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Tanzania - Mt. Kilimanjaro

We steeled our nerve and made for Mt. Kilimanjaro. The hike was to take seven days but we skipped one day and did it in six. It wasn't easy or comfortable but it was an amazing, albiet cold, experience

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Mt. Kili I

We woke up early thanks to Allah and wasted little time before driving to the tour operator, only to watch people hecticaly run around trying to organise out tour. At about 9am we started driving off and after a couple of stops for buying 20kg of sugar and meat we finally reached the gate, only to wait again while people organised... whatever it was.

Waiting at the gate for something to happen

After everything was sorted we continued driving along an increasingly bumpy road until they decided the car would not get any further. We walked the rest up to the real starting point, jumping frequently into the roadside shrubs to allow vehicles to pass.

Selfie with Sam and Shu, and porters porting

The hike took us up through a nice rainforest with a lot of people. Basically we had to queue up. Only the porters - who certainly carry more than the regulated 15kg despite bag weighing - had right of way and did not have to queue. It was muddy, slippery, and quickly obvious we were probably the fittest people on the path. Mt. Kilimanjaro attracts the fiscally-fit rather than the physically-fit adventurers; most had trouble stepping over low-lying logs.

Signing in at camp, and many colourful tents

After a few hours we reached the camp, which was buzzing with people and not at all remote. It was a small patch of bare ground surrounded by jungle, covered in a hundred brightly colored tents and lots of ants.

Inside a tent, and a romantic candle-lit dinner

We took refuge inside our mess tent, where we spent the rest of the night by candle light having tea and popcorn. We sat watching, amused greatly by the private toilet tents some tour operators carry up. Whenever someone used them, they'd sillohuette themselves against all walls with torchlight. Our laughter quickly saw a close to visiting hours. Those tents are quite racist - only white people were allowed to use them.

Mt. Kili II

It was a somewhat restful night beside the toilet tent, interrupted only by certain comfort issues. Breakfast was millet powder porridge, bread with butter, jam and smokey honey, sausages and egg. We couldn't say we weren't be taken care of - at least by the cook. The camp was noisy and horrible, and after a stinky trip to the toilet-shed (a hole, people had bad aim) we headed off.

Lichen laden tree

The rainforest was beautiful by morning light. Everything was misty and mystically. The trees were adorned with more moss and lichen than leaves and branches. The path was a bit slippery in places, and the constant procession of porters from behind frequently forced you off the path to let them pass.

Tourist trudge, and making space for porters

We all disliked Isaya, our main guide. He was a puffy, unfriendly git who only knew three expressions in English: "ok guys", "come on guys" and "let's go guys"; and had done nothing guide-like so far whatsoever. He either walked so far behind he wasn't visible or so close we felt his breath on our necks. We had more interaction with other groups' guides than our own. We actually made a game of it to get away form him. It proved harder than expected.

Sam looking chilled, and a friendly lizard

At Shira Plateu the fancy orange tour group (team Swanky Jumpsuits) was setting up lunch. Sam's situation hadn't improved much, and he hoped the painkillers were also anti-inflammatory. After some more hiking steadily uphill the plateu eventually flattened out. At this altitude the trees were gone and only low bushes remained.

Shira 1 camp, and Grég washing

We arrived at Shira 1 Camp and washed ourselves in a leaky basin of hot water. Washing was awkard crouched under the tent's rain-flap on the dirt ground, but we all made do.

Posed w. camp in background, juggling plant, stream water source, and an obligatory handstand

After a short rest we all went for a stroll up-river along an almost dry riverbed. Some porters were returning with water containers. We took some photos on the rocks ( made it for the 10 second timer) and returned for some tea and popcorn. The tea water was brown - minerals Shu said. Dinner was chicken stew with rice (coconut flavor), but Shu rejected his piece saying it was rotten. Best to play it safe.

Tea time in the tent, and Mt. Kili from camp

Night came and everything began to freeze. We sat in awe of Mt. Kilimanjaro's silhouette on the star-washed purple sky for as long as we could, then retreated to our sleeping bags. The change in air density was noticeable but not yet uncomfortable for us, Greg excluded.

Mt. Kili III

Woke up in the middle of the night for a toilet break and discovered the tent was frozen stiff, covered with a layer of ice. In my pajamas I did not make it all the way to the bathroom before freezing, and decided to water a nearby bush while overlooking the camp and summit. It was cold enough that even sunrise couldn't get us out of the tent. We watched in cosy sleeping bags from the tent entrance.

Morning front, and Grég bouldering

After another porridge breakfast we set out across the Shira Plateu. We walked slowly while trying to drink as much water as we could swallow, and peed out about twice the amount we refilled. No one knew where all this water was coming from.

A huge cactus

We turned off the track most other groups were on to arrive at our next camp Shira 2 for lunch. After a spaghetti lunch, we wandered a little up the mostly dry river taking silly photos. washing hair in puddles, and building rock arches - most of which collapsed fairly quickly.

Spaghetti lunch at Shira 2, Grég washing his hair, alpine ballet, and sunset

Shira 2 was less populated than Shira 1, which was much nicer and felt more wild. The cold drove us into our sleeping bags quickly after dinner. With sleeping was not especially restful without oxygen, Shu and Sam did some nighttime photography of glowing tents.

Shira 2 by night, and reading in the tent by headlight

Mt. Kili IV

This morning's layer of ice on the tent was thinner, but still shed ice crystals on Meike's beanie as she sat up. There was less humidity in the air and chapped lips were becoming a problem.

Sunrise from camp

We started the steady uphill hike past the rock sculptures and further to new boulders. One boulder had a ladder on the backside, atop which Shu did a handstand, which scarred our utterly useless guide.

Atop a big boulder, and making rock arches

It was cold and slow up until Lava Tower Camp, where hundreds of people were fussing about. Lava Tower was the second-last camp on the way up Mt. Kilimanjaro, sat behind the enormous rock pillar. It was an impressive rock but we decided not to climb it.

Sam resting, and Lava Tower with Shu and Isaya

After lunch we took the decision to skip the night at Lava Tower and move on to Arrow Glacier camp, shortening the expedition to six days. Greg's altitude sickness was not getting better and no one was really comfortable, thermally or otherwise.

After Lava Tower Camp we passed a few frozen streams and saw the first snow of Kilimanjaro. The last 200 meters ascent were an absolute slap in the face, and a very hard one at that. It was time to start one-breath one-step.

The snow (ice) of Kilimanjaro, and taking a rest with Yusef

At Arrow Glacier Camp we washed, rested and arranged for Greg's departure. With sadness, after our rest we wished Grég a safe quick descent. Meike and Sam climbed the nearby peak affront the camp together for a better look, while Shu surveyed the area.

View from the tent

Arrow Glacier Camp saddled a ridge directly below the steep side of Kilimanjaro. The camp had been closed after the Western Breach rockslide incident of 2006, killing several climbers, but had since been reopened. Tents were set up in a low risk zone, but it was obvious how many boulders had come tumbling down through the camp.

Arrow Glacier Camp at 4900m

Shattered toilet shack debris lay scattered throughout; of six only two were still standing. Every minute or so the sound of falling rocks could be heard, inspiring no confidence in the the camp's safety. At least your group was at the lower side, so you'd be hit last.

Meike resting above the camp, and a shattered toilet

The slope behind Arrow Glacier Camp looked dangerous and utterly impossable to scale. It wasn't at all obvious where the Wrstern Breach ascent was. Some tour groups were unwilling to take it; others didn't know it was even open. Although we couldn't find the Western Breach ascent (even using fancy Lieca binoculars) we concluded the cliff behind the camp couldn't be the way up.

It was.

Flying above the clouds, and cloud shadows

Back at camp we told Shu about a plane wreck we saw in the distance. It was doubtful any kind of rescue was attempted, considering its location. The porters were coming back from getting water from the same place we'd seen falling rocks. Those guys have it tough.

Mt. Kili V - the last ascent!

We started really early but I was lying in the sleeping bag awake anyway - every time I fell asleep my breathing must have slowed down enough to wake me up with oxygen-panic.

We had a few biscuits and a cup of tea dancing around in front of the tent not to get cold, while the porters were still sleeping in the mess tent. The moon was bright and gave us enough light to start the ascent. One ambitious climber was ahead of us and showed us where we were headed: straight up the mountain, exactly the way we considered impossible during daylight.

The Western Breach: dark at night time

Isaya was leading the way. He kept up a high pace but didn't always look very safe, nor seemed sure of the way. Moses, filling in for Yusef, followed us. It was reassuring to think there was someone there to catch us if one of us started falling off the mountain.

The Western Breach: Snowy, rocky

The path was not so much a path. It was more a mix of ice, snow and sliding gravel, sometimes glued together by ice with a few occational solid scrambling rocks. It was hard to see and was just getting tougher to breathe, so we just focused on keeping things steady. We had long lost track of time, and weren't sure how many hours we'd been climbing.

The rocky, icy Western Breach

The most dangerous part was the high altitude: whenever we considered it safe enough to swap from crawling to standing we got dizzy and almost fell off the mountain backwards. Sam took a lot of breaks to conserve energy on the last few hundred meters of altitude; Shu took a lot of breaks because he thought he was going to faint, while I was getting colder and colder despite the polar equipment I was wearing.

Thirsty Meike with frozen drinking water

We were too slow to reach to ridge before sunrise, breaching shortly after, but still managed to overtake the person ahead of us. I was very grateful for the first rays of sun warming me a bit as we sat resting on the rocks; however, we could not stop the shaking caused by relief, exhaustion, tiredness, altitude, and cold. Shu shed a few tears of relief, while Sam rested and unpacked his camera.

Sam tasting a glacier, and another razor-sharp one

After some might-empowering chocolate, at 7:45am we touched the glaciers of Kilimanjaro! Sam licked them. He reported they tasted cold.

At the plateu rim and the first glacier

The summit was only another 150m above us but at the altitude it seemed almost impossible. We made it very very slowly, taking a breath in and out with every step. The actual top would've been hard to make out, if it wasn't for the sign marking the highest point. It's so flat up there that you would not see it sans-sign. Maybe that was just the altitude...

The final ascent, and Sam doing a heroic handstand

We had some of our lunch pack for breakfast (lazy Isaya had his carried by Moses) and did our best to get our bodies to do a handstand. Shü seemed to have recovered and even managed to pull a flag at 5895m!

Group shot at the top, and a 5895m high flag

Before our altutide-headaches got too bad we started the descent. In contrary to what our brilliant tour guide said, we were not able to get a glimpse of the actual crater on the way down - we missed the opportunity >:( The descent was long, painful and very dusty. It started over ash, kicked up by the other thousand people that went up that day in a big dusty caravan.

The dusty descent

When the GPS said we had descended 2000m we reached the first, very crowded, campsite (not ours). Sam came down with a big headache and no one of us felt like making another step. The choice was not ours, so we got moving again and continued for another 3-4 hours down another another 1000m...

Taking a break in a busy camp less than half way

To collect water, the porters had to walk one hour up the mountain and back down. Despite all the dust, we felt too bad to ask the porters for a second bowl of washing water for us three. The shower the next day was much thought after.

Arrival and collapse in the dusty camp

Dinner was nice, particularly 'cause it wasn't sandy. We had not eaten much all day, having starting at 1am - sixteen hours ago. Finally getting into a sleeping bag and resting was a relief. Down at 3100m no breathing panic set in and we got a good rest.

Mt. Kili VI

We three awoke in our single, slopey tent in the dust camp by the time our guides' tent was already gone. Shu had the idea to do a group photo to count the number of guides for tipping purposes. 'Charlie' - our secret code name for Isaya, the useless guide - tried again at breakfast to have us give him all tipping money, but we informed him we'd be handling it. Dodgey bastard.

Our last breakfast included rolled chocolate crepes which weren't bad. Pumping water was being overtaken enthusticly by one porter, but it seemed very hard - the water was full of fine sediment.

The muddy descnet through the jungle

We did the descent through the rainforest overtaking many groups of New Zealanders, British, Germans, etc., but were still being outrun by porters bouncing from log to rock. The path was damn slippery, and we started calling falling on ones' bum 'winning'. Noting with every slip: "Oh look, he just won", kept spirits up.

We finally found some black and white Colobus monkeys jumping in the trees. The only way to spot them is when they move or make noise. We also met a cow. A Kilimanjaro cow.

A Colobus monkey

We emerged at the carpark / gate to a sea of busses, porters, bags and shoe cleaners. The black people were washing themselves, which looked more like distributing sweat all over themselves than washing anything off.

Shu in the carpark, a shower desperately desired

We signed out of the national park at the office. Some people had specified 'employee' as occupation - they must be German. We waited by our bags behind the cars while our ride (including Grég) was coming from Moshi. We distributed the tips in envelopes, and a few minutes later Charlie slimed over and said "hey guys, tips are not enough". We argued it was guidelines and he gave up.

Back in Moshi we had a chat to the tour operator and made sure he heard his wonderful guide tried to screw us over. He drove us back to the Buffolo hotel and no one felt good. Sam visited a pharmacy for Anusol and paracetamol then went back to the hotel to nap.

Grég in the Buffolo Hotel not doing so good, and the Indoitaliano Restaurant

That evening the group headed to Indoitalian for a pizza. Meike only stomached a coke before loosing it at the base of a tree affront the hotel. Ravenously hungry, Sam finished his pizza, then went to bed for a vomity night of hell. Food poisoning strikes!