July 16, 2012
I feel like so far I have forgot to mention Diamox or acetazolamide, the high altitude sickness prophylaxis medication we had all been prescribed for climbing Kili and Meru. After a number of debates of “do we or don’t we” take Diamox, most of us decided to do us. Side effect: it makes you pee. A lot.
Thus, we spent a restless 4 hours trying to sleep yet being woken up by frequent trips to the bathroom. However, when midnight arrived the adrenaline rush kicked in and we all felt awake. Cindy, ever our positive cheerleader, even started doing squats on the bunk beds and playing music to get us pumped up. We began to layer. On the bottom went leggings, another pair of stretchy pants, a pair of sweatpants, and a finally a pair of windbreakers. On top, a merino wool baselayer, another warm long sleeve top, a fleece sweater and my warm jacket. Toque, mittens and scarf in hand.
After a quick “breakfast”, one by one, our headlamps flickered on and we set off behind Fred, as always at a slow pace. At first, we all actually got quite warm and began to de-layer. This is one of the trickiest parts of climbing- you don’t want to overheat and sweat as this will only make you colder later on, so adjusting your clothes to try to balance being cold and warm becomes critical. Once we had reached Rhino Point (3950 m of elevation) the trees ended, and thus begins a long, narrow ridge to Mt. Meru. Without the trees, the wind was howling and bitterly cold, and the layers came back on.
At this point, we were climbing in pitch blackness, the path ahead lit only by our headlamps. If you could manage to turn your head into the wind long enough to look up, the stars were absolutely incredible. You could visibly see the Milky Way stretching through the sky. Single file, we all continued behind Fred, with Elias our guide and a couple of additional porters following behind the group.
The trek was long and difficult. There were narrow rocky ridges to cross, with long black drops on either side of you. Truly, I am thankful we ascended in the night because had I seen where and what we were climbing (as I did, on the descent) I might have been too frightened to continue. There were steep inclines climbing what felt like a sand dune, where the mountain ridges had been reduced to fine dust by the never ending wind. There were rocky passes where the path completely disappeared and you literally were climbing with hands and feet over the rock face. Before begin the summit bid, I had joked to Julia that we’d get to the top, whether we had to crawl to do it. And here I found myself, on my bum, scooting my way across the rocks. At one point, we passed the group of climbers who had set off 30 minutes before us. Later, when I turned back to see what had become of that group, all you could see was a line of flickering lights in the distance, slowly blinking their way closer to us.
Although it was tiring, stopping was even more difficult. When you weren’t moving, you could feel the bite of the wind much more. Nonetheless, we had to make sure to drink enough water.
The trek was challenging, but satisfying. It felt better to be climbing over the rocks than the endless trudge of the stairs from the day before. Our group eventually separated into the speedier climbers and the ones going a bit more slowly and I found myself climbing next to Elias, our guide. He quietly sang to himself as he kept a steady pace onwards and I found this comforting and motivating.
Shortly before sunrise, Elias told me we were 5 minutes from the summit. At around 6 am, one after another, everyone on our team reached the summit of Mt. Meru, at 4566 m. The view was absolutely spectacular. I know my simple words will not do it justice. In the distance, the sun rose over Mt. Kilimanjaro, who’s flat peak was in full beautiful view. A blanket of white fluffy clouds covered the rest of the land. Everything was showered in golden light. It was simply breathtaking.
Unfortunately though, we had to remember the trek did not end there. Having limited time off, we had elected to climb Mt. Meru in 3 days, and thus we needed to exit the park today as well. Slowly, we began the descent to Saddle Hut camp.
The descent was exhausting but the views were equally incredible. Like I said, with the sun up, you now got to see the full extent of what we had climbed in the dark- narrow rocky ridges, tall sandy ones, with drops extending on either side of us into the crater of Mt. Meru. Luckily, the sun also brought much needed warmth. Any time we had to ascend a bit on the way back down, all of us protested. All our muscles wanted to do is keep going down. Finally, Cindy and I stumbled in Saddle Hut around 9:30 am. What an incredible feeling. The porters that hadn’t climbed with us to the summit were waiting, shaking our hands and presented us with cold pineapple juice. At that moment, it was the best thing I had ever tested. Cindy and I literally threw our hiking boots off and sipped our juice as the rest of the team arrived.
We then got about an hour to rest, eat some brunch (again, amazing food, cannot thank our cook enough) and we were off again for a nearly 6 hour descent out of the park. Although going down seems easier, it is absolutely killer on the knees, especially that endless series of stairs. Still, as we descended back in the jungle, we had some pretty wonderful animal sightings. A baboon in the path followed Aaron and Julia for over an hour. We later spotted a black-and-white colobus monkey swinging through the tree tops. At one point, the clouds were so low hanging in the jungle we literally were walking through them, but at this point, hot and sweaty, I was grateful for the cool mist they provided.
On and on the descent went, until finally we arrived at the entrance to the plains we had seen upon entering the park. Never have I been so excited to walk on flat ground, haha. By that point, the team was dragging… understandably. Suddenly, Fred pointed ahead of me, and there were 3 giraffes- a mama and two babies. For an exhausted team, Cindy, Beth and I all started running towards them. Fred actually led us off the established path and through the brush so we could get closer to them. Cannot even imagine a better way to end the trip. Summiting, and then 3 giraffes saluting us on the way out of the park. Incredible.
At long last, we all piled into the bus and headed home. Exhausted, dirty, smelly and too tired to wait the requisite 1-2 hours for food at a restaurant, I wished for take out food more than I ever have in my life, haha. Delivery is not really an option in Tanzania. So, while we showered (oh my goodness, it made me feel like a human again as the dirt poured off of me), the wonderful boys went down the road to Pepe’s and ordered pizzas. An hour or so later, they returned. Oh, the joy.
And then, finally, after 3 hours of sleep in 36 hours and climbing a mountain and coming back down, bed.