Sunday, January 16, 2011

Two Mountains in One Month

2 Mountains in One Month

I figured instead of writing about each mountain separately I could do a compare/contrast thing. But it ended up really long. Well, here goes.


Mt Meru: 4512 metres, 3 days, 60k, 3000m vertical
Crew: A 53 yr old man from Texas (more or less a colleague) by the name of Tom, an armed ranger, a porter, and me

Mt. Kilimanjaro: 5895 metres, 5 days, 60k, 4000m vertical
Crew: Tom, a guide (we couldn’t do this one independently), 2 porters, a cook, a waiter, an assistant guide, and me

Day 1 Mt. Meru
After learning they don’t accept cash in the parks to prevent corruption, we stood in line at the bank for 45 mins. waiting to get these park cards. Going back and forth between lines and just a lot of red tape we find out that despite these are national park cards, they are only accepted at some parks, of course not the one we were going to. I had put the majority of my money on this card, we were 1.5 hrs out of town, and still had to pay..Luckily, Tom had a Visa card so we paid with that and were so thankful we had wasted 45 mins. of our lives standing in line at the bank for nothing! (Luckily we were able to recover this money later after writing a letter to the branch manager, coming back when they were closed, and eventually getting the money).
After arriving to the park, we found out that the fees for the porters had changed from 10,000 tsh to $10/day. Of course we were in favor of supporting the porters with a better wage, but again not knowing this was very frustrating when it came to budgeting. Then despite we were an independent group they told us we were going to be with 3 Germans and 7 of their porters! We wanted to leave soon so that we could go to the Mt. Meru Crater after arriving at camp and they told us we had to wait for this group. After, yes I’ll admit it, being very stubborn and okay a bit of complaining, they gave in and we got our own group and went to the huts via the crater…Little did we know this would involve an extra 10k. Beautiful botanically, not a whole lot of wildlife, some buffalo scat, lots of ants, a dyka, and a few birds, but a road full of scree and quite literally 20k straight up hill! The crater was beautiful and it was the first time I could just sit there and hear nothing-no birds, no wind, no people, nothing. Despite Lonely Planet guidebook telling us it was a short walk from the hut and the ash cone could be climbed, we found out you needed a special permit from the director of TANAPA (the TZ parks association) and had to be doing geological research. We saw the huge tree that the Meru people consider sacred and our guide who was from the area told us we were the only ones he had ever taken this way. We realized what idiots we were, but it was a beautiful detour! As we arrived to the hut, it began to rain. Perfect timing! This rain was a blessing because it served as fresh drinking water for the next day. We made some delicious soup on our camp stove and attempted cribbage without a board (not recommended). We were the only people without a guide, but we didn’t mind. The huts were really nice! Shared bathrooms with 4 bunks in each room and each group had their own room so we had two spare bunks to put our stuff on and no roommates. We conked out quite early with Ibuprofen digested ready for another day.

Day 1 Kili

We had pre-paid Kili Bike &Trek so we didn’t have to worry about park fees upon arriving. HIGHLY recommend them if anyone is thinking of doing Kili and we got a really good deal (well Kili pricewise). They picked us up from our houses and we went to see the waterfall in Marangu which also included a Chagga (an indigenous tribe) cultural lesson. The first day was only 7k and SO beautiful! We went through the rainforest and saw lots of monkeys, birds, and beautiful green rain forest. Each day had a designated lunch spot with a bathroom (well a square hole in the ground, why it was square I will never know!) and picnic tables. We arrived at the hut and then only had a 15 min walk (contrasted with the extra 10k) to view the crater. We could see the plains of Kenya and a waterfall in the distance. We also saw some hyrax on the way. The huts were a little more basic with a mattress on the floor and much smaller. But the food was substantial! A vegetable soup followed by a main dish followed by fruit, oh and I forgot the tea and popcorn upon arrival. We played cribbage, this time with a board (Tom got me one for Christmas), and went to bed.

Day 2 Mt. Meru

This day was very misleading because it was only 5k..but that actually translated as 4 hrs of stairs! I climbed 1000 official stairs and then probably another 1000 things that I would call stairs but the ranger told me were not included in the 1000. At the top we began to see Little Meru (3800 m). We had dinner around 3:30 and slept from 4-12, ready for the midnight climb.

Day 2 Kili

We left the rainforest and went onto the moorlands. Many open meadows with beautiful flowers, a lot of birds that no guide knew the name of, but black with turquoise and black with red both beautiful!, and had some beautiful views across the mountain. It was a much easier climb than Day 2 Meru with a gradual ascent and a GORGEOUS view! 11k but MUCH more scenic and no stairs :) Pretty uneventful.

Day 3 Meru 12 AM

Made some midnight oatmeal and then began the what-I-didn't-know-at-the-time 6 hr climb! We had a full moon so my cell phone torch was not needed. But I DEFINITELY underestimated 30˚ with no sunlight! In my mind, 30˚ is xc-skiing in a t-shirt so I figured climbing a mountain would keep me warm. I forgot about how cold wind can be and how hard it is to stay warm with no sun. Despite having leggings, two fleeces, a scarf, a hat, and woolen socks, I would say the only thing on me that was warm were my feet. Unfortunately, I had left my other woolen socks at the hut so my poor fingers had to wear cotton socks as mittens, which as you can guess was very poor insulation! My hands were literally molded into the pole position and took quite awhile to straighten them. And so we began pole pole (slowly) up the zigzag ridge. I can do this, I thought to myself. Little did I know this was just the beginning.

We reached the point they call Rhino Point that is the same altitude as Little Meru and then began the true adventure. To get off of Rhino Point, you had to walk down a knife ridge with 100m drop off on each side (remember it's dark). This was followed by walking across a rock wall. My thrill transformed into terror when I slipped on the wet rocks and had nothing to hold onto not being able to see where the drop off was. That was when I began to doubt and yes some tears were shed. The guide was very good, helped me to calm down, and had me put my foot on his, and took my poles so I could tangibly grasp the rocks. Pole pole I made it across, not knowing this wasn't even a 1/4 of the way! Next was climbing up a very narrow volcanic ash cone with huge drop offs on both sides. One wrong step and the rest was history.

At this point, I could feel the altitude and exhaustion and knew the only thing keeping me upright were my poles! After a steep incline and repeating to myself "I can" in as many languages as I could think of over and over again, I made it to the top of the ash cone and began climbing up rocks, more or less rock climbing. I had thought I had seen the top and I kept telling myself the only way is up. But the guide told me that was only the halfway point. That was when I thought I couldn't do it anymore. I have no idea how I continued, but it was getting dark so the guide handed me his headlamp and I continued onward.

After many more ridges, we finally had thought we reached the top-AGAIN-but the sun was on the verge of rising and I told our porter (who became our guide, our guide stayed where he gave me his light and took a nap I later found out) I didn't want to miss the sunrise over Kili-that was my motivation for climbing. So we kept climbing and continued to check for the sunrise. It happened and it was GORGEOUS! We could see Kili peaking above the clouds (see photos on FB) and the light was hitting the ash cone so beautifully. Morning light is so beautiful! The sky turned an aquamarine color and the first rays of warmth for the past 6 hours appeared. I realized how hungry I was and ate some dried fruit and nuts watching the beautiful sunrise. Tom and I looked at each other and were quite content. We had seen the sunrise, we had climbed the ridge, we were ready to go down. But our guide wasn't having it, "Twende," he says (Let's go!). So we continued. After 4 more ridges and 2 more false quits, we reached the boulder, that once we reached the top would FINALLY be the summit. It was marked with the TZ flag. I continued to climb as my eyes were fixed on that flag. There was no way I was giving up now! 40 mins later we had reached the top, signed the registrar, and saw all of Arusha. I tried to locate my house, but it was too foggy and far away.

And then down we went! Down, down down. The drop offs were even more magnanimous than I could ever have imagined in the dark. No wonder you climb in the dark. No one would do it in the daylight! After 4 hrs we made it back to the hut, had a quick lunch, and went down. We figured going down the stairs would be quick..but 3 hrs later we had only arrived at the first hut ready to tackle the last 3 hours down. We took the route that most people took to climb up and after being in a permanent 45˚ angle descent for almost 4 hrs I am very glad we took the longer more scenic way up! I was quite literally limping by the end and there got to a point where I couldn't walk any longer and the park truck came and picked me up. By that time I had walked continuously with an exception for lunch and a brief 5 min stop at the 1st hut for a little short of 16 hrs!!! The only high point was seeing a giraffe and buffalo on the way down. I got my certificate, had a delicious Mexican meal, and fell asleep by 8:30. That was BEYOND pushing my limits, but it just goes to show your body is capable of anything even if you don't think it is. Mind over matter and I felt like I could do ANYTHING after that!

Day 3 Kili

Day 3 for Kili was only the halfway point so not nearly as exhilarating or exhausting. We decided to take the "longer route" (by less than a km) because it was more scenic and brought us to the base of Mawenzi, another peak. On the way, we saw some very interesting rocks appropriately named zebra rocks, an eagle flew over us so I felt we had luck for the night ahead of us (the climb to Uhuru peak), saw many alpine chats (a small bird), and learned many plants. Did you know the pretoria flower from S Africa comes from a flower found in TZ called Pretoa? Or that there are two types of Arica, red and white? This route also gave us our first view of what we would be climbing that night..daunting to say the least, but this view soon disappeared with clouds and fog completely surrounding us. THe last few steps to Kibo Hut were the most difficult as we were now at the altitude of the peak of Mt. Meru, couldn't see what we had already traversed and what was ahead of us except for the hut way off in the distance. Walking on gravel sand that gradually ascended with a chill and sudden sting of cold in the air. I used my Ckon knowledge and started walking up in a zigzag formation not letting myself stop and very thankful for the Camelbak on my back.

Upon reaching the hut, we checked into a much bigger dorm room type hut with 10 other Aussies and tried to not smell the stench coming from the hole-in-the-ground toilets as it is too high for them to empty so nothing circulates...We had dinner at 3:30 and attempted to sleep from 4:30-11.

Day 3 11 PM-Day 4

My alarm clock went off and I brutally made my body leave its warm 30˚ sleeping bag and start piling on the layers. I ended up with a long sleeve, a light wool pullover, a down vest, and a waterproof heavy jacket, wool pants, pants, and snow pants, 2 pairs of wool socks, a scarf, a fleece hat, and goretex warm gloves. No this wasn't overdressing! I was not going to have another Meru again!

This time called for a flashlight as the moon had already left the sky giving us nothing but stars to look at as we began the zigzag climb up to Gilman's point. Note: there was a trail the whole way. I knew there was a 5 hr climb ahead of me and knowing there were only 2 hrs, 1.5, 1, 30 min. etc left really helped! At the halfway point I got some hot tea and ate some chocolate and chapati (Tanzanian tortilla) realizing that was the main problem. I had only eaten 2 biscuits and some hot tea before beginning to climb (they don't give you a lot of food because many throw up with the altitude). Luckily my diamox was doing its job (high altitude pill) except it serves as a diaretic..I started to get a horrible stomachache but in 45 mins would reach Gilman's Point where everyone told me, if you make it there you can do it for sure! Seeing shooting stars also gave me hope, and I saw Venus and Mars, and the sky turn orange in the distance as a thunderstorm occurred in Moshi. BEAUTIFUL.

After Gilman's Point, my water was completely frozen and I saw my first snow since last winter! It was so weird, but yet felt so familiar to be walking on ice and so the trek across the ice cap began. Then the sun began to peak on the horizon and I was on a ridge. All around me glaciers lit up with the ice gleaming, the clouds were like a puffy blanket, and Uhuru Peak was in sight. The hardest part were those last 40 mins to the top! I could definitely feel the altitude, I couldn't drink my water, and I was so tired! But 7:52 AM I finally made it! It was beautiful. I could see Meru across from me, the clouds were completely surrounded and the glaciers were beautiful. Honestly, I think the climb up to Uhuru from Gilman's point onward was just as gorgeous as the peak itself but there I was a bit short of 6000m on the highest point in Africa!

The best part: coming down. Whoever said you need snow and skis to ski is wrong. I skiied in hiking boots, hiking poles, and sand. We began to traverse down the zigzags and then he asked do you know how to ski? And so we went straight down (with more-or-less parallel turning of course) and were at the bottom in an hr 15! It felt so great to ski knowing it was my only opportunity this year and I can now say I've skiied down Kili!

A 20 min rest, a bowl of hot soup, and so began the 8k back to Hurongo Hut where we spent the 2nd night. 8k in my mind doesn't sound like anything, but I assure you this was the longest 8k in my life! Perhaps because I had already done 12k (6k to the top, 6k down), perhaps because I had been awake the past 12 hrs, or because of the nature of the path being super rocky and again in the permanent 45˚ descent making my toes push against the front of my shoes. It involved climbing some ridges and going down, down, down. We went the "shorter route" back and it made me very glad we had done the "longer route" because the shorter route did NOT feel shorter, was not scenic, and was a lot less gradual. We got to camp around 3:15 and I slept til dinner at 5 and then went to bed at 6!

Day 5

Down, down, down. My feet were hurting so badly, but the views and weather were beautiful and I didn't mind going through the rainforest again at all! We reached the bottom, I bought a Kili shirt with all the diff routes and my fav pole pole saying on it, and were treated to Kitimoto (hot pork chops), ugali, fruit, salad, and cold beverages. We finally met the other 3 people in our group who sang the song of Kilimanjaro for us (yes I took a video) and had an awards ceremony receiving our certificates.
Came home and crashed!

And that is the end of my mountain climbing in Africa! Mind over matter! Kili was MUCH easier and really cool to meet people from all over the world! I got to speak some Spanish, a lot of Swahili, and a bit of Italian. Now back to work tomorrow :(

Dar/Zbar entry will have to wait

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you achieve some lifetime memories, good for you for doing both mountains. Wow only a few people do such a thing. Love