As i mentioned in my “origins” post, courtesy a bit of fortuitous misfortune I found myself at Kilimanjaro International airport to embark on my trek to the summit. Kenyan airways(and their partner-in-crime Precision Air) tried to do what they do best..screw things up badly by not loading our luggage on the Bombardier flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport. But thankfully our luggage followed in the next flight and I was soon on my way to the little town of Moshi.
Moshi’s raison d’être in the Tanzanian tourist circuit is mostly as a starting point for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. From landing at Kili airport to being dropped back 7 days later almost everything was taken care of by our trek organisers – Tro-Peak Adventures who did a commendable job of the same. Kudos to Daniel and Thomas. After checking into the Kilimanjaro Crane hotel I met with my fellow climbers from the internet – Jussi and Helena, a Finnish couple who I was to learn were quite the professionals in this endeavour. They had trekked without guides in extreme destinations for days on end..this confirmed by confidence in them and raised a tinge of self-doubt in my capability to keep up them with them. I left the route planning to Daniel and Jussi and only question to me was my willingness (or ability) to troop upto Lava Tower at 4600m on Day 2 and camp there given that I had not even climbed up Mt. Meru to acclimitize as my fellow climbers had. I dismissed those concerns basing my confidence on a long lost memory of camping at 3500m or so at Sarchu on the way to Leh. Thus planning and arranging for additional climbing gear sorted out we all headed for a good night’s sleep on a proper bed for the last time that week.
Day 1: From Hotel /Machame Gate /Machame Campsite.
Elevation: 1200m to 1700m to 3000m.
It was a cloudy day as we went to Machame Gate to get the formalities for the trek done and just before noon when we started to trek through the forest trail that was the order of the day along with Aloise, our chief guide and the rest of the crew it was pouring down. Very soon I discovered much to my chagrin that the windcheater was not water-proof and had to utilize my snow jacket as rain coat. Thus with a dampness permeating through me trudged along in what was a long walk of approx 6 hrs. We reached Machame late in the evening and got acquainted with the full crew..guides, porters and the cook who took fine care of us for a good 6 days on Kili.
Day 2: Machame Hut Campsite to Lava Tower
Elevation: 3000m to 4600m
The toughest day of the trek with an elevation of 1600metres in a brutal trek which took 8+ hrs even at a very good pace. The day when I thought I really had met my match and shades of doubt creeped into my confidence in being able to accomplish this undertaking. The day when I struggled to keep up with my better acclimatized and experienced travel companions. The day when the foolhardiness of going for this extreme climb schedule on Day 2 without preparation which was described as miraculous by the guide (implied as crazy) started to hit home. The day when every muscle in your body starts to ache. The day when I really began to be grateful for the warm breakfasts and dinners with nice packed lunches that the cook put together.
The day that challenged me and I was definitely glad of it.
Day 3: Lava to Karanga campsite
Elevation: 4600m to 3900m
After taking the brunt of it in Day 2, 3rd day was a different experience. You realize that descent can be quite worse than ascent on your joints. There was brief periods of sunshine after what was largely cloudy/rainy 2 days. It was a chance to take in the views and the vegetation and take out the camera as you come down from alpine vegetation to moorland again. A bit of a break from the dampness that had persistent for last 2 days. But by the end of the day I had adopted Jussi’s accomplished method of drying damp socks/t-shirts by using your body warmth while snuggled in the sleeping bag. This stood me in good stead for the rest of the trek!!
Our guides seemed totally confident of the ability of all 3 of us to summit without much trouble by this time as we were setting stellar pace day after day.
Day 4: Karanga to Barafu camp site
Elevation: 3900m to 4620m
A short trek back to the lofty heights of Lava tower wherein we encountered snowfall for the 1st time during the whole journey. We had reached our campsite at the early hour of 12-30pm just as planned. By this day my body had been accustomed to the strains of the trek and I was quietly confident of the task that lay ahead.
The rest of the day was about having 2 warm meals and getting enough rest in preparation for the big day ahead. We were totally bowled over by the ability of the cook to prepare a fine warm meal in a tent with a small stove at 4600m altitude with snow falling around and a temperature of -5C. And then we had Ben, our reggae loving inquisitive porter who used to serve us the multi-course meal shuttling back and forth between cook’s tent and dinner tent day and night, be it sun, rain or snow.
Day 5: Barafu Camp/ Uhuru Peak/ Mweka Camp
Elevation: 4620m to 5895m to 3100m
Day started at 12am with a bowl of soup and some tea and we were all clothed in multiple layers and geared up with headlamps for the final ascent on a moonlit night. At its worst around 2-3am in the morning we faced mild snowfall and a temperature of -15C. Our guides who had been baffled by Jussi and my lack of need for much warm clothing was just glad we had decided to use an extra layer or 2 and snow jackets and other paraphernalia.
It wasn’t an easy climb by any stretch of the imagination. It was a slow and sapping climb in attimes bone-chilling wind at sub zero temperatures(coming from me that says a lot!). And then with the worst part of the climb behind us the dawn broke giving us a magnificent view of rocky and snow clad mountain above the clouds which we were about to summit.
From then on all the way to Uhuru Peak, where we reached at the bright morning hour of 7am, taking in the views of glaciers and clouds it was a truly unforgettable stretch to walk along.
At the summit point even though I was elated at having finally reached the Top of Africa I was distracted by taking in the amazing view all round and trying to capture a bit of it on camera!
Unfortunately that altitude doesn’t permit one to stay much longer and then we began our quick trek / slide downhill through mostly gravel covered terrain back to Barafu campsite. A brief rest and recovery halt later we trekked downhill to campsite by which time I had severly bruised toes and aching joints again. Downhill isn’t really my cup of tea.
Day 6: Mweka Camp
Elevation: 4620m to 5895m to 3100m
Final day. Unremarkable end to a remarkable endeavour. We started out early to make it among the first ones out and thus avoiding the rush to sign out and exit. Muscle inflammation had me limping the last hour all the way to the gate. So I was certainly glad for the car ride to hotel and the rest.
Thus came to an end the trek by chance..a journey guided by a bit of fortuitous misfortune. What an incredible experience it was! A stepping stone to greater endeavors’ of similar ilk…who knows!