Sunday, January 22, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb - Day 1

Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Hut (9,300’)

Hike time: 7.5 hrs, Elevation change: 1200 M
Estimated distance: 10km, Final elevation: 3100 M

Early pick-up at hotel and a hour drive to Machame gate (5,400’) where trekking formalities take about 30 minutes. From the gate, we begin our trek following an easy track for the first hour through the dense forest. The path continues to follow the ridge, rising steadily with several steep sections. The gradient eases slightly as the forest merges into heather covered ground we will reach Machame Hut in 10 km (6.2 miles) after a 1,200-meter (3,936’) ascent and 5-7 hours of walking.

The view of Kili from the Keys Annex

The morning of the 27th, we were to report downstairs in front of the Keys, ready to go in the morning. I walked out of my room to find a beautiful view of an almost cloudless Kilimanjaro, looking massive and intimidating, and waiting to be conquered. We brought our bags downstairs. Sean and I had our backpacks for the hike, his duffel bag, and a huge duffel bag that I borrowed from the Kilimajaro Porters Assistance Project. Our pile to leave at the hotel consisted of a white plastic garbage bag that Madhu had given to us the night before. Luckily, she had room in her 'stay at hotel' bag and let us stash our (little) goods in there.

Our group of 28 hikers piled tightly into two busses with gear stashed in the back. We rode to a store, picked up bottled water, then went on our way to the Machame Gate. Along the main route in between Moshi and Arusha, near the Kilimanjaro Airport, is the turnoff for the Machame Gate. The gate was quite a ways from the main route. We ascended about 2700 ft in elevation on the dusty, bumpy drive up past the village of Machame and then on to the gate.

These estimates are a crock of shit!!! Take estimate and add a few hours!

Once we were parked, a few of us girls ran for the hills to find the bathroom (it was a *really bumpy* ride!), a concrete squat toilet with concrete blocks you stand on. The doors had locks on the outside but not on the inside, so we took turns guarding the door for each other. Apparently, we learned later that the better toilet was downhill...

We waited at the gate for a while for all the formalities to take place. Each one of us received a sack lunch in a black plastic bag. Our gear was unloaded, porters sorted through the duffels and started taking the loads.

With me on this first day, I carried essentials of 3 liters of water, a poncho, and a rain jacket amongst many other things. In total, about 25 pounds of gear.

Then we were off. We walked through a green set of gates, one by one, as Donovan took a headcount. The trail here is a well maintained dirt pathway with runoff ditches on the sides and intersecting the trail. I was pretty surprised as I thought the trail would be more crude. But then again, this is only day 1...

We hiked through very lush, green forest. Many ferns and trees covered with moss, the soil moist. It was humid and warm. At first, the hike was not too bad. A definite inclination, but nothing too severe.

I somehow managed to be at the very front, hiking with Freddy, our lead guide. Freddy has been on the mountain many times. He started as a porter, then worked his way up the ranks to assistant guide then to guide. He said that the program to make it to a guide position is tough and a little over half the people who start the program end up qualifying to be a guide. He has been all over the states, more places that I have been, and said that he wants to find a mountaineering/outdoor job in the states. I think I impressed him with what little Swahili I was able to regurgitate. He taught me a few things like, "My name is...What is your name?" He also practiced numbers with me.

As the day went on, I fell further and further back in the pack. Climbing in elevation...oh hell, I didn't want to wear myself out on the first day!

We stopped for a short lunchbreak along the trail. It started to rain. Luckily, we were not completely exposed on the mountain -- canopies of trees took the direct hits of the rainfall first. However ponchos were necessary. After taking a pee break in the woods, I got out my rain gear before sitting down to eat lunch. Somehow the cap on the orange drink in the lunchbag broke, so everything was a sopping orange flavor. Needless to say, I didn't eat much lunch.

Then we hiked on. Once identifiable people in the group became mysterious under their ponchos and rain jackets. Except for Sherrie, that is, who could be seen flying past me with her shiny emergency blanket over her pack and head. Smart idea!

We stopped at one wooden bathroom along the trail. There, we saw the abuses that happen to porters. We saw one man carrying a *HUGE* backpack, so big I swear I didn't think they made them that big, stuffed full. I'm sure it probably weighed about as much as I do. Seeing that made me sick inside. Donovan and Zamo talked to the guy, asked him what company he was with and whatnot. Next to the porter (he may have been an assistant guide?) were two gaunt Russian girls barely wearing any clothing and only carrying a lunch sack. Literally, one girl had a keyhole cut in the front of her shirt and you could see the bones in her chest. The Russian girls were talking to Donovan and Zamo using them as an interpreter, since they could not speak Swahili and the porter could not speak English. They wanted to know where their other porter was because he had all their gear. Donovan was nice enough to lend one of the girls his rain jacket for the time being.

What we heard of that story was that there was a group of the four Russians who had booked a cheap tour up the Machame Route. They were promised a lot on the tour, but not given much (only 2 porters for 4 people). Ignorance on their part, but hopefully a lesson for anyone who reads this -- you get what you pay for. Their guide never showed up.

As the day went on, the group became more and more spread out and the trail steeper. It was soon evident who was of the fast group, and who was not. I definitely was not. The trail turned to steps, steps, and more steps. We were, after all, climbing about 4000 feet today. This ain't your mama's Inca Trail!

From then, I decided to take it pole pole (slow slow), look at the flowers, admire a waterfall, and take a lot of pee stops. I started taking Diamox the night before, which acts as a diuretic as well. Towards the end of the hike, I hiked with Francesca, who is such a hoot. She is such a hilarious girl. Oh, and did I say my savior? I was craving some powdered sugary drink mix of some sort (already sick of water and it's only the first day!), and she gave me a pack of Gatorade. Oh, it was heavenly.

The way we knew we were nearing Machame Camp was that the scenary was to change. Finally, the trees were shorter, the path more exposed. Ahh...finally, the group!

We rested by the hut for a while. Then everyone had to sign a log book. Only a little more hiking to the campsite, which being set up for us. We picked out our tents and got settled in before our pre-dinner popcorn snack.

Camp was at about 10,000 ft and it was getting cold fast.

This picture was taken from my favorite pee spot at the camp...what a view!

When we were in the dinner tents, someone said that you could see Kilimanjaro (meaning the peak), so we we all rushed out to check out the view...and there she was looming over us.

In the evening was water duty. Everyone filtered and treated their water for the next day. Since Sean and I didn't have iodine tablets (they were in the checked in luggage), we used my Katadyn ExStream water filter to filter our water. A pain to do for 6 liters of water at a time!


Blogger Phil said...

nice job marisa. congrats. just came across your site tonite as I have a pile of gear on my bed trying to sort out what I need for my Jan 30 departure for Kili ( Your pics and blog are very useful, look forward to seeing the rest of the posts.

what I admire the most is your attitude in face of adversity. key to life I suppose.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Climb Kilimanjaro Routes said...

To choose the right Kilimanjaro Climb route for you, there are plenty of variables to be mindful of.
Who: Who is climbing? The whole group's abilities must be factored into choosing a route. The rest of the party is relying on your decision. Pick a route that best fits everyone.
What: What limitations surround your climb? Are you bound by a budget? Or the number of days on your trip? There are cheap/expensive routes, and short/long itineraries.
How: How do you see your trek? Do you want the most challenging route or a less strenuous one? These answers will affect which route is for you.
Where: Where do you want to begin your climb? The routes start from all sides of the mountain. Where you begin affects cost, scenery and scenic variety.
Why: Why are you climbing? Is it very important to summit? Then choose a route with a high success rate. Do you want to take the best photos? Then pick the most scenic route.
When: If you are climbing during the dry season, great. But if you are climbing during the rainy season or the shoulder seasons, then the route you select can play into the climb's difficulty.
So Which is the best route to use to climb up kilimanjaro? Lemosho Route and Rongai Route are the most scenic routes up kilimanjaro. Mt Kilimanjaro Machame route is also a scenic and very popular route with many climbers.
The Marangu Route Climb is however the most used route since it has the advantage of sleeping in huts with bunker beds, hot showers, beverages and beers in the evenings are also available. Marangu is also the shorter route and can be done in 5 days although an extra day for acclimatisation is recommended.

8:40 AM  

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