Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

For the past week I have been noticeably absent from my blog because I have been climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania in East Africa and is the highest free standing peak on the continent.  I can’t say for sure why I decided it would be a good idea to climb Kili but after having descended I can say one thing with certainty: I have no desire to do it again.  Of course, there are some people who do it 30-40 times a year!  But I will get to them shortly.

Last weekend I joined a group of 11 others in our quest to climb Kili.  There were actually two groups which the climbing company decided to merge into one.  On Friday evening I met my original group.  It was kind of like the beginning of a joke, “An American, an Aussie, a South African and an Israeli walk into a bar…”  The four of us didn’t know each other but became fast friends.  Hereafter in all posts us four will be referred to as the Awesome Foursome (AF) because that’s what everyone called us.  The other group was a group of 8 Australian friends in their 60s.  They were Not So Awesome (NSA).
Saturday morning AF was dressed, ready to go, completely packed, our bags were within the permitted weight limit (15 kilos/34 lbs) we had on our hats and our sunscreen and thought we would be taking a short drive to the mountain to begin climbing!  Errr…Not so fast.  It turned out a few individuals from NSA needed to rent gear, so we went with them to the gear shop and waited around for an hour while three of the women hemmed, hawed and complained about not getting exactly what they wanted.  But this did not dampen our (AF’s) mood, we were excited to get to Kili!

We arrived at the Machame Gate, one of the starting points and most popular routes upon which to traverse Kilimanjaro, and were greeted by a scene of mass chaos.  This doesn’t accurately portray the hundreds of people there, or the faces of the AF as we all looked at one another and telepathically asked, “Oh Dear God, what have we gotten ourselves into?” but this gives you an idea:

There were hundreds of people everywhere.  We climbers were whisked off to sign the registration book and wait while our gear was “approved” and then sent up the mountain.  Remember when I said there are individuals who climb Kili 30-40 times a year? (Please refer to paragraph 2 above.)  Well, you don’t just climb the mountain.  You and your pit crew climb the mountain.  For the 12 of us there was a team (the self-proclaimed Dream Team) of forty (40) support staff.  We had seven (7) guides who took us up the mountain.  Porters carried our personal bags (hence the 34 lb weight limit), tents, mess tents, toilets (there were few public toilets and they were disgusting, so almost all groups elect to rent toilets which travel with them from camp to camp), food, gas canister (for cooking), chairs, tables, cutlery, dishes, water, as well as their own personal items such as clothes and sleeping bags, and no doubt countless other items I’m unaware of.  And we had a cook and cook’s assistant.  The sole job of the 12 of us was to hike up the mountain.  When we left each morning the Dream Team were in the midst of breaking down camp.  By the time we arrived at the next camp that night the tents were already erected, our belongings were there and the staff were busy preparing dinner.  As we were struggling to carry our own body weight at what we deemed a reasonable rate, the support staff were carrying extra weight and sprinting up the mountain in order to arrive before us.

In order to protect all the support staff of the many hikers each bag must be weighed to ensure it does not exceed the required limits.  You can’t see the 200-300 porters standing in a crowd behind this guy, but here is one load being weighed and approved before he starts up the mountain with it:

Here you can see the major camps and points of note along the route, though I would have to argue the estimated ascent times need to be increased by about 25%: 

1 comment: