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Pole Pole

all seasons in one day

Jambo from Tanzania!

After a quick safari in Nairobi National Park and a wander about town (without getting mugged! :) ), I headed to Arusha for the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.

At 5895m (above sea-level), Kili is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. To put it in perspective, it is about 2.5 times the height of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia - our national molehill.

Day One:
Was surprised upon meeting my crew to learn that a) I was the only one booked on the trip and b) I had a support crew of 4 (!) accompanying me up the mountain - my guide Ben, a porter, a waiter and a cook. Wow! Found out that this is quite normal though, and many hikers, had far more than my humble 4. Still, it seemed a little OTT considering my backpack only
weighed 10.5kg! I guess they had to carry my bag, their bags, food, pots/pans/cutlery/shower/port-a-loo/TV/jacuzzi etc.

After a quick drive to Marangu gate, I began the 7km hike to Mandara Hut, passing through thick, lush, rainforest en route to Mandara Hut, seeing a few mongoose (mongeese?) and vervet monkeys on the way. The rainforest, with its tall canopy of trees provided some cool respite from the relative warmth of the mid-afternoon sunshine. As we neared to Mandara Hut (2740m
ASL), the trees, made way for shrubs, and heathland, and the temperature began to fall - to around +8 celcius overnight. From Mandara, a quick hike up to the Maundi crater, afforded a tiny glimpse of Mawenzi and Kibo peaks (Kibo being home to Uhuru, the highest point on Kili), before the clouds moved in, and with them, the cool night air.

Was exceptionally well fed in the "mess hall", where I got to meet all my fellow hikers (an international bratpack of professional backpackers it seemed), before being sent to bed at 8pm! My guide, Ben, informed me that at altitude, one requires loads of sleep - my suspicions that the guides/porters had cable TV/jacuzzi/bar in their hut, proved wrong, and by
8.30, I was fast asleep!

Day Two:
After an early rise, and a quick Wet-Ones "shower", we began the 11km walk to Horombo Hut (3800m). The temperate forests around Horombo, quickly changed into vast moorlands, and the vegetation became more sparse. I took my guide's advice to climb "pole pole" (slowly slowly) up the mountain and after about 4-5 hours of hiking, arrived at Horombo, hot and dusty, but feeling really good. No headaches, light-headedness, nausea etc - I thought, a good sign. After a quick snack on popcorn (the locals must think we travellers are addicted to it cause it came with practically every meal!) and Milo (!! it's as popular as coffee here!), I wandered a little further up from the campsite through the palm like trees covered in mist, and got my first proper view of the snow-topped Kibo peak and the alpine
desert which lay before it. Again, I was fed a huge meal of pasta (like 3x a normal portion) before heading to bed early 8pm! I was assured that a big appetite after a day of hiking at altitude was a good sign for the days to come, and slept well that night.

Day 3
Ah, got to sleep in today - til about 7.30am, and after a big breakfast (can anyone really eat 8 pieces of toast in addition to eggs, fruit and Milo?!!?!?!?!) we began our acclimitization walk to the aptly named Zebra rock. Yes, that's right, it's a cliff-face striped like a zebra (I think from salt which leaks out of the rocks and streaks down its side) is rather peculiar. We scrambled up around it and down the other side to an altitude
of approximately 4200m, where the views of Kibo and Mawenzi (a lunar-like dramatic mountain adjacent to Kibo) became clearer and the alpine desert and scree lay out ahead. Another ginormous meal was had, and I was delighted to be able to wash my hair in the afternoon warmth (probably no more than 14
degrees!) in a bowl of hot water - specially boiled by Dismis, my waiter (still seems weird to have had a waiter!) before chatting to fellow hikers about their journey thus far, having more food (pasta pasta pasta) and going to bed (of course early - but mostly cause it was so cold!!!). Still feeling good, legs with plenty of energy and optimistic of my chances.

Day 4
An early morning start today, with another big breakfast, before the hike to Kibo (4700m) began. Wandering from the moorlands towards the alpine desert, the landscape became more and more barren, and lunar, and jolly dusty - I think I ate more dust that day than popcorn! Unfortunately, it was also extremely windy today, so in addition to the powerful sun, I had to face the extreme cold of the mountain winds....Was glad that I had my Gore-tex jacket on and my beanie as it was bitter. The walk wasn't so hard today, much flatter than the previous day and I focused my attention the whole time on the peak, whilst heeding the "pole pole" advice of my guide
and fellow trekkers. It was positive as I was going up to meet friends I had made on the hike report that they had made it to the top, and was optimistic that my remaining strength, determination and encouragement from fellow hikers and guide (he told me he thought I would find it "easy" because a) I was a woman b) woman are brave and c) I was strong) would see
me through. At around 4500m, I started to feel a little light-headed, and breaked for a while to have some lunch - all the while not losing sight of the peak. Wondering whether I should have perhaps taken diamox, the altitude prophylactic after all. The jury seems to be split on its use - it apparently masks the symptoms of AMS, which means it can make you feel
better, but stop you from realizing you have pulmonary oedema before you're actually dead. So, yeah, I opted out. C'est la vie! (No pun intended).

From 4500m onwards, I progressed "pole pole", breaking frequently as my head went from being "light", to absolutely pounding, until at 4700m (at Kibo), I had to rest for 45mins or so, tortuously close to Kibo, and wanting to go on, but with a throbbing headache, dizziness and nausea setting in, knew I had no choice but to descend. Altitude sickness is serious stuff and I didn't want to mess with it. Frustrated and a tad upset, I began rapidly descending the 9km to Horombo, feeling horribly ill the whole way down, and technicolour yawning a few times too, passing others who had, like me, become ill and had to turn back. I had completely lost my appetite, and was now only focussed on getting down so the pain would go away.....(was also dreaming of hot showers!)

Thankfully it did, and by the time I reached Horombo, I was feeling great again, managed to eat my 10 course meal and got a good night's sleep!

Day 5
Kili is expensive to climb, so I was unable to pause a day and take a second, more gradual crack at the summit, so I descended all the way back down to Marangu gate, delighted to breathe real oxygen again and rapidly powering downhill for 19km in about 4.5 hours, before the drive back to Arusha and my first HOT shower in nearly 5 days....ah the simple things.....

Day 6
Back in Arusha, legs feel like 10 tonne trucks after the pounding downhill descent.....every step brings pain..... thinking about going back in a few weeks and trying again...not happy to let an oversized molehill beat me.


Sep 05

Posted by Backpasher 05:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking

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