All About Mount Meru
Mount Meru is a wonderful and low-cost alternative to Kili. And you see more wildlife too - and the ascent provides wonderful views of Kili over the cloud base.
I joined a group of two other Americans, both working in Arusha. I was visiting my aunt who teaches at the nearby Makumira Seminary.
We orignally thought about porters - but then decided to go alone. It was a good decision - the three of us (ages 21-24) were easily able to carry all our own gear (including a canister of kerosene). We hired an armed guide at the Main Gate - although we called ahead to let them know we were coming (a good idea). We were worried about carrying water - but the two huts had full rain catchments that you could filter. The filter was necessary, unless you have an extremely bacteria resistant digestive tract.
We asked our guide to take the longer track to the first hut. If you don't ask, they will go the shorter and less scenic route. The first day's hike is moderate - and you should arrive to Hut #1 with plenty of time to cook and explore the area. Check out the views of Kili from the Huts, and there are colobus monkeys in the trees over by the ash cone.
The second day's hike is more steep - up the main backbone ridge of Meru. You will be huffing at this point - so stop and rest (and don't mind the porters who run up and down the trail in flip-flops carrying 60lb duffels on their heads). Leave some of your heavier gear behind at the first hut if you are certain you don't need it for the summit. Leave it with the hut master, and promise him a gift for watching over it.
Hut #2 is very nice and comfortable, although the altitude can make you woozy and sleeping difficult. If you have the energy, the short and vertical hike up to the summit of Little Meru. It's a nice accomplishment after a long day of hiking.
Hit the sack early that night because your guide will want to leave for the summit shortly after midnight. Try for a full moon and make sure your flashlight/headlamp is in working order. Bring extra batteries too. You do not want to walk those knife-edge ridges without a light. Also- bring winter-weather clothes - it can be extremely cold. Hats and gloves (suitable for grabbing abrasive rocks) are essential.
The scree slopes and boulder fields approaching the summit are a challenge. Take them 'pole pole' - or slowly. And don't mind that your guide is 1/4 miles ahead of you and constantly smoking cigarettes. He's probably hiked this mountain 300 times. Be sure to pause, catch your breath, and take some photos of Meru's ash cone rising out of the main crater. You've worked hard for this view.
The summit is a small clearing of boulders about the size of a minivan. Be sure to bring a pen to sign the summit book - you can't count on one being there. Then, start your descend. Heel-slidding on the scree slope is an excellent energy-saving way to go down - but just be sure you don't go accidently skid down the 2000-foot sidewall of the mountain. That would hurt.
You can make it all the way down to the Main Gate in a single day if you leave Hut #2 for the summit a little after midnight - but it is a long day. If you spend a third night at Hut #1, be prepared for arguments at the Main Gate for taking longer than three days on the mountian. They count a day as one a day of the week - not a single 24-hour period.
And once you make it down, Congratulations Comrade - you have climbed Tanzania's Socialist Peak.
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