Narrow-minded park rules and their enforcement
- You are physically very fit and already acclimatized and wanna climb Mt Meru in two days (or even single push)? Forget it.
- You are an ambitious photographer and wanna start hiking early each day to catch be best early morning sunlight? No way.
- You are an individual(ist) and would like to take advantage of the flexibility having a ranger of your own, for which you actually paid? Won't work.
- Clouds are threatening to move in and you'd prefer to do a quick stroll beyond the hut before taking the time to register there? Better do not.
Beware that climbing this mountain is pretty much over-regulated by an inflexible and greedy park management. They require you to pay for at least three days (and two nights, where the US$ 20 for staying in the huts is the only part actually of good value), which sums up to currently US$ 207.50 per head, based on the fees for a group of two. Credit cards gladly accepted. There are even plans to charge for four days even if your climb actually takes only three. Between Mormella Gate and Saddle Hut, you are obliged to walk with a ranger who is supposed to protect you from wild animals - where apparently the only potential real danger may be a lonely and aggressive buffalo or elephant, which is pretty rare. To make things worse, since July 2010 the management has the unfair habit of combining tourist groups to share a single ranger. In this way they save personnel, but as a side-effect kill any remaining flexibility of the climbing schedule and thus cause tensions within the combined group. This bad practice is widely criticized not only by the tourists, but also by the rangers who must execute it.
One might succeed in bypassing all of these regulations by secretly starting to climb in the night and avoiding any contact with local people. The highest risk you'd take in this way would not be so much to be actually hurt by a wild animal (which are typically more scared by mankind rather than the other way round), but to be attacked by a mob of diligent rangers and porters determined to enforce the park rules. I tried this more individual approach to some extent, with (in the end) mostly positive results, except that I was kept as a kind of premature prisoner for a couple of hours.
I - was well as many others to whom I shared my experience - have the strong impression that the concerns of the staff of the Arusha national park, to which Mt Meru belongs, are not primarily the protection of the climbers from wild animals, but the income of the Tanzanian state obtained from the tourists. They appear to be particularly keen on avoiding incidents with animals since this might give this heavily touristic area quite some negative press with bad effect on the economy.
Apart from all these hassles, Meru is a spectacular and highly rewarding mountain. The rangers working there will certainly be very nice to you, as long as you follow those (res)strict(ive) park rules.
For further detail of my trip including photos, see here.