Daniel and I chose to do the 6-day Machame Route with Zara Tanzanian Adventures out of Moshi. I had already used their services in February of 2004, so I pegged them as a known and reputable outfit. We were not disappointed. Our guide, Sharif Alli, and our assistant guide, Ali, were superb: high-spirited, knowledgeable and flexible. The Springlands Hotel is a genuine oasis on the eastern edge of the Moshi. The staff, the meals, the accomodations, all are first-rate.
Our first two days were not promising because of very wet weather. One expects to have rain in the rain forest, but this rain was persistent, sometimes driving and unrelenting. It continued through the night at the Machame Hut camp, the wind whipping through trees and rippling tent flaps. The sounds and pelting noises of the rain meant that sleep was a rarity. It continued the next morning and made the steep ascent out of camp a real exercise in agility.
We reached Shira Hut by 2:30 p.m. and it was still raining but noticeably colder than it had been 3,000' lower! Now large black white-necked ravens swooped through the foggy camp and added to the eerie feeling of not being able to see further than 1/4 mile. Everyone was hoping for a break in the weather, and here we were, two full days into the climb and we hadn't yet seen our objective!
The break in the weather occurred sometime during the night, and we awoke to crystal clear skies and tents with a sheer coating of ice. Frost was everywhere, and a light breeze made standing around uncomfortable. However, as soon as the sun rose just to the north of Kili everyone rushed to hang out wet articles including sleeping bags, duffels and rain flys.
We left camp around 9 o'clock, the sun shining brightly but an ominous cloud cover beginning to force its arms up the long ravines leading up to the cap of the mountain. We continued to play cat and mouse with the racing tendrils of clouds all the way to Lava Tower, for most people a new personal high-point for altitude. Once we left Lava Tower we quickly descended into the clouds as we enjoyed the scenery of the upper Barranco Valley, dotted with senecio trees and other unusual vegetation. When we reached the Barranco Hut the visibility was back down to less than 1/2 mile, and there was a cold chill in the air.
The following morning we awoke to find it snowing, and on the ground there was a heavy dusting of freshly fallen snow. Visibility was still less than 1/2 mile, and the temperature was very winter-like. We hoped that a rising sun would cause the clouds to dissipate, but no such luck. We ended up scaling the dreaded Barranco headwall without the promise of sunshine, and footing along the steep route was sometimes scary.
Eventually the clouds began to scatter and we enjoyed occasional sunshine en route to the beautiful Karanga Valley. On the way I noted literal rivers of gravel wending their way down from the higher sections of the ravines through which we were making our way. I noted upon arriving at the Karanga Valley that a new campsite area had been established, above the headwall leading out of the lower ravine where everyone remembers that the "last chance for fresh water" exists. Some of the climbing groups turned the Machame Route into a 7-day affair by camping here rather than pushing on up to the Barafu high camp.
Daniel and I were on the 6-day plan, so we continued to climb up to Barafu after enjoying a relaxing lunch at the Karanga Hut. Now the sunshine was our constant companion and made up for the nipping winds. Our first glimpse of Mawenzi was spectacular, and at the same time the Rebman Glacier kept teasing us as clouds drifted along, making a constant view of the glaciers an impossibility. At Barafu we enjoyed a pleasant sunset and were excited about the upcoming summit attempt. It can be noted that for a measely $2 one can purchase a 350ml bottle of cold Coca-Cola at the ranger hut at Barafu!
Our wake-up call came at midnight. We dressed, 3 layers minimum to begin, and drank warm water and filled our water bottles with the same. Cameras tucked well inside our layers we left Barafu about 12:45 a.m. under a star-studded heaven. Two hours into the grueling switchback-filled climb a breeze materialized from the southwest and made things downright cold. Never underestimate the scree field below Stella Point! It was beginning to dawn when we reached Stella Point, and we could see the long gentle pathway leading the last 45 minutes to Uhuru, which we reached at 6:20.
Being there at the summit when the sun came up was breathtaking (for more reasons than one!). Obligatory pictures were taken and we took more as we descended toward the scree field down which the guides wanted us to "ski." The north sides of the southern glaciers are awesome, and the crater is gigantic in its quiet splendor. Skiing down the wide scree fields is not my favorite activity on Kili, but the slipping and sliding does hasten the descent time. The dust we kicked up in doing this was considerable.
Back at Barafu we enjoyed one hour of rest before eating and resuming our descent down to the Mweka Hut at about 10,000'. There is no way getting around this long slog, and it's almost constant in its downward plodding. We were lucky and only walked back into fog and clouds but not rain. That, however, does not mean the trail was dry. On the contrary, it was muddy and slippery and made one move slowly and cautiously most of the way. During the descent the climate zones all re-appeared, only in reverse order of what we had already witnessed.
Mweka Hut sold bottled water, carbonated beverages and beer and offered campsites which looked more like campsites we might find here in the States. Although we didn't have any rain there the evidence of prior downpours was everywhere. We could tell by the upbeat mood permeating all of the campsites that guides and porters were very anxious to get home the following day. And, I must admit, Daniel and I began thinking thoughts about how good the hot shower was going to feel the next day, too.
On the 6th day, the hike-out day, there was no messing around. Get up, eat breakfast, break camp and start down through the rain forest for the 2-3 hour hike out. It took us 2.5 hours to reach the the bend which opened up to our view a parking lot and a diesel-powered white Land Rover: Mweka Gate. Formalities and signing in were preliminary to our receiving our official certificates of successful ascent to Uhuru, and we had another 10 minutes of walking until we reached the transportation which would take us back to Moshi.
We can both heartily recommend the Machame Route for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. If offers excellent acclimatization opportunites and views of the mountain from the west all the way around to the southeast. Good luck.
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