Day 1 - Arusha to Machame Hut (3000m)
September 5th, 2001
At 5am we awake with a jolt as a loud piercing wail breaks the silence. The Muslim call to prayer lasts an eternity. Just as we settle down to sleep in the cold morning air, it starts up again, as do the Matatu buses with their constant honking and shouting. Does anyone sleep in this godforsaken place? (Not the Irish anyway, adds Charles.) We get a measly breakfast of bread, jam and coffee. If we want eggs or anything more we have to pay for them. Lazarus arrives to bring us to the office. We leave what we don't need in the office and buy bottled water for the trip. Charles is the name of our guide, so this gives us something in common. From now until the end of the trip cries of "How are you my brother?" (Pronounced 'Hawa youuuuuu mai brathaaaaaaaa?') are to become commonplace, much to the annoyance of at least one guide on the mountain. Charles (guide) is also our cook. We each get two porters to carry food, tents and our big rucksacks. We still each carry a 30litre rucksack and a walking pole. It's a 60km drive to Machame. We still can't see Kilimanjaro yet because there is so much cloud overhead. In fact, we spend all of the first day without getting a view of the mountain which is a source of disappointment. We drive up to Machame Gate along a steep incline crammed like sardines into our Peugeot 504 estate along a dirt road with about eight million potholes to contend with. Other mountaineers are passing us out in Land Rovers and we thank our lucky stars it isn't raining - we'd probably have to walk up the road then!
At the gate we are faced with a large gathering of porters and trekkers preparing for the ascent to 3000m. We sign in and wait and wait and wait. But there is a problem. There had been a misunderstanding about our trip - it had been presumed that Graham was traveling with me and Charles but he was not. He had opted for a 5 day trek whereas we were to do the trip in six. Graham would have to climb via the Arrow Glacier route with our guide while Muudi would take us along the Mountain Madness route between camp 3 and 4 to meet Graham on his way down and take him to Mweka camp at the bottom. Awfully complicated!
We eventually set off at 11:50am. Pole-pole (pronounced poley poley) or in English "slowly slowly" was to be the order of the day. Too quick an ascent can precipitate the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness which could prevent a climber from reaching the summit. The only cure for AMS is immediate descent, even a few hundred metres can help. AMS has been known to be fatal at 3000m (the altitude of Machame hut, today's descent) but 3500m to 4500m is the usual range. Another problem on the mountain, which can precipitate altitude sickness, is dehydration. We decide to ration the water to three mouthfuls every 15 minutes. This system works quite well as it means we take in just enough to keep hydrated but not enough for it to just go straight through our systems.
We plod along up the path at a leisurely pace, getting passed out by the porters carrying bags and food for us and for the other 15 or so mountaineers. Graham doesn't seem bothered by the risks of over exertion so he sets a rather quick pace and Muudi follows with him. We ascend through rainforest and pass through the first layer of clouds. At about halfway we stop to eat our packed lunches. After lunch the path gets steeper to about 45 degrees. Suddenly we hear a shout from behind us: "Howah youuuuu my brathaaaaaaas?" Charles (guide) has sorted out the administrative problem about the group splitting and using alternate routes and is now bringing up the rear. He estimates that we have about 20 minutes to camp. After 25 minutes we ask if we're nearby. Again he informs us that we are 20 minutes away. After a while we learn just not to bother asking - it's counter productive as you tend to lose heart after the third or fourth time! Suddenly the vegetation changes from lush green rainforest to more sparse vegetation and thinner, shorter trees.
We arrive at Machame hut at around 5:20pm. Tents have already been erected by the porters and food is being cooked. The As we are the last to arrive, we will be the last to get food so we have to wait until dusk (about 6:45pm). Luckily, our guide is also an excellent cook so the wait is worth it. It's noticeably colder now as darkness falls. Suddenly there is a break in the clouds and we finally get our first glimpse of the Western Breach of Kibo, the main peak of Kilimanjaro. Just over the horizon on Kibo is Uhuru peak, the highest point in Africa. It is still quite far away and quite high up, bit now we have some idea of the ordeal we are faced with. We can also see the way up to Shira plateau off to the northwest. To the west we see Mount Meru emerging above a blanket of clouds as the sun sets behind it, a truly spectacular sight that distracts us a little from the awe inspiring Kilimanjaro.
Finally, at 7:20pm we are enshrouded in darkness and we settle down to our dinner of mushroom soup, potatoes and beef casserole. We have fruit for desert. By now the temperature is dropping rapidly so we get into our small two man tent. I sleep exceptionally well until 3am when nature calls me and, although temperatures aren't the nicest I answer (thank God I have a torch!) by using the camp facilities... The clouds above us have now vanished and I can see one or two of the northern hemisphere's constellations, except in reverse. Kind of confusing...
Speaking of the 'facilities', the toilets are now a common conversation point on the trip (or is it just us?). Each camp has one or two well placed toilet huts in varying degrees of disrepair. An advantage of their ramshackled appearance however is that users can peer through the various gaps and holes while using them. Usually these views are quite spectacular and can take your mind off your immediate and unpleasant environment. Basically the huts consist of a small square area with a hole cut in the floor. The cleanliness of the floor around it seems to be a function of the hole size. Depending on the age of the hut and on how much it has been used, the resultant drop may be short or long. Some short drops can run the risk of material passing up as well as down, a worrying thought when squatting. The longer drops, some up to a few metres, allow the user the luxury of the occasional nasal breath. These toilets aren't exactly the nicest thing one could experience, but all in all they are certainly an interesting part of the Kili experience. Girls who complain about men leaving the seat up don't stand a chance out here!
Quote of the day: (As we plod up the dirt track with no idea if we're going too slow or not)
Tom: "We've nothing to lose by taking our time - errm except maybe daylight! Let's get a move on."
Click A Photo To Enlarge It
Porters Getting Everything Ready
Table And Chairs For The Luxury Travellers
Who Needs Chairs?
Welcome To The Jungle
The Terrain Changes
The Western Breach Emerges
It's Only THAT Big? That's EASYYY!