Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mt Kilimanjaro - part 1

Kilimanjaro as seen from the air

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, has been on my "to do" list practically since I started hiking. It's hard to say why, except that it's one of the few well known mountains that can be climbed by those of us with absolutely no mountaineering skills. The idea that I could knock off one of the Seven Summits without crampons or a harness was very tempting indeed.

Luckily G felt the same way, and so when we were planning a trip to Africa we immediately included a Kili trek on our agenda. But deciding to climb is only the first of many decisions. There are several routes up the mountain, different time frames for climbing, and of course many, many companies that will guide you on your trek (you're not permitted to go unguided) in various degrees of comfort for various prices.

In the end, we decided on the 7-day Machame route. Taking seven days increases the time you have to acclimatise to the altitude, which in turn improves your chances of summiting. Some trips take as little as five days, but apparently the odds of summiting on those is about 50/50.

We went with a company called Zara, who also do safari trips, Zanzibar trips etc. They're a bit of a one-stop shop in Tanzania with their own hotels and so on, which was why we chose them. We were able to combine a Kili climb and a five day safari trip into a brief two week visit to Tanzania, and they handled all of the logistics. If you've got time on your hands, I'm sure you could find something cheaper, but we were willing to pay a bit more for the convenience of knowing we were booked in, and not having to arrange anything when we got there.

Machame Gate
The climb started off at Machame Gate, which is already 1900m above sea level. It's a chaos of bags, porters, walkers, vehicles, and in our case thick mist. How they keep track of which bags, food, tents etc. come from which groups I have no idea, but it all seemed to work out.

The first day's walk was relatively easy, and followed a gradual incline through misty jungle. It was quite beautiful walking through the mist, even though there were an awful lot of people on the trail.

Eventually it started raining, but not so hard that it made us uncomfortable. However, most of our first day was spent with raincoats on.

Machame Hut marks the first stop at 3,000m. There was a large campground, and we were already above cloud level. G and I had our own tent, Jonathan, the other member of our group, had his own tent. We also had a little dining tent, complete with table and chairs. All of our breakfasts and dinners were served in there, which protected us from any rain, wind or cold. As we got higher up the mountain, I was definitely glad to have it!

The low point of the trip was probably the toilets at the campgrounds. They were all long drops, mainly squat style. This in itself is no problem, but when you're dealing with large numbers of campers who are not used to squat toilets, there's a lot of missing the hole! Generally it was OK when we arrived in the afternoons, but by morning the toilets were revolting!

I was surprised how cold it was already on the first night, and a little concerned about what was in store for use higher up!

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