|Day 1 (Sept. 2, 2005): Lemosho Glade to Forest Camp|
DIARY OF THE CLIMB
We left the Keys Hotel around 8:30 am for the drive to the Lemosho Glade trailhead. We checked out of the hotel first, and were able to leave the luggage, clothes, etc. that we wouldn't need on the mountain with the hotel clerk. We loaded our yellow mountain duffels on a large Toyota Land Rover, and Elias joined us for the 3-4 hour ride to the Kilimanjaro National Park entrance and trailhead. We were each given a packed lunch prepared by the hotel kitchen for the trip.
The first portion of the drive was on good paved roads. We passed by many villages with shops and stands along the main highway. Between towns we passed by many corn fields, which were dry and brown because it was near the end of Tanzania's dry season. Near Moshi many of the lots had burlap cloth covering the ground with millet spread-out to dry. As we got further from Moshi it became less and less urban. We began to pass many people on foot herding cows and goats.
After a couple of hours we stopped at a Coke stand for a break. Soon a large truck pulled up with Charles (our assistant guide) in the front seat and about 25 others riding in the back. Elias told us that this was our crew of porters. The truck followed us the rest of the way up the western foothills of Kilimanjaro to the park gate.
For the five of us trekking "clients" we had a total of 28 support people, including the two guides, a head cook, a "waiter" for our meals, a camp chief, and porters. Although it was inconceivable before the trip that such a large group would accompany us, I figured they knew what they were doing (and they did!). So we had a small village trekking up Kilimanjaro for the next 9 days. So far, we had only met Elias and Charles. Over the next few days we got to know more and more of the support folks. All of the Tusker crew that we got to know were very nice and friendly. They worked extraordinarily hard, and made the trip up the mountain a very enjoyable experience.
After our rest stop the pavement soon ended. At first the landscape was flat and dry. We still saw people herding, but the population density dropped very quickly as we went on. As we got closer to the Londorossi Gate we saw many miles of cultivated tree groves, which are being planted by the government. Interspersed among the tree farms were small villages, which were constructed almost entirely from lumber. We found out that the government lets people live in these villages to earn a living growing crops (lots of potatoes). However, when the trees in an area are ready to be harvested, the villagers must move to another location. The village is then dismantled, which is why the dwellings were constructed from the lumber (actually split logs).
We arrived at the Londorossi Gate around noon. The five of us had to sign-in with our names, passport number, age, guide's name, etc. The porters also had to sign a different registration book. The guides had to pay a fee of several hundred dollars to the park service for our group to enter. (In 2006 the fee will increase from $30 to $60 per person per day.) At the gate, a park ranger weighed all of the porter loads. There is a limit that each porter is allowed to carry, a rule established to prevent abuse of the porters by companies trying to get by as cheaply as possible.
While we milled around the park gate, most of the porters and guides left for a half hour, or so. We didn't really know what was going on, and hung around waiting for a while; it turns out that they were all having their lunch. (The five of us thought that they would tell us when it was time to eat. I'm sure that the Tusker folks reasoned that we were smart enough to eat whenever we got hungry, and said nothing about it one way or another.)
After leaving the park gate, we back-tracked for a couple of miles, then turned south. The road soon became very bad, with 2-3 foot deep ruts and holes, high clearance in the center, and an occasional mud bog that the driver went around. The driver, a Keys Hotel employee, did a great job of getting us up there.
We drove to within a couple of hundred yards of the actual trailhead, then stopped due to a large mud bog. We all piled-out and they started unloading all of the camp gear and assigning porters to specific bags. I had heard stories of how unorganized and chaotic it can be to get all of the gear packed and assigned to the porters. This crew was extremely efficient and well-organized. It was clear that they were at the top of their profession, and everyone knew what they were doing. After about 20 minutes (about 1:15 pm) Elias said that it was time to head up the trail.
The trail started off quite steeply through thick trees and vegetation cover. To our surprise, the trail was completely dry the entire hike through the rain forest; we had heard stories of how slick and treacherous the trail can be when wet. I was also surprised that the trail was very well defined and clear. I had been expecting it to be overgrown with brush.
At the trailhead and one other spot along the trail, one of the porters (it turned out to be Bosco; we learned more and more names as the days went along) spotted a Colobus monkey in the trees. We had all read about these monkeys, and it was fun to get to see some. I'm not sure that we saw any other mammals the rest of our trek on the mountain.
Along the trail we heard lots of birds, but usually didn't see them. The trees were thick; many of them covered with hanging moss. There was also a lot of the famous Kilimanjaro stinging nettle plant aside the trail. It looked pretty nasty, and I avoided brushing against it. While we were hiking it was amazing to see how Rick could spot a beetle (or bug) smaller than a pencil point, then snatch it up and examine it. The guides really got a kick out of Rick's bug collecting hobby, and talked with him a lot about it.
After about 45 minutes on the trail the porters passed us by, walking very quickly up the slope. A few of the porters would stop to chat (in Swahili) with the guides, but most just sped up the mountain. The fellow who spotted the monkeys stayed with us quite a while, talking up a storm with Elias. As far as we could tell, the only ones in the Tusker group who could speak English were the two guides; that didn't turn out to be correct, however.
Our group consisted of Elias at the front, usually followed by Kevin and Ellen; this group usually got ahead of us a little ways, then would stop to wait for us to catch up. After that, it was usually me, then Pauline and Rick, then Charles. We eventually noticed that one of the porters carrying a huge (and heavy) yellow plastic duffel bag on his head always seemed to be bringing up the rear, and didn't pass us like the others did. By the end of the day we found out that he was carrying the emergency medical gear (oxygen, first aid, the PAC bag, etc.) in case a client had a medical problem at any point along the way. It turned out that he would stick at that position at the tail of our group the entire trip up to 19,340' feet at the top of Kilimanjaro. This fellow was as quiet as a stone back there, and it didn't seem like even Charles or Elias said anything to him. Aside from "jambo" (Swahili for hello), of course we didn't know how to speak with him either.
After about an hour on the trail, we all were getting pretty hungry for lunch. Finally, I asked Elias when we were going to eat. The guides were shocked that we hadn't eaten our packed lunch long before then. We immediately stopped and tore into the large boxed lunch that we'd been carrying. After that, Charles said to me, "Mike, any time you are hungry I want you to tell me 'Charles, I'm hungry.' If you are tired, I want you to say 'Charles, I'm tired.'" So, it took us a while to get some of these unspoken trekking ground rules lined-out. The guides typically didn't offer much information along the way (like who was the fellow with the big yellow bag on his head at the end of our line of hikers). However, if you asked, they were more than glad to answer your questions. If you didn't ask, they weren't going to "intrude" much one way or another. If you felt like talking with them, they were quite willing and were interested in finding out where we came from, our jobs, etc.
Elias was always at the head of our group, setting a very slow pace up the trail. It was unspoken, but very clear, that we didn't pass him and speed ahead. Of course, I knew from all my reading that the slower you hike the better for gradually acclimatizing to the elevation, so we were in no hurry. The hike was quite easy for the first day. After about 3 1/2 hours we arrived at the Big Forest (Mti Mkubwa) Camp, where we would stay for the first night.
When we arrived at camp, our tents (and all of the porter tents, cooking tent, and our dining tent) had all been set up. As soon as we entered camp, they brought us a jug of warm water, a bar of soap, and 5 bowls to wash our hands. They insistently urged us to go to the dining tent for a snack of popcorn, sweet biscuits, and tea or hot chocolate that was prepared for us. (I was in more of a mood to lie down in my tent and "veg-out" for 15 minutes; but hey, when in Tanzania, do as the Tanzanians do, I always say.) The dining tent was about 10' by 10' with a table, table cloth, and 6 folding chairs; Elias would be eating with the five clients each meal.
At the camp, we all had to sign in with a park ranger who lived in a crude, permanent metal shelter. Along the trek, we had to sign-in several times. The park service wants to make sure that everyone is registered (and has paid the proper fees). They also weighed all of the porters loads to make sure that the bags didn't exceed the maximum allowed weight.
The crew had set-up a canvas "toilet tent" for our use at each camp site. Inside there was a sturdy toilet seat on metal legs, with a 5-gallon bucket below. There was some sort of liquid in the bucket, which must have been a disinfectant of some kind, which kept any odors to a minimum. When we broke camp each morning, the bucket was emptied into one of the permanent outhouses that most trekkers and support people use. (OK. Now, I was starting to get the picture of why we had a group of 28 support people going up the mountain with us; toilet tent, dining tent, table, chairs, medical equipment, climbing ropes and helmets, and on and on. But it was very nice, and made life on the mountain very easy for us.)
Before dinner, Elias took our "vital stats" with the clip-on pulse oximeter. My reading were something like 95% oxygen level, and pulse rate of 85. The oxygen levels were nearly the same for all five of us, although we had a wide range of resting pulse rates.
Dinner was served about 6:15 pm, served by one of the support staff. It started off with cream of chicken soup, with a main course of spaghetti with a meat sauce. They served hot water for tea, and some bananas for dessert. The meal was certainly very good, and was a lot of food. Elias said that they wanted us to eat as much as possible to keep our strength up for the climb, and so that we wouldn't lose weight on the mountain. As you go higher in elevation, usually your appetite gets less and less. (It certainly worked that way for me. I ended up losing about 10 lbs on our 9 day trek. By about the sixth day, my trekking pants started falling down; I had never needed a belt with them before, and didn't think to bring one with me.)
It got down to about 50o F that night. I slept in some gym shorts and a tee shirt, and actually felt a little cold in my tent. (I soon learned to wear more and more to bed each night, as the temperatures dropped from one night to the next as we headed up the mountain.) I also experience my brand new pattern of getting up to pee every two hours, after drinking 3 liters of water that afternoon and several cups of hot tea in camp.
© Copyright 2005. Michael E. Coltrin, Albuquerque, NM. All rights reserved.