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The Habdogs' Adventures


TANZANIA | Sunday, 15 December 2013 | Views [198]

Kilimanjaro Adventure (Machame Route) 26/11/13 - 01/12/13  

Day 1 - Machame Gate to Machame Camp:

After a very restless nights sleep it was finally time for our Kilimanjaro adventure to begin. Our bags were packed, extra survival gear hired or bought (inclusive of warmer sleeping bag, gators, hiking poles, skii gloves, snacks, and of course, toilet paper), our last shower for 6 days was enjoyed and we were ready as we were going to be. We were comforted by the 9 nervous faces of our companion hikers (Christina, Anja, Patrick, Peter, Kal, Rodrigo, Tuan, Dan and Tung) and the oozing enthusiasm of our guides. We all piled into our truck with the bags tied to the roof and we were off!! After an approximate  hour drive through the fertile farming plains of Moshi district we arrived at the Machame Gate of the Mt Kilimanjaro National Park. We were already at an altitude greater than we'd previously experienced! Life disclaimer signed and permits obtained, the uphill began. Within half an hour our thought was 'bloody Richo', which became a common phrase throughout the trek, particulary through the tougher times. The rainforested slopes were beautiful, but we couldn't help disagree with description of 'gradual gradient' provided in our travel guide. Retrospectively,  comparatively,  their description was very accurate. We were in for a shock! We ate our packed lunch in the rain (boiled egg, samosa, bread roll and peanuts), and trekked the remaining ~12 of 18km soaking wet, to Machame Camp, utterly exhausted! Furthermore, we were overtaken by all the porters carrying ~15kg on their heads!! This became a recurrent theme. On arrival, to our suprise and relief, we were told that we went too fast and from now on we were to be going "pole pole", meaning "slowly slowly" in Swahili. At the end of our long day we were treated to a warm basin of water to wash with and mountain canapés (ie popcorn) followed by a 3 course homely cooked meal by our chef, delivered by our own waiters to our 'food tent'. This was the first of many amazing cooked meals to come! We were all in bed by 8pm in preparation for our next big days.  

Altitude: 1815m to 2980m.  

Learning points:

1. Bit more fitness preparation would have been nice

2. Maybe shouldn't have listened to Richo's travel suggestion to trek

3. What gets wet stays wet on Mt Kilimanjaro    


Day 2 - Machame Camp to Shira Camp

Day 2 started with an early rise and shine at 6.30am for cooked breakfast (porridge, eggs, sausages and fruit), packing of bags and learning how to trek "pole pole" style to our next milestone, Shira Camp. We only walked 9km today but it was a steep climb through the heath land of savanna and lower alpine moorland. Our guides lead the way ensuring we trekked "pole pole", which is apparently REALLY slow, but thankfully so as we began to notice the effects of the altitude on our breathing with minimal exertion. We only caught glimpses of our surrounds today as we were accompanied by the thick mist of the clouds most of the way. Fortunately it didnt start raining until we reached camp but it certainly made up for it then! The Shira campsite is situated on a plateau,  exposing the camp to strong winds and the temperature dropping below freezing at night. The raven birds (that circled above as though waiting for one of us to die or fall behind the pack) appeared to be following us, and when perched on the dead trees in the mist it only added to the eeriness of the campsite. When discussing the ravens over dinner (vegetable macaroni) Sam jokingly said she'd be suspicious if served "chicken" the next couple of days considering all our food was provided fresh daily and we were yet to see other animals and only getting further from the base of the mountain.  The "town kids" laughed but only nervously,  with the joke to evolve during the remainder of the trek. Tonight Kal became the first victim of the trek suffering from hypothermia. It made the rest of us a bit nervous, and we all bumped up our altitude sickness medication, trading off the likelihood of having to go to the bathroom (aka squatting long-drops) in the middle of the freezing night thanks to the antidiuretic properties of the medication.  

Altitude: 2980m to 3840m.  

Learning points:

1. Habby doesn't cope with camping in the rain

2. Should pay more attention to what we're eating

3. Packet showers (aka wet wipes) dont quite cut it    


Day 3 - Shira Camp to Barranco Camp (via Lava Tower)

With all 11 trekkers back in good health we headed off to our next destination 15km away at Barranco Camp. We would only be camping at just over 100m higher in altitude than the previous night but were required to trek to Lava Tower at 4630m to assist with acclimatization.  The terrain was becoming increasingly rocky and barren, and much of the path was rocky scree. "Pole pole" we trekked to Lava Tower, to be welcomed by our dining tent and a cooked meal. At 4630m altitude! To say that we were impressed doesn't do it justice! And guess what was on the menu.... African "chicken" chapati (flatbread). It was delicious and to Sam's delight she had earned herself a few "I can't believe you told me about the raven's" glares. After lunch we descended steeply into the Barranco Valley. The scenery was stunning with an abundance of giant groundsels and endemic Giant Lobelia. Many of our group ran downhill to the camp enjoying the speed but a few of us (who later became known as "team pole pole") made the most of the slower pace walking and talking (which was a difficult task uphill) and enjoying the company and learning of the local knowledge and Swahili language from the guides. Barranco camp was set in a flat area enclosed by the three Breach Walls and the Kibo massif itself. It was a comfort to know that there was a helipad and rescue team on site but as we headed off to bed early again we were also hoping this was not a reflection of the difficulty and danger of attempting to climb the Great Barranco Wall in the morning. This would also be our last decent sleep until after having attempted the summit.  

Altitude: 3840m to 3950m (Lava Tower 4630m).  

Learning points:

1. We felt ok at altitude 4630m, maybe we can make it!

2. If the "chicken" is actually "raven" it's delicious nonetheless   


Day 4 - Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp

An early start to the day was important when climbing the Great Barranco Wall as the rocks of the sheer cliff face would become more slippery with the melting ice. Our tent had frozen over but we had the most remarkable view of the western face of the summit. Despite being overtaken by the amazing porters (thin but built with arms and legs of steel) and their ridiculously heavy loads (that left us feeling guilty of how much we packed), we all made it safely to the top of the eastern wall, just below the Heim Glacier, and enjoyed a well earned rest. We then trekked down into the alpine desert of the Karanga Valley where we had lunch at Karanga camp before continuing the ascent to Barafu camp, our base camp to summit. We had a long tiring day, covering a distance of 12km and arriving at Barafu camp at 5.30pm.  This would have been ok had it not been freezing cold, blowing an absolute gale and we were expected to be up again at 11pm in preparation to summit. Furthermore, Habby had developed a severe altitude-related headache! We went to bed at 7pm dressed in double socks, two bottom thermals plus two pairs of pants, two top thermals and two jumpers, plus a beanie, and had very minimal sleep.    

Altitude: 3950m to 4550m  

Learning points:

1. Mountain weather is possibly more temperamental than Melbourne weather

2. 4 hours of rest at high altitude does not equal sleep

3. Barafu camp has the worlds best "loo with a view"

4. Neurofen is great for altitude-related headaches    

Day 5 - Barafu Camp to Summit to Mweka Camp

The time to attempt the summit had finally arrived! Already exhausted from the last 4 days of trekking and with minimal sleep in the bank, all 11 of us were a bundle of nerves and excitement. Dressed with an extra 5kg worth of warm clothing and head-torches tightly secured, we were soon on our way, following the rising trail of dotted lights of fellow trekkers that had set off before us. For the next 7 hours we trekked Mt Kilimanjaro underneath the starry Tanzanian night skies, being serenaded by our guides singing in Swahili. At the time however, the reality was that we were scrambling up a seemingly never-ending, enormously steep mountain in the windy and freezing cold night air with running noses, hungry stomachs, and lungs that were screaming for more oxygen! In addition to cursing poor Richo, we had our own self-soothing methods to pass the time/pain whether it be singing our own music in our heads, repeatedly counting to 100, or both. Our guides (Hamedi and Salim) insisted on carrying our bags (which we resisted only a short while), and even helped warm our poor freezing hands!! As the skies began to lighten, so did our heavy hearts and feet, finding ourselves just below Stella Point, the rim of the main crater, at sunrise. Despite our exhaustion, we couldn't help but appreciate and admire the beauty of our first African sunrise. Although it only looked a short distance to go to Stella point it seemed to take forever, each step becoming harder. We now appreciated having trekked for so long in the dark so that we couldn't see the steepness nor distance to go. Reaching the Stella Point sign equal second in our group though, we could not have been happier, and we now knew that we could trek the additional 45 minutes to reach the highest point, Uhuru Peak. We arrived at 7.45am and we'd all be lying if we said there were dry eyes! Despite the exhaustion, it was one of the biggest senses of achievement we'd shared, and all the previous pain seemed worth it! Furthermore, all 11 members of our group made it to the top, though some in worse shape than others (eg. Tung in an emergency heat blanket and Peter staggering with his full bottle of Whisky in his pocket), which our guides tell us is a rare accomplishment. We only spent a few minutes at the top before begining our descent. What we hadn't put much thought into was saving some energy for the descent,  which in all honesty, was as equally hard as the ascent. After spending the last 4 days reinforcing "pole pole", we now learnt the Swahili term "huruka huruka", meaning "quickly, quickly". But our poor tired legs couldn't keep up. Sam had a new appreciation for all those (annoying) poor sheep over the years that had copped a boot for sitting when she'd apparently tried moving them too quickly. After an excruciating 4 hours and someone (who shall remain unnamed) winging like an old woman, we made it back to base camp for a quick nap before descending further to Mweka Camp. The quick nap proved quite eventful, with Habby responding to a "damsel in distress" only to be bitten by the same mouse he attempted bravely removing from Anja's tent. With reassurance from the head guide Mndeme that he would not catch rabies, the nap hour quickly passed and we were back on our feet trekking to the safer altitude of Mweka Camp.  

Altitude: 4550m to 5895m (Uhuru Peak) to 3100m  

Learning points:

1. You can do anything if you put your mind to it

2. Apparently mice aren't affected by altitude

3. One must be careful when responding to a 'damsel in distress'  


Day 6 - Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate to Moshi

As promised, with thanks to the lower altitude, we woke with an abundance of energy and ready for our final descent. Before our last mountain breakfast was served we were suprised by our entire supporting crew of > 40 men singing to us their Mt Kilimanjaro song in Swahili. We were speechless - it was so beautiful and humbling! Again enjoying the forested slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro,  our short trek to the Mweka gate was exciting as we spotted several black and white colobus (monkeys). Exhausted and with sore legs, we made the Mweka Gate by 10.30, registering our success and departure from the mountain before piling back into the truck enroute to the best shower of our lives. We were awarded our certificates and celebrated our success over dinner at the Springlands Hotel with our guides and cook. The highlight though was Mndeme opening his first bottle of champagne (Tanzanian's largely non-drinkers) and clapping along to the Mt Kilimanjaro song. With contact details exchanged we said farewell to our fellow trekkers with many continuing their journey early the following morning. It was sad saying goodbye as we had a great group and can only hope we will be so lucky with our next tour group.  

Altitude: 3100m to 1980m to 890m  

Learning points:

1. Apparently downhill is more strenous than uphill

2. Nothing beats a long shower after 6 days hiking

3. Trip of a lifetime!!! 

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