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Tanzania - Mt. Kilimajaro
04.02.98 - Travelling to MoshiThe bus trip to Moshi was mostly uneventful, stopping at the border twice (once on either side) for visa formalities. It got a bit disconcerting at one point when we had to change busses to complete our journey to Moshi but we had been given absolutely no information on this from our tour agency. We just kind of stood around for a while and some guy picked us out from the crowd and told us we should go with him. In true African fashion everything went ahead without us having the faintest clue of what the hell was going on - but it all turned out well in the end.
We got to Moshi and met the tour group that would be taking us up Mt Kili. - prior to that we didn't even know the name of the group that would be taking us up (Zara Tours). We also discovered that a Californian girl we had met on the bus (Teri) was going to be on the climb with us. We went back to the hotel where we would be spending the night before starting the climb the next day, which seemed quite nice but we ended up paying for dinner which was a bit unexpected - not exactly an 'all expenses paid holiday'.
05.02.98 - Starting the ClimbAfter being briefed by some South African guy who gave us the usual 'you are going to die on the mountain' speech, we were introduced to our guide (Charlie) and were taken to pick up a few last-minute provisions before starting the climb. We were told we would be taken to a camping shop before hitting the mountain, but all we saw was a place that would have rented us some dodgy looking gear that we didn't want. So I ended up hitting the mountain without a few things I really would have liked to have bought (such as waterproof pants) - pretty damn annoying.
We drove most of the way to the Park Gates, having to walk the last km. or so because the roads were destroyed by rain (El Nino!). The guides and porters took a long time to get all the gear organised and we didn't actually head off until around midday for our first day of trekking.
We started off painfully slowly -- Charlie kept yelling at me pole pole!, slowly, slowly. It was totally flat at this point so I was getting pretty impatient -- I was walking at way below my natural walking pace and I was getting really frustrated with the slow pace. The first day of walking took us through the banana plantations at the bottom of the mountain, and through rainforest slightly higher.
The path was muddy and quite steep in parts, but the main thing bothering me was the heat. We emerged from the thickly forested region into the more lightly wooded area where we ended up camping for the night. We had a decent dinner and headed of quite early for bed since it became a bit pointless staying up when you couldn't see anything in the dark. We walked for a total of 6 hours today.
06.02.98 - Day Two of the TrekToday was steeper, we passed from the wooded region into a flatter, rocky region around cloud level. This was a bit more difficult climb though we only walked for about 3-4 hours before hitting camp around midday. I think for me the most challenging part of this climb will be the cold at the top since I am sure I am physically capable (not taking into account the unknown effects of altitude) but I don't think I have enough cold-weather gear.
Right now I'm sitting in my tent trying to escape the wind, cold and rain... might have a bit of a snooze soon to keep the boredom at bay - might write some more later perhaps.
(Later) After my snooze we had dinner and I wandered off up the hill to check out Kili. from the ridge above our camp. There was some cool plants up there that were so white they looked frost-covered. Must be to keep the heat in during the night.
I had a slight headache before my snooze, but now it seems to have disappeared - it comes back, though, if I exercise even slightly. We watched the sun set behind Mt. Muru (Kilimanjaro's Sister Mountain) and took a few photos before it got dark and we headed off to bed for the night.
07.02.98 - Day Three of the TrekI didn't sleep well on the hard ground last night and it was freezing cold. I woke up early and had a bit of a sponge bath in hot water the cook brought us (I sure as hell wasn't going to dive into any freezing mountain water). Despite the water being hot I still got damn cold, but felt better for being a bit cleaner.
We hiked for 5-6 hours today through mostly rocky terrain, passing over a ridge before heading back down to a height only a few hundred meters above our previous nights camp. The walk was quite tiring with lots of up and down walking, even at the slow pace my headache returned a few times.
I'm in camp at the moment, having snoozed for an hour or so while it rained outside and tried to acclimatise. My headache has diminished somewhat, though it is still there. Hopefully it will be gone by tomorrow.
(Later) Joe was sick after dinner. We all felt a loss of appetite due to the altitude, but Joe seems to have gotten the worst of it. My headache was still pretty bad also so we both headed off for an early night. I finished reading my book while it was still light enough to read and Joe passed out.
I waited until dark before trying to get to sleep and I watched the clouds roll around the mountain peak. The clouds at this level look like giant waves of fog -- one minute it is clear and the next completely enclosed in the fog.
08.02.98 - Day Four of the TrekAfter an excellent nights sleep we woke up for the usual delicious breakfast which, as usual, we couldn't finish. Joe and I are both feeling much better, with our symptoms largely diminished. We were in great shape for the day's trek.
To start with we headed out up a steep ridge that looked impassable from a distance but, at closer inspection, turned out to be relatively straightforward. We climbed up and down several such ridges before reaching our 'lunch' camp around 11am. We had our lunch, which was good (I don't seem to be suffering from a lack of appetite as much as expected). Then we set off again over more ridges.
The next few ridges we crossed were relatively straightforward, though it got pretty bad once we started up the final ridge towards the last camp before summit. The rain started up -- which was bad with jeans on and no replacement pants -- and the ridge was a 3 hour killer. We climbed virtually non-stop for the entire time with rain coming on and off. The first time it came was not too bad and I thought I might dry off before camp, but we could hear thunder below us on the mountain, which was somewhat ominous.
The second batch of rain hit harder than the first, soaking my jeans right through. The walk was a killer in the rain, Joe fell behind a bit so I waited for him so he had someone to walk with. From there on it was simply a mind game.
Although we were tired, the real difficulty was just getting one foot in front of the other with no end in sight (and the guide was spectacularly uninformative). We continued onwards, one step at a time - tiny steps no more than one foot each, with deep breathes every two steps. Eventually we made it but my jeans were soaked through so I am sitting with my space-blanket partially wrapped around my legs with my jeans still on trying to dry them with the heat. I need them dry before we start the summit climb at 11pm tonight!
09.02.98 - Day Five - Summit DayWe got woken up at 11pm on the 8th to get ready for the climb to the summit. I had breakfast as usual with no ill-effects so I was reasonably confident. We stared the ascent before midnight, using the moon for light. The further we climbed the more I was affected by headaches and head-spins, though if I concentrated on breathing and stepping it wasn't too bad.
Joe got worse and worse and kept slipping. Teri decided the moon wasn't good enough to see by and turned on her head-lamp, ruining everyone else's night vision in the process.
Eventually Joe was stopping so often we had to split into two groups, Joe staying behind with Charlie and the rest of us continuing along with the assistant guide, Mike. As the climb continued it became harder and harder to keep going, the head-spins became scary and keeping balance was very tricky. Then we hit the snow.
We had moved from the frozen volcanic gravel onto icy snow and we climbed it for what seemed like forever. Brad's coordination got pretty bad and Mike took his pack off him (Brad wanted to summit with his pack on). Towards the top the guides did not seem to know which route to take so it took forever to get anywhere. We had no special snow equipment so the guides had to cut steps in the snow for us in places. By this stage of the climb I felt like I was on the verge of either passing out of throwing up.
We finally reached the top of the snowy section and Joe rejoined us at the top having caught us in the snow-fields since we were moving so slowly cutting the path. My torch batteries ran out just as we hit the top, so I changed them (almost freezing my hands in the process) but the sun was just coming up, so I didn't need it in the end.
We then trudged towards the summit which (apparently) took about an hour. I was totally out of it by then, I was still reasonably coordinated and I could understand what was happening, but I didn't feel like talking at all and just wanted to walk. Finally we reached the summit and many photos were taken - actually I felt like it was a bit of an anticlimax. I certainly didn't feel like the summit was anything special, it was just the end of a very painful walk in my opinion.
The walk back down took forever since the guides insisted we were not allowed to walk on the snow where there was no steps cut for us. I don't think they quite realise how comfortable we are in snow, having spent a lot of time in it. I get the impression that there was more snow on the mountain than usual since the book at the top that you can sign was completely snowed under, and the guides seemed very thrown off by the amount of snow. Anyway, while we would have been perfectly comfortable strolling down the snow-covered mountain, the guides were very overcautious and it took us forever to get down.
As we were descending, Joe deteriorated rapidly, stumbling and talking slowly. He had thrown up blood at the top. Eventually Charlie realised how serious it was getting and sent Joe down ahead with Mike - Teri helped by calling Joe a 'fucking idiot'. I went ahead with Joe and Mike while Brad and Teri stayed back and walked down with Charlie. Joe made it back to camp but wouldn't/couldn't eat anything - eventually he was whisked off by Mike to the next camp down at Mweka Camp. He's still not well, still throwing up blood but I'm convinced the majority of the problem is that he simply hasn't eaten or drunk anything in days.
Now we're at Mweka Camp and its still only 3pm, a very full day, I'm exhausted. It's raining outside (gee, we're in the rainforest again) and my warm cloths are all drenched, luckily I wont be needing them again for a while. God it sucks trying to write a journal in a tent! Today we walked from 12am-7am-11am, and from 12pm-2pm.. lots of walking - 13 hours.
09.02.98 - Day Six of the TrekToday me and Joe got up at 6am to walk back to Mweka village and medical attention for Joe. Joe was feeling a lot better, however, and he managed the 3hour walk without assistance. Because he was so much better we decided against going to a doctor and waited at the park gate for the others to arrive.
We signed off our names to state we had climbed to Uhuru peak and that we were alive and stuff. Charlie was very concerned that we have no complaints about him to either the National Parks or to Zara. I couldn't speak for all of us, but I assured him I didn't have any complaints about him.
We caught a very crowded mini-bus with most/all of the porters in there with us and went back to the Zara office where we were given T-Shirts and our certificates for reaching the summit - though they didn't even put our names on them. Charlie clearly couldn't read because he asked me to read out the comments we had written in the Zara book. I had written 'Very Good' which he seemed quite happy with.
We had a few complaints with the tour office, which I tried to make clear were directed more towards the Tanzanian Government's running of the Park, rather than with the guides. It was a bit worrying that there were no radios at any of the camps if there was an emergency, for example. We then travelled back to the hotel where we are now, re-hydrating and resting, waiting for dinner. Had a shower which, even though it was cold, felt great after 7 days without!
10.02.98 - Travelling Back to NairobiWe had to go back to Nairobi after our climb because Joe's money situation meant that he needed to buy more travellers cheques - which could only be done in Kenya because of Tanzania's ridiculous foreign exchange system. We did the usual double passport check at the Kenya/Tanzania border and got harassed by people selling stuff before finally arriving back in Nairobi at the Greton Hotel which we now regard as something of a home-base.