31 January 2012

EK Climbs Kili: Day 5 (Londrossi Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp)


START: Planet Lodge (~1400m or 4600')
VIA: Londrossi Gate (2360m or 7740')
END: Mti Mkubwa Camp (2900m or 9500')

TIME TO MEET THE MOUNTAIN ALREADY! We start the day with a early breakfast (7am and the same food as yesterday) and as we are finishing, our bus shows up to Planet Lodge and it's time to load up. There is a Good Earth representative who gives us our hired sleeping bags and trekking poles for Chris. We meet a few of our crew: Mchami (waiter/porter) and Peter (cook) and also there are a few other guys who don't introduce themselves. We load everything on an awesome bus and hit the road.
The bus, a little later in our journey.
The first destination is the Good Earth office, where the gears rep hops off the bus after making sure we have everything we could possibly need. We are on a shortcut between Planet Lodge and Arusha-Himo Road and the road is...rustic. I'm beginning to wonder if the entire trip will be this slow, but when we hit Arusha-Himo Road (A23), it's paved and we speed along. There doesn't seem to be any speed limit, but there are random speed bumps every 5-10km or so. There's also plenty of traffic to pass on the 2-lane highway, and of course since Tanzania is a former British colony we drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Inside the Rainbow Super Deluxe.

After a few hours we pull over at a major intersection (at Boma La Ngombe/Sanya) and stop at what can best be described as a Tanzanian gas/convenience store. There, a whole bunch of guys get on the bus and one of them introduces himself as Godlisten - our guide. We chat a tiny bit but it's clear his main focus is getting his crew on board and accounted for. We are traveling with quite an entourage - a guide, an assistant guide, a cook, 6 porters, a driver, and assistant driver (trust me...very necessary!). Everyone piles in with their gears and we set off, northbound. Lots of Swahili is being spoken, and Chris and I are looking out the window in awe. WE ARE IN AFRICA! In the very far distance, we can see the outline of Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak, and it's surreal. There's lots of haze at lower elevations but the peak is faintly clear so it appears to be floating in the distance. It's a scene our dinky point-and-shoot cameras can't capture but as we get closer, I manage a similar picture.
One of our first glimpses of Kili.
After about 2-ish hours (total, from Planet Lodge), the road turns to gravel and the bus slows down. It's not graded gravel either - lots of ruts and washed out sections are everywhere. We trundle along this route until the road starts to pitch up and we approach the Pine Forest Gate. I'm not exactly clear about what the Pine Forest is but it seems to be an organized effort to farm pine trees, and we have to pay a fee to enter. The Forest isn't related to Kilimanjaro at all, except we have to pass through it to get to Londrossi Gate. The road turns to narrow, loose dirt doubletrack and small boulders start to appear. The driver has to really pay attention to his lines and it reminds me of mountain biking, except in a bus not designed for off-road use, with 12+ people on board. Cool. Along with pine tree cultivation, it seems some people have permits to grow potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. We see lots of people out tending/harvesting these crops. I'm glad our ridiculous bus can entertain someone out here.
Me, on the inside of Londrossi Gate.

Chris and me at the sign of advice. Read #6 closely.
Finally, we reach Londrossi Gate! Here, we have to sign into the park, and we first experience "the book". Every manned camp on the mountain has a ledger book where each tourist has to sign in, along with several items of data such as nationality, passport number, birthday, occupation, age, sex, tour company, guide, permit number, etc. It's amusing because each book asks for slightly different information, in a different order, but it's all for the purpose of keeping track of the tourists. We spend a while at the Gate because we have to do an official weigh-in for our porters.
Gears weigh-in. That's Godlisten in the tan shirt and shorts. The guy in the navy striped polo is weighing and recording.

I go into detail about why we chose Good Earth here, and those reasons were exemplified at the gate. All of the luggage has to be weighed, divided, and recorded to make sure that no one person is carrying too much. This process takes about an hour and then we load it all back in the bus and keep driving. Even though we're in the park, the first part of the Lemosho Route is driveable, and therefore we drive it. The road condition is the same doubletrack as before, and again I am amazed at the driving skill. Finally, the bus simply cannot go any more - the ruts have become more than wheel deep and we'll scrape out the undercarriage if we keep going. So the crew unceremoniously unloads our stuff on the side of the trail, and organizes it into loads as Chris and I eat a box lunch (butter sandwich, hard-boiled egg, baked chicken leg, potato chips, crepe, cookies, chocolate bar, and mango juice box).
This is the start.
Mareme and me a few km down the road. I look concerned about my heart rate.
And then, just like that, our hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro starts on a dirt path about 1pm. It's hot, exposed, and I can feel myself breathing harder than normal. I have a few moments of panic (I'm barely above 2500m and already I feel tired? How am I going to make it up to 5900m?) but I try to brush it off as nerves and keep going. Chris and I are hiking with Godlisten (guide) and Mareme (assistant guide) and the porters are on their own, an arrangement that is standard for the trip. There are pine trees on either side of the trail and we see a few MONKEYS cruising around the tree tops. They are black and white and sort of look like skunks. These are the first, last, and only large mammals we will see on the trip (there are some chipmunks in certain camps but nothing else). We reach the end of the doubletrack and the hiking path starts. It's no joke. Steep and rooty, it's great hiking and as we move into the shade, my heart rate seems to settle in. The four of us chat in English a little, Godlisten and Mareme chat in Swahili, and it seems like the next seven days will be really fun.
I'm hiking up Kilimanjaro!
Me and Godlisten in a burned-out tree trunk. Probably used to be a beehive in there.

Along the way, Chris and I focus on drinking lots of water. Hydration is the not-so-secret weapon to aiding altitude acclimatization and we are taking it seriously. Chris finishes his 3L before we get to camp but Godlisten tells him it's not far away. We roll into Mti Mkubwa Camp (means "big tree") at about 5p and our day's hike is over after we sign the book! Our tent is set up but our bags aren't here yet (only time this happened on the trip, and just due to logistics of the first day), so we just hang out and watch the goings on. There are lots of tents being set up - some sleeping tents, some dining tents, some cooking tents, and even some bathroom tents for those groups that paid for them. Our team has 4 tents - 1 for me/Chris, 1 for 4 porters, 1 for the guides + 1 porter, and 1 for the cook + 1 porter + the kitchen (which is basically a big propane burner).  Chris and I didn't pay for a dining or bathroom tents so we eat on a Masai groundcloth and pee in the regular camp outhouses (a hole in the ground with walls around it).
Mti Mkubwa Camp seen from our tent. This is the only pic I have of it.

When our bags arrive, I change into camp clothes (basically, a cotton tee for sleeping only and fleece pants) and Mchami brings some hot water over to our tent for washing - a custom we will go through before every meal in camp. After washing up, he brings over a snack - it's popcorn, shortbread cookies, and hot drink.
A view of snack & hot drink from later on in the trip (Barranco Camp).
Allow me a minute to explain hot drink. It was one of my favorite things about the whole trip. At every meal in camp (breakfast, snack, dinner, and some lunches), we were provided with hot drink. It consists of a thermos of hot water, 2 mugs, and about 8 different powder mix options: Milo chocolate drink, Cadbury Drinking Chocolate, Cadbury Cocoa, Africafe instant coffee, Nido powdered milk, Kilimanjaro tea, sugar, and masala tea spice. In the mornings I would make a mixture of Africafe, Nido, and one of the chocolates. In the afternoons I would just make chocolate and Nido. Chris liked the Africafe and tea. The red thermos held about 3.5 mugs' worth of hot water, and I often drank at least 1.5 mugs and would then ask Chris if I could use his share of the water for a 3rd mug. It's safe to say I was obsessed with hot drink. I miss that thermos. Towards the end of the trip we ran out of every powder except the Cadbury Cocoa and tea, but even those were still tasty.

The sign for Lemosho Route from earlier that day.
 After snack and hot drink, we have a short break before dinner so we continue the hanging out - I sit on a tree root and soak it all in. Pretty soon, Godlisten and Mareme come over to the groundcloth and we have dinner together. The food is pretty unbelievable - creamy zucchini soup, fried tilapia, fried potatoes, raw cucumber & tomato slices, and vegetable sauce (diced vegetables with a peanut flour/tomato paste roux) to pour over everything. Dessert is a sliced avocado. It's unlike any avocado I've ever eaten; it tastes sweet. I know my travel doctor told me not to eat raw vegetables, but I trust that Good Earth doesn't want me to get sick any more than I do, and I eat the cukes and tomatoes with dinner.
Some porters from earlier that day. They are not from our team but carried similar loads.

During dinner, we talk about the upcoming trek and Godlisten's plans for us. We show him the schedule Good Earth sent us (and I blogged about here) and he gets frustrated. He says that schedule puts an extra easy day early in the trip and then stacks hard days as we get closer to the summit, therefore hurting our chances of a successful summit bid. He proposes a new itinerary: instead of the planned medium hike to Shira I tomorrow and easy hike to Shira II on Friday, we will hike long to Shira II tomorrow, medium to Barranco on Friday, and then have 2 short days before the summit. Chris and I are easily convinced to spend our longer days at the lower altitudes and we agree to the changes. After all, Godlisten has been summiting this mountain for 12+ years and I've never been above 10,000 feet.
An African blood lily from today's hike.

It's dark by the time we finish dinner but it has been nice to hear more about our route from the people who will be actually traveling it with us. We tell everyone lala salama (Swahili for "safe sleeping") and pass out about 9.30p.
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  1. Ever since I've started mountain biking, everything reminds me of looking for lines when I'm riding.

    This trip is so cool.

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