Then I got high, then I got high, then I got high.

(or, My Adventures in Africa Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro)
(slight variation of the lyrics of "Because I Got High", by Afroman)
(These adventures were in March, 2019. at the age of 69.)

"Pole Pole" (translation: "slowly") That was the theme of my trip to Africa. 

Because I had frequently been at attitudes at which altitude sickness was a concern, I chose first to arrive in Arusha, Tanzania, the jumping of point for the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a day early, to begin acclimatization at about 4593' elevation.

In Arusha I explored the National Natural History Museum
(which explained the origin of man, as many of the oldest human fossils were found in Tanzania), the markets, and just did some walking around. It got to about 90 degrees each afternoon. 

There was vehicular traffic, but nowhere near the congestion I saw the month earlier in Delhi, India. However, you would see motorcycles loaded with all sorts of materials, most of which you would never conceive of carrying on a motorcycle in the USA.

If we don't have it, you don't need it.

Vendor after vendor, much of the same thing. Pure competition.
Result: no one makes more than a subsistence living.

Next I went on a 4 day climb of Mt. Meru, 4,562.13 meters (14,968 ft), solely for the purpose of further acclimatization before tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was met by my climbing guide, Tumain, and the driver of the van and we drove to the Momella Gate in Arusha National Park. There we were assigned an armed mountain ranger, Sunday.  An armed ranger was required in the event we came upon a lone bull buffalo, which, it is said, once he decides to charge you, the only thing that will stop him is a bullet. There we joined the cook (Cosain) and three porters as well.

We passed by "Little Serengeti" where a herd of African Buffalo grazed. Then as we climbed, we were into forest, which they called a "jungle", but quite unlike what I was expecting a jungle to be.  Sunday pointed out plants, birds and other animals as we hiked, serving as a guide as well as a protector. He was great! He and Tumain made great efforts to see that I had the greatest chances of success on our hikes. Occasionally, we would see a black and white Colobus monkey. Also, some Kirk's Dik Dik, a small antelope about the size of a German Shepherd dog.

After about 5 hours of hiking, pole pole ("slowly", in Kiswahili, which I was told was the correct name of the language spoken, and not simply Swahili), we reached Miriakamba Hut at about 8200' (2500 meters).  The huts were lighted, powered by solar panels, and the bunks had 3 inch thick, comfortable foam. Cosain prepared one of his nutritious and great meals (too much to eat!), in what was a routine we would enjoy the next 20 days together. 

A fig tree that grew over a previous tree,
and sent its aerial roots down around it.
On the second day, we ascended the steep trail along the ridge of the saddle, until we reached Saddle Hut about 11,283' (3500 meters). After a short rest, Tumain and I took an "acclimation hike" up to the top of Little Meru, 12,532' (3820 meters) and back down to Saddle Hut for another dinner prepared by Cosain. Tomorrow - the summit.

Well, at midnight when Tumain came to wake me to go for the summit, I had not yet slept a wink. (I was having a hard time adjusting to the time change, the worst I had ever experienced for some reason.) So, I told him I needed sleep more than I did higher elevation. We elected to postpone climbing until 7:00, at which point we hiked to Rhino Point, 12,467' (3800 meters), then returned to Saddle Hut. After a quick lunch, we descended to Miriakamba Hut. 

On this day's descent, I experienced the most difficult stretch in my Tanzania adventure. Part of the trail above Miriakamba Hut was paved with concrete. On it were little pebbles, which were not a problem on the ascent. But, on the descent, they rolled under you boots, making treacherous footing. So, we opted to use the parallel rut alongside the paved trail. Tumain had me use his trekking poles, and that stretch was exhausting! With your arms and legs constantly under tension, my heartbeat must have been near maximum. Reaching camp was such a relief!

Day 4 we hiked back to Momella Gate. Along the way, we spotted these Rosewood trees, and then the waterfall near Little Serengeti. Then the drive back to Arusha. 

Other than having trouble sleeping, things were looking and feeling good. I had consciously followed their advice to walk slowly, steadily, taking very short breaks (2-3 minutes), then continuing on, drinking a little about each half hour, and some snacks every hour. My previous mountain climbing experience doing the same was good preparation. As for long distance cycling, you can go far if you pay attention to hydration, nutrition and pace. 

I was avoiding stomach problems by drinking only bottled water when available, and boiled water while on the trail. I did not want a repeat of the agony of trekking for 8-9 days with gastroenteritis (diarrhea and stomach cramps) caused by Campylobacter, a food borne bacteria I had picked up in either China or Kathmandu, as I had on the 19 day trek to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest in 2017 until I was evacuated by helicopter from 16,000', only about an hour's walk from the Base Camp.

On this acclimatization climb, I was introduced to having my blood oxygen tested with a little device at dinner time each day. I consistently was in the 89-92% range throughout both my Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro climbs, with one exception when I was at 81%. I was tolerating the altitude quite well.

Waterfall near Little Serengeti

Lesson learned: Get to Arusha in plenty of time to get over the time change. How much time? It depends on the person and even at different times with the same person.

On to Mt. Kilimanjaro

I had selected the Lemosho Route 7 day climb as the safest way to deal with the altitude (going up slowly to allow the body to acclimate to the increasing elevation). 
So, the morning after returning from Mt. Meru, I was picked up by the driver, Tumain, Cosain and porters to drive to the Londorossi Park Gate at 6,890' (2100 meters). then we drove another 45 minutes to the entrance gate, where the guides and porters distributed the supplies and registered with the Tanzania National Parks Authority. While waiting, I saw numerous baboons, just waiting for some food to be left unprotected.

The porters' packs were weighed the second time to ensure that the group's gear they carried did not exceed 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds). But that was not all they carried, as they also had to carry their personal gear. Now I was being well cared for, with a guide, a cook and 5 porters!

After walking about 3 hours through the rain forest, we arrived at Mti Mkubwa (“Big Tree”) Campsite 9,023' (2750 meters). The porters arrived at the campsite before Tumain and me, and had set up the group tent and mine, and had boiled water for drinking and washing. Easy peasy, when pole pole. :)

The next day we hiked about 6 hours to Shira 2 Camp at 12,598'  (3840 meters) after breaking out of the rain forest into the heather moorland zone. Again, no problem, pole pole, one step after another.

On day 3, we hiked for about 7 hours from Shira 2 camp to Lava Tower at 15,190' (4630 meters) and then descended to Barranco Camp 12,959' (3950 meters). This was following the practice of "climb high, sleep low", which helps with acclimatization. Along the route, we had left the moorland environment and entered the semi desert and rocky landscape.

Day 4, March 9, in about 5 hours we hiked upward from Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp at (again at about 3950 meters). Well, first we climbed up the Barranco Wall, where the porters really earned my respect. In places where I had to use my hands, they went up like mountain goats with heavy loads, quickly and "look ma, no hands". They were world class athletes in terms of strong legs and aerobic ability. Impressive! And they worked so well together as a team, and, two would usually come down from camp to meet us, to help with our packs if we needed help. That too impressed me in what a great team I had.

And, Tumain was a very experienced guide, who had worked his way up to his position by starting out years ago as a porter. Very friendly, always helpful, he was a joy to hike with.

General observation of the people in Tanzania: Most appeared happy, but working hard just to survive. If more of the people in the USA with racist attitudes towards blacks had this experience I was privileged to have, their racist attitudes would change. It is not the race that matters, but how one approaches life, and chooses to make the most of what chances one has or not. For the porters, they worked hard to emerge from the "pool" from which some porters were assigned to the guide services' tours, to actually be employed by the guide services. As an employee, they get paid a higher wage and receive tips. When the incentives are right, you get the results you most desire. These porters sought to please, and please me they did! 

By the way, after the first 4-5 nights in Tanzania, I was sleeping very well. What a relief!

Day 5, in about 5 hours we hiked through alpine desert to reach Barafu Hut at 14,928' (4550 meters). The word “barafu” in Kiswahili means “ice” and this camp is located on a rocky, exposed ridge. All water we drank here needed to be carried up, as there was no water supply here. It was early to bed, as the summit climb was to start at midnight.

Not much snow left on Kilimanjaro,
especially on the south side, due to warming climates.

Summit day. After decent sleep, we were up and hiking upward by midnight. I seemed to have lost my sense of balance, probably because of the altitude, although I had never experienced that before when climbing. Also, my headlamp was not nearly bright enough, and the combination had me stumbling when making moves from rock to rock. Tumain's younger brother was accompanying us today, and he traded his brighter lamp for mine, which helped. It took us 8 hours of pole pole hiking to reach Stella Point, one of the two "summits" at 18,885'. The true summit, Uhuru Peak at 19,341' (5895 meters), was a fair distance around the crater, but not too much higher on a  relatively easy slope. Nonetheless, I chose to descend from Stella Point. 

Stella Point, with the true summit in the distance.

I was not looking forward to the 9000' descent, looking back on my one day hike in and out of the Grand Canyon in 2018 where the downhill part really exhausted me, using muscles I don't use as much as my quads. And, having lost some confidence in my loss of balance, I thought it better to be safe than sorry.  I could have made it to the top, but wondered how I would be on the descent at the end of a 17 hour day.  I was also recalling the tough stretch on the descent of Mt. Meru just days before.

As it was, I slipped on my ass twice in about a minute on the descent at about 12,000', caused by pebbles on the hard surface rolling under my boots, which then caused Tumain to give me his trekking poles to prevent further falls. From there, we made an uneventful descent to Mweka at 10,171' (3100 meters) after a quick lunch and rest at Barafu Camp. The Mweka Trail led us through the scree and rocks to the moorland and eventually into the upper rain forest where Mweka Camp is located.

On day 7, we hiked down to Mweka Gate 6,496' (1980 meters), checked out with the Ranger Station, received my green Stella Point summit certificate and drove back to Arusha. 

In one view, you could say that it was not a successful climb, as I did not reach the true summit. But, I did not care, as I had been higher (Mt. McKinley, 20,320' in Alaska in 1977) and it was the journey, not the destination that I was wanting to experience. Mission accomplished!

  • Be sure your headlamp is bright enough to climb at night.
  • Take your own sleeping pad that you know you will be comfortable enough to sleep well. Sleep is important to climb high. I was loaned a pad, but had to triple it up under my hip bones to sleep comfortably.
  • Try to have some other "guest" on your trip. As much as it was nice to have all the special attention being the sole guest, it would have been more fun to have others who speak your language better with you. While Tumain and I spoke some along the trail while hiking, in camp very little was spoken in English. I enjoyed their company in the group tent, but felt a bit left out as they joked and generally enjoyed each other's company.
  • Before going on one of these tours, check to be sure what the expected tips will be. It may vary depending on how many guests are on the tour. The guide, cook and porters rely on the tips as part of their income, and if the party is small (solo in my case), they still need to get about the same amount as if with a large party. So, my tips had to be far higher than I had expected. Now, tips are totally optional and the amounts are totally up to you, but if you understand their economy, you don't want to be cheap.
  • So, that required additional trips to the ATMs (which limit the withdrawals to 400,000 Tanzania shillings - about $174). Rather than make multiple ATM withdrawals, I tried getting the money from a bank. That entailed lots of paperwork, time, and extraordinary fees. Lesson learned: find out what you need to take and take it with you from home.
  • I contracted with Tanzania Expeditions for these tours. Justin Stephen Mtui is the owner and CEO, who currently lives in Colorado.  The cost of the Mt. Meru climb was $952 and the cost of the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb was $2,229. Climbs with larger groups would be proportionately lower cost. The reason I contracted with this company is that they were able to arrange these tours to meet my schedule and packaged the Mt. Meru climb, the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb and the 10 day biking safari back to back, which was a great convenience for me. They did a great job, and I can't speak highly enough for the guide, cook and the porters! They were awesome!
  • While in Arusha, I stayed a the Mvuli Hotel, priced on Expedia at $36 per night for a single. It was clean, comfortable and with friendly staff (and WiFi!). It has a restaurant attached with good, cheap meals. I had laundry done for $5. It is not real conveniently located near downtown or any attractions, but the hotel arranged for a taxi to take me for some shopping, and despite waiting to bring me back to the hotel, it only cost $10, so a bargain compared with what it would cost in the USA.


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