„You have to get out of your comfort zone, if you want to experience the perfect moment“. I have the words of entrepreneur Jochen Schweizer, whom I met shortly before in Munich, still well in mind, as our mountain guide Paul inspected all my equipment in our little hotel room in Arusha, which is the base camp for tours on Mount Kilimanjaro.
„Did you bring your sleeping bag and camping mat?“ Well, of course! No need to tell him that I just looked at the clever leaflet of my friend Luka from Novi Travel 2 days before departure to upgrade my gear. Not enough to convince Paul of course, so he rolls out my fabric bed for the next 5 nights and controls the temperature recommendation in the inner lining. „OK. What about your headlamp? How many pairs of socks? What do you wear underneath? Where is your fleece jacket? Do you have at least 3 water bottles? Drugs? Walking Sticks? „I get dizzy with all the guidelines and so I light up with my red plastic flashlight around. „Oh my God. What do you want with that? Your fingers will freeze“. In the end he is satisfied but shows no mercy on the water bottles and prophesies gloomily that 1 liter of water is clearly not enough for the day.
Now it’s time to eat once again, have a shower, shave a last time, and then I leave on time at eight o’clock from Professor Bernhard Grizmek’s old dwelling-house in Arusha, which is now called Outpost Lodge and something like the last outpost before the ascent to Mount Kilimanjaro.
It is an approximately 3 hours’ drive to the Machame Gate at 1,800 meters, where participants register and the equipment is weighed.
On this basis, the number of porters, which accompany an expedition, is measured, because more than 20 kg load per person are not allowed. The whole process lasts 1.5 hours and I have nothing left to do but to save my energies and to watch the colorful activity. Just before 12, we´re finally ready and Paul gives the starting shot to the ascent. Our small private group of 2 people, has expanded by a team of 8 porters, 2 guides and a Chef de Cuisine.
The path is astonishingly well laid out and runs through dense rainforest, which rarely admits to the summit, but spares me the popping sun. That´s why my freshly acquired tourist safari hat still remains nicely folded in the backpack and I am facing the challenge to catch up as many “before me started” groups as possible. Except for a few porters, who carry the heavy tents, folding chairs and cool bags acrobatically on their head, I should succeed. „Slower. At this speed you´ll never make it to the summit „Paul calls me afterwards, but patience has never been my virtue so I enjoy the majority of the really beautiful hike almost alone and am surprised to reach the Machame Camp on 2.980 Meters after 3 hours and 20 minutes.
On a plateau, first tents are erected, folding chairs and coffee are served with popcorn. And for the first time the goal of all these hardships is shown by a window in the cloud layer. The powerful glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro have something attractive and repellent at the same time and left me in full respect.
Time for the evening wash, which consists of a wild mixture of wet hankys and two bowls of hot water. Afterwards, our crew serve a perfect banana potato stew and for dessert some avocados. Finally, a hot tea for the stomach as well as the terrible walk to the toilet. How are they? Some of my adventures are better taken to the grave, but at least I now know where the German phrase „shit the wall“ comes from. As an indispensable companion turns out to be my small 5 € flashlight, which is simply unaffordable up here and it lights my slalom between tent hooks and spears. The first day is done and I feel amazingly good and fit for day 2 despite the absence of any luxury equipment.
How was the night? Please do not ask. My sleeping bag went into wild strike at +2 degrees, so it was more like a nap, as a healthy sleeping unit, and I was glad when at 6:30 the alarm clock finally released me from what is called a night. On the other hand, the mountain is gently mild, the glaciers are bathed in glittering orange by the first rays of the sun.
Time for a coffee and a hot pot of Porridge, which was very habituated. But then our chef puts all his energy on omelettes and sausages and makes himself indispensable forever. Paul, who is for the 43rd time with a group on Mount Kilimanjaro, explains the route of today. Some 900 heights are ahead of me and they are definitely steeper than the ones of yesterday’s opening day. The vegetation changes every 1,000 meters, and the rainforest is replaced by mixed forest, and finally the first Senecios and Everlasting Flowers dominate the scenery.
In the background, you can see the perfect volcano shape of Mount Meru and the jagged Shira Hills, used by some mountaineers as a training and warm-up program. This is really a very special landscape and with a few energy bars and sufficient water also to hike well. 3 hours later, I enter the park ranger station of Shira Cave Camp at 3,750 meters. Afterwards the Moorland shows itself from its inhospitable side and the sunshine turns into cold rainy weather. Time to go back to my sleeping bag, this time with a hot thermos bottle inside. You live and learn. The afternoon turns out to be a little bit boring so I took a short walk to the water hole where I meet my two porters Peter and Lawrence, who tell me about their life. Their job dream is to work as a guide and lead their own guests to the summit. Right now, they study tourism in Arusha and have to do some practical units as a porter on a kilimanjaro hiking. As an exercise, they can lead me to the dining tent where our chef Elyawon has already conjured a complete menu of soup and rice with fish. After the obligatory good-night tea, I let the thermos bottles fill with hot water again and stuff them into the sleeping bag.
The „babybottles“ still hold until 3 o’clock at night and I am euphoric about so much sleep, which then immediately turns into horror. When I look into the selfie mode of my mobile phone, I can hardly believe what I see. 75 years overnight. Congratulations! The eyes are swollen like after a box fight. But there is really no time for plastic surgery today, because the summit of the Kilimanjaro throws a cloudless smile at me and our small expedition goes to the 4,600-meter-high Lava Tower Camp.
The vegetation is clearly more sparsely than yesterday and now consists of a few bushes and lava stones, but, due to the permanent view of the Kilimanjaro glaciers, it is an incredible fascination. I choose my steps wisely today, and let the one or the other porter pass, in order to make the acclimatization process work accordingly.
The ascent takes about 3 hours, and except for a slight throb in the back of my head, I feel good. Today’s destination is another 2 hours away, called Barranco Camp. The mean: It goes downhill and we give up almost all previous run-off altitude. The path leads us along the mighty steep wall of the Lava Tower through an oasis-like canyon, which is lined with countless Giant Senecio Trees.
The camp itself lies spectacular on a high plateau right to the steep Barranco Wall. Shall we really get up there tomorrow? Paul nods and adds: „Don´t panic, it will be the only climb on our tour“. Well then good night.
Here you can find Part 2 of Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.
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