Machame Route September 2006This is my trip report detailing my climb of Mount Kilimanjaro via the Machame route on September 1-7, 2006. Since my climbing partner (“Big John”) and myself (“Little John”) were both in our mid-50’s and US east coasters (Boston) decided to do the Machame Route with an extra day in order to increase our chances of summiting. I decided to do some work in the Netherlands before the trip in order to avoid jet lag due to the 7 hour time difference between Boston and Moshi. We booked our trip with Zara Tanzanian Adventures and I was very satisfied with them and heartily recommend them for anyone looking to book a safari or mountain climb.
We arrived on the evening of August 30th and spent the night getting acquainted with how things work at the Springlands Hotel (http://www.zara.co.tz/springlands/index.htm) in Moshi (you sign for everything and pay when you check out). I started taking Diamox Supplements (500mg time release capsules) along with cypro and malaria medicine. We met Macon Dunnagan, (author of “Sons of Kilimanjaro”) who was making his 8th trip up the mountain - leading a fundraising group for ovarian cancer. Macon took us under his wing and gave us some valuable advice as well and agreeing to take us into Moshi for sightseeing and shopping on the 31st. Space is too short to fully comment on Macon, but suffice it to say he is one of the most colorful characters I have ever met in my life and I thank him for his counsel and company.
Thursday August 31, 2006 – Rest Day
The hotel offers a shuttle ($1 per person) and we went into town with Macon and our three new South African friends - Kelly, Shelly and Jossi. You will be approached by locals trying to sell souvenirs to you. They are very polite (they will always tell you their name and shake you hand) but they are persistent. We went into the market – a sight to behold for this city boy – as you can buy all the staples you need – flour, corn, coffee beans, vegetables and meat – all in the open warehouse. I now know where all those unsold cassette tapes have gone to! Be forewarned, the locals expect a payment (25 cents) if you take their picture. After a while, the selling became too much and we “escaped” to the Kindoroko Hotel, where the local are not allowed in. They have a great outdoor terrace (Summit Terrace) on the 6th floor that offers a great view of Moshi and Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had a Coke and took some pictures. This was my first view of the mountain and it made me question my ability to complete the climb – it’s a big mountain.
We returned to the hotel ($3-$5 by cab) and prepared for the 5:00 orientation meeting by relaxing by the pool and drinking local beers Kilimanjaro, Safari and Tusker At the meeting, we were divided up by route and as we were on the Macahme route, there were several other groups starting up the same day – some on six day treks and some on 7 day treks. Besides the S. Africans who were doing the six day, there was a group of two from Belgium (Morgane and Stijn) and a group of three (Jenny, Jaci and Jean-Pascal) from Quebec. These would be our compatriots for the next seven days and we became close friends. It was surprising that Zara did not combine us into one or two groups, but I suspect they wanted to employ as many guides and porters as possible. We were introduced to our guide (Milton) and were told that our group wound consist of 5 porters, a waiter (Ngowe), a cook (Ali), an assistant guide (Frank) and Milton. Milton spoke English as did Frank to a limited degree, but the rest did not. Here is where you ask all your questions and reserve any item you need to rent. We spent the night trying to get everything into our duffle bag and keeping the weight to the recommended 15 kg (33 lbs.)
Friday Sept. 1, 2006 – Day 1 Machame Gate to Machame Camp(11 mi. – 18km)
After all the waiting, the day to start has arrived. We loaded our bus ad departed around 9:00 for the 40 minute ride (every ride we took outside of Moshi was supposed to be 40 minutes – the real time is never told) to the Machame gate. We stopped at a local store to get any last minute items – I bought a coke (for hydration) and some M&M’s. We arrived at Machame Gate around 10:00 and we signed in, while everything was getting unloaded and the porters took off up the trail. Temperature was around 74F (23C) and I was in shorts and a t-shirt. We were at 6000 ft (1830 m) and for the most part the day one hike was easy. We hiked with the aforementioned groups as well as a married couple from Colorado (Adam and Julie). Another interesting couple – while they own a house in Colorado – Adam is a civilian with the UN Peacekeeping force in the Congo and Julie is doing Graduate Research in Uganda.
We were given a box lunch (chicken, corn bread, orange, fruit drink and a chocolate bar – plenty of food) at about 8000 ft (2440 m). This was rain forest and true to form, it started raining and the altitude, mud and rain made the rest of the trip slower. At this point our guide started to get us prepared for the rest of the uphill portion by slowing us down. I did use gaiters to keep the mud out of my shoes. I didn’t use them again until the last day and really didn’t need them at all. I did wear hiking boots every day and I couldn’t imagine using anything else (I‘m used to boots for hiking). Some people did use hiking shoes for all the days except summit day.
We arrived in Machame Camp 10,200 ft (3100m) at around 4:00. The temperature was 55F (13C) but felt colder due to the rain. We had to sign in at the camp and we discovered that we (the “two Johns” as we would become known) were the oldest ones for several pages of sign-ins – not a promising note, I expected more people our age. There were approximately 50 climbers in camp and we tried to say hello to many of them.
Around 4:30 we were given tea (coffee/cocoa/tea along with cookies and popcorn) in our dining tent. We had folding stools and a table with a table cloth. Before every meal, there was a bucket of hot water and soap to wash up. Dinner was served at 6:30 and consisted of onion soup (one of my favorites – all the soups were great), meat, french fries, salad, a veggie sauce and bananas – all by candlelight and headlamp.
Big John played cards with Morgane and Stijn in their tent while I wrote my journal. The dining tent is used by the porters as their sleeping tent so we didn’t use the tent much after dinner any of the nights.
Saturday September 2, 2006 – Day 2 Machame Camp to Shira Camp (6.6mi – 9 km)
We awoke around 6:30 and tea was delivered about 15 minutes later. The temperature (according to my thermometer) was 34F (1C) but there was ice on some of the tents so it obviously was colder earlier. We had a clear view of Kilimanjaro from our tent site and it appeared less imposing than it had from town. I slept the best I had all week, but John complained that I was snoring all night and he couldn’t sleep. Sorry. We departed at 8:15 am and I think we were the first to leave camp. We met several people on this day, including a Japanese man from Sapporo traveling solo (he didn’t speak much English so our conversation was brief), and Jason and his friend Rachael from Vancouver (and London). We saw them several times over then next few days. We also met Adam and Julie from Colorado (more on them later).
We went very slowly as Milton was getting us used to “pole, pole” Swahili for slowly, slowly. I took some getting used to. I drank more water today and we stopped at several scenic spots for pictures. Temperature during the day was rather warm at about 65 F (18 C). We had a great view of Mt. Meru poking above the clouds which made a great picture. We arrived at Shira Camp (actually Shira 3) - 12,600 ft (3840 m) about 1:30 in the afternoon and had an early tea. Shira is one of the highest plateaus on earth, averaging 12,500 ft/3810m
Adam and Julie came over and he had a great conversation. Adam is a civilian with the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo and shared some great stories with us. Julie was completing her graduate research in Uganda and they meet each other about every 6 weeks. Apparently he spends about $400 per week on phone calls. They have been married 7 years and keep a house in Durango, Colorado, but apparently they haven’t been there much in the seven years. As Julie said: “Adam promised if I married him it wouldn’t be boring” and apparently it hasn’t been.
Our guide Milton came over and said we were going for a hike (a little more acclimatization). The three Quebec hikers joined us. We went to Shira Cave, where Milton’s grandfather used to sleep when he was a guide in the 1930’s. Several of us had slight headaches during the afternoon. Mine went away after an Excedrin and dinner and apparently everyone else’s did also.
We talked with the Quebec group and learned that Jenny and Jaci are nursing students who did summer work in a clinic in Mali. Jenny said she was offered the exorbitant amount of 50 cows from one of the Maasi tribesmen to become his wife. Apparently the going rate is only 25 cows! Jean-Pascal was doing general carpentry for a builder in the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean. They all had some great stories and experiences.
Sunday September 3, 2006 – Day 3 Shira Camp to Barranco Camp (9 mi – 15km)
Temperature in the morning was 27F (-3C) which quickly rose to 70F (21C) as the day progressed. It was windy so the wind chill made it seem about 10 degrees colder - still a pleasant temperature to hike in. We left camp around 8:25 and quickly fell into step with Milton. We hiked about 4 hours and arrived at Lava Tower (reportedly at 15,997 ft/4976m). Just before the Lava tower, the Lemosho Route intersects the Machame Route and we met two Norwegian hikers (Helen and Charlene). Helen had a cold and I told her I would get her some cough drops when we got to camp that night. We had lunch at the tower with our Canadian friends, but decided against climbing to the top as we didn’t want to overextend ourselves an pay later when we summit Kili. Also saw our first African chipmunk – didn’t look any different from an American chipmunk. I was developing a slight headache and didn’t have a big appetite – two symptoms of AMS.
There was a large group camping at the tower and the porters broke out in song and dance. Everyone enjoyed the episode and several of the hikers joined in the fun. Fortunately, John got some good video footage of the whole thing (as did Jaci I think).
We began our descent and I was interested to see if the headache would go away as we lost altitude. It got lighter, but didn’t go away. It was interesting as this was our first extended decent and it was good to give out thighs a change to do some work before the big time on summit day. In all, it took about two hours to descend to the Barranco Camp (12,664 ft/3860m) and we arrived about 3:00. I was tired and was looking forward to a nap, but I decided to take a walk around. The Umbwe Trail meets at this camp and we met a group from South Africa and Namibia who told us that this route is one of the steepest on Kilimanjaro.
I took a quick walk around and talked to our regulars (the Quebecois, the So. Africans and the Belgians) as well as giving cough drops to our Norwegian friends. My headache was getting worse, so I took another Excedrin and took a nap. Our tent was the first one and we had a chance to meet all the incoming hikers – it was great. Since Kilimanjaro is very close to the equator and at the same time, very high, it has a very unusual climate. It has been said that you can experience all four seasons each day on Kilimanjaro. On this day it was becoming more obvious to us. Since the atmosphere is very thin the radiant energy from the sun has a very strong effect. As we hiked in the sun it felt like summer and light pants and T-shirt were very comfortable. At the same time, the ambient temperature was actually fairly low since the altitude is so high (temperature usually drops approximately 3 F per 1000 feet increase in altitude). As we stopped in the shade we felt very cool and reached for a sweater or jacket. After the sun went down, the temperature dropped rapidly and we found ourselves in winter clothing in a matter of minutes.
Dinner consisted of Cucumber soup (excellent) pasta w/vegetable sauce pancakes and watermelon for dessert. With dinner, my headache went away completely and I returned to my usual jovial state. Big John is showing no ill effects from the altitude so the Ginko must be working. After dinner, I tried to organize my duffel bag – this was a never-ending issue as no matter what I did, I still couldn’t find various items. I would just unpack things from the duffel, organize them in the Ziploc bags and put them back in the duffel – only to discover that I didn’t know where I put anything when I needed it. I would repeat this all seven days on the mountain and the rest of the days at the hotel also!
Went to bed about 8:30 and slept great again.
Monday Sept. 4, 2006 – Day 4 Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp (4.3mi – 7 km)
This is a short hiking day for us to acclimate to the altitude so we got to sleep an extra half hour!. Temperature in the morning was a balmy 37F (3C). We started immediately up the Barranco Wall, a steep 1500 ft (460m) edifice that really wasn’t as difficult as it sounds (or looks as it looks pretty imposing). There was a good trail up to the top and we did it in one hour 15 minute. We paused for some pictures and continued on to Karanga Camp (13,800 ft/4200m). We arrived at Karanga approximately 4 hours after leaving Barranco. On this portion, we traversed up and down the slopes of the valleys which have carved their way into the mountain’s southern face. Kibo’s glaciers loom above to your left and the jagged peak of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second highest crater, appears just over the southern slope of Kibo. I thought this portion with its’ up and down portions, was more strenuous than the climb up “The Wall”. Some of our friends (Jossi, Kelly and Shelly from South. Africa and Brian and Rachael from Vancouver and Adam and Julie from Colorado) were on a 6 day trek and were not stopping here so we had to say our goodbyes. We didn’t see the So. Africans, but we later learned that all three of them summitted. I’m not so sure about Rachael as she had some pretty nasty blisters.
We had lunch and as I regained a slight headache, I took a short nap and it went away. We were really starting to see the effects of altitude as anything required a slow pace to keep our breath. We decided to take another acclimatization hike up the trail we were going to take tomorrow. We gained about 900 ft/275m to the top of the ridge with our Asst. Guide Frank. Our Quebec friends were already up there when we came back down with them. Back in Camp, our Belgian friends were mingling with the Norwegian girls so we stopped to do the same.
There was also a large (15)mixed-nationality group with So. Africans, Italians, Spaniards, etc and we talked to then fro a while. They had an unusual itinerary as they were going over the summit and camping at Crater Camp (18,800 ft/5730m). We talked with tem and later the our groups merged and played the “Belgian” card game. John and I opted out, but since out tent was next to the “card tent”, we could hear everything that was said and were also able to offer our unsolicited comments.
We also met two Brazilian women, but they were suffering a bit and we didn’t get to talk too much.
One note in my journal was that no matter how much I washed, I couldn’t get the Kilimanjaro dirt completely off my hands and fingernails.
Tuesday Sept. 5, 2006 – Day 5 Karanga Camp to Barafu(8mi – 13 km)
Another great sleep night. I haven’t had any problems sleeping despite what some other trip reports said was common. Temperature was 27F (-3C). We had our breakfast and began hiking around 8:30. Not much to write about – rocks, dust and not much else. We could still see the mountain and there is still a ways to go. I actually thought the last hour to Barafu Camp (15,100ft /4600m) was the toughest so far. Pretty steep and the altitude made the going tough. This site is the rockiest campsite we have had yet. It is interesting because we arrived at 11:30 and some of the hikers who had summitted that day were still there and we got to talk to them. We learned that Adam made it to the top while Julie made it to Stella Point. We also had to wait for those who summitted to leave before we could set up our tents.
As was usual at some of the sites, the rangers sell Coke Cola and Kilimanjaro beer. I bought a couple of Cokes at $3 each. They were pretty good, but they taste different in Tanzania (or else it was the Diamox). My thermometer read 65F (18C), but the wind made it seem much colder. I actually wrote my journal in the afternoon in my sleeping bag with my heavy fleece on.
We had dinner early – around 4:30 and were briefed on summit day. I went to sleep around 7:00 and slept until we were awoken at 11:00 with out coffee and cookies.
Wednesday Sept. 6 2006 – Day 6 Barafu to Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp (18m/30km)
Summit day finally arrives. We left at 11:30 PM and were one of the first to leave. Milton and Frank didn’t bring any packs and didn’t use headlamps. How they knew where we were, I don’t know. Temperature was again around 27F (-3C) and we were quite comfortable in long johns and winter fleece. For the first 2000 ft/600m, everything was fine. It was actually kind of neat to see the full moon, the stars and the headlamps of everyone below us.
Around this time things started to change. It got colder and I switched to my heavy parks, heavier gloves and had some food and water. The water in my tube camelback started to freeze and I didn’t have enough breath to “blow back” in the tube. I actually had some water in my Nalgene, but it was flavored and taste so bad that I didn’t even want to drink it. I also started to get dizzy (although I didn’t realize it at first). The dizziness along with the lack of water and food (my power bar was also frozen) and altitude started me thinking that I might not make it to the top.
Milton took my pack and Big John was in front of me and his boots had a reflective strip on the back that I started to focus on. I started counting steps, but I could only get to about 300 before something distracted me and I started again. About 18,000 ft/5450m, the trail turned to scree. This made the going a little more difficult, but my training paid off and other than trying to keep my balance as Big John took two steps forward and one back, I had no problems. Milton said we had about 20 minutes to Stella Point, but it was actually only 10. I expected a more defined point, but it was just a rest area. I could have slept right there, but Milton said it was time to continue.
By now I knew I would make it to the top as I was told the rest of the trip was relatively easy and would only take about 1 hour. I got going with Frank and we were really moving and we made it to Uhuru Peak in about 20 minutes. We arrived just before sunrise (around 6:20 AM) and were in the first group of about 25 people. I estimated the temperature at 10F/-12C, but with the wind chill, it was probably 20 degrees colder. My fingers were freezing and I even had a heating pad in my gloves. I also had a severe headache (not surprising since we had just climbed over 4000 ft/1200m in 6 hours in thin air). I was anxious to start down, but I wanted to spend some time looking at the sights – especially the glacier – quite a sight.
We had our pictures taken - I had a disposable camera but the pictures didn’t come out very well. Fortunately, Big John had his camera and his pictures were great. After about 30 minutes we started back down. Along the way we met just about everyone that we had met on the way up – the South African twins and their friend, the Quebec group (minus Jaci who didn’t quite make it), Morgane and Stijn, the Norwegians, the big international group – everyone I could think of. Some of them were looking pretty bad, but they kept going. We even met Rob and Suzie from Arizona who we met the first day and were taking the Rongai route to the top. We knew we were both going to summit on the same day so we “scheduled” to meet at “8:30 at the top”. Little did we know that we really would meet up there.
We started back down and I kept waiting for my headache to go away as I descended. It god milder, but didn’t go away completely. Milton took us down the “less dusty” route – not saying much as the scree was so fine that I felt like I was skiing down the mountain. Actually it was enjoyable except for the dust. With the sun out, the temperatures started to rise quickly and around 8:00, I was able to shift into lighter clothing – away went the parka and fleece hat in favor of a fleece vest and my “Africa baseball hat with sides”. The temperature rose to around 60F/15C and my Camelback thawed and I was able to drink again.
We arrived back at Barafu about 9:00 am and were met by Ngowe with a liter bottle of fruit juice – was that ever welcome. I drank that and purchased another Coke and rested for two hours. We had lunch about 11:00 and started the remainder of our descent about noon. The next four hours were relatively and since we were going down, there was no more “pole, pole”. We went at the fastest pace would could (which for us was moderate). I developed a few ‘hot spots” on my heel and stopped to put on some moleskin. Other than that, it was a rather uneventful trip down to Mweka Camp (10,200ft/3,100m). A quick dinner and a round of congratulations with everyone and we retire about 7:30. I was a long day – easily the toughest of the trip.
At this part, we asked Milton about ‘donations” of some of our clothing for the porters. We put our “extra” stuff – thermal tops and bottoms, my favorite Buffalo Bills fleece hat, gloves, etc in a bag and left it for the porters. We intend so send some more stuff from home later.
Thursday Sept. 7 2006 – Day 7 Mweka Camp to Mweka Park Gate (9m/15km)
I awoke about 6:30 and was slightly sore from descending over 9000 ft (2750m) in one day. The temperature was 27F (-3C). Mweka Camp is in the upper rain forest and there were trees and dampness. This was supposed to be an easy 3-4 hours descent of about 5,000ft/1525m, but in the Kilimanjaro mud, it was anything but. This is the segment of the trail containing the “4000 steps”. The mud was everywhere and I even saw a porter slip. We went very slowly and used our poles extensively for additional stability. I developed blisters on my hands from the poles. Big John’s knees were bothering him, but we kept going and were rewarded with our Gold certificates when we signed out at the Mweka Gate. At the gate, there were plenty of locals hawking souvenirs – patches, hats, knives, etc.
We arrived back at the Springlands about 12:00 and scrambled around to get our money and tokens for our group as this was both packed away in our bags and also in the safe deposit box. We had a drink with Frank and Milton (the porters are not allowed in the compound so if you want to buy them a drink, you have to go to the Zara site in town and go to a local bar).
After, there was a special lunch at the hotel and everyone had a shower. I didn’t recognize everyone when we went to the Indo-Italiano Restaurant in Moshi that evening. Big John and myself treated the others to dinner - we all had beers, pizza and desserts – all for about $10 apiece! We walked around town and took the shuttle back to the hotel. It was bittersweet as were not going to see the Quebec crew again as they were leaving early the next morning to head back. Went to bed around 10:00.
Friday Sept. 8 2006 – Rest Day - Safari
We met Rob and Suzie (from Arizona) for breakfast and were joined by Stijn and Morgane. We were told that our safari would begin around 9:30 so we were taking our time. We were just starting breakfast, when Zainab (the “ZA” in Zara) came over and told us that the driver was ready. We hurried up, said our goodbyes to Morgane and Stijn ( they were off to meet others in Zanzibar) and arranged to meet Rob and Suzie for dinner later.
I was about a 90 minute drive to Arusha National Park where our safari was to begin. At the gate, I met two ladies from New Hampshire that I had met on the plane from Boston almost two weeks prior. They had made it to the Lava tower, when one of them developed severe AMS and decided to stop at that point. We exchanged stories and went our separate ways.
We entered the park and immediately came face to face this several giraffes. I’m not sure if we were looking at them or they were looking at us – they were close and there must have been 30 of them. Over the next 4 hours, with our guide Oscar, we saw baboons, monkeys, water buffalo, warthogs, zebras, antelopes as well as a flight of pink flamingos. It was truly a great way to quickly see animals in their natural state.
On the way back, we took a side trip to a Maasi village to see how they lived. It was truly an eye-opening experience. They do not acquiesce to the government and refuse to learn English or Swahili – the two languages of Tanzania. They had a market in the center of the village and tribesmen were coming in from the surrounding countryside with goods to sell. We took some discrete pictures and returned to the Springlands in time to go out to the Indo-Italiano Restaurant for dinner again with Rob and Suzie. We had a great time and we each told stories of our lives and kids, etc.
Saturday Sept. 9 2006 – Departure Day
Our flight wasn’t until 8:30 at night and we had to be out of our rooms by 9:30 am. We checked out and went into town to get the last of the souvenirs. While there, we saw our guide Milton in one of the stores, and had a mini-reunion. We got our stuff and returned to the hotel about 11:00. It was a power outage day and we just hung around the pool until it was time to leave. We actually had our boots cleaned of all the mud from the trail.
Zainab and the rest of the staff came out to see us go. It seemed to me that they took a special interest in us as they were always taking us aside and helping us – either that or we needed remedial treatment!
We caught the bus to the airport around 6:00 and the adventure was over. As a side note to everyone – I developed an blood clot on the flight back. I attribute this to being dehydrated from the Diamox. The clot (called Deep Vein Thrombosis) required shots and medications for the next three months. My advice – get up and walk around the plane and drink plenty of liquids.
I hope this helps someone.