The routeAs far as I know, the only route allowed for climbers on Mount Meru: Momella Route.
The members*Luis - From Arrigorriaga, in the Basque Country. Usual long-distance runner and mountaineer.
Previous highest altitude: unknown.
*Nieves - From Pamplona, Navarra. Mountaineer and swimmer, she's the person who had the original idea: "Why can't we go to Kilimanjaro?". That was the real reason for our attack on Meru: acclimatization for the attempt on Kili.
Previous highest altitude: 3718 meters a.s.l.(Mount Teide, Spain)
Other significant peaks: Pico de Aneto (3404 meters), Monte Perdido (3355 meters)
*Pilar - Also from Pamplona, Navarra. Mountaineer, swimmer and runner.
Previous highest: 5416 meters a.s.l. (Thorung La, Nepal)
Other significant peaks: Mount Teide (3718 meters), Pico de Aneto (3404 meters)
*Enrique - From Pamplona, Navarra. Mountaineer and cyclist.
Previous highest: 5416 meters a.s.l. (Thorung La, Nepal)
Other significant peaks: Monte Perdido (3355 meters), Gran Bachimala (3177 meters)
Isabel and Lionel - From Switzerland, though Isabel is actually a daughter of spanish parents. We happened to be together in this climb and enjoyed their company up to the summit day, when they rushed down to Momella Gate in order to face their Kilimanjaro climb by the Rongai - Loitokitok Route.
September 3rd , 2001: Momella Gate - Miriakamba HutPark Rangers, the people who would be responsible for our safety once inside the Park. But before coming to that, our guide would have to deal with paper work and permissions, or whatever bureaucracy was needed to allow us into the mountain. That took quite a long time waiting up there, looking around and trying to understand what the porters were doing to distribute their loads.
But everything was solved in about ninety minutes and Kabila told us to start walking with Moses, one of the rangers. We didn't know it then, but he would be coming with us up to the Saddle. After leaving Momella Gate the path led through nice grassy areas, the kind of place people usually call “savannah”. We crossed them in scarcely thirty of forty-five minutes, to begin walking uphill in pursuit of Moses. All the way up was a nice stroll with some fairy-tale spots, such as the one we called "the haunted forest". And to make it a little bit more african to our narrow european minds, the path was marked by buffalo skulls.
I was soaked by the time we reached Miriakamba Hut. It was a small group of wooden huts placed in clearing right in the middle of the mountain forest. About two thousand and five hundred meters above sea level. The air was definitely wet, and fog ruled the place making it look more misterious. An austrian group had arrived a little earlier, and our swiss friends gave us a hearty welcome. My shirt looked as just coming out of a river. Sweat and the air humidity soaked it, and my only spare cloths were a couple of thermal innerwears. Luckily my friends lent me a dry T-shirt. Changing into it and washing my face with the warm water Kabila brought made me feel almost human. And the afternoon tea also helped, surely...
Sunset came abruptly, suddenly. Some choral songs could be heard from the nearby hut. I couldn’t believe I was in Africa, in the mountains of Tanzania. I couldn’t believe my dreamed-of holidays were starting like that. My luggage was somewhere around Rome or Addis Ababa and I found myself attacking a four-thousander dressed as if walking around my hometown. It might have been worst, for I had cared to wear my mountain boots and warm jacket during the flight in, but my gloves, my sleeping bag, my walking poles, my T-shirts… everything was lost for the moment. Thank God and Luis for the extra sleeping bag our basque friend had brought with him.
September 4th, 2001: Miriakamba Hut - Saddle Hut
The track started north, leaving the Miriakamba clearing to enter a deep forest. Sun was slowly rising and lighting the ridge of Meru, which towered high above us. It felt quite strange to be in the middle of that jungle, with a landscape that suggested lower altitudes but climbing above three thousand meters. Some of us were even gasping for breath when we stopped for a break at the place called Ngongo wa tembo (supposedly swahili for "the place where elephants turn back"). After that, the soil turned quite dusty and even looked like sand in some spots. In about three hours we were getting to Saddle Hut. Altitude made me feel dizzy . Or was it my imagination? I don't know. But the air was cool and dry. Our swiss friends had already arrived and we all shared the dining room of the Hut for lunch. It felt exciting to be facing our first climb of these african holidays, but there was still an afternoon to take care of. And we all decided to do so by climbing nearby Little Meru. An easy hike of about an hour, crossing steep sandy slopes through the usual bushes. Our stay on the summit was one of the quietest and most pleasant moments I remember in our whole african holiday. Silence reigned up there in spite of the huge number of people standing on the summit. A silence that was broken in a single ocasion. Just once, when a group of austrian climbers formed a circle in the very top of Little Meru and started singing. Can't say what it was, right now I don't even remember wether they chanted in german or in english, but it sounded like some kind of a religious peaceful song. It lasted some four or five minutes but we all listened and enjoyed it silently. We never told them this, even though we also shared with them our trip on the Marangu Route of Mount Kili, but this might be the moment to thank them for that unexpected delightful moment.
That was the end of a short afternoon. The walk down to Saddle Hut followed, and an early dinner gave way to the pre-climb briefing in the Hut dining room. I still remember the faces of Moses and our two guides, lit by a gas lamp, while talking to us about the climb to the summit. That was also the moment for them to learn that I had no real mountain equipment apart from my warm jacket and my boots. Moses saved my day by telling me that anyway he was going to stay at the Saddle, and therefore would lend me a wool hat and his torch.
September 5th, 2001: Saddle Hut - Mount Meru - Miriakamba Hut
After packing, a speedy breakfast came before leaving the hut for the darkness of the Saddle. Out there, we sang our small "anthem" asking for the protection of St. Fermin (just as the runners of the "encierro" do in our town's festival) and began walking behind Kabila. The full moon lit the whole scene. Sandy terrain was the first area to be crossed, on the climb from the Saddle to Rhino Point. A night climb lit by headlamps, walking across bushes for about an hour. Darkness reigned over the african night,the moon could not be seen - not yet.
At Rhino Point we began walking westwards. This second phase of the hike turned out to be easier. It was not too steep and we were still (and would be for the rest of the day) on ashy terrain. Felt weird at first, but I got used to it quite fast. A brief moment of excitement was brought by a short rocky step, which we had to unclimb, about the time when the moon was coming up. Afterwards it was all a matter of easy uphill walking, lit by the full moon, an enjoyable hike in a black-and-white world. I felt sunrise to be quite slow. In any case, for most of the hike I was not able to enjoy the marvelous sight of distant Kili letting the sun behind it. I was feeling cold and gasping for oxygen whenever we stopped. Only for a few seconds I felt the greatness of the african night, but those seconds were worth the whole climb. There we were, walking along the rim of an african volcano under the full moon. Hard to believe when you thought about it. The world turned from black to grey, lighting slowly, and after a six hours climb from Saddle Hut the green paint marks of the path took us to the summit of Meru. As all groups coming down had told us, it was up there. A tanzanian flag marked the highest point of the ridge.
I felt the long way down to Saddle Hut to be quite a return to life. I had been feeling real cold up there in the summit, half physical cold (remember my lost luggage) and half psychological... God, it was four thousand five hundred meters high and I was wearing my jeans as if walking by my town avenues... When we arrived back at Saddle Hut there was a really nice temperature "down" there. I felt extremely thirsty, my mouth was dry...
All these feelings had faded some hours later, while enjoying a nice afternoon back at Miriakamba Hut. The summit ridge looked so high, we had made it to the top and the feeling was so wonderful...
September 6th, 2001: Miriakamba Hut - Momella Gate
The final day was also a short one. An early wake-up and breakfast gave way to a short walk downhill, back to Momella Gate. That weird feeling of a succesful climb was my only thought, you know, that impression of emptiness that an accomplished dream can leave behind it at the very first moments... But I was satisfied, that's for sure. We had known an extremely beautiful spot on earth, some unforgettable moments had found a place in our memory and Kilimanjaro was still lying ahead, in the eastern horizon. The first thing I wanted to do was to have a shower. Couldn't think of anything better than a shower... except for finding my lost luggage.