Kili Weather

Kilimanjaro Factfile

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the only one of the seven summits (highest mountain on each continent) that is accessible without mountaineering equipment and experience.

It's the highest freestanding mountain in the world and one of the largest volcanoes, dormant rather than extinct.

On the summit, the lungs can only absorb half the amount of oxygen compared to sea-level.

The summit at Uhuru Peak is more than 1,600 feet higher than Everest base camp.

Estimates vary, but around 20,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year. Almost half fail to reach the summit.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

I left my lunch at Mawenzi Tarn

Not a catchy song title, just my first (but not last) encounter with Acute Mountain Sickness. I left dinner there, too, if a spoonful of soup, some water and a couple of anti-nausea ginger pills could be described as 'dinner'.

No, I didn't quite make it to the summit of Africa's highest mountain, but I did have a fantastic experience with a great bunch of people. Although it's a bit disappointing not to have reached the crater rim, I don't have a sense of failure – I gave it my best shot, walked all night from midnight to sunrise during the summit attempt and turned back only when I ran out of air and time. I climbed to about 17000 feet in the lowest temperatures I have ever encountered and saw some amazing views of Mawenzi and Kibo as well as looking down on the vast plains of Kenya and Tanzania when they weren't hidden beneath a blanket of cloud far below us. Each day of the climb was an adventure -- I enjoyed (almost) every minute of the trek. We narrowly missed meeting a herd of elephants on our trail and watched the gradually encroaching horror of a bush fire that followed us up the mountain for days, destroying vast areas of vegetation on the northern slopes of the mountain. We later learned our first two camps had been burnt out and the trail closed behind another group of trekkers who were just one day behind us. People who had booked our route after that were being sent up the Marangu or 'Coca Cola' route, which we later used for our descent. It's a pleasant enough trail to walk down, but can't compare with the spectacular drama of the Rongai route we took to the base of Kilimanjaro's second peak, Mawenzi.

Being incapacitated at Mawenzi was a big disappointment – having the opportunity to explore the base of the second, almost unclimbable peak was one of the reasons I chose the Rongai route. We arrived there in time for a late lunch, with the afternoon supposedly devoted to an acclimatisation hike up the lower slopes. Mawenzi Tarn is such a spectacular setting, with Kilimanjaro's only glacial tarn lying in a hollow below the towering jagged spires of the splintered volcanic cone. Its dramatic fissures are so utterly different from the more famous symmetrical dome of Kibo, Kilimanjaro's main summit. Kamili, our chief guide, told us he'd climbed Mawenzi three times during his life, but would never do so again as he considered it too dangerous even with ropes and modern climbing gear. Kibo just needs a good set of lungs and some reasonably fit leg muscles. Sadly, I was in no fit state to enjoy the scenery or a walk that afternoon, so I languished in my tent, convinced I was dying, while most other members of my group went off on the acclimatisation hike. The porters told me I would feel better the next day, but I didn't believe them, certain that if by some miracle I survived the night they'd have to drag me over the ridge between the two peaks to take me down to a lower altitude at Horombo camp – there are no real facilities to get casualties back down the Rongai route which is too steep and rugged for the single wheeled stretchers they use on the other side of the mountain. Of course, the porters were right – I not only survived the night, but felt fit enough to continue the trek to Kibo Hut the following day after eating (and keeping) a scoopful of disgustingly sweet porridge and some tea. I still couldn't quite face the bacon and eggs also on offer.

Surprisingly, my legs didn't let me down at all; no aching muscles, and the neoprene knee braces did their job so well I didn't have a twinge, even on the steepest descents. Even the shoulder gave no cause for concern when the guides became a bit too enthusiastic in their efforts to assist me up some rocks. Despite sleeping badly most nights due to sliding off my Thermarest mattress and then having to wriggle my way back up the incline like a caterpillar in my sleeping bag, I never felt tired except for the morning after summit night. It's ironic that my lungs let me down in the end – just couldn't extract enough oxygen from the thin air to keep me going.

I'll be posting a full trip report soon, once I am able to remain awake after 10pm. Spending two days and a night travelling home without sleep has left me unable to catch up even after four days. I recovered from climbing Kilimanjaro within twenty-four hours of descending, but sitting on planes, trains and mini-buses has left me completely exhausted. Or maybe it was just the horrible four hours spent at Nairobi airport – surely one of the most unpleasant places on earth.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Too late to back out, now

I leave for London tomorrow, then it's next stop Nairobi. I may have a chance to Blog while I'm away, but if not, the next post will be a success or failure report when I return.

Help! – I need a Tardis, not a duffle bag

Packing panic has set in today with the discovery that I have approximately 30% more luggage than my bags will hold. I'm also way over the 15 kilo limit of climbing gear to be carried by my Kilimanjaro porter. So, tough decisions have been made. Out goes my fleece sleeping bag liner (bulky and comparatively heavy), half my snacks (though I have reluctantly kept the disgusting – and heavy – energy gels), two pairs of hiking socks (one waterproof), one set of long thermal underwear (the remaining set will be *very* well-used both day and night), small travel-sized bottles of mouth wash, skin toner and face lotion (my feet are more important than my face on this trip, so the foot cooling lotion stays). For my hotel time, I'll be forgoing even the lightweight silky bathrobe and sleeping T-shirt (have to sleep in a 'wicking' base layer). No smart casual wear for the evenings, no loafers or sandals (though I am hoping to cram in a pair of Crocs, somehow), no crop pants for travelling on dusty busses. The fleece dilemma has been easily resolved with the discovery that the thicker Polartec is actually only two thirds the weight of the thinner version. No contest. There's also no possibility of cramming in the ski pants. I may be forced to ditch the down jacket tomorrow, though I'm fighting hard to keep it. Maybe it would be better to pile on the fleece layers and add some fleece long johns to keep the whole body warm rather than concentrating on snuggling for the top half. But I do love that jacket.

I don't know how anyone manages to pack all the kit recommended by the trekking outfitters into one duffle bag (British airports limit) and a small daysack as cabin luggage. My 'overnight' daysack will contain some essentials in case the main bag goes missing en route; fleece-lined goretex mitts, liner gloves, underwear, warm hat and polar Buff, lightweight travel/safari shirt, gaiters and camera, binoculars etc., as well as that base layer set of long underwear. And I'll be clomping around the aircraft like Herman Munster in my hiking boots, of course.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Getting closer

D minus three, and I'm in the calm before the final storm of packing.

Spent a horrific day queueing in financial institutions on Friday, discovering too late that it's not a good idea to move money around on a Friday afternoon. Some of the time was spent sorting out my mother's affairs, but finding the best deal for US$ and travellers' cheques was no fun, either. I ended up dealing with the Post Office which promises a 'no commission' transaction with a real sting in the tail if you have to return unspent travellers' cheques. After much deliberation, I'd decided to get two thirds of the money in travellers' cheques to cover national park fees, hotel and climbing costs, and the rest in an assortment of lower denomination US$ notes. It will probably turn out to be an expensive way of financing the trip, but gives peace of mind -- I don't need to carry a frightening amount of cash, nor am I dependent on finding a working ATM that will accept my bank cards.

This time next week, I'll be snug in my tent at Simba Camp.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Nearly there

Except – I'm behind schedule and last-minute panic is not far away.

Less than a week to go and I'm still trying to work out how much money to take with me, in what currencies, form and denominations. I'm heading for Hereford tomorrow to find the cheapest US $, which are apparently universally accepted throughout East Africa. Cash or travellers' cheques is the main dilemma; travellers' cheques aren't always easy to cash in small out of the way places, and ATM machines are sometimes unwilling to accept overseas cards, as well as being few and far between in Tanzania. Cash, though always acceptable, is risky and bulky to carry, especially in the small denominations I'll need for tips and drinks etc. I've heard it can be difficult to change $50 and $100 notes.

At least I think I now have all the clothing and equipment I'll need. Everything on my packing list has been ticked, except for the chemical handwarmers, which should arrive courtesy of ebay within the next day or so. I intended to buy them from a local outdoor shop, but they've all sold out of last winter's supply and haven't yet stocked up for next winter, so there's been some minor last minute panic buying on line. I've had to order ten for the same price I'd have paid for six in the shop, so I can afford to share them with a fellow frozen climber.

I'm booked into the Hotel Boulevard in Nairobi, which looks overpriced and not particularly enticing, but the shuttle to Marangu will pick me up at the door next morning and the hotel will send a car to meet me at the airport for only a couple of pounds more than the price of a taxi. As I'll be arriving quite late in the evening, I think it's worth the extra peace of mind to know I won't have to run the gauntlet of taxi touts and con artists that prey on unwary new arrivals. I'll only be spending a few hours in the hotel before grabbing an early breakfast, so I'm not too concerned about the facilities or service as long as the room is clean and comfortable.

So, I'm now fully booked, door to door and all the way to the top of Kilimanjaro and down again to the village. Things get a bit hazy after that, for my final three days in Tanzania, but I'll probably decide where to go after taking advice from other climbers and people I meet during the journey. I'm wary of tourist traps, and much as I would love to visit Ngorongoro crater, I have no desire to chase around in a convoy of minibuses, following harassed lions and cheetahs. I like my wilderness experiences to be wild and well away from hordes of chattering fellow tourists.