Tuesday, 20 December 2011

... Tanzania: Day 1 Machame Gate - Machame Camp

Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain (19341ft/ 5895m) and the highest free standing mountain on the planet. It is also one of the Seven Summits. Quite the résumé. It is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo (19341ft/5895m); Mawenzi (16893ft/5149m); and Shira (13000ft/3962m). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim and where I would be trying to reach over the next few days with 10 fellow crazy people, some guides & porters via the Machame route (aka the Whiskey route). There are six official trekking routes: Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is said to be by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain and most treks take six or seven days. So as you can see I wasn't doing things by halves just in case climbing this thing to begin with wasn't crazy enough.

My group consisted of a bunch of wonderful yet equally-as-crazy-as-me folk: a family of 3 from Melbourne, Australia. John (we all nicknamed him dad), Dan (a physio) & Mark; James from London who now lives in Switzerland & was my car buddy from the airport; Devin & Ashley, a couple from Alberta, Canada; Katerina, a Russian who lives in Toronto & became my tent-buddy; Spencer, from L.A; Jenny, from the East Coast of the U.S and last but not least Brooke, from Sydney in Australia. Brooke is one very very special lady. Earlier this year she had a kidney transplant after both of hers had failed. She was doing this trek to raise money for Transplant Australia.

The first day of the climb had us starting from the Machame Gate at about 5906ft/1800m. The area just inside the gate is the staging area for everyone preparing, somewhat nervously, for the climb. It was a sea of backpacks, boxes, and duffel bags. All climbers check in at the ranger station signing in with their relevent deets such as name, age, country, passport number, etc. Whilst you're doing that the porters are having their stuff weighed - they are not supposed to carry more than 15kg of your stuff (I never did find out if that weight was just for your stuff and then their stuff had an extra allowance). There was a fair bit of sitting around and you could feel the tension growing. I managed to spot some black & white colobus monkeys however, which naturally was rather cool. After signing in, climbing permits were finally checked and we were off! Let the adventure begin!

Throughout the day we hiked along a pretty well developed and easy to follow trail surrounded by a cloud forest. Whilst it starts out as a gentle slope at a relatively low altitude and it's easy to make good time, the guides continually urged us to go "Pole! Pole!" (Slowly! Slowly!). I would remind myself that Reaching the summit is a marathon, not a sprint, and so I needed to pace myself. And let go of my A-type ness... Just a little.

After about two hours of hiking, the trail changed from a gentle slope to a number of long, and steep, inclines. Remember that leisurely walk you started out on? Well it had now become a challenging cardio workout. The sweat was soon pouring off and you were quickly going through the 2-3L of water that you had been advised to carry in your day pack. The first day's hike took about five to six hours in total, and by the time we had reached Machame Camp, the cloud forest had begun to change in appearance to grasslands and wildflowers. We set up camp that night on the edge of the moorlands and as the sun set billions of stars lit up the sky.

The first day was far more vertical than I had certainly expected. I couldn't quite fathom that I had gained just under 4000ft of altitude throughout the day. I have to admit, Day 1 was harder than what I thought it would be.

Roll on Day 2....

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