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I left Bozeman, Montana on January 12th and it was -25 degrees with new snow. 27 hours later arriving in Nairobi to warm, heavy rain I spent the night in a reasonable hotel, Kenya Comfort Hotel Downtown, for $45 (Africa is pretty expensive for the third world). I hadn't been to Nairobi since 1974 and it has cleaned up quite a bit. The next morning I caught the Riverside Bus to Arusha (7 hours), then checked into a hotel there provided by my outfitter Good Earth Tours. I had stressed over and over that I wanted to start early, but it does not look like that will be possible with Good Earth, the earliest I could get them to come tomorrow is 6am. On the next day, the 15th, they showed up a bit late, "Africa time" I guess. We dawdled around for most of the morning so didn't get to the trail until 10am, of course all the cool weather from the early morning was over by then so I sweltered up Umbwe route. This is a very beautiful way to go up and though it is steep in spots there is nothing to be concerned about. First there is spectacular rainforest, which I had trouble seeing with all the sweat in my eyes, then you follow a narrow ridge through moss covered heather with spectacular views. I recommend this route. At 3pm we were at "Umbwe Caves", by 5pm we pulled into Barranco, our camp for the night. About 7,200 feet vertical in 7 hours. While the crew from Good earth was very jovial and they impressed me climbing with loads on their heads, it took them three hours to make supper and the "matress" they provided was pitiful. I really missed my thermarest, I would recommend your bringing your own. I had hired a guide service because I understood it was required, now I am not so sure. My brother did a speed ascent on the other side of the mountain at about the same time and was told by a ranger that it could be arranged directly with them but of course this would be hard to do ahead. It's tough for us, coming from the US, to not have all this arranged ahead of time and it may be something you just have to drop in and visit with the rangers about. As it is the guide services are not set up for speed ascents and the guide generally gets left behind. I guess the services are good if you want to spend 6 days, they do carry everything which is nice.
Next day was real liesurly, we got up late and after breakfast, meandered over to Barafu, good thing too, since I didn't get much sleep on the petrified closed cell pad provided, nice tent though and the food is fine. Very nice trip over Barranco Wall, really a fun day. It was warm last night, didn't even frost, I'd guess 38F, so the 0 degree bag I brought was way overkill, but it looks like it can get colder here. I took 6 hours to go from Barranco to Barafu, but that was with lots of stopping and a big lunch break, lots of visiting with people, enjoying the nice sunny day. Barafu is something like 14,900'. There is no water here so the porters hauled it all, 5 gallon buckets on their heads, Yikes! Again it took them 3 hours to cook so I didn't get to "sleep" until 7pm which was not my plan. Up at 11pm since the guide would not be convinced that we sould leave at 1:30 am as per my plan. "All groups leave at midnight", that's the rule. This is why I mostly climb solo, don't play well with others. Anyway we charged up with lights on, over some rocks then over the snow, then over the deep snow and steeper, steeper until "Gillman's point" where it flattens out on the top. No moon, beautiful stars, great weather, I had to wait for the guide at Gillman's. It was maybe 20 degrees with perhaps up to 10 mph wind, felt warm to a Montana Boy. With the guide gamely trudging behind we walked over to the true summit, pitch dark, 5am, couldn't see a thing and the guide was getting cold so after about 15 minutes we started down making Barafu at 7am.
Spent an hour and a half at Barafu eating a little and packing up then on down. Made the ranger station by 1:30pm, today was 4,500' up and 13,500' down. That's quite a descent, not many places with so much down. So the whole trip was 51 1/2 hours. Nice trip.
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