing. …I’m sorry Glenn, please don’t read this post.
Day 5: the day before summit day. We continued our traverse up to base camp, at 15,500 feet. Glenn started taking his altitude medication, so he was no longer vomiting, and we were more or less prepared to start the climb to the summit at midnight the next day. As you wrap around the mountain you finally get to see neighboring Mt. Mawenzi to the Southeast, a beautiful peak that used to be glaciated but has lost its snowcap in the last decade due to global warming.
We started up the last 4,000 feet around midnight and made our way upwards slowly slowly. Our guides kept trying to teach us the Kilimanjaro song, which meant we were doing a lot of singing for people hiking upwards above 17,000 feet. I don’t think I remembered much of the song later…
As we headed upwards we eventually met the clouds and were surrounded by fog for the last 1,000 feet or so. I think we got to the summit a little after 5 am. I remember on that last stretch from Stella point to Uhuru Peak that there was a Russian guy behind us jogging and loudly gasping for air. He never passed us – he would jog up to us, gasping loudly, and then collapse for a few minutes. And then shortly after that we would hear him behind us again, sounding like he was on the verge of death. And I guess that’s why the guides say “pole pole” every 5 minutes.
We were the first ones at the summit on new years day 2015, and by “we” I mean assistant guide Richard, who sprinted up from behind us to tag the summit and started shouting and celebrating. Unfortunately, we were still shrouded in fog, hanging out on the freezing summit waiting for a view while Glenn’s fingers got dangerously close to frostbite. After a 30 – 45 minutes we’d finished taking pictures of fog and we started our descent. And then a couple hundred feet below the summit, the sun came out and everything cleared off just after sunrise. I really wish I’d walked back up to the top, but I chose laziness instead. Richard took our cameras and started snapping photos like a madman as we descended.
Summit day requires a 9,000 foot descent, with a brief 1 hour nap at base camp halfway down. Richard told us that “pole pole” time was officially over and it was now “haraka haraka” time (quickly quickly). Add to that it started hailing on us, and then the hail turned to rain and flooded the intermediate campsite and the camp toilets (again: opt for the private toilet). Glenn dropped a glove in a mix of 50% pee, 50% water…some rough moments for Glenn on this trip. We were pretty happy when the day was finally over.
The final day is a half day, and it started out with our crew of guides and porters singing and dancing, and then getting us to dance. But once we made it through that gauntlet, it was a short hike out and we got our *official* Kilimanjaro certificates. And beer.