Thursday, 27 February 2014

DAY 3 and 4 on KILIMANJARO, Machame route with TRO-PEAKS!


I learnt this the hard way today…but we’ll get there.

The day started bright and early with a yummy omelette breakfast.  Actually, we both awoke at 1130pm the night before and 130am, with intermittent sleep thereafter.  I guess I snored a bit, so maybe a bit better sleep than I thought.  It was a crisp and clear day and ‘pole pole’ (pronouce: pole-lay) was the theme of the day.  Today would be a very important day for acclimatization.  First stop was the Lava Tower at 4600m (which is where some longer trips stay for a night) and then back down to our camp at 3950m (Baranco).

One of our breakfasts!  I swear we gained weight on the hike, but they insisted we needed to consume every bit of energy.
Our team minus 1 (he was already heading to our next location).  Far right, Daniel (Lead guide), Next to him Chepanzal (chef),  the 2 beside him and below are porters.  The guy behind everyone was our waiter Jeremy.  The guy with his arms around 2 is Bryan (Assistant guide), and far left is another porter.

Our wonderful toilet in the distance.  Is this getting weird how much we love it?  You would be the same if you saw what we used for 6 days.

The day started ‘joto’ (hot) or ‘joto sena’ (very hot).  But we trusted Daniel when he told us to wear long johns as a base layer.  The hike itself was a very gradual ascent with an interesting landscape of ‘Alpine Desert’ – lots of lava flow rocks and lots of boulders.  We passed many groups on the way up, mostly because we were consistent about the ‘pole pole’ and did not require much rest as our breathing was steady and without effort most of the way.  Stops also created muscle cramps, making the hike more challenging and I always got a headache with the stopping.  We pushed until 4200m when we took our first break.  It was there that we saw the groups from Shira Hut heading towards our first trail junction of the day.
Porters heading out to our third camp.

This is the junction that joins two other trails…the majority you see are porters!  Crazy site.

The first junction had probably a few hundred people in our sight.  Tons of tourists and even more porters  were now running along the trail.  When the paths merged, we continued to traverse across a narrow path with some boulders and technical sections.  A few hundred meters away was the second junction, where the porters headed down and around, while the hikers continue their ascent to the Lava Tower.

It was raining at this point, hence the crappy photo quality.

Our next vertical ascent was slow and busy!  We passed a group of Quebecois hikers (young students) who had a travel medicine doctor along for the ride.  One of the boys carried a Montreal Canadiens flag for the top – boo…go Canucks go!  This vertical gain was long and tedious.  We both started to feel the altitude.  The Lava Tower however was in sight, as was lunch for some much needed energy, as well as  the toilet.  Our legs grew heavy and I began to feel pressure in my chest with the breaths and tingling in the finger tips.  Bryan tried to carry my pack, but I was too proud.  Silly Jen.

As we neared the point, I scurried to the toilet and struggled to get my pack back on from the breathing issues and fatigue I felt.  Ben was close by to help out a bit and Chepanzul took my bag and helped us to our lunch site.  There were campsites set up but we sat on a rock and ate.  Ben scarfed down what he could and I had a bite of an egg, then scurried off to vomit.  Yup…the altitude finally took its toll on my body.  I immediately felt better.  Daniel kept a close watch and I was able to muster the stomach strength to eat fruit and drink some of the juice.

The dreaded Lava Tower (4700m).  This was our pre-acclimatization (lunch stop).  Jen puked, I had a severe headache.  We wanted to get the heck out of there!

Lava Tower looking in the opposite direction.  My grimace after Jen's puke

Jen eager to head down….and quick.  Next camp would be at 3950m.

The winds then began to change after about an hour at that altitude, Ben started to develop a gradual headache and we needed to get down from the elevation.  We loaded up the packs and took some photos as we headed down the hill.  The initial part of this trek was steep, rocky and very slippery.  It was familiar landscape for Ben and I and so we took off quickly, keen to drop the altitude as quickly as we could. The area was so scenic with large and beautiful rocks with a deep oranges in them that formed a canyon.  To our left, a few hundred meters up, there were rocks and cliffs that resembled the Canadian Rockies.  Ahead, it resembled Ireland with fog and lush green slopes.  As we continued down the hill, a significant number of Senecia trees lined the pathway and the adjacent creek.  We loved these trees.  This is when we felt like we were hiking in Africa.  Beautiful, majestic and a bit surreal.

Nice and symmetrical.

As the camp came into view, the pace was brisk and I (as usual…) slipped on a rock and landed hard on my left knee and palms.  No broken wrists but a painful bruise rapidly developed on my left knee.  Teneme (‘let’s go’) – we continued without problems into my favorite campsite of the trip.  Ben was stoked, we were the first to camp…not sure if it was a good thing though, as we wondered if we needed to acclimatize longer but my vomiting changed that plan?!  Nevertheless, it was rest time.  It wasn’t my day.  A well-earned rest awaited us at our camp at 3950m.  As we rested, the rain started to fall and then began to pour.  Our guides and porters had to move their tent because of the rain floods.  It was crazy!  Another day of missed rain – how long would this last for us?!  Later in the evening, we saw the Baranco Wall and our scramble for tomorrow…plus the summit was in sight.  A very large reminder of why we are on this journey…boy, it sure was high still. 
Jen's little fall.  She bruised her knee, then laughed it off because man…what a day haha.
Daniel giving extra support to Jen here.  Things were a bit more up-beat once we got lower in elevation and we slowly started to feel better.  This was around 4200m.

Almost to camp!
These seemed to get bigger  and bigger

What a lovely site.  Camp 3 @ 3950m.  We were soooo ready to hit the hay…even with our headaches.
Camp 3 @ 3950m after acclimatizing at 4700m for an hour…we were so happy to be here.  Now to check in.

Resting!  …our favourite camp.  Such an expansive grande feel to it.


Today would be defined as a tough day, and technical.  We were the third group to leave the camp, which was roughly 6:30am.  We began the ascent up the steep Baranco wall, which included some scrambling here and there.  This had Jen a bit worried, but I knew it wouldn’t be as aggressive as our familiar Canadian scrambles we’ve done together.  The first hour or so had us crossing several rivers.  It also had us gaining elevation extremely fast.  We were reminded, “pole pole” and wouldn’t you know it, we were first to the top of the wet Baranco wall (a small cheer inside of me went off).  We were greeted by a thick, dense fog, that showed absolutely no sign of wind (which seemed odd because we were on a high exposed peak). This was finally the first time we started to see snow scattered here and there as well.  From now on, we knew elevation would be a key factor with every step we took.

Baranco Camp 3 in the distance…on our way up the Baranco wall.

Overall, the weather worked out for us yet again.  It was quite hot initially but things started to chill down as we climbed higher.  Fog persisted yet again but held off long enough for us to look down the 150m wall back on the camp.  The ongoing silence in the air was amazing, as was the lack of wind blowing in our ears at this elevation.

Jen loved the wall…not.  This picture shows us about to pass a group.

We thought that reaching the top of the wall would give us the reprieve we needed, but this was not the case.  Daniel and Bryan had mentioned the night before that there were many valleys to cross, which meant a lot of ‘up – downs’ today.  They did not disappoint.  The valleys were lush at times, while a desert feel other times.  Every stream crossing we passed, the porters would be getting their drinking water and cooling off until they set off to pass us again, at a rapid pace.  The most memorable valley was called Karanga Valley, and it was the final valley before the last pitch into Barafu camp at 4600m.  Before diving down into the valley, our porters had set up a temporary camp for lunch.  We were so relieved to see they had made us some familiar foods…french fries, salad, and chicken.  I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, so I didn’t eat much, and reluctantly swallowed another Tylenol for some much needed relief.  Jen seemed fine at this point and cleaned her plate (I was jealous).  30 minutes later, we were off for the final valley to the dreaded Barafu camp. 

getting closer!  Lots of rivers to cross on this day.

Some cool volcanic walls
Large sand plains with erosion ridges…a bit different.

After what seemed to be a quick decent down to the valley base, we were faced with our final test of the day…the last ascent to Barafu camp. While it was nice to visualize the camp above us on a cliff, the switchback pathways upwards were a bit daunting at this point.  Jen particularly liked the toilets that seem to hang mid-air over the cliff edges.  This last push seemed like it would never end.  Once we reached the top of the ridge and back into the fog, we thought we made it just in time before the altitude began to take its toll, but nope…our porters chose a nice high location for our tent high on the ridge.  This was one hell of a kick in the balls.  20 minutes later we made it to the wardens cabin to sign in.  We noticed our heart rates were accelerated, and breathing was more difficult now.  This is why people take a 7th day I guess!  We collapsed on the Barafu sign for one last picture before heading into the tent for one shitty restless night so to speak.  Wake up call tonight would be midnight. Let the fun begin!

The edge of camp 4.  You can see the far drop toilet on the cliff.  This was our least  favourite camp due to elevation!  We we so exhausted at this point.

The last pitch to camp, and it couldn't come soon enough!!

Side note: Jeremy our waiter told Daniel he thought we were running up the mountain most days because they didn’t have enough time to set up camp before we arrived.  It was always a panicked rush to beat us.

Made it…4700m…and we have to sleep here tonight, ugh!

Check-in at Barafu…please just get me my bed!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014



The day started early for us with our jetlag, followed quickly by a great buffet breakfast at the Honey Badger.  Typically, we start our hikes around 8am at home, with an early drive.  Here, we had to wait until 930am to get started…it felt like an eternity.  It wasn’t so bad, as we sat at the bar waiting for our luggage to get weighed and prepared for the porters to carry.  This gave us the opportunity to say good bye to our new Edmontonian friends.  Daniel had arrived and given us some sleeping bags to choose from, water bottles, hiking poles and gloves.

Weighing our luggage outside of our hotel.  Porters are not allowed to carry over 33 lbs.

The drive to the base was really interesting.  In the van was Daniel and our cook, Chepazul (aka ‘chef’).  After dropping off the unnecessary rentals at the shop in Moshi, we picked up Thomas – co-owner of Tro-Peaks with Daniel.  He was a really happy guy  and spoke perfect English.  We passed millet patches on the side of the road that is used for a local liquor.  He explained how he and Daniel went to school locally, after getting sponsorship due to costs at the local university.  They met and long-short, started Tro-Peaks.  The drive was long but interesting, as we travelled into the Macheme tribe region near the start of our trek.  We saw van buses that were so full, people were holding onto ropes hanging off to the left of the vehicle.  I was waiting to see the van tip over personally! Lol.  Towards the end of our journey up to the start, we stopped to obtain meat on the side of the street for our dinners….ten minutes later, we picked up chicken.  This area was just what I’d think of when I think of Africa.  Rough foliage, small shops with coca-cola signs, women in colorful fabrics and bags of items or trays of bananas on their head, sugar cane and rebar abound.

Millet harvest was on.  The beige mats you see have a grain on them used to produce a local wine liquor.
When the bus is full, they hang on the side.  The rope on the back…thats for when the sides are full.

Upon arrival, there was a large gathering of locals waiting for the opportunity to work as a porter and a few stragglers wanting to sell merchandise.  Upon passing through the official gate of the park, it was tourist vehicles galore and a large number of hikers preparing for the days ahead.  We had to sign into the official log book with our passports and the permit number Daniel had obtained.  We sat in the ‘tourist’ area until things were organized.  Tro-Peaks was VERY well organized and had their crew hired before arrival, thus no extra porters were required and our wait was minimal.  We did however see many of the larger companies pick up lines of porters and march them into the gate and prepare them for the journey.

The gate into Kilimanjaro National Park…our starting point.

So fitting…a monkey at the entrance sign.

Oh Canada!

In that time, Chepazul arrived with our lunch.  Another group had a large picnic set-up in the area and so we assumed we were to eat the lunch.  I ate the chicken, which was sensational, and the boiled egg (probably within 2 minutes) before Daniel asked why we were eating lunch already.  Oops.  We bumped into a guy we had met from Calgary at this point as well, which was nice to have someone to talk to.  As the days progressed, it was surprisingly quite difficult to find people to talk to given the nature of the trip.  We never saw him on the trip again.

Daniel then brought us over to our porters and we met our second guide, Bryan.  Bryan is a guy just about our age, fun-loving, loud but charasmastic and very respectful.  I felt at ease instantly with him.  Bryan started us on our journey on the short dirt road.  He showed us the monkeys waiting for food and researchers driving up in their jeeps.  The pace was initially a bit of a shock for Ben, but well liked for myself.  ‘Polay polay’….slowly slowly…’sippy sippy’…the words we’d hear every day for the next five days.

And so it begins.  Lush rainforest welcomed us on the first day.  It rained on and off, but we really never felt it with the thick canopy.

As we continued to climb, we passed the ‘start’ sign – basically, you’re stuck now as this is an ascent only route.  It was certainly amazing and humbling seeing the porters fly past us up to camp with 15kg loads balanced on their heads or necks in nothing but a pair of old runners worn to the sole and dripping with sweat.  Around us, the jungle was amazing.  Ben’s hip flexors were sore quite quickly – he was a bit worried.  I had some hiking poles and was dominating the early hill, but polay polay.  A number of flowers were seen on this route and we captured a few with our camera.  My personal favorites were the Hot Red Poker flower and the Ingatinus kilimanjaricus (hooked flower).  During the ascent, a Finnish two-some came up behind us and in their Finnish accent said, ‘Stay to the left, here comes our cook – we call him Chef’.  Maybe it was the fact that it was just the two of us, but this cracked us up and still does today.  One of those things I guess.
Our fav.  Called Kilimanjaro (something something lol)

Red Hot Poker flower

Slowly the rain forest became….this.

Our first camp was at Machame Camp (3000 meters).  We learned our routine at this first camp – arrive, sign-in with the ranger at the hut and go rest in the tent until ‘washy washy’ time or meal time.  It was pretty crazy that our first camp was at an elevation as high as our local mountains in Canada.  The site we were assigned was right next to the hut and was our least favorite site of the five we stayed in.  Being a female, I was introduced to the toilet.  Hmmmm….how does one describe this piece of work.  It took a couple of goes to get the right position but it worked eventually.  Some people had recommended a ‘she-wee’…I laughed.  After using the toilet twice, I cried I didn’t have one. Haha…(not really).

First camp @ 3000m  Think about it, our lowest camp is as high as most "bigger" mountains in the Rockies.

Our first camp @ 3100m.  It was located on the edge of the rain forest and Moore land.
Every camp, we need to sign in to the wardens cabin.  Then Daniel pays our fee.
A typical outhouse…unless you were fortunate enough  to have one of the rare sit-down stales…though still no treat.
A porter arrived with our hot water to wash, his name was Jeremy and he was to be our server for the 6 days.  It was welcomed after our cool down and rest.  He then guided us to a larger tent for popcorn and Kilimanjaro black tea.  After the snack, we took a brief look around the site.  We saw some very large groups with nice tents and even the portable toilets we’d heard about.  As we laid napping/resting, hikers continued to shuffle into camp after 6pm that night.  Dinner was to follow, followed by our first night at 3000 meters.  It was short and chilly, but easily manageable.

Side note:  We tried explaining to Bryan what butter was.  For the life of us, he could not grasp  our descriptors (like really, how do you explain it?)  Later, we found out its called FAT SPREAD…we all had a good chuckle.


Jen and I were wide eyed by 1am.  We would learn that this would be the norm for the next 5 nights. I decided to go out for one of my reluctant pee breaks (Diamox increases frequency), and as I finished tripping over Jen and fumbling with the zipper to just get out, I heard something I haven’t heard in a long time…nothing.  Surrounded by dozens of tents, perched on a 3000m ridge, amazingly there was not a gust of wind, not a snore, nothing.  It was actually surreal with the mountain way off in the distance.  Actually, there was one sound…one of our porters seemed to snort around 4am every morning…drove me nuts, but we were normally awake by then.

Edge of our first camp on our way out…heading up.

What we have to look forward to on day 2.

Hike started at 7am after a delicious cream of wheat porridge, eggs, bread, and hot dogs.  Our path would take us straight up through large boulders through the region called Moore Land (Semi-dessert).  It had reminded Jen and I of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.  The path was quite wet, as Tanzania had been experiencing more rain then normal.  Throughout the morning, Daniel noticed we never took many breaks.  We were always used to quick hikes with breaks in Canada (to the chagrin of Jen)….but poley poley….no need to stop, so as a result, we began to pass group after group and this soon became the trend.  At one point, we caught a glimpse of a rare eagle.  Daniels reaction caught us off guard.  He was usually quite laid back as we asked question after question after question on anything about the mountain and Africa in general.  Daniel then explained that this eagle was rare to spot, and he had only seen it maybe every 7-9th trip (he has done 92 in total to date).

This path just seemed to go on and on.
Officially in the Semi-dessert.  We walked a ridge for several hours.
Our lead guide Daniel.   Look how high we are after 1.5 days!
Such a expansive view.
One of our first spots where we could see out of the tree line.  We were pretty pumped haha.
Almost to camp 2.

The clouds began to roll in and the air cooled as we reached 3900m before heading back down to our second camp at 3800m.  This camp was big, flat, and ugly, but our site was located away from the crowds and the toilet was quiet.  The Lemoche route was 100m further at Shire Huts campsite and its path would later join ours. 

We arrived…surprised on how big the site was.
Camp 2 was very wide open.   The tent in this photo is ours.  Its the only one because the porters were told we were going fast…so it needed to be set up sooner.  Our favourite toilet top left of photo;)
Everyone set up on the other side…suckers.  We loved our location…had a quiet outhouse to ourselves.

Our chef's tent (looks like soup is on).  Our assistant guide is the one sitting down…he knew  EVERYONE!

We both had slight headaches and Jen also had some nausea but nothing too concerning.  My heel was also getting sore from a stupid injury I had acquired at work breaking ice on the river.  Settling in, I saw my first 4 stripped grass mouse, though we would see these throughout the trip.  We also saw our first local raven which has a white stripe on their back, as well as their version of a sparrow (more yellow with stripes)…I got a kick out of them.  We took a short break in the tent while it rained for an hour or two.  Once the clouds lifted and the rain subsided to a light mist, we walked to the neighboring Shire Camp (Lemoche route) to meet with some of our guides friends…boy did they get along.  After 20 minutes, we headed back for dinner and straight to bed….we are still trying to learn how to sleep past 2am!

Then the mist/fog blew in for our second camp @ 3800m.

Some words we learned today…
Poa: Cool
Nzuri: good
For dinner we had pumpkin soup, curry rice with beef, and watermelon.  We continued to have never-ending tea, which by the end of the hike, we would be sick of lol. 

Side note:  It is quite amazing how hard the porters work.  They basically live on little to nothing, are dressed in worn out hand me downs, and have to beat everyone to each camp and have the camp ready for us.  They actually run, and to no surprise, do take a rare fall.  We saw several, some that looked serious, but they would just get up and continue because their job depended on it.