Londrossi Gate (7,546′) to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp (9,186′); 3.6 mi.
After two years of delays encountered due to COVID-19, surviving the roulette-wheel of COVID-testing that began back in the U.S. 4-days prior to our departure, and passing additional tests and protocols upon landing in Tanzania, we are finally beginning our long-anticipated adventure to the “Roof of Africa.” Our day began early, relishing the last hot shower we will experience until we exit the mountain 7 days from now. After a hearty breakfast and one last check of our gear, we boarded the van for the three-hour drive to Kilimanjaro National Park. Along the way, we marveled at the sheer size and scope of this massive mountain that loomed in front of us. Over the course of the next week, I expect we will become intimately familiar with its’ rugged and beautiful contours.
Since Kilimanjaro is located 205 miles south of the equator, the seasons aren’t really defined by summer and winter. Rather, the predominate determination of the conditions is the wet season or the dry season. We are climbing during the December through March dry seasons (the other occurs from June through September), so we hope to not encounter too much rain. The other advantage of being here during the dry season is that it coincides with an increase of animals migrating across the savannah (more on this topic when we go on the post-trek safari!) Another fun fact being this close to the equator… generally speaking, day and night are evenly split.
Upon arrival at Londorossi Gate, a flurry of activity begins. This is where we offload the vehicles and transition for horsepower to human power. While we enjoy a nice lunch, freshly prepared by our 2 chefs (Idi and Saidi), our head guide, Athumani (who just happens to be the reigning “Kilimanjaro Guide of the Year”) is busily coordinating his team of porters to distribute and weigh the gear and supplies we will be using over the next week.
Our group of 7 trekkers is supported by full team of 38 staff members comprised of 4 guides (Athumani, Maximilian, Sedenga, and Shabani), 32 porters, and 2 chefs. Although this may sound like a lot of people to support a small group, it is important to remember that eco-tourism is a major economic driver in this region and the team that is supporting us relies on these coveted positions to earn a living. Additionally, the better trekking companies like the one we are using (iantaylortrekking.com) have developmental programs that invest in both their employees and the local community. Those with drive and ambition to advance from runner/porter to the top guide positions have opportunities to grow with the company.
While Athumani procures our permits, the porters are weighed with the gear they will carry. Our group has affectionately been dubbed “The Dream Team” due to their experience and high degree of professionalism. They will be carrying everything we need for the week including, tents, a full kitchen, fresh food (with one major resupply on day 5) and even two chemical toilets with their own privacy enclosure. Each porter is strictly limited to carrying 15kg (33 lbs). Because of the weight limits, we have tried to avoid carrying extraneous gear, only including what we will use during the climb.
There are 7 main climbing routes to the top of Kilimanjaro, ranging from 5 to 10 days. The 8-day Lemosho route that we are using is one of the longest, but it also has one of the highest success rates due to the extra time built into the schedule to acclimatize to very high elevations. Because it is longer, there is less traffic. After lunch, we are finally on our way under the watchful gaze of Shamani, Sedenga and Maximilian as they lead us through the rainforest and remind us to “sippy sippy” to stay hydrated on the steady climb to camp. Occasionally we stop to learn about some of the plants along the trail. We even get to see some of the many Blue Monkeys that live in the forest around camp. Overall, today was a good test of our fitness as we climbed the narrow path to Big Tree Camp for our first night on the mountain.
Finally, after 3 hours of hiking, our long day which began in Arusha ends as we enter the forest clearing at Mti Mkubwa Camp to see that our campsite has already been erected by our professional staff. Tomorrow will bring new adventures as we transition to the open terrain of the Moorland Zone.