Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp
We were up early at 0600A for final preparations and we all enjoyed a good solid breakfast at Machweo Wellness. Excitement levels were through the roof! Except for one member of our party who had to abandon the attempt even before it started, due to incipient lung issues. Sorry Clemson! At 0830A we departed for Machame Gate via Moshi, driving through a rural area with scattered homes along the way. The distance was about 50 kilometers total and it took an hour and a half or so.
It took a good 90 minutes to complete the formalities at Machame Gate. We had to sign in, get our stuff weighed and obtain permits. Most of this handled by the competent Summits team. While waiting for some of this to happen, we enjoyed hot tea and coffee and biscuits in a pleasant picnic area.
Finally, around 11:40A we walked through the gate into Kilimanjaro National Park. Our great trek were to start in earnest. Right away we saw a troupe of Blue Monkeys in the trees. We did not see much in the way of wildlife – even birds – after that. Not that it mattered. We were soaking in the beautiful and serene rain forest environment with giant trees towering above us.
Perhaps 2 hours into the hike, we heard some thunder in the distance, but it wasn’t until 30 minutes later that it started to rain. At first lightly and then hard. A veritable tropical deluge, dumping buckets of water on us with near constant lightning which thankfully remained well above us.
By now we had donned our raingear which included Gortex jackets, ponchos, backpack covers, gaiters and rain pants. As it turned out our gear was only partially waterproof – most of us ended up with unwanted water somewhere: boots, backpacks, clothing. My Asolo boots held up well in the severe rainstorm and in fact throughout the climb, earning a 100% waterproof check. Incidentally, a cheap ultra-thin 50 cent plastic poncho ended up being the star of the day in the gear category: it did a sterling job of keeping the rain out of my backpack.
By the time we got to Machame Camp at about 6:00P it had stopped raining and the air was clean with pockets of blue sky. After a stirring welcome song from our group of 30 porters, cooks, butler and assistant guide, we were shown to our tents. Roomy enough for one person, the tent had a mattress and sleeping bag with pillow. We freshened up with a bowl of hot water, changed into warm clothing and made our way to the mess tent. While dinner was being prepared we had some hot tea and coffee and popcorn. Served a bit later, dinner was an elaborate and nicely prepared spread of parsley potatoes, spinach, a vegetable mélange and tilapia. On the side? A couple of local specialties – ugali and maharage, a local bean dish.
Just before dinner our head guide Daniel conducted the first of what would be daily individual assessments, asking each of us how much water we had consumed, if we had a headache, suffered from fatigue, dizziness, or diarrhea. Each of us also got a finger oximeter reading with most of us checking in with a reading in the low nineties Pretty good.
A quick briefing on what to expect for the next day and then it was off to bed with the temperature dropping fast. I slept surprisingly well – close to 7 hours.
MACHAME ROUTE DAY 2: MACHAME CAMP TO SHIRA CAMP
I did not need the 6:00A wake-up call on this day, having been up and getting ready since 5:40A. It is quite the rigmarole to get ready for a day’s trek on Kili. It is not only about what to wear on the day but also about what to have in your day-pack: camera, sunscreen, lip balm, energy bars, rain gear, an extra fleece, gloves. The list gets pretty long.
After a bit of a delay we got going around 08:00A and immediately out of Machame Camp we started a steep rocky ascent which continued almost unchanged in terms of level of difficulty for nearly 9 kilometers. It was everything one may have anticipated on a Kilimanjaro climb: tough, relentless, challenging and even dangerous in a few spots where a slip on a wet rock may have resulted in injury. No massive cliffs so not potentially deadly but scary nonetheless. One more reason to wear grippy boots and use poles.
There were several spots where the poles were redundant and even a bit of a nuisance, such as when we had to use both hands to clamber up or down. Even so they were very much worth taking along.
We experienced a little more rain but nothing serious, not even close to the previous day’s deluge. Just as well.
By about 3:00P after a long, slow hike we arrived at Shira Camp, happy to be serenaded again by our crew of porters and other camp staff.
A late lunch (chicken & pasta main course) was followed by a couple of hours of down time. I found a spot with cell phone coverage (a line of other people on a ridge right outside of camp) so managed to get a few texts out.
The views from Shira Camp were spectacular with the summit visible in the distance. On the other side of camp there were more stupendous views over the Moshi area and of Shira Cathedral.
Dinner was again delicious and filling – white rice, a beef stroganoff stew, steamed vegetables, ugali and more.
After our nightly physical assessment, and briefing for the day to come, it was early to bed to get sufficient rest.
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