It’s a Fucking Mountain

Today is special because today we begin a great trek.  We are going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. This mountain is the tallest on four continents, it stands 5895 m tall, that’s around 19000 feet if metric is tough for you. We are taking the Machame route over seven days. This route is the 2nd most popular and also one of the hardest. We will trek from the Machame gate on the western side and then around the mountain until we reach Barafu camp where we will attempt the summit. Here goes nothing…

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Telling myself it would be a gentle stroll was only fooling myself; to my detriment. Up early for a great English breakfast at the hotel, we have packed up our gear and placed it carefully in the courtyard where our team has begun to organize and pack.   Each porter can only carry 25 lbs so there is a very precise weighing and packing system in use. Redistributing supplies on top of our gear to maximize their loads. Everything not coming up with us goes into storage; sort of wishing I had stored more now.

When the gear has been loaded onto a very large and very old truck we are off, it takes about two hours to drive to Machame Gate from our location. We aren’t that far from the park but it is simply massive and we need the right access point for the route we have chosen. Tanzania is a stunning country but noticeably underdeveloped. The roads are lined with brick structures but many are simple and some even incomplete.

Everything looks simpler, no windows or air conditioning. Butcher shops are just open windows to the street with meat hanging in the open air a far cry from the local market I’m used too.  The motorcycle seems to be the preferred method of transport with overfilled minibus taxis a close second.  Yet despite the vast economic differences

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The obviously fertile land is being cultivated for a number of crops including coffee, maze, bananas, and other tropical fruit. Herds of cattle and goats are common at the side of the road. As we get closer to the gate the forest gets thicker, as we climb through it I can hear the truck straining through its gears.  That should have been my first indication that this was not going to be easy.

We reach the gate and unload. As we sign in at the front our porters get started up the path, not that they need a head start. A quick note on porters.  These guys are amazing. I can’t help but feel a little colonialist trekking up this mountain with most of my stuff being carried by 19 locals. That being said there was no way I was making up this monster without them.  

Even my own pack was difficult at times, although I was determined to carry it all the way. The porters were amazing, rushing up the difficult paths ahead of us almost effortlessly, setting up and breaking down our camps so we didn’t have to worry after each long day, and on top of it all they were always so happy and welcoming. It really was a fantastic team that ensured we got up this mountain.

After lunch, we begin from an altitude of 1743 meters.  An 11 km hike up through the cloud forest toward Machame camp. And I do mean up. It is here I realize how I have underestimated this undertaking. The path is well maintained through lush surroundings but it offers few breaks from the uphill climb.  It isn’t always steep and there are some lovely areas where you don’t even think about the constant climb.  The forest is stunning: Lush greens just go on forever as we wind up through the trees. The rich volcanic soil has given life to a forest with a distinctively ancient feel. The trees reach high above us with cyatheales of all sizes surrounding us. These ferns are massive while others creep slowly up the more slender trees.

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Everything in this forest is damp, despite there not being a drop of rain elsewhere, creating a humid atmosphere as we explore this trail. As it gets later and the light begins to fade you can see the vegetation begin to change.  The dirt becomes lighter and more sandy as the trees become shorter and less densely packed. It looks like tonight we will be camping on the edge of this forest as we move along on this trek.

There is little respite as we don’t have a lot of time because of our late start. I’ve been walking for hours and really starting to regret recent life decisions.  Maybe that In-N-Out burger last week wasn’t the best idea? Reassuringly our guide offers us that the end is within reach, just up this last hill. Funny how he failed to mention how long that last hill was.  We finally make it to this fabled camp just after dark, after signing in find our camp nestled away off the path.  We have been hiking for more than 6 hours and I am starving and exhausted. Dinner is so very satisfying after all that. It is clear this is going to be harder than I thought.

Total Distance traveled: 11 km

Total Altitude gain: 1283 m

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