Once More into the Belly of the Moist Beast

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Good evening friends. For those of you who maybe checked in yesterday for the next blog post. My apologies. I took the day off 🙂 It was pretty full day for me, and I just didn’t have the time to write a post. I started my day with a 21.1k run, then quickly had some soup and crackers before heading out for the afternoon to do snowshoeing. Once home from that, I had only an hour to get sorted and ready to head out with friends for supper and to watch a band. I was in no shape to write when I got home 🙂 At any rate, I’m back, and you all deserve to hear about the start of the next phase of our African Adventures. Day 1 on Mount Kilimanjaro taking the Rongai Route. My next week’s worth of posts will be all about that, as it is how we finished our trip. Of course, you are invited now to check out the map of day 1 that I made, as well as the set of pictures to accompany that. Then, read on and let me tell you all how that day unfolded.

The day started, as always, with a frenzy of last-minute preparations at the hotel. I had put some stuff our early once again hoping to dry it out a bit more, and now had to stuff the rest of my gear into the bags for the porters. We also had to sort and pack all the other stuff which wasn’t coming with us. We were able to leave that bag at the hotel, and would be picking it up after we came off the mountain. So, off to the lobby to meet the rest of the crew and meet our transport to the trail head. The route we were taking actually started on the other side of the mountain, so we first had to drive a way to get there on back roads. I think the trip was supposed to take around 2 hours. I was expecting a regular shuttle bus to pick us up, but soon saw there were two safari-type vehicles instead. Hmm, wonder why that is?

The reason became abundantly clear quite early in the drive. For starters, we were taking dirt roads, which were twisty and hilly. However, the clincher is the fact that we’d seen so much rain in the past few days. The road? Well, it was a mess to put it mildly. Massive mud holes, washouts, and just general nastiness. We saw more than one car that wasn’t able to make it up some hills on account of spinning out. Our 4-wheel drive vehicles luckily were up for the task Thank goodness. Along the drive, it was Sunday, and we saw the humanity that is Africa once again. Bad roads or not, everyone had donned their Sunday best and were doing their Christian best to get to the churches. When cars couldn’t make it, I think people just decided to hoof it. I tell you what, they are nothing if not dedicated.

So while the actual drive to the trail start could have taken up to 4 or 5 hours (we were warned), we still managed to make it in about 2.5 hours. Can you hazard a guess what sort of weather we had there? Does the word ‘rain’ mean anything to you? Yup, amazingly, even though during most of the drive there we had blazing sun (I’d even gone so far as to totally cover myself in sunscreen in anticipation of the hike. Well, in the last 20 or so minutes of the ride, the skies clouded over, and we had a distinct feeling there might be rain. By the time we got out of the trucks, the heavens opened up once more.

Now, we were safe and sound under a ‘tourist shelter’, but unfortunately, all the porters (and incidentally our gear) had no such luck, and had to get themselves organized, weighed in, and all that good stuff in an absolute downpour. Once again we all pulled out our trusty rain gear and covered ourselves from head to toe. We’d obviously be waiting a little bit, as there were quite a few groups starting out, so the paperwork and gear checks would take time. We passed the time by eating our boxed lunches (it was after noon by now), and discussing, what else, the weather. We’d been semi-assured that although it would rain all day on Mount Meru, on Kili, it would usually only rain for about an hour. Reassuring words, but I wasn’t about to bet the farm on it given the last hiking we’d done!

Time continued to march on, and the rain seemed to actually intensify just to make sure we knew who was the real boss of the mountain. Point taken. However, by this point, we just wanted to get going, and no one in our group seemed terribly concerned about the prospect of rain any longer. The only twist this time is that we’d be in tents for the next 5 nights, so there are a whole range of other ‘challenges’ associated with this rain issue. Eventually, Naiman and Richard wandered over, introducing us to the two other assistant guides who’d be with us the rest of trip: Eli and Julius. These two would hike up with us today, while the others dealt with the porters and got our camp sorted out for when we arrived.

With that, the journey commenced. For this day, we’d be hiking from the trailhead up to Simba camp. This hike would bring us from 2000m to 2775m. So in the grand scheme, we weren’t climbing that much nor climbing too high. It was basically an introductory day to the mountain for us. Most other people taking the route would not have hiked Meru in preparation, so we felt a little smug as we departed, as we felt we had some good ‘experience’ already. In truth, it certainly did help us, as everyone felt fine and had no troubles with a nice steady hike. Now, we certainly weren’t burning our way up the slopes of course, but we just felt ‘good’. Once again, the temptation existed to try and step up the pace, but knowledge helped here, and I decided to just be content with our guide setting a languid pace.

Our terrain for the day? Well apart from the fact that it was rather muddy, it was a nice forest stroll for the most part. Of course we were steadily climbing, but it was a very gentle slope which made it easy. We only stopped briefly a couple times on the way up, and those were just for snacks and nature breaks. We were also fortunate in that about a half hour after we set out from the gate, the rain abated, and we were able to peel off our warm rain gear layer, which was a good thing, given how warm it gets. We also got to walk right through a really large community farming area on our way. Basically, the locals hike up the trails to get to the large clear cut are which they have developed into extensive crops of corn, potatoes, and beans. We walked past several of these farmers on their way down from the fields. It looked like a hell of a job to keep it producing, with all the growth around the area. I would imagine clearing it in the first place with only hand tools was a pretty painful process. However, it produces good food for the people.

All told, the first day of hiking really only took us about 3.5 hours. We were extremely happy to still have dry weather at the camp, so we were at least able to get our gear and put it in the tent before the rains started up again. Oh, and yes, they basically did start up again right away. As we were getting set to have our snacks in the mess tent, we could already feel some drops coming down. By the time we had our supper, we knew the rains would be pelting our tents in the evening. Well, at least we’d know sooner rather than later if these tents would be ‘kili worthy’. The only other thing we did that day was an extra little ‘acclimatization hike’ up the mountain a little further. Basically, it was just climbing an extra 300m or so, then coming back to camp. I’m not sure what the thinking is behind that, but I was willing to do basically anything to ensure the best chances at success on summit day.

We also quickly found out up here that camp life is a pretty simple existence. You might as well hike up the mountain slowly, because arriving at camp generally leaves you with very little to do. Basically, you spend your time getting settled in your tent, and eating. Once those basic things are done, you turn in. We were in bed that night by 9pm I think. After all, there is no light really, it’s a touch chilly, and the mess tent needs to be cleared out for the cook and other staff to deal with. You all know I’d much rather be the nighthawk, but the truth is, I had little choice but to try and sleep. After all, we’d be up early the next morning anyway.

One of the annoyances, at least at camp 1, was the fact that all evening, new groups seemed to be filing in. While we had chosen a spot supposedly off by itself, later on, there were at least 2 or 3 other groups in our vicinity. Naiman wasn’t very happy about that as he said you can’t trust any other groups. He advised us to keep our money / valuables on our person, and even posted a couple porters in the area of our tents to keep an eye on things. In his view, it was too many people However, the Tanzanian gov’t doesn’t limit the numbers on the mountain, as it is an excellent source of revenue. So they all just cram in there where they can. I guess a lot of other people also wanted to start the new year on the roof of Africa!

As your narrator is no curled up in a sleeping bag in his tent in this story, I’ll close off the post here. The coming days hold more drama, so keep checking back for the rest of the climb up (and down) the mountain. My thought of the day: None. I’m drawing a blank. It was a completely normal day for the first one on Kili. So I won’t make up anything just to sound philosophical! Later, alligators.

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