After a restful sleep and a filling breakfast at my no frills hotel is Moshi, I was greeted on the morning of January 21st by Joy Minja, the Head Guide who would lead me up the mountain. He is a great guy who has summited Kili over 400 times.
Since 1990, anyone wishing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro must by law hire a licensed guide company. For a few years thereafter, crafty climbers could sneak into the Kilimanjaro National Park and make it up without an escort. However, security has much improved, and anyone trespassing now will likely get caught.
Considering that most of the people attempting to climb Kili are not hardcore mountaineers, this is probably for the best. It is easy to get lost or injured on the mountain, and without a guide, lone climbers would be in trouble.
Since every climber requires 4 to 6 support staff, guiding provides much needed employment for the locals. However, the job of a Kilimanjaro porter is a tough lot. These guys carry 30 pound bags on their heads but get paid very little. They wear beat up old sneakers and none of the latest gear from Northface. They move fast, too. Here is a video I took:
A few non-profits have been established to provide the porters with some better gear and to lobby for improved wages and working conditions. From my own observations, though, there is still work to be done.
I randomly chose Nyange Adventures as my guide company. I had stumbled upon a podcast interview of the owner, Mr. Praise Nyange, and he sounded like he knew what he was doing. Also, I found many positive reviews on TripAdvisor.
In addition to Joy, my crew consisted of six more support staff, including my own personal chef and waiter. An "alpine-style" or self-supported climb, this certainly was not.
climb this was not.
After taking care of of some administrative matters at the Nyange offices (Chase Bank customers, please make sure your ATM cards are authorized for overseas use. It is very hard to get this fixed when you're in Tanzania!), I boarded a fully loaded mini-van for the three hour drive to Kilimanjaro National Park.
While our bus was air conditioned, I did grow tired of the same Nigerian pop music videos being played over and over on the van's DVD player. How about some Big Bang?!
After an hour's drive, we stopped for lunch at this "cafe" in the town of Sanya Juu.
Sanya Juu is a hot, dusty place, with not a Westerner to be seen.
One thing I noticed in Tanzania is an abundace of sketchy stores selling nothing but bottles of soda and cel phone cards. Situated in one story buildings with bars in the windows, they are over the place. I have no idea how they stay in business.
After leaving Sannya Juu, the road turned into dirt. I saw some Masaai tribesmen herding cattle and a lot of people on motorcycles loaded with bundles of wood on the back.
I also saw some zebras and giraffes in the distance.
After a couple of hours bouncing along the dirt road, we finally reached Londorosi Gate, the Western entrance to Kilimanjaoro Park.
We spent about 90 minutes taking care of administrative matters. The porters had to weigh all their bags to make sure they did not exceed to 15 KG (33 pound) legal limit. Once the weigh-in is done, though, I don't think this law is strictly enforced.
After a short drive, we finally reached Lemosho Gate, the trailhead for the Lemosho Route.
There are several routes up the mountain. The most popular are the Macheme Route (aka the "Whiskey Route") and the Marangue Route (aka the "Coca Cola Route") . The latter route even offers enclosed cabins. Since I sought a less-crowded and more scenic route, and preferred a camping experience over a cabin filled with snoring strangers, I chose the "Lemosho Route" Like all the Kili routes, it starts in a rain forest and then passes through four more microclimates on the way up to the summit., where the weather can be cold, windy and snowing.
We started the hike through the rain forest environment. I had been told to be on the lookout for Blue Monkeys but did not see any (though I did hear them night). I did see a mongoose, though!
After about 90 minutes of hiking we reached "Big Tree" (Mkubwa) Camp at almost 9000 feet of altitude.
The temperature was colder, and the air thinner. But nothing like what was to come.
My tent was already set up for me upon arrival, and a rice and chicken dinner with some soup was served in my exclusive dining tent.
Once the sun goes down, there's not much to do except read a bit, study Korean and go to sleep. Though, for me, sleeping in a tent with my bad back would prove to be a challenge for the duration of the trip.