THE BIG CLIMB – RONGAI ROUTE – October 2012
Day 1: Depart London (18th October)
Met with the other 9 in the group at Heathrow airport in the afternoon and took the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa where we had a 4 hour wait for our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International airport.
Lyco the lion is the mascot of the CFF (Child and Family Foundation) and is climbing Kilimanjaro with me.
Day 2: Arrive in Nalemoru (19th October)
We were unable to see Kilimanjaro as we came into land because it was covered in thick clouds at the time. We were met at the airport by a Tanzanian lady called Saumu who was to be our main guide for the trek. She has climbed Kili well over a hundred times and is very experienced so we were in good hands. She took us to the Glacier Bar in Moshi which is the “in” place for trekkers. There was a group of 44 people there, all of whom had reached the summit 2 days earlier and were loudly celebrating their success with bottles of Kilimanjaro beer. I think we were all nervously wondering whether we too would be celebrating our success in a week’s time.
After a late lunch we hopped into two 4 x 4’s for a four hour drive to the Snow Cap Cottages Hotel which is a collection of wooden huts built on the edge of the Rongai forest on the North side of Kilimanjaro, very close to the Kenyan border. It was a pleasant drive and we passed several villages on the way and drove through dozens of banana plantations.
VIEWS FROM MY HUT:
By the time we arrived we had been travelling for over 24 hours with very little sleep and we were all a bit tired. After a nice hot dinner Saumu gave us our briefing for the next day. We then went to our rooms for our final hot shower and shave for the next 7 days and then it was early to bed.
Night in hut: (approx 1800m / 5900ft)
Temperatures: 30C / 86F during day to around 14C / 57F inside hut at night
Climate: sunny with a few clouds all day
Day 3: Rongai Gate – Simba Camp (20th October)
Approx 7km (4.5 miles) – Estimated time = 4 to 5 hours, we did it in 3.5 hours.
We got up early for breakfast and to do our final packing for the trip as we needed to sort out the clothes which would stay behind at the hotel for when we returned. We were supposed to start at 9:30am sharp but hey, this is Africa, and we finally set off half an hour later for Rongai gate which is only a short 15 minute walk from the cottages. We got some lovely views of Kili on the way and everyone took loads of photographs. At the gate all the kit bags had to be weighed for the porters and park formalities had to be completed, all of which took a very long time.
SETTING OFF (SAUMU IS 2ND FROM LEFT): OUR FIRST VIEW OF KILIMANJARO:
We finally began our Kili adventure and started walking up towards the mountain. The trek today was very easy. In fact the hardest part was forcing ourselves to walk pole-pole which was quite difficult as we were all used to walking at a normal or fast pace. Pole-pole (pronounced po-leh po-leh) means slow in Swahili. The slower we walk, the less energy we expend and the better we are able to acclimatise to the altitude. Another important factor is to drink at least 4 to 5 litres of water every day which also helps enormously with acclimatisation. It sounds like a lot but one actually loses a lot of moisture at higher altitudes simply through breathing.
CAUTIONARY SIGNS: SETTING OFF FROM RONGAI GATE:
We walked through pine plantations, small Chagga villages and cultivated fields where really cute little children came out and gave us all high fives and asked for chocolate and pencils. We were encouraged not to give food but pencils were a great treat for them.
The nice part of walking so slowly is that we had the time to really appreciate the sights and sounds around us. The sound of bird song was wonderful to hear and we even saw a troop of Colobus Monkeys who stared back at us from the tops of the trees. Once we got to higher ground we could see the plains of Kenya behind us in the distance.
By the time we got to Simba camp it had already been set up in a nice location under some trees, and within 30 minutes of arriving a hot lunch was ready for us. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the mess tent. The weather stayed warm all day (T-shirts) but after lunch it started to drizzle and there were several short, sharp showers for the rest of the afternoon.
Today’s trek was really easy, we walked around 7km (4.5 miles) in 3.5 hours and it was possibly lulling me into a false sense of security about the rest of the trek.
SIMBA CAMP: MESS TENT:
After dinner we all went back to our tents at 8pm and I had the worst nights sleep in decades. I just could not get to sleep, I felt like I had drunk over 6 mugs of really strong coffee and my brain just would not switch off. My heart rate was around 90 beats/minute at rest (whereas at home it was 64 beats/min) and my breathing was really fast, as if I could not get enough oxygen. It was really weird and uncomfortable and especially unexpected at such a low altitude but in hindsight it was probably the best thing that happened to me because it must have kicked my body into gear and I had no altitude sickness for the rest of the trip, including during the summit climb.
I finally dozed off at 3am for about an hour but throughout the night I listened to the sounds of the crickets and the heavy rain pattering on my tent, not to mention the snoring of my colleagues in other tents.
Night camp : Simba camp (2668m / 8750ft)
Height climbed today: 868m / 2850ft
Temperatures: 28C / 82F during day to around 12C / 54F inside tent at night
Climate: Sunny with a few clouds all day, short showers in the afternoon and heavy rain at night.