Kilimanjaro Calls David Up !

Kilimanjaro Climb
Well this mountain has been calling to me since we firstarrived in Tanzaniain early January.  From those first viewsfrom the Moshi YMCA and it’s omnipresence at Kilema Hospital,I have been looking and observing its various moods and routes.  
The day arrived on Friday, January 20 when we were picked upby the Marangu Hotel driver to be taken for our equipment outfitting and climbbriefing.   I was greatly relieve to hearthat I would have company on my climb as when I had checked in earlier in theweek, I was the only client !  I now had3 young Swiss hikers with me. (2×20 yr olds women and 1 22 yr old guy).  My three swiss companions were from a smallDorf (village) about 45 minutes from Zurich.  Raphael (22 yrs old) and Monika (20 yrsold)  were cousins and Sybil (20 yrs old)was a long time friend.  Raphael was acarpenter and farmer and the young women worked with disable children.  They spoke Swiss-German so my hike would alsobe a cultural language experience as I would be learning some Swiss Germanexpressions on this trip.   Needless to say, I was a bit concerned thatthis old guy may have his work cut out for him to keep up with these “kids” whenwe reached the trailhead.
I outfitted myself with some final equipment items and hadmy gear “inspected” by the equipment manager.  A somewhat earnest Dora (initial impression is that she had a bit of theEquipment Nazi in her|) had a look at my sleeping bag and other cold weatherclothing carefully to ensure that I would not suffer from the affects of the colderweather as we ascended to the higher camps.   I assured her that both my sleeping bags and other cold weatherequipment and withstood the extremes of West Coast mountain conditions but shewas unperturbed and pointed to a few missing items that she felt I should havein my backpack.    She helped me pick outa balaclava and some warmer long underwear/gloves, which would prove to begreat suggestions as we moved further up the mountain.
Dora checks out my gear to see if it will pass.
Seamus gives the Swiss Group the low down.
We had a great briefing from one of the family members thatowns the hotel. Seamus provided us with great insights from someone that hasclimbed the mountain many times and  heemphasized a motto that would be a refrain echoed throughout the trip – polepole (slowly slowly), drink lots of water and eat as much as you can force downat each sitting.  Afterwards, we went tomeet our support crew of guides, cooks and porters.  They totalled 13 and I must admit that I feltas though I was heading out on major Himalayan expedition.   We left our Kilema support crew behind as weheaded out on the road to our trailhead with the the climbing group and supportteam.   As we had chosen the Rongairoute, it required us to head around to the Kenyan side of the mountain.   After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at thetrailhead to our first camp, Simba Camp.
It was a nice and relaxed 3 hour hike which gave us time toget know each other and get familiar with the pace of the group.   We quickly noticed that both the cook andporters moved at a significant faster pace than the guides and hikers.   This would allow them to get out ahead oftheir clients so that both their accommodation and food would be underpreparation well before we arrived.   Withbeing accustomed to both packing food and shelter and  setting up and breaking camp when I go in theoutdoors in Canada, this was a guilty pleasure that I could get used to !
After a our leisurely hike through a lower forest, we foundourselves at our first camp, Simba.  Wewere introduced to our first full course meal on the trail, complete with asoup appetizer, main course and dessert !  We realized that we would not go hungry on this trip !    The guide gave us our nightly briefing onthe next day and had us prepare for a slightly longer hike on the next day.
We started our hike towards Kikelelwa the next morning at8:30am.  At this point, the terrainbecome slightly steeper and the forest canopy disappeared and was replaced bylow bushes and rockier and more exposed terrain.    Pace and distance on this leg of the tripgave us a good test and was well paced by our intrepid pace setter, Ernest.   An interesting character with quiet anddetermined demeanor and physically strong like a bull.   We are quite familiar with the paceattributed to Swiss Guides whereby the stride does not change whether the guideis ascending, descending or on flat terrain.  Ernest carried this motto to Tanzanian and established his own Tanzanianguide pace.  Quite remarkable as he didnot walk particularly fast but was the hallmark of consistency under tougherconditions (as we would learn later in the trip).  He managed to keep this pace while carryingmultiple items in a backpack, over his shoulder and on his head !
 We arrived atKikelelwa later in the afternoon and as before, camp was setup and cooking inprogress.   At this point, the sister peak of Kilimanjaro, Mwenzi, was beginning toloom large in the distance.   A spectacularpeak, which although not as high as Mt.Kilimanjaro,  presents a much greater climbing challengethan it’s higher sibling.   We enjoyedanother great meal, and our cook, Nico, put together the first Lasgna (&probably last) dinner above 3000 metres that I have ever had.
An example of the cooking magic that the crew worked up for us on the mountain !
As we approached this campsite, we had noticed a plume ofsmoke that had started back close to our first camp (Simba).  The guides had indicated that it was likelystarted accidently by honey farmers that light fires to smoke out the bees whenthe want to harvest.   With the highwinds blowing across the slopes this bush fire had spread quite dramaticallyand we were concerned that it may blow up the hillside.  The guiding team seemed quite calm when weapproached them with our concern and merely said – “Hakuna Matata”” (loosetranslation – it is ok, take it easy). Sure enough, the smoke trail and fire glow were gone when we awoke thenext morning.
The next day dawned clear again, and after yet another greatbreakfast, we proceeded onto the Tarn Camp at Mawenzi.   This camp would be at the foot of Mawenziand provide a very close-up view of this peak.  As we proceeded towards Mawenzi, the terrain became increasingly morelike a desert and low scrub brush was replaced rock and rubble and with anyvegetation centred oasis type conditions (small creeks, etc).
Mawenzi Camp(our tent in front)
Prior to dinner, our guides took us up above the camp to geta closer view of the Mawenzi.   As we reachedthe top of the ridge, our expedition’s goal was revealed to us in greaterdetail than we had seen prior to this point.  At our left we could see the craggy spires of Mawenzi and at our rightthe open slopes of Kilimanjaro with the approach to Gillman’s Point clearlyvisible above Kibo Hut.   With our finaldestination in sight, sleep that night was going to prove a little moredifficult.
Just below Mawenzi – only one more day to the summit !
After a fitful sleep likely due to nerves and the altitude,we set off across the great divide between Mawenzi and Kilimanjaro.   This moonscape terrain between the two peaksis easy walking but buffeted by strong winds and that every present dust anddirt that is part of this section of the climb. The travel time  was estimatedbetween 3-5 hours and our guides were even more emphatic on our pacing – polepole – as we were to gain only 200-300 metres but this was technically summitday for us as we would setting off for the peak at midnight on this day so theywere very keen to keep our energy levels up !  So what does this writer go off and do ?   Feeling good and wanting to test myself, Istrode off at a slightly faster pole pole pace !   I arrived ahead of most of the group andhelped with some of the camp setup in very high winds. 
After a light lunch, we explored the surrounding carmp areaincluding Kibo Hut and had a small walk up the route to Gillman’s point that wewould climbing later that evening.
There was nervousness in the group with the realization thatwe would be making the final ascent up to the peak in just a few hours.  We prepared the contents of our summit backpack prior togoing to bed and retired at 6:00pm.
Nymon brings in the pre-summit carbo loading pasta meal
Summit Night
After dinner, the team retired to bed to try and get somesleep prior to our 11:00pm wake-up call.  The wind had calmed down so we were hopeful that we could get some sleepbefore starting our midnight ascent.   Unfortunately, a combination of nerves, altitude and an ever increasingwind conspired to keep me awake until the call came to get up.  As a result, I was the first one in the cooktent having my tea and biscuits as the rest of the team came in.    At this point, the wind was very strong andDora’s warning’s of the cold came back to me.  I had dressed with just enough layers to be a little cold and wasanxious to get going once we had been assembled by the guides.   A number of groups had already set out andwe could see their groupings of headlamps ahead of us as we started on ourascent.
Ernest led the way with his usual steady and consistentpacing.   To resist the urge to go tofast, I fell in behind my Swiss friends and we kept a very consistent pace aswe proceeded up the first section.   Thewind, darkness and cold combined to make it a very eerie and surreal atmospherefor climbing.   We began to catch up withsome of the other groups as we proceeded up the trail.  As we passed each other, there was aquiet  acknowledgement of the task athand and best wishes.   After each hour,we would ask the guides on our progress as we really thought that we would become under the expected 5 hours to Gillman Point.  Alas, we were always told that we were stillon track for the 5 hour timeframe.   Ataround the last hour of the ascent, the girls were beginning to feel thealtitude and we resting more.   Raphi andI both felt it as well but appeared to have a little more energy   After acknowledging to Ernest that we wantedto get to Uhuru Peak for sunrise, he quickly stepped in and led us to Gillman’sPoint as fast a possible and left the girls with Elias and Stephan.
At this point, we were feeling fine and moved onto Gillman’sPoint which we made within a 10-15 minutes.  The altitude and lack of sleep was beginning to hit me at Gillmans andwhen Ernest indicated that we need to hurry to reach Uhuru by sunrise, I wasnot sure I was able.  I felt that I couldsleep standing up but once Ernest and Raphael started out, there was no way thatI was going to be left behind.   We setout on the rim trail at a good pace.   Itwas well marked and worn but it traversed a few snow slopes that required somecareful walking.    As we proceeded downthe trail, I needed quick breaks to keep myself energized and as we approachedthe high trail, I could see the sky begin to glow red and I knew that it wouldbe close.   As I came up on the ridge,the trail was filled with other climbers and they helped drag me along to thesummit in time to see the sun begin to rise.  Ernest, Raphael and I gathered together for some summit photos.   To our surprise, just after the sun hadbegun to rise, the girls and remaining guides (Elias, and Stephen)arrived.   We had a great reunion on thepeak with the group and took a photo of us all on the summit to celebrate our group achievement.
Sunrise summit at Uhuru with Ernest
Crater Rim Trail
Raphael “scree laufen” down the slope to Kibo

The entire group – David,guides Stephen, Elias, and Ernest (seated) Sybil, Monika and Raphael (seated)on the Top of Africa
We came away from the summit exhilarated and proceeded backalong the rim trail.   We had great viewsof the upper glaciers (over 50 metres high), crater and surrounding peaks (Mt. Mehru,etc).   The group descended along thetrail to Gillman’s and as soon as the slope permitted, we engaged in some“scree skiing” (or scree laufen auf deutsche).  Despite weary and sleepy bodies, we were able manage a few turns in ourdescent to Kibo Hut,
After our return to Kibo, we were allowed a few hours rest,prior to packing up and heading down towards Horombo camp on the Marangu route.
The Descent – Kibo toHorombo and back to Marangu Hotel
The descent would take us down a different route than ourascent.  We had ascended on the drierside (Kenyan side) and we would descend on the Tanzanian side down the popularMarangu route.  
We had one last camp at Horombo Camp prior to finishing thedescent at Marangu gate.  It was 3-4 hourdescent from Kibo to Horombo, and we could feel the affect altitude begin tofall away as we descended.   We campednext to the hut facilities at the Horombo camp and enjoyed a few more amenitiesin comparison to Kibo although the price tag on the Kilimanjaro beerdiscouraged any pre-mature celebrations.  All of us caught up on some much needed sleep from our deprivation ofthe last couple of days.
In the morning, we had dress rehearsal for our celebrationin the afternoon, as we saw a few groups celebrating their climb by gatheringin a circle and singing the traditional Kilimanjaro song
Out final leg of the descent saw the trail move throughscrub brush to lush forest.    Thefollowing sequence of photos show some of the diversity in the vegetation as wemade our descent.

Marangu Hotel
The weary porters, guides, cooks and climbers returned to Marangu hotel for a welcome shower and cleanup.   We had a wonderful post-climb party with the group where we celebrated and treated to a stirring rendition of the Kilimanjaro Song by the group and each of us received our official certificates.

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