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Climbing Kilimanjaro Along The Lemosho Route

August 28, 2010

Day 1: Londorossi Gate to Mti Mkubwa
Estimated Hike time: 3hrs
Estimation distance: 10 km
Elevation Change: + 650 m
Final Elevation 2650 m

Even though we have been in the country for 3 days we are still having trouble with jet lag. We woke today at 3 am and packed our bags for Kilimanjaro. There is a requirement that the bags do not exceed 35 lbs per person. We did a trial weigh back in Sudbury and found that we were well below the limit.

While waiting for our guide to arrive we met a group (~8 people) in the lobby who were also going to do the lemosho route with a tour company called Exodus. We found out during our orientation meeting two nights ago that we would be the only members of our team with Good Earth Tours so I was happy to see others doing the same route from our hotel. I started feeling somewhat self-conscious about our gear. There is a mix of people who climb Kilimanjaro and we are not the brand name gear type. Perhaps I should have brought a bigger daypack. I had by far the smallest one. Two big jeeps showed up to collect the Exodus group. When our guide came we were presented with a rickety van, a dalla dalla, that is commonly used for taxi service in the city. I was feeling a tad uneasy since yesterday the safari driver had a nice jeep with the Tour company logo on the side. Even this crew didn’t have a logo on their clothing. We were told that we were supposed to meet Mark and receive certain rental items and these things matched up we got in the van.

During our 5 hour drive to the entrance of the trail we stopped several times for what we assumed was a search for the appropriate number of porters. In the end 12 people and all the gear was packed into our van. A very bumpy and dusty ride lead us to the registration gate. This is also the place that all the gear is weighed since there are restrictions on how much each porter can carry. There were several other groups registering at the same time but we were the last ones to leave the gate. There seemed to be a disagreement between the guide and the park ranger on the amount of gear our team had. The park ranger wanted them to get another porter but the tour group office was unwilling to pay for another crew member. There were over a dozen men waiting outside the gate hoping to get hired. Most did not have proper gear. It was amazing to see so many because we were far from the nearest town.  In the end an agreement was reached even though we didn’t hire another porter or leave any gear behind.

If I thought that the road to the gate was bumpy until this point if was poorly mistaken. There were deep, muddy ruts which unless navigated properly would bottom out and flounder a 4wd. Apparently the most dangerous part of Kilimanjaro is simply getting there. At one point all the porters had to pile out of the van so that we could navigate one section. After ‘off-roading’ several times to allow the returning group jeeps to pass we reached our destination. Surprisingly we never anything we considered “Kilimanjaro” once. There was cloud cover so even though I was standing at the base of the tallest mountain in Africa I couldn’t see it. It’s probably for the best to not know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The first 15-minutes were tough. The trail was steep and our hearts and lungs revolted. I was growing increasingly concerned as my heart wanted to beat our of my chest and I was constantly winded. What is the shortest distance someone has quit the hike I wondered. I didn’t expect to be facing altitude adjustments so soon!After my body resigned to the face that this was now standard operation I got my wind back and my heart started to beat as though this was a hike back in Sudbury. As the time went on it got easier and easier.

The first day of the climb brought us through jungle. Green was everywhere except for our well-worn path. Even though we felt like the hike was easier we still felt like we were going very slowly. “Pole pole” (slowly slowly) is a common saying on kili and we seemed to be taking this advice to heart. We soon caught up to and passed another group (~19 people!) so we started feeling pretty good about ourselves. This is in stark contrast to the feeling of being passed by porters, each carrying 50-75 lbs on their heads and back. After passing the group we saw several colobus monkeys. They look like large skunks from a distance, but really cute close up.

After 2.5 hours we reached our destination. There we found our tent set up already. We also got a look at kili’s infamous toilets – an outhouse with a 12″ x 6″ hole cut into the floor. This was my first experience with a squat toilet. Evidently others have also had little practice as several of them have missed the opening. I am grateful for bringing the Whiz Ease pee funnel, or “female urination aid.”

We had dinner – garlic soup, spaghetti with vegetable sauce and green beans. We even had a candle held by a toilet paper roll. Our very own romantic camping picnic. After dinner we headed straight for bed, exhausted from our early rise and long day.

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