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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mweka Gate (Day #10 Feb 21 2011)

This was it. It was a great nine days.  The four of us had been to the Roof of Africa.  This was going to be our last day on our mountain.  After the rain, snow and fog of the first seven days the last three were bright and sunny.  It was a refreshing morning.  I packed my stuff as usual, but with a small difference.  I bagged a bunch of my stuff which I had no need for back home in the US, stuff that I had more of and stuff that I would not ever use unless I planned another mountain in the future.  And this was unlikely, what with my thighs feeling as if they had been neatly skewered and grilled to perfection, my right big toe with the large clot under the nail, promising to come off in the very near future.  No, I did not need those things; expedition grade wool socks, the old Gore-Tex jacket and fleece combo, the gaiters, the old pair of sneakers, a pair of fleece pants.  All stuff that I knew the porters treasured.  They could do with some "new" gear.  Hell, some of them were worn just a few days.  And that brings me to the subject of personal hygiene.  None of us had showered for the last 10 days, not since that last trickle of warm water dribbled down our bodies from the jungle shower at the Ndarakwai Ranch.  I had with me a pack of Adventure Medical Kits Fresh Bath Wipes.  They were the next best thing to a bath.  I am not kidding.  Each evening, on getting to the camp, I usually bathed with those towels and I swear I smelled like a "rose"!!  I am not sure that's an accurate description, but it sure sounds good and I didn't smell bad either.

Well, we got breakfast done and slowly started making our way to Mweka Gate, a quick 3-hour walk,  all down hill and a nice well-marked path, slick at places from all that moisture in the tropical rainforest, through which we were now making our way.  We had passed through the rain forest on our way to Moram Gate, but that had been in the confines of the Land Rover and we never got to experience it.  Now the music of the jungle was all around us.  In moments of quiet respite, the sounds of the jungle emerged from its depths, the twitter of birds, the far away holler of the monkeys, a branch  broken by an unseen hand, the playful jabber of the mountain stream as it made its way to the plains.  All these and more we heard and then moved on, the silent ferns marking our passage with nary a nod.  These were some of the largest ferns I had seen, some of them growing at least twelve feet or more.  The rays of the morning sun competes with the canopy for a chance to bathe the undergrowth with a little brightness.  The waning moon was still in the West reluctant to give up the night,  Mt. Meru reaching up to meet it.

Waning moon over Mt. Meru (Photo by Nora/Renee)

The trail ends about two miles or so from the gate.  There is now a dirt road where an ambulance might come to the trail head to transport an incapacitated climber or porter.  Long before we got to the gate we could hear the bustle of the vehicles and the throngs.  We round a bend and the vehicles came into view first followed by the buildings.  There was a crowd there now.  It looked like a Calcutta market place, with a "corporation" of vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs.  And then there were the shoe washers.  Our shoes were understandably dirty and a good clean wash was what was needed.  There were a bunch of young 'uns who wanted to have a go at my shoes, but I gave that privilege to a wizened old lady who did a wonderful job with my shoes.  Walking into the rest room was a shock.  I hadn't looked into a mirror for the last 10 days and for a moment there I did not recognize the scruffy grey bearded man looking back at me.  Once we were all freshened up, we signed-off the mountain in a massive ledger at the office and then got together with the rest of the team for a "champagne" lunch.  It was time for the certificates.  Bernarde gave a short speech and distributed the certificates with much joy all around.  There was dancing and laughter.  I then gave my little note of thanks … in Swahili.  I had stayed up late for the last few nights and rummaged through the little phrase book and pieced together a few sentences.  I then got my friend Prosper to correct it for me.  Here's how it went:

"Shikamoo." (greetings)  "Habari zena." (How are you) "Asanti sana" (Thank you very much)"
Turning to Bernade and Goody I say, "Asante kwa kwangazu safari nzuri sana"  (Thank you for running a great safari)
Turning to the porters, " Asante kwa kubeba mizigo yetu" (Thanks for carrying our bags)
To Richard, the cook, "Chakula kitama sana."  (The food was delicious)
"Napapenda hapa" (I like it here)
"Nasi kitika kidogo" (I am a little sad), "Lakhini nadhani nimeugua kwa sababu ya kimo" (But I think I am suffering from mountain sickness)
"Mia sita hamsini (600) katika 'in' bahasha"  (There is $600 as tips in the envelopes)
"Nimefurahi kukfahamu" (It was great meeting you)
"Heri zotei" (God bless) and "Bahati njema" (Good luck)

Most of our team along with the hoard of vendors and hangers on found it amusing.  That must have been one of the worst renditions of the Kiswahili language  they had ever heard but I am quite sure that it was also one of the few "thank you" speeches that they understood fully.  The tips were distributed, all were happy.  It was sad to part, Nora, Renee and Ken had a safari to complete and I had lives to save!  Naseebo helped me carry my bags to the Land Rover.  He had been a good man.  I liked him.  I slipped him an extra twenty.  He was happy too.  I hate to think that we may never cross paths again but I hope some time in the future I get a chance to meet up with some of them.  To my fellow climbers, Renee, Nora and Ken,  I owe my thanks and gratitude for the memories, for the friendship and for the trust we placed in each other.  May y'all climb to greater heights in life but always remember the snows of Kilimanjaro.  (Sorry Papa)

Asanteni sana.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The descent to Mweka Camp (Day #9 Feb 20th 2011)

Sunrise from Stella Point looking towards Mawenzi (Photo by Ken)

I slept soundly until about 4am, when I awoke to the pitter patter of tiny feet, nah, it was the clomp clomp of hiking boots not feet from my head.  She spoke in whispers, this unseen lady who had made it to Stella Point from Barafu Camp, considerate of the sleeping climbers, at least one of whom was awake, noting her passage to the summit.  They stopped awhile and were gone.  More came, most not very considerate of the sleeping climbers.  Some whooped their achievement in the stillness of the night.  Most just talked loud, you could have heard them a mile away.  Maybe, they were just jealous of us, who were asleep.  They came in batches, a cacophony of different languages, and a myriad of accents, only to fade away as they climbed into the darkness, that final steep ridge above Stella Point.

In the pre-dawn, Adam made his rounds with his cups of tea.  I would love to say it was a refreshingly cool, but it was not.  There was a bite to the wind that morning.  It was time to leave.  Bernarde asked Ken and me to descend with Goody, Prosper and Mwelu.  Before long Ken was way ahead of me, his athletic physique enabling him to easily maneuver the steep descent like a champion downhill skier, while my ponderous body "polé-poléd" its way downhill.  It was painful.  The scree was a lot worse here than on the side we had climbed.  Our feet sunk in a good three inches or more and there was no grip to speak of.  When the sunken foot and scree came across a sizable rock it stopped your foot moving and that gave you a chance to take the next step.  By the time we were at Barafu camp I was moving slowly indeed, very slowly.  Each painful step supported by the hiking sticks, without which I am sure I would have had to be carried down.  My thighs felt like they were on fire.  My right big toe reminded me of its painful presence with every step.  And we were only three and a half hours into an eight hour trek.  I was not going to make it at this rate.  I limped into Barafu where we met up with the remainder of the camp staff who did not come to Stella Point.

Here we reunited the luggage we had taken with us to the top with all the rest of it that had stayed back. We rested, I stretched out on a chair, the pain eased to a throb.  I got Prosper to redo my shoes.  He tied it nice and tight, for, you see, there lay my fault having not tied the shoes tightly, leaving my foot to move within the shoe and slamming my first toe against the front with each step.  Refreshed, we take leave.  This time it was just Ken and I and Prosper and Miwelu, Goody having stayed back to ensure all the stuff left Barafu in an orderly fashion.  Prosper was a great guide.  He knew all the plants and pointed them out to us.  We stopped at regular intervals to rest for a few minutes. It was a few minutes down this path that Prosper gave me some very valuable advice.  He tells me that, "polé-polé" was all fine when going up but when descending you go as fast as you can and take long steps rather than short ones.  That bit of sage advice made all the difference.  The longer steps and the tighter shoes made the rest of the descent a helluva lot less painful.  My toe still hurt but at least it was not getting worse.

At Millennium Camp we stopped for lunch.  There were already tents here awaiting climbers who had gone up from Barafu in the dead of the night on their summit bids.  We rested here.  I took off the layers down to regular pants and a base layer for the top.  It was getting warmer.  I gave my Gore-Tex pants to Bernarde.  It had served me well but  I had no use for it once I came off the mountain and he could make use of it .  Lighter, and much refreshed we started towards Mweka Camp.  Before long the trail gave way to a well-marked path lined on each side with small logs of wood, perhaps to keep the trail from getting washed away.  We went through all the different climactic zones we had been through on our way to the summit albeit at a much higher speed, as we passed through all five zones in a single day.  By the time we got to Mweka Camp, the humidity and the temperature were noticeably up.  At the main office we checked-in in the large bound register and then got us all a nice can of Kilimanjaro Beer.  I am not sure how good it is, but on that day and at that moment it was awesome.  We found our camp and before long the ladies were at camp too, having survived the descent in a not too shabby fashion!  The night sky was phenomenal once again.  Ken saw his second satellite.

Dinner was chicken "stew" and rice, fruit and all the usual makings.  It prompts Ken to say, "Nimeshiba", a respectful way of saying, "I am full" (the food was great).  Ever since we started eight days back the two guides would sometimes join us for dinner, but would then go over to the kitchen tent to eat Ugali, the stuff that "gives lots of strength and stamina"!!!  I was keen to try it out but did not want to take the risk on the way up, and I had asked Richard to include me for Ugali on our last night on the trail.  Ugali is a staple of Tanzanian food and is quite similar to polenta, only a little tougher.  I break off a small piece, dip it in the chicken sauce and with a piece of chicken to accompany it, soon it was nimeshiba for me too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Summit Bid (Day #8 - Feb 19th 2011)

Mawenzi sunrise
Coffee was good this morning.  It was 4:15 a.m.  It was chilly.  The three layers plus the jacket helped.  It was still dark.  No one spoke much, it was much too early for talk.  At least it had stopped raining.  Everyone had their head lamps lit and breakfast was under the lights.  I don't remember what we had for breakfast, it must have been something good and nutritious, it always was.  We start off at 6:15 a.m.  The path out of camp got steep very quickly.  A few yards out and we were clambering over rocks, icy, and still wet from the rain.  They were not very slippery though, probably because they were mostly greatly pitted volcanic rock, the pits providing a natural grippy surface.  It wasn't easy, but going "polé polé" (Swahili: "slowly slowly) our mantra right from day 1 helped immensely.  We did not go straight up, instead traversing the base of Kibo in a Westerly direction.  We note there are cairns marking the path as far as we can see.  The path then merges with the one coming from the Kibo Huts camp which we see about a 1000-odd feet below us.  The climbers from Kibo Huts are long gone, having left the comfort of their tents for the summit bid around midnight.  That way they get to the summit at sunrise and back to camp by midday or earlier, to then get off the mountain the same day.  I don't think they get to enjoy, nay, experience the mountain as much as us.  We had a whole night on the mountain coming up.

Hans Meyer Cave
Now the climb begins in earnest.  The light is better and the headlights come off.  Its steep.  Where were the switch backs we had read about?  Far above us we could just discern the climbers descending from the mountain.  In a trance-like state we continue the climb, each painful step brings us a little closer to the summit.  Hans Meyer cave is not much of a cave at all.  It appears to be a hollow below a rather large slab of rock whose flat bottom side just did not make it all the way to the floor.  Hans Meyer is supposed to have rested here on his way to the summit on his third attempt on October 5th 1889.  It's a good thing that the highest peak on Mawenzi is named after him, because this cave is a kinda crappy way to honor the first European to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  To the side is a plaque with a memorial to Samuel Teleki, who was supposed to have rested here too, being the first European to get to the snow line on Mount Kilimanjaro.  He made two more attempts to get to the summit but never made it to the top.  Like all the greats before us we rest here too.  We don't rest too long.

Just below Gilman's Point the switch backs disappear and , thankfully, so does the scree. Now it's climbing over and in between rocks.  Walking is now painful.  I had had dreams of taking beautiful pictures on the climb, but right now, all I looked at were the boots of the person in front of me.  I thought about my school flag in my back pack.  I was going to fly it on the summit.  We could see our "lunch" team waiting for us at Gilman's Point but it was another hour and a half before we clambered over that last rock to reach Gilman's Point  5681 m (18747 ft).  Gilman's Point is the culmination of the most physically demanding portion of the climb.  Officially, when you get here, you have climbed Kilimanjaro, and you get a certificate saying so.  But this is not the summit.  It is just less than 600 ft below the summit.  It is named after a Mr. C. Gilman who climbed to the summit n 1929.  I have searched around for some insight into the man but have not been able to come up with much.  When he got to the summit there was no universal agreement on the height at the summit, and he made calculations which determined the "newest" height of the peak. 

Resting at Gilman Point 

Here we had lunch.  It was 2 p.m.  Altitude sickness was rearing its ugly head among some of us.  Thankfully it was not bad, just a slight loss of appetite and headache.  About this height there is only about half the oxygen one would have to breathe at sea-level.  Kit-Kats never tasted so good!  I think I had a couple of extra bars kindly donated by my fellow climbers.  The crater was snow-filled and featureless.  The clouds filled the crater, but the wind blew incessantly and before long the crater was brilliantly lit.  We could see the Northern and Eastern Ice fields in the distance.  Goody pointed out the summit to us.  It still seemed a bloody long way off and still a lot higher than where we were.  Bernard made a decision to split the group.  Ken and I were to go ahead with Goody, Mwelu and Prosper.  The trek to Stella Point (5752 m)  was not particularly difficult, although walking along the inside of the crater's edge, with the sun's brilliant glare reflecting off the ice covered rim of Kibo, the sharp drop off into the crater, made for some careful stepping.  The path is icy and the walk was punctuated by frequent slips and slides.  The trekking poles were of a great help.  At Stella Point our tents were already up.  We were supposed to have camped within the crater but with the crater so full of snow, Bernard decided it would be safer to camp up here.  Who Stella was, I have no idea.  It is from here to the peak which is, psychologically, the hardest part of the climb.

Rebmann Glacier (Photo by Ken)
 The Rebmann Glacier glowed with an iridescent blue to our left.  We started off for our final segment to the summit along a narrow steep ridge, made more difficult by the presence of snow.  The going is slow. The slope is not as steep as the one we had climbed before Gilman's Point but it was more tiring.  We took a few short breaks along the way.  We passed Hans Meyer Point, so named, I suspect, because Hans Meyer probably thought that here was the summit,  false summits, is what they are known as.  A little further along is Elveda Point at 5882 m, another false summit.  Now we can see Uhuru Peak.  From here to the peak is a gentle, almost anticlimactic, walk.  There are a four or five other climbers there.  They get to the peak just before us, took their pictures and left within a few minutes.  Ken and I walk up to the summit.  Now, I am not known to be an emotional guy, but as I took the last few steps towards the peak, tears welled up in my eyes.  They were streaming down my face.  I was afraid people might see and wondering what all that crying was all about.  Thank God for those really dark glasses.

Uhuru Peak from Elveda Point (Photo by Ken)

Nobody was going to see my teary eyes.  And then, Ken knelt down on the snow, his face buried in his hands.  I know he was offering thanks but it sure also looked to me as if emotions had overcome my friend.  Then there was this big burly guy from New Zealand who was part of the group that had summited just ahead of us; he had his video camera out and was recording himself on the summit and as he narrated his few words to loved ones he was sobbing uncontrollably.  It made me feel better.  It was not just me.  I never conquered the mountain, I did just one more thing more than I had done before and that was enough for me.  We were now by ourselves at the summit.  I flew my school flag, the one my friends and classmates from many years back had made especially for this trip.  It fluttered strongly in the freezing wind that blew across the summit.  It was bright and clear, but there were clouds below us and the view beyond the mountain was nonexistent.  I got my satellite phone out and called my wife in the US.  She would have been waiting for this call.  You would have thought being on top of Africa with the closest tree a few miles away, and so much nearer to the satellites in space you would have had a better signal.  The signal was so poor that I had to attempt the call three times.  I got to talk to my son Bharat and he just wanted to know what the view was like.

I had one more thing to do.  My good friend Kent had given me a cigar and I had promised him that I would light it on the summit.  We had wangled a box of matches from Richard and we crowded around to shut out the wind, but try as I might I never got that cigar lit.  I don't know whether it was the wind or was it because the partial pressure of oxygen at that height is about 10% (It is 21% at sea level). Prosper expressed an interest in the cigar and I gave it to him.  We took our pictures.  Our summit bid was special.  This was more like the Kibo of years gone by, covered in snow as far as the eye could see, a dazzling white, the same white that Johannes Rebmann saw through his thick glasses (he was short sighted).  No where could you see the brown earth that one sees in pictures of Kibo.  Ours was the mountain in all its former glory.  It made for a more difficult climb, but, boy, was it worth it!

Nora and Renee at the summit
It was time to leave.  We descended to Stella Point, passing the ladies on their way to the summit.  I was very proud of them.  Renee in particular, as I had doubts whether she could make it.  She was tired, I could tell, but the determination writ across her face was unmistakable.  Norah, I had no doubt would make it to the summit.  A few whispered words of encouragement and they were gone.  I am proud to report that every one of us on the climb summited.  Bernard was happy too.  It kept his statistics up!!  Thomson Safaris would be happy too: another 100% success.

Our camp at Stella Point in the distance (Photo by Ken)

Ken and I waited in the dining tent for the ladies to turn up.  They were back from summiting and went straight to bed.  Some form of altitude sickness had manifested itself in most of us.  The ladies were exhausted and they did not eat anything in spite of Bernard's attempts to get them to eat something.  I think they munched on snacks they had brought with them.  Ken then went to bed too.  I was left by myself in the tent and was still there when dinner was served:  beef tenderloin and fries; awesome.  I ate like a pig.  The water, though is whole different matter.  The water is melted snow taken from around the glacier and then treated with a chemical to make it potable.  It reminded me of toilets on the Indian Railway system.  Not a good thought.  It made me nauseated to drink it, and consequently I drank very little till we got better water at Mweka camp.  The stars were out, but with all the snow it was too bright and darned cold.  Star gazing just wasn't on the agenda tonight either.  I went back to my tent, crawled into the sleeping bag and slept well, the fleece liner continued its function as my pillow.

We had made it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mawenzi Tarn Camp to School Hut Camp (Day #7( (2/18/2011)

We woke to a beautiful, crisp, sunny morning.  The sun was out and Mawenzi looked great bathed in the early morning light.  The steep Western slopes of Mawenzi rise abruptly from the surrounding flatness to numerous craggy peaks, the highest point being Hans Meyer peak at a height of about 16990 ft (5149 m).  Mawenzi is actually shaped like a horse-shoe with the Northern and Eastern portions destroyed in earlier eruptions.  The Chagga, the people of Kilimanjaro, have a great story about the two peaks.  Mawenzi was the older of the two, but Kibo was the nicer, he was kinder to the folk who lived on his slopes and was always out doing errands and all kinds of charity work.  Mawenzi,on the other hand, was usually at home, sat around and did nothing worthy of note.  In spite of his hectic schedule Kibo kept his fires burning while Mawenzi was so bloody lazy that he let the fires in his hearth die off often.  He usually took a quick walk across the saddle to Kibo and Kibo would always give him the fire.  One day Mawenzi lets the fire die once again and as was his habit, he walks over to Kibo.  Mawenzi looks around and not seeing Kibo, who was on his rounds helping his people, helps himself to Kibo's fire.  Mawenzi is well on his way back to his abode when Kibo gets back to find his fire making its way to his neighbor's'.  He loses his temper and with a mighty roar he hits Mawenzi with such force that he puts out Mawenzi's fire forever and destroys the once beautiful and taller citadel.  And there you have it.  Look at Mawenzi, and you can tell where Kibo's mighty fist landed and took out a good portion of its peak.

We left camp the way we had come in the evening before.  Once at the top of the ridge we walk along the undulating trail through the foot hills of Mawenzi till we get to the saddle.  The saddle is the barren alpine desert between Kibo and Mawenzi.  Barren, except for a few tufts of grass here and there and scattered rocks and the wreckage of a plane.  Bernard first pointed out the piece of metal on a rock, which I immediately recognized as one of the control surfaces of a plane.  It looked like the flaps or aileron of a Cessna.  I couldn't see the rest of the plane and on questioning Bernard, he points out a white speck in the distance, which turns out to be a Cessna, a 206 most likely.  It had crashed about three years back on a sight seeing trip from Kenya.  We hear that four passengers died in the crash and the pilot was seriously injured.

Crashed Cessna 206

The Saddle

The path is wide and easy and we meet up with a few of our acquaintances and trade stories. The clouds move in along with mist and the temperature drops.  The trail splits in two, the on one on the left to Kibo Huts Camp and the one on the right to Outward Bound Camp.  The trails steepens from here on and the going slows down.  Lunch is around 1:30 pm and we come to the dining tent set up by our fantastic crew, amid a field of boulders.  Lunch was sumptuous, and while we were at it the wind picked up and the temperature drops even further.  We emerge from the tent to a howling, and bitingly cold wind.  The trail is steeper still and the wind, cold rain and the altitude don't help.  One helluva slog and two and a half hours later we get to School Hut Camp.  This camp is also known as Outward Bound Camp but this name is not in common use any more.  School Hut is at 15,584 ft and there is a permanent hut here which on this occasion was unoccupied.  It was a grey evening and there certainly was no view to be enjoyed.   Today we split our kit in two, one, which had only the things we absolutely needed at the summit, and the other, everything else.  Everyone is doing great and the altitude sickness that had plagued Renee had resolved.  Norah and Ken are doing well except for a slight headache.  Appetites are still good and thankfully no one has diarrhea.  Altitude sickness could become a real problem but we were all not showing any overt signs of it.  Bernard checked our oxygen saturation with a small pulse oximeter everyday and today was not any different.  All our saturations were at levels which would set off a case of extreme panic in the nursing staff back home.  But here, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, we were all just happy we were breathing and not panting nor feeling out of breath.  We go to bed early as it was going to be a wake-up call at 4am.

The Saddle (Photo by Ken)

I was longing to see the splendor of the African sky at night but it was not to be and the beautiful sky hid behind a blanket of clouds and mist.  May be another night…

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kikelewa Cave Camp to Mawenzi Tarn Camp (Day #6) (2/17/2011)

I was in the tent writing my daily log and had no idea what day it was.  All I knew was that it was yesterday plus one.  I had to go back out to check the date on my watch  to figure out the date (it was too dark in the tent and my old eyes were having trouble focussing on the tiny date scale).

Reveille was at 6am with Adam's solemn voice ringing in the new day and the aroma of freshly brewed tea wafting in the air.  We were out of the camp by 8am.  Today's was a "special" hike.  What was so special one might ask?  Kikelewa Cave was at 11,200 ft and we finished at Mawenzi Tarn Camp at 14,160ft; and it was all UP, all the way, not much in the way of flat areas and very few if any downward slopes.  It was one of those hikes where we look up ahead at the trail and it snakes its way through boulder-strewn hillsides and disappears into the clouds.  It was another cloudy day during the trek.  That was probably a blessing in disguise as it hid the ultimate highs we had to cross before getting to camp.  If we had glimpsed those insurmountable heights it might have proven to be very demoralizing.  So into the clouds we trekked.  We pass numerous valleys lined with giant groundsels with marks of the fire that had destroyed parts of the vegetation a few years back, still lingering among the plants.  And even here fresh shoots arose from the charred remnants, continuing the circle of life.  We soon left the heather at the lower altitudes as we ventured into the alpine region with hardly andy vegetation at all.  The trek was a slog but not unduly tiring.  All credit go to our excellent guides, Bernard and Godlove, who  kept up a very manageable pace and ensured we rested often.  The Harry and David trail mix packs were put to good use with everyone enjoying the variety.  Oh, and the elk jerky: excellent.  Just chewing on the tough, juicy strips of meat was especially satisfying.  Everyone is required to drink atlas 4 liters of water.  I found that to be the most difficult feat during the trek.  I drank enough, but not the 4 liters, a secret that I did not tell Bernard until we were at camp the next day.  He was a little concerned but I was doing my best.

We passed and were passed by a number of groups.  One could always tell the groups with Brits among them; there was always someone who just could not leave his beloved brolly (umbrella) home.  There was one strolling among the tents at the next camp as if it was just an afternoon stroll along the banks of the Great Ouse, a brolly protecting his balding pate from the bright sun.  One of the spectacles of the day was the sighting of a rare species on this trek: lady porters.  I had seen one or two at one of the camps, but here, as we were resting for a few minutes after an especially arduous portion of the climb, here come three ladies bearing their burden, delicately balanced on their heads.  How they mange to climb balancing the stuff on their heads is beyond me.  They smiled as they went by and there was always the familiar, "Jambo."  Prosper, sat by the trail talking to one and all.  It seemed that everyone knew my friend Prosper.  He always had a kind word for everybody.  He could speak English quite well and was well versed with most of the flora and fauna we encountered.  What he did not know he would promise to read up when he got to his books.

Just before we got to camp the trail passes over a sharp ridge and then winds down along a particularly rocky path.  I suppose we could have had a great view of the camp but the with the ever present mist and clouds we could see not more than a few feet in front of us.  A few delicate steps over rocks and there was water.  That was Mawenzi Tarn, a small body of water at the foot of Mawenzi.  The Thomson Safari brochure had described this camp as "...a placid mountain lake at the foot of the majestic, steep ridges of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro's second highest volcano. The camp is nestled at the edge of the lake in a protected alcove with spectacular views towards Mawenzi's cathedral-like spires." All true.  What they neglected to mention was that half the population of New York was camped there.  There were traffic jams here.  There were streets and avenues.  Now, if there were street lights and traffic signs the transformation would be complete.  I think everybody who had anything to do with climbing Kilimanjaro was there.  There was a group from Seattle led by the outfitter herself, a bossy lady who insisted the group dine outside without the luxury of a tent (or was it because the tent carrier was missing?)  Some of her group were not very happy.  Then there was the school teacher from Crete, with a bunch of British expatriate teenagers, all unusually well behaved.  This gentleman told me that it was his third trip up Kilimanjaro.  Every time in the past, when he got done, he promises never to have anything to do with Kilimanjaro again only to find that when the memory of the pain of the climb passes into the vaults of amnesia, he is back.  I checked in Stateside by sat phone to make sure everything was OK and then indulged in the luxury of an afternoon snooze, something I love but never get to practice very often.  Mawenzi was out of the clouds when I awoke, the sun was out and it was not too cold either.  I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of Mawenzi and the Tarn.  Renee and Norah are doing great.  I had been worried about Renee but she has done remarkably well since that bad day when exhaustion and a touch of altitude sickness had really did a number on her.  Ken was his usual self, taking notes, referencing his books, we were always kept well informed of all the curious plants and birds we saw, and taking pictures.  Then there was the Jordie and his brother from Morecambe Bay in Cumbria.  He works in IT and is a frequent visitor at Furness General Hospital, my old hospital.  I have asked him to say hi to my friends at the hospital.

I've gotta mention one other thing: Thomson Safaris had provided us with a convenient "loo" tent, one that had a chemical toilet.  I never did ask what happened to all the excrement.  Maybe I will the next time…  Some of the other groups did not have the luxury of their own private potty tent, and they made use of the permanent "outhouses" found at each camp.  The ones at Mawenzi Tarn were special, the drop through the aperture in the floor was a few hundred feet.

Tomorrow we hit the saddle...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

2nd Cave to Kikelewa Cave Camp (16th Feb 2011) (Day #5)

The trek to Kikelewa Caves started at our now usual time of 830am.  Today was an easy trek.  Down to 11800 ft.  The vegetation changes from alpine desert to heather.  Here, on a couple of occasions we see buffalo dung, but once again not nyati himself.  We start the morning with drizzle and over the course of the morning this gives way to a mostly cloudy sky.  I have not been using much in the way of sun screen.  I figured I could do with a little top off of the tan which seems to be wearing away living in Columbus, OH. The sun does come out for short periods.  Kibo is covered with clouds almost all day.  Mawenzi shows itself every so often and is beautifully framed with clouds.  We have not had very good weather during the trip.  Its rained or snowed every day.  I suppose it could have been worse; we could have had a blizzard, oh well we still have time for that, don't we?  Mawenzi is covered with snow.  Its craggy peaks contrasted with the whiteness of the snow.  Very rarely have Bernard and Goody seen Mawenzi covered in snow.

As we walk, we see vegetation peculiar to this area.  Senecio are large plants that are unlike any other plants we have seen, either here or anywhere else for that matter.  It has been recently reclassified into a new subspecies with the botanical name of Dendrosencio kilimanjari.  These are also known as tree or giant groundsels.  They grow to about 8-10 ft in this part of the slopes of Kilimanjaro, although elsewhere they are found in more abundance and may grow to 15ft or more in height.  They have a thick craggy dark bark and are topped with a crown of light green to yellow-brown leaves.

Lobelia come in two shapes, one being the cabbage-like variety and the other that looks like a phallic symbol sprouting out of the cabbage!  Lobelia deckenii is the species that is seen on Kilimanjaro in the moorland zone.  The leaves close at night to  preserve water stored among the leaves.  They flower but once every eight years or so.

Carduus keniensis
The path is lined by a variety of pretty flowers.  Some of the most beautiful are the gladioli (?) a beautiful dainty red flower.  Also seen are Carduus (keniensis).  I am not even sure what its commonly known as. Then there is Erica, not the pretty girl who works with me, but Erica excelsa, a bushy plant that grows in abundance in the heather zone.  

As we walk we approach a sheer wall that extends for what seems like miles on eight side of our path.  There's no way we are going to be able to climb THAT, I think.  Goody leads us to a fault in this unbroken line that was not visible till we got right up to it.  Through this rough fault we climb across to the other side.  It was a relative easy trek from there to camp.

Lunch was at Kikelewa Caves and consisted of leek soup, fried chicken, fries, boiled eggs and brownies.        
Richard does such a good job with the food.  How he manages to concoct such tasty fare I have not the faintest idea.
The night was clear for the first time on the trek.  No amount of describing can do the African night sky justice.  There, spread out for us in all its splendor was the Milky Way and the countless other stars.  Ken, being from the Big Apple had never seen such a sight.  I give a short astronomy lesson, pointing out the familiar constellations.  Then there was the satellite, a tiny speck of light making its way across the heavens.  That was the first one Ken had ever seen. He gazed at it till it disappeared into the horizon.  The moon was out that night and the Kibo was free of clouds and mist.  It was beautiful.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pofu to 2nd Cave (Day 4) (15th Feb 2011)

It almost feels like Columbus, OH.  It has been raining all night and we start off on the trek to 2nd Cave in pouring rain.  Today was an easy day, descending down to 11,800 ft at the camp.  Our first stop was the third cave where we had lunch.  Hate losing the altitude gained with all that pain, only to start climbing again in the next few days.  Descending is not any easier than climbing, and at times feels a lot harder.  The soil is mainly volcanic and the rocks are rough and coarsely pitted.  We pass a few dried river beds and a few areas where glaciers held sway in years past.  Now all that remained where moraines, with glacial debris strewn across the floor.  This was probably the "snow" that Rebmann first saw on November 10th 1848.

Johannes Rebmann is credited with the first sighting of Kilimanjaro by a European.  Johannes Rebmann was a German missionary, who along with his lifelong friend and fellow missionary, Johannes Ludwig Krapf were some of the earliest Europeans in Easter Africa.  On their earlier travels they had heard of a mountain "capped with silver".  They had no idea what that meant.  When Rebmann first saw the majestic mountain, the natives called Kilimanjaro, he still had trouble fathoming what all that white was on the summit; after all, in his mind, he was at or very near the equator and hence it could not be snow.  His guide did not know either and said it was, "baridi" or coldness.  It was then that Rebmann realized that the white was snow.  The reports of snow in Equatorial Africa was not well received in Europe, where there was plenty of skepticism, especially by the "experts" on Africa, some of whom had not even been to Africa.  Rebmann was vindicated when Europeans actually went up the mountain and confirmed the presence of snow.  He was honored by the French Societe Geographie and also the National Geographic Society.

Sometime during the morning the rain eased and it was mostly cloudy and then sunny for a short while.  There were a few good views of Kibo during this time.  The weather changes to fog by the time we arrive at the camp.

At 2nd cave we are back to the heather and moorland zone from the alpine desert.  There are signs of cape buffalo but no sign of the critters themselves.  The skull of a cape buffalo is prominently displayed at the entrance of the cave.  How it got there, I have not idea.  The caves are not used to camp in.  Animals lick the salt off the rocks in the caves and cohabitation with some of these creatures might not be mutually beneficial.


 Renee is feeling better today.  The denser air is doing her good and her face is healing.  The food is great as usual.  Dinner consisted of Spinach soup, rice and beef in coconut milk, fruit and dessert (yes we had desserts) was banana fritters.  Now isn't that cool or what.