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One way ticket to Africa

Climbing the mountain

TANZANIA | Saturday, 26 January 2008 | Views [1113]

Well finally I'm getting to entering some details about African adventure so far. Almost four weeks after first setting out for Uhuru Peak I will now attempt to give a retrospective account of all it's glory.

Wiebke and I reunited in Dar Es Salaam about 9.30pm on New Years Eve and promptly embarked to find somewhere to see in 2008. We were successful at a local bar and had 2 types of decent local beer infront of us at about 11.55pm. Not keeping a close eye on the time ourselves, we became aware it was time to hug when the group next to us started making above-converstaion noise and embracing. So we kissed each other and dwelled in the happy time for a few minutes before getting back to whatever we had been discussing, stopping only for the interuptions of drunken locals trying to sway us into engaing with them. Unfortunately for them, we were way to engaged with each other. After maybe only 2 beers each we headed back to the YMCA around the corner at a tame 2am. Tame,indeed but still extremely memorable.

The next day was spent exploring the local city streets, which were mostly uneventful due to the public holiday but we did get a taste of what was to come with regards to touts attracted to muzungus - Swahili for white person. We learned a few words and had a good time catching the local buses called daladalas back to the airport. At a cost of 600 Tanzanian Shillings each,(still haven't shaken colonialism entirely) including 300 for each of our packs the pumping betas and freindly locals beat the US$20 taxi ride hands down. We boarded the plane headed for Kilimanjaro via Zanzibar, which we found out as buckling our seat belts for take off. This was no major problem adding only 20 minutes to the flying time. What was memorable was the complete lack of announcement made by flight crew that the Zanzibar landing was iminent and was brought to my attention by Wiebke's gasp who saw the ground rapidly approaching out the window seconds before touchdown. A smooth landing soon had us laughing about the overlooked information to passengers, which was improved on our landing in Kilimanjaro with a succinct "Welcome to Kilimanjaro - the airport", just in case one may mistake our landing for being on the mountain side.

Preparations for the climb were spent at the quite luxurious Springlands Hotel and wandering around Moshi, the not-quite-so-quaint mountain town but never the less enjoyable. That afternoon we meet Freddy who was to be our guide up to the peak, and he managed to calm out nerves somewhat but activities of sorting and packing were still happening late into the evening. 

After a 3 or so hour drive to the base of the mountain and the beginning of the Lemosho route, day one was a gorgeous climb through the rainforest complete with mud bath and colobus monkeys. Our driver revelled in the 4wd challenge giving us thrills similar to that of your average royal show rollercoaster even sending fellow climbers racing ahead and diving to the side to avoid a mud drenching. That evening, Freddy gave us options of 6 hour walks for days 2 and 3 to give us a shorter climb on summit day rather than doing the hard yards when fatigue and the peak were looming. Thus, day 2 began with some serious hills and got us above the tree line by lunch time. We skipped past Shira 1 camp after lunch and endured rain to make camp at Shira 2, which looked down on the seemingly much larger, Moshi.

Day 3 was acclimatisation day and my toughest by far. We left Shira 2 at about 3300m asl heading for the peak for the day, Lava Tower at 4600m asl. On this day, our comparably private and intimate Lemosho route joined with a few of the other routes interrupting our mountain serenity as the tops of neighbouring ridges brought ant-like lines of porters (mostly - porter:climber ratio ~ 4:1)and climbers towards Barranco Camp. The ascent to the Lava Tower was fine after eating a substantial lunch, leaving me just a little light headed and needing to take care when taking in the surroundings performing a 360 degree turn with my feet rather than the normal use of one's head ball joint. Freddy decided our descent back down to 3600m was prime time to familiarise ourselves with our walking poles, which while still feeling prominently unco-ordinated with our extra limbs, Wiebke amusingly but rightly commented on them making her 'feel more important.' Our way down had the vegetation revive the barren landscape above 4000m, giving way to great looking Dr Suse-like trees and floral shrubs, niceities I couldn't fully embrace due to my on coming moutain sickness, which was much like a nasty hangover. Having rested for a good couple of hours, dinner was announced while my tummy was still much like a ball of old fishing line. Sitting at the table being unable to imagine food of any sort being appealing, our waiter Benjamin (yes, introducing porter #3, designated food server)brought in a strong smelling leek soup. I should say at this point that the food on the climb was highly satisfatory overall, ranging from eggs, porridge and fruit for breakfast, yummy soups and somosas for lunch and flavoured meat, salads and pastas for dinner. Wiebke had been finding the food more and more salty as the meals passed by which seemed to be the trend for the leek soup presented on day 3 - it wasn't just me being super sensitive. However, one whiff and the familar feeling of watery mouth and involuntary stomach movements gave me the cue to exit our dining tent, head for the nearest bush, aim and throw up the afteroon cups of tea and peanuts. I felt much better, as usual post chunder, and Wiebke said I was very professional in the whole process. Says something about the worth of my drinking habits, hey Dad?! Freddy consoled me saying it was completely normal and I would be fine in the morning. "Don't think about summit day" he reinforced to us several times. Ha! nerves were definately kicking in, which I was blatanly aware of during the night when getting up for the toilet and reeling with the view of dark mountain looming over me. Management was to get in contact with the ground and horizontal again as quick as the tent zips would allow me.

Day 4 began with a cliff climb up Barranco Wall. It was quite a sight looking up at the line of porters and climbers at variuos heights up the cliff. Their voices echoed loudly and was honestly a bit annoying as groups decided it was fun to hear their own echo, which was deafaning for us and a bit concerning with any dislodging of rocks headed fairly directly for our breakfast tent. Some tourists...sheesh. Although a bit of a scramble, climbing the wall was fun and not too strenous at all with many rest opportunities at the tricky ups, having to wait in line for each before beinf able to pass. A breathtaking view at the top soon had us refreshed for the 3 hour or so walk to Karanga Campsite, which we reached about lunch time. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing - me finally returning the massage favour Wiebke had bestowed back at Shira 2 - and trying not to stress about summit day. The original plan, which is the most common strategy, is to walk from Karanga to Barafu Camp (only about 3 hours) and camp and rest until middnight at which time the summit ascent is done in the dark in time to reach the top for sunrise. Freddy's options were presented during dinner - rather than lazing the next day, sleeping in and getting to Barafu (after a few Kiswahili lessons, i now know this means ice - eek!) sometime in the afternoon, we could get their by mid morning and then have a few hours rest to then continue on to the summit for sunset! He told us that the main reason for guides beginning their summit climb  at middnight was so the daunting heights of the summit above were hidden with darkness. "Hakuna mata" he says, we are strong enough to overcome this and do it in day light. The main advantage of this strategy was avoiding the cold temperatures of the night climb, which adds a lot of discomfort as going is slow (especially when the whole climbing population of Barafu is along side you) and further stops are required in order to revive your feet back to life. So, after not too much deliberation we decide to go for it. Summit day is now just one sleep away!

Waking with apprehension of course on our summit day one day earlier than expected, we were pretty organised and for the first time on the whole climb and the first people to leave the camp. The first hour was a moderate but long climb above Karangu camp and we were still looking down on the camp slowly coming to life when stopping for our first drink break. On reaching the top of the hill we could see a valley below us and the other side another steep cliff wall on the top of which, was Barafu. Feeling strong and deciding that the pacing of my body was going well with still no muscle pain on the trip yet, we reached the camp being nervous but confident and negotiating the depature time with Freddy to give us a very decent rest time, which in hindsight, was a little too long.

We set off for the summit and to our plesant suprise found that not only Freddy but Benjamin and Hussein were joining us as support team. This they ceratinly did breaking into song and teaching us to count in Swahili within the first 2 hours, which in hindsight was a bit premature. At 5000m asl, we were both still feeling pretty healthy with slight headaches and light headed feelings and me needing to concentrate on relaxing my tummy much the same as when I've been stuck on a Rottnest ferry with no outside access. A mantra which I developed quite quickly and i have to thank for a lot of my overall enjoyment of the climb was from the Hilltop Hoods early song "Left Foot, Right Foot", which rang in my head with each step, even when the left was moving on "right", vice versa and when my steps had slowed so much that two steps was timed to "left foot". I'm yet to email Hilltops to let them know :) At about 5400m, Wiebke's mountain sickness started to take hold and really affect her enjoyment of the last 2 hours of the climb with a bad headache and then with slowing speed, also getting colder and colder as the setting sun continued to leave us more in the mountain's shadow. I didn't really know what to do as I watched her discomfort growing and I was breathing easy, feeling strong and energetic to get to the top ASAP. We decided looking back, it should have been at this point that Freddy, Benjamin and Hussien sang us songs and had us count in Swahili to keep our minds off the pain of having no air to breathe. On top of Wiebke's pain was the frustration at the failure of the little instant heat packs she'd bought and we saw littered all the way up the mountain. Alas, we made it. A super steep climb to Stella Point and a more gradual climb up to the sign of Uhuru Peak that we could now see. Total climbing time was about 6 hours and we arrived just after 6 with half an hour or so to enjoy the peak all to our selves before sun down and freezing temperatures. Unfortuantely, I spent alot of this time trying to figure out how to send the free text messages to you all, offered through the intense competition of the phone companies over here. There is reception everywhere, literally. However, my best friends at Vodafone (ha!) had me locked to Australia even using an African sim card and you all had to go without an Africa Rooftop message :( We did snap away however, enjoying the lonely peak. This was another main advantage of clibing when we did as the normal sunrise arrival time aparently has climbers lining up waiting to get their picci with the sought after sign, and there we were posing in various ways and exploring the peak to the upmost. It felt very special. The contrast between the fine dark brown volcanic soils and stark white glistening glaciers was awesome, especially in the fading light but I'm sure our photos didn't catch it so you'l just have to take my word for it - der :)

The descent wasn't quite as painful as the ascent but I still didn't enjoy it as much. The beginning was fun, practically running and sliding half a meter with each step into the gravel but the novelty didn't last and tired muscles and mind started to lose concentration more often and balance and coordination increasingly wavered. Dust created from our sliding steps coated us a lovely mountain gravel tan and made breathing hard and eyes irritated. It took what seemed for ever, about 2.5 hours, and I was convinced a number of times that we had lost our way in the darkness. With everyone already in bed in preparation for climbing at middnight, their were barely any lights at Barafu camp and dark shadows plus my imagination had me plumeting to the bottom off a cliff side. We finally arrived however and scrambled straight into sleeping bags without food, water or washing. Excitment of having successfully completed our mission for the time being, had no choice but to take a back seat to absolute exhaustion.

A pair crusty but proud-as-punch climbers woke on Day 5 to a big breakfast and still little to no muscle pain. Feeling weary but happy to ignore it, we were again provided with a choice to head for the forest floor and a shower by late afternoon rather than camp another night. Despite the downwards direction beginning to stress our knees and leg muscles, on reaching Mwaeke campsite at midday, we decided to lunch there and continue on to the desirables of running water and beer at ye ol' Springlands hotel. We were duely rewarded when reintroducing our clean selves to the world and meeting 3 Canadians who were due to start their climb in the coming days. We were more than happy to continue the transfer of information from pre to post-climbers as had been done before our climb, whilst gleefully reminiscing over the pleasures and pains of our unforgettable friend, Mount Kilimanjaro.

The next 2 dats before our safari began were spent doing very relaxing things, slowly. Sore muscles had finally caught up with us due to hammering down the entire mountain in one day. Thighs and calf muscles were very sore and in treating ourselves to a massage, put ourselves through quite a bit more discomfort in the aim of future comfort. By the end of 3 day safari we were both walking normally again.

Tags: Adventures

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