Arusha Project

August 12, 2008, 7:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Was it cold out there? Well, yeah, sort of—but not the coldest I have ever been. We were a ragtag team of little engines that could with our rented gear, borrowed and used clothing, and absolutely no training at all. If anything attests to the amateur nature of our trip, the fact that we planned it a week in advance should.

Despite what seemed like an obvious recipe for disaster our “I think I can “ attitudes paired with our sheer happy-go-lucky-ness dragged us to reach the ultimate goal-Uhuru Peak- or for those of you with no Swahili, Freedom Peak. The reward a beautiful sunrise, huge muscle aches, for some a headache like a hangover, and we all got a golden ticket! It is something I will never forget and an accomplishment to always be proud of.

We started our journey on Sunday (Max and I just after returning from a 4 day Safari, and Tim halting work on AIDS education and presentations). Our travels to Moshi were easy enough and we arrived at Mauly Tours to find the building closed and locked. No problems for our fearless travelers- we simply enlisted the help of the locals and found that even though it was a holiday someone would come to open the office for us. That someone was a man named Genesis. What better way to start a journey then with a man named Genesis? He assisted us with planning our route, finding our gear, sending Max and Tim back to Arusha and taking us to the hotel. While Tim and Max went home to Arusha I held down the fort, room 3C, and made friends with the bartender, Lucky—see, good omens all around. Max and time returned later that evening and after an excellent night’s sleep (Tim woke at 5 am because he was anxious) we were on our way. We met our guide Robert and our team Jerome (asst. guide), Diplo (cook), Jomo (waiter), and Hansi, Simon, Rashidi, Micahel, Nelly and Jumo (our porters….I remembered all their names woot!)We left that morning full of optimism, stocked with chocolate, and ready for adventure- we headed for the Machame Gate.

The Machame gate as our guide explained to us is the whiskey route of the mountain. It is a more difficult hike but because of all the ups and downs in the elevation climbers usually get acclimated more easily and therefore have better success at reaching the summit. After the porters had weighed our gear and began ahead of us…we waited at the gate playing cards. We signed the registry to make sure we didn’t get misplaced along the way and FINALLY when it was time to go, we began our ascent. The first day our trip was spent in the rainforest. The shades of green and the mist in the trees that surrounded us was peaceful and exciting. We were three children on their first day of school, filled with anticipation and curiosity; we stopped frequently to ask questions. Why are the clouds so low? What kind of tree is this? Are there leopards here? When will get to the summit? It was a beautiful, muddy and slow climb to first camp. When we finally reached our camp we had a wonderful view of the Western Bridge. We enjoyed Kilimanjaro beer with our dinner. This journey would not be complete without enjoying a Kili beer on Kili mountain.

The two boys had a tent to share affectionately called the gas chamber, and the lone female was left to her peace in a separate tent. We dined like kings that night and went to bed early anxious for the next day to begin. The second day we were in the morelands and headed for Shira Peak Camp. The moorlands know for their ghostly trees and everlasting flowers are the third highest zone on the mountain. Our lunches along the way were packed in the morning for us and we ate them either along the trail or at a small lunch site. I over came my fear of peeing in the open, I abandoned toilet paper and made sure that I was as low maintenance as possible. Temperatures were cold in the morning but the skies cleared and the sun came out later in the day. We made it to Shira camp with no problems and after a short rest we went out to explore the area with Robert. Shira Camp is home to a small area of grasslands where it is possible to go on Safari if you choose. The Peaks in the distance are jagged against the billowy clouds and Robert was kind enough to show us how things used to be while climbing Kili. There are caves at Shira camp and if you were a lucky porter you got to stay in one of them. By lucky I mean sleeping with 40 other men, stinking, tired, and sore in a small cave no higher then 4 feet tall. We began the short hike back to our camp to have tea and dinner and then off to sleep. Typical Americans.

Day three began and it was cold. We were icy from sleeping through a small rainstorm and after an amazing breakfast of porridge, tea, eggs, veggies, and hotdogs we were on our way. On today’s schedule was lava tower. As a volcano (either active or inactive the poll is still out) Kilimanjaro is home to amazing rock formations left from the combination of lava flows and wind power. Starting at 3900m Lava Tower rises to an elevation of 4600m. Our day began with a three hours trek through the moorlands and after a short break for lunch our amazing daredevil crew decided it was time for a little rock climbing adventure. The rocks were steep and there were no spotters to help but when given the opportunity to climb higher, one must take it. When we reached the top of lava tower, no casualties had happened and celebration pictures ensued. Reaching our maximum elevation of 4600m, watching other teams pass us with their marching band style approach, we began to descend to finish the two hours hike down to our camp at 3850m. On our descent to camp we began to see the Giant Sinesea flower/tree/plants. Ranging from 4-12ft tall we paused to catch our breath near them. We took some photos and compared them to Pokemon characters. Our camp that night was in the clouds and with small glances of the western bridge looming over we could feel that were almost there and yet we knew that the most difficult part was still to come. We went to sleep, it was cold, we were in the clouds and so the haze only lent to the darkness. We slept with ravens stalking our leftovers in the misty dark going hungry “Nevermore”. Tim began feeling the effects of a headache most likely brought on by altitude sickness but after a mixed chlorophyll drink and so Dimox he began to feel better. Clouds were frozen to our tents in the morning and after finding our ascent route over the Baraka Wall we timidly began. The wall was a direct ascent for 500m straight up a rocky terrain. Ever impressed with the porter’s strength, resilience, and apparent relations to mountain goats… we thought if they can do it carrying 45 kilos surely we can do it alone.

Our day 4 ascent was tricky and cold in the shadow of the mountain but we reached the top of the wall to find we only had two hours to go…. until lunch. We then descended a ways and then ascended again, only to find ourselves descending in to another valley and finally stopping for lunch a top another ascent. We were behind so slower climbers at this point and our hunger and frustration were adding up. Everyone was feeling much better knowing that many of the climbers would be left behind at our lunch camp as we continued hiking for another 4 hours until we reach Barafu Camp- otherwise know as Ice camp, at the base of the summit circle. We strapped on our hiking gear after lunch of chips kuku (chicken and fries) we made another descent into the lava flows of the great Kilimanjaro. We found some slate and took time out to do some quick shot games learn some IMPORTANT Swahili from Robert. The day was getting longer and warmer as being above the clouds tends to increase your chances of sunburn and dehydration. We pressed on only 4 more hours to Barafu, yes that is right about 8-9 hours of hiking today. By the time we reached Barafu camp we had time to get settled in our tents, change into warmer gear, and watch the sun set. The sunset was a wonderful blend of pinks and oranges dancing in the cotton candy clouds. We had a wonderful view of the mountain in Arusha, Mt. Meru, and the watching the colors of the sunset almost brought me to tears. We finished dinner as the temperature continued to drop (they don’t call it ice camp for no reason) and after dinner we went straight to bed. We were to begin our summit climb at midnight.

Midnight came much too quickly for me. Luckily I was already dressed in order to sleep I had to put on all my clothes. After an energy snack of chocolate and tea we began our climb into the night. The sky was clear and the night was mild. We could see billions of stars; more stars than anywhere for there were no lights or clouds to get on our way. The night was beautiful. We began our ascent to the summit only focusing on the feet in front of us not realizing how steep we were climbing. All of our light came from our headlamps. I was fortunate to have mine quit about two hours in to the climb. The ascent to the summit was a never ending pathway of soldiers marching with their own motivation, their own light, and their own inner conversations to ensure that they continued onward and upward the 70 degree incline (at least) of sheer faced frozen rock. As we continued marching on in the night seemingly never nearing our goal, my legs got tired, Tim’s head hurt, Max’s situational questions lingered in the air unanswered. Robert kept going pole pole (slowly) the African way. You learned a lot about yourself on the way up. I was reduced to the high school version of myself always pushing myself to the limit is soccer practice. Knowing that no matter how hard I kicked myself I could always get up. There were times when I almost gave up too. I cried, I threw my pole… it was really upsetting me that morning, and then I kept going. Tim and Max had headaches to make Jack Daniels jealous. Then out of nowhere we made it to the first real rest we had all night at 5:45am we reached the top of the climb, . The sun began to rise and although my heart was set on watching the sunrise over Kilimanjaro we still had to make it to the very top, another 45 minute hike away. Now to all of you out there who may be thinking that a 45 minute hike may not be that far… let’s keep in mind that we are tired, exhausted, dehydrated, delirious, and just plain at the last our wits. Nevertheless our attitudes kept us going and although I was a little behind the boys we all made it to UHURU PEAK by 6:35 am. The sunrise at the peak was gorgeous. Sandwiched between to oceans of clouds the most beautiful sun was filling the sky and land with light. The most beautiful early morning light you have ever seen, untouched by pollution, tall buildings and other man made creations.

Little did we know at that point that we also had to get down the mountain. Personally I was spent. My body was intoxicated with lactic acid and although my brain was functioning well… my feet and legs would not listen to it. My journey down the mountain was as simple as being dragged down a sandy slope by Jerome our assistant guide until we reached about 2000m from camp and I was rested enough to continue to walk the rest of the way. Max and Tim both ran/fell ahead of me trying to get back to camp as quickly as possible. Their heads were not feeling well, and sleep was the only much needed remedy for all of us. Unfortunately our day had only just begun. After a two hour nap and a nutritious meal we were on the road again. We had to hike to the next camp a 5 hour trek through extreme mud, blinding cloud cover and mind altering exhaustion. At least we were going downhill. We were back in the moorlands by the end of the day and after dinner we all turned it. The mud was inches thick but surprisingly was the most comfortable bed we had had all week. I slept from 8:30pm until 7 am then next morning at wake up call, through the rain and the wild dogs. My body was grateful for the rest.

The next morning was our last day of hiking… to say the least we were ready to go home. We were ready for beds with warm blankets, hot showers, and food that could be eaten and enjoyed not just used for energy. We took photos of our last day, our crew and our guide and began our final descent off the mountain. The rain had proved an equal opponent and made the path a complete mud bath. Mud that in some places went up to our ankles… or knees depending on how lightly you stepped slowed our journey down to the gate. What was supposed to be a two hour journey turned into a 5 hour precision work out. Muscles that were already sore groaned from the concentration and intensity. Max and Tim raced ahead; I was too tired, or too intelligent not to torture my body further. We reached the gate around 11:30 and proceeded to go to the registration to get our golden tickets. “I got a golden ticket” played on in our heads as we drove back to Moshi to unload or gear, say goodbye to our new friends, and finally get a bus back to Arusha. After a two hours bus ride mostly passed by napping and minor conversations with our neighbors we arrived in Arusha. We returned home to an empty house… and proceeded to take showers. I realized in the shower that I was in fact a real girl. We ate like no tomorrow, and then after a day’s rest decided to share our photos and story with the group. We three had accomplished what very few do, we climbed the 4th highest mountain in the world, we conquered our inner ghosts, pushed through an extreme challenge and we will always have the memories.


1 Comment so far
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thank you for the excellent descriptions; I’m going in mid september and it helps to know details like you gave
well done too; I hope I can also get a golden ticket!

Comment by lindsay vale

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