Safari Trifecta (part 2): The Serengeti

We spent our first of two nights at a tent camp on the Serengeti. This was a small encampment with 10 large tents, 6 for guests, and one each for dining, kitchen, camp staff, and safari guides. Our first night was restful with the sounds of various nocturnal animals nearby. Interestingly, the camp staff includes a Masai warrior who stays up all night to protect the camp. A heavy rain fell throughout the night, so the large safari land cruisers will definitely be needed to travel through the muddy savannah.

Masai Camp Security

After a wonderful breakfast, we loaded up the vehicles to begin our explorations for the day. Within 15 minutes we sight a large group of 15 vehicles arranged in a circle. Our two vehicles join the circle and we are rewarded with the sight of three cheetah consuming a fresh wildebeest kill. It is fascinating to see the circle of life play out in front of our eyes. After observing for about 45 minutes, we continue on. Very shortly we spy another trio of cheetah enjoying their own wildebeest while several vultures waited patiently in the nearby Acacia trees for their turn at the scraps.

The Serengeti is active with all kinds of wildlife. In a single field of view we see two female lions and a young male, 5 giraffe, and off on a nearby hill a massive herd of wildebeest and zebra.

Everywhere we turn their are new sights to behold. A small Dung Beetle proudly rolling a large ball of its namesake on the ground, an Impala with its spiral antlers, a pack of Mongoose scampering through the grass, and majestic Tawny Eagle quietly perched high in a tree, alert and ready.

Impala

Simple photographs cannot capture the scale of what we are seeing. Serengeti means “endless plain” in the Masai language, and it is an apt name. The vast landscape before us teems with animals and truly does feel as if it goes on forever.

Wildebeest and Zebra herd

We return to camp for lunch and a bit of a break from the rough terrain, then head out again. A storm is clearly looming off to the north and appears to be headed our way. Before long we are in the midst of a ferocious downpour, and our guide decides the prudent thing to do is hunker down in the landcruiser and wait for the storm to pass before proceeding. I suspect we are experiencing the leading edge of the looming wet season.

Lunch on the Serengeti

After a full day on the Serengeti, we return to camp for another fantastic meal and good night of sleep. The next morning, our last, we begin the long drive back to Arusha where we will spend one more night before returning home. As we head out, we are rewarded with yet another iconic sight, two lions resting in a tree. They are then joined by two more lions as we watch.

Lions resting in a tree

Due to the heavy downpour from yesterday and some additional rain during the night, the dirt tracks and stream crossings were a muddy, boggy mess. One of our Landcruisers got stuck in the mud, but fortunately the other, with a slight assist from a third vehicle was able to pull the stuck truck from the axle deep mud.

Final preps to get unstuck

Finally, just when we thought we had experienced all the Serengeti had to offer, we stumbled on a family of elephants forging among the trees. A great way to end an unforgettable experience!

Family of Elephants
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Safari Trifecta (part 1)

Today we embarked on a four day safari with guides Daniel and Johnson, that will take us to three different locations. First we head to Tarangire National Park, then the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and finally Serengeti National Park. As we head southwest out of Arusha, we pass through the Cultivation Zone that surrounds Mt. Kilimanjaro. Along the way we see many Masai tribesman herding cattle, goats and sheep, dressed in the brightly colored Masai blanket that distinguishes these nomadic tribesmen from the more than 120 different tribes in Tanzania.

Masai

The farmland is comprised of rich volcanic soil used to grow two primary crops for the Maasai, maize and beans. These are perfect crops to sustain both their families and their herds. Other crops grown in the region include coffee, carrots, potatoes, and bananas.

Masai village

The first of three safari locations is Tarangire National Park. Tarangire is translated as Warthog (gire) River (taran). The vast park has broad views, with a rolling terrain of hills and grasslands. The thorny acacia trees and broad-trunked baobab trees span the landscape.

As we drive through the park we see giraffes, ostrich, impalas, elephants, baboons, warthogs, zebra, water buck, a variety of colorful birds, and the smallest antelope, called dik dik, in their natural habitat. We even get to see a trio of cheetah off in the distance. It is remarkable to see these animals in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, Daniel and Johnson share their encyclopedic knowledge when answering the many questions we have.

Our day 2 safari destination is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Ngorongoro is an ancient caldera that was formed when the volcano magma chamber collapsed to form a 2,000’ deep caldera that is nearly 12 miles across and comprises 109 sq mi of grassland, marsh and a large alkili lake.

Ngorogoro caldera

The descent into the caldera is steep, but once inside it is easy to see why so many different animals flourish here. The food is plentiful and the presence of predatory lions, hyena, jackals and leopards do not seem to alarm the wide array of grazing herbivores.

The crater is home to 7,000 wildebeest, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland, 3,000 gazelles, 600 hyena, 200-300 elephants, over 60 lions, 30 rhinos, and many others. In all, over 25,000 wild creatures call the Ngorongoro Crater home.

We spend several hours driving all over the crater floor and see all of the following animals and more: Thompson Gazelle, Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest (Gnu), Lion, Zebra, Pelican, Stork, Egyptian Geese, Flamingo, Hammerlock, Crown Crane, Grant Gazelle, Sacred Ibis, Grey Heron, Golden Jackal, Hippopotamus, Hyena, Rhinoceros, Eland Antelope (largest antelope), Warthog, Ostrich, and Baboon.

Arriving at our camp on the Serengeti

We end our long day, ending on the Serengeti as we arrive at our camp at sunset. When I get access to some of the pictures from those with telephoto lenses, I will update this post.

Day 7 (part 2): The Grinding Descent

Day 7 (Summit Day): Uhuru Peak (19,341′), then descend to Mweka Camp (10,171′); 9.2 mi.

Day 7 route after summiting

The first part of summit day occurred from midnight to 6:00 a.m., the time we reached Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro. Now it was time for the long descent. First, from the summit back to Kosovo Camp, our starting point for the day. When we entered camp, we were greeted by the entire Ian Taylor Trekking Team with an uplifting and spirited series of songs to celebrate our successful summit.

Celebrating our success in song

Then after a brief 2 hour stop to rest, breakdown camp, and eat a quick meal, we headed down to our final night on the mountain at Mweka Camp. Already awake since midnight and tired from our climb to, and steep descent from the summit, we summoned our last reserves of energy to make the long descent to Mweka Camp, located far below us at the top of the Rain Forest Zone.

This was not an easy descent… we were all tired, but the main challenge was the trail. Kosovo Camp lies in the Alpine Desert Zone where the steep trail is mostly comprised of uneven rock and sections of hardened lava the looked like very rough concrete. As we descended through Barafu Camp, which was located about 700’ below our camp, we were thankful that our day hadn’t begun there. First it would have added a very hard additional hour for the summit. Secondly, the camp was large and crowded, located in a steep, rocky area that probably spanned at least 500’ of elevation change from top to bottom. As we descended, we passed large groups of trekkers on their way up, who would be stopping for the night at this rugged outpost to begin their own attempts for the summit later in the night. We passed along our best wishes as they congratulated us on our achievement.

The rock scrabble trail through Barafu Camp

Below Barafu there was a dramatic change in the weather. For the most part, we had experienced about the best weather any of us could have hoped for during the past week. That changed when a cold sleet began to fall. We stopped briefly to put on our rain gear, then resumed the jarring descent. As we went lower, the air got thicker, but the sleet turned into a steady, cold rain that only made the rocky trail slick. By this point we were all ready to get to Mweka Camp and the warmth of the rain forest, but we still had hours ahead of us. Along the way we began to notice metal stretchers, and wheeled stretchers haphazardly lying on the side of the trail. These are pre-positioned along the trail to evacuate anyone who is too sick or injured to walk. Given the rough trail, I don’t think it would be a pleasant ride!

Wheeled evacuation stretchers

Finally after several hours of precipitation, the sky brightened and the rain stopped, lifting our spirits. Leaving the barren Alpine Desert behind, we enjoyed the change in scenery from rocks to shrubs, bushes and small trees covered with hanging moss as we re-entered the Moorland Zone.

This meant we were one ecological zone closer to the top of the Rain Forest Zone where our final camp was located at 10,171’.

Finally, our long day that began at midnight, included a successful climb to the summit, a 2 to 3 hour descent back to Kosovo Camp, and an additional 5.5 hours to Mweka Camp ended. After 16.5 hours we were greeted by some of our great porters who relieved us of our backpacks as we walked the final, tired steps into camp for a well-earned rest.

Day 7 (part 1): “Embrace the Suck”

Day 7 (Summit Day): Kosovo Base Camp (16,010’) to Stella Point (18,885′) to Uhuru Peak (19,341′), 2.0 mi.

All the planning, training, and anticipation has led to this moment… the moment we step out of our tents at the Kosovo Base Camp into the frosty air at 16,010 ft, just 2 miles of trail, but still a very steep 3,331 ft below Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We begin our summit attempt promptly at 1:00 a.m. layered in every piece of clothing we have to protect us from the cold we expect to encounter further up the mountain. Just days ago we were in the rain forest, enjoying balmy temperatures and lush vistas. So much has changed… the terrain is rocky and bare, with no discernable vegetation. It’s probably best that it is nearly pitch black as we slowly exit camp and begin the final push to the summit. There is a hint of moonlight through the wispy clouds, just enough that we can make out the contours of the challenge ahead.

The long climb in the dark

Due to the elevation, we are being very deliberate about our pace, maintaining the strict “pole-pole” pace (pronounced “poh lay poh lay”), which means “slowly, slowly” in the Swahili language of our guides. The pace is great for making this very difficult climb achievable, and surprisingly we warm up fairly quickly and begin to strategize about which layers to remove at the first break. Athumani has set a strict schedule that allows for a three minute break every hour, with the plan to reach Stella Point (the point that marks the crater rim and where the trail significantly flattens) at 5 a.m. From there. it is one more hour to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro at 19,341’.

Stella Point… the point where the hard climb is over

This is a tough climb given the elevation, steepness, and lack of sufficient sleep. But, this is what we signed up for when we chose this adventure… we knew it would be hard, and at times uncomfortable, knowing that all the pain and suffering are worth it in the end to stand on the breathtaking summit of Kilimanjaro. Our mantra for the summit push is: “Embrace the Suck” a term I learned from my friend Jesse… simply stated, it means: To consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable.

The route is steep and the trail seems to ascend endlessly into the dark ahead. All we can see is the few feet in front of us, illuminated by our headlamps and the reflection of ice crystals in the frost covered lava rocks. We are definitely reliant on our trekking poles to stabilize us and support us from falling during the occasional foot slip in the loose scree. The pole-pole pace helps us to move steadily, albeit slowly toward our goal, but the thin air and the cold are the predominate factors.

For this nighttime push to the summit, we have packed light. No sense in carrying any extra weight than absolutely necessary. The heaviest thing in our packs is the one liter of water that is packed inside the pack to prevent it from freezing. We hydrate and snack during our scheduled breaks.

There are three additional guides assigned for the summit climb, ensuring one guide for each of us if assistance is needed either going up or down.

Heading to the summit on the crater rim

After four hours of steady climbing in the dark, we finally crest the crater wall and see the frost covered sign that marks Stella Point. This in itself is a significant achievement, both emotional and uplifting. From here it is a relatively easy climb along the crater wall with steep drop offs on both the left and right. Behind us to to the east the sun is brightening the morning sky. Finally after nearly five hours of tremendous effort, we arrive at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the highest point on the African continent. We are exhausted but thrilled to be sharing this moment.

Day 6: It’s Starting to get Real!

Day 6: Karanga Camp to Kosovo Camp (16,010′); 2.2 mi.

Feeling good on the way to Kosovo Base Camp

Today was the staging day for our push to the summit. Last night at dinner we got our normal daily briefing from our Head Guide, Athumani, on the plan and what to expect today. The plan included an overview of the route and our planned wake-up, breakfast, and departure times. Additionally, we got an overview of the terrain we will be crossing and the planned time it should take us. All of this is important because the goal is to get to the next camp by noon, followed by lunch/dinner at 2:30, so we can spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening resting and/or sleeping since we have a midnight wake-up call for our summit bid.

Although we only hiked about 2.2 miles today, it took us 4 hours. That may seem like a long time, but in that short distance we ascended 2,854, at an already high elevation, to the Kosovo Base Camp that sits in a relatively flat area at 16,010’.

Along the way we passed through the Barafu Base Camp that most trekking companies use. For two reasons we were happy that we hiked the additional 45 mins and gained another 700’ in elevation. First, Barafu Camp is very large and crowded, located on a steep, rocky slope… not the best place to start a summit bid. Second, Kosovo is closer to the summit, which means we can rest a bit longer and hopefully rise refreshed and ready for what we all expect to be a challenging and very long day.

Snowing at Kosovo Base Camp

Fortunately everyone in our group remains in good spirits and good health, so we are quietly confident that we will stand together on the summit to witness a spectacular sunrise.

Wish us luck…

Day 5: Porter Power

Day 5: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp (13,156′); 3.5 mi.

Day 5 Route

Once again we awoke to a clear sky and mild temperatures despite the nearly 13,000’ elevation of Barranco Camp. Today was a relatively short day, although there were some significant challenges. Directly after breakfast we descended about 200’ to the bottom of the Barranco Wall, a 984’ rock wall with a steeply ascending rocky trail. Nicknamed the “Breakfast Wall” due to the fact that it is the first thing encountered on the trail between Barranco and Karanga Camps, it is a slightly technical climb that requires both hands and strong legs to span some of the more treacherous sections. Fortunately our four guides watched over us like hawks and lent assistance with a hand hold or foot placement when needed.

Once we successfully scaled the wall, we enjoyed a well deserved break with phenomenal views of the clouds below us from our perch at 13,900’. Downslope from us lies the Karanga Valley which funnels water from Kilimanjaro to the farms far below. Since our next camp is at 13,156’ we were all under the impression that the remaining miles would be a gentle downhill walk. But alas we were wrong, instead we “enjoyed” the opportunity to go steeply downhill, then steeply uphill… twice!

The final climb into Karanga… look real close to see the trail of trekkers and porters

Needless to say, we were happy to walk into the Karanga Camp for what we all agreed was a well earned rest. Both today and tomorrow are short days to allow us to begin our push to the summit tomorrow at midnight.

With so many different trekking companies offering treks, there are hundreds of people on the mountain. Making all of this possible are the amazing porters who carry absolutely everything needed to operate these temporary camps. Every day they travel up and down the same trails we are traversing. It is quite humbling, but greatly appreciated, to see these incredibly hard working men and women carry the large, heavy, unwieldy loads on their backs, and often balanced on their heads. They truly are the heroes of Kilimanjaro, for without them none of this amazing experience would be possible.

Day 3-4: Rugged Beauty

Day 3: Shria 1 Camp (11,482′ to Shira 2 Camp (12,795′); 6.2 mi.

Day 3 route

Day 3 began with our normal 6:00 am wake-up call with a warm drink delivered to our tent. After getting dressed and packing our gear, we head over to the dining tent for our 7:00 am breakfast. Every morning and evening we all get our pulse and blood oxygen level checked and recorded. This is one of the many things the guides pay attention to as they monitor our health to ensure we are not having any severe issues due to the altitude. For the next 5 days we will be above 12,000’ elevation, with the next few days successively climbing to higher elevations.

After breakfast, while the camp is being broken down by the support team, we strap on our packs for the scheduled 8:00 am departure. Today is a relatively easy day as we hike across the Shira Plain. The landscape is dominated by large shrubs, grasses, lava boulders, and streams that emanate from the massive Kibo volcanic cone the rises steeply to our left. The Shira Plateau is the remnant of the oldest volcanic cone that collapsed thousands of years ago to form the plain we are crossing,

Today is a relatively easy 6.2 mile hike gradually rising about 1,300’ from Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp. This is designed to be a recovery day for the entire team after the big climb yesterday. We arrive at our camp for the night at noon, so today is a bit of an easier day for the support team as well since they didn’t have to set up the kitchen and dining tents for an enroute lunch stop.

Shira 2 Camp

After an hour to relax, we have lunch, followed by a short acclimatizaion hike up to 13,150’. Any opportunity to hike high and sleep low raises the odds that we will avoid any serious altitude sickness issues in the days ahead. As of today, everyone is doing great and feeling good. Tomorrow will be a challenging day, so we are thankful for the easy day, and we hope to get a good night’s rest.

Day 4 (Acclimatization Day 1): Shira 2 Camp (12,795′) to Lava Tower (15,223′) to Barranco Camp (12,992′); 6.7 mi.

Day 4 route

We woke up this morning to a beautiful clear sky and a magnificent view of Kibo Peak silhouetted by the sun rising behind it. Off in the distance in the other direction was Mt. Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania at 14,979’, shining in the morning sun. Wonderful sights to inspire us for the challenging day ahead. Fortunately our entire group is feeling great with no effects of altitude sickness despite the 12,795’ elevation of our camp.

Kibo Peak in the morning

After breakfast we gear up for the next leg of the trek. We depart camp promptly at 8:00 am with the goal of reaching our lunch spot at Lava Tower, a distinctive volcanic feature at 15,123’. On the way we transited the Alpine Desert, a zone with little vegetation and a lot of rock. The most iconic plant is the Giant Senecio, which flourished in the areas where streams from the mountain provide an abundant source of water.

Giant Senecio

Up until we reached Lava Tower, the weather has been perfect! We have been truly blessed! At lunch and throughout the rest of the day we had our first encounter with precipitation, first as rain, then a light snow, and then rain again as we descended 2,223’ to Baranco Camp, our destination for the day.

Our group with Baranco Camp below

This is by far the largest camp because multiple routes converge at this site located at the base of the steeply rising Kibo Peak, and next to the imposing Baranco wall that we will climb tomorrow. There are a lot of trekking groups encamped here, so we will definitely be using our ear plugs tonight.

Today was a good day and everyone continues to do well as we follow all the guidance of our talented guides. I hope to post the next update two days from now…

Praying for you Dad…


Day 2: Is this “Camping” or “Glamping?”

Big Tree Camp (9,186′) to Shira 1 Camp (11,482′); 4.9 mi.

Day 2 route

Upon entering camp last night, we immediately knew we were being cared for by one of the best companies on the mountain. Well before we arrived, our camp crew, led by Camp Manager “King Solomon,” had fully erected our camp, which includes a very large dining tent, a kitchen tent, the private toilet tents, and of course all the tents for our total group of 45.

Day 1 camp

Each of our 2-person tents are supported by a dedicated crew of 2 that are assigned to remain with us throughout the trek. As soon as we entered camp, we were directed to the specific tent number that would be ours for the next seven days. Our gear was delivered and a warm bowl of water was provided in order to wash off some of the trail and sweat.

After a quick fresh-up, we proceeded to the tall geodesic dome tent that serves as the dining tent, where a large table and chairs are ready for the dinner service. Before dinner, though, we enjoyed some nice freshly popped popcorn as we relax and wind down from the day’s trek. Every meal is prepared by our two chefs, Idi and Saidi, and served by Mfunga and Francis who use the opportunity as a stepping stone to becoming guides. To be a guide, it is important to be able to comfortably interact with clients, so the server role is the perfect opportunity to frequently engage in conversations, answer questions and learn from the other guides as they eat with us, converse, and provide our daily briefings.

Dining tent for all meals and daily briefs

After dinner it is time to wind down and get ready for bed. The night comes early and the days are full, so we are ready for a good night sleep. Sleep came easy, but there were quite a few tent zipper sounds throughout the night as all the water we are encouraged to drink throughout the day continues to work it’s way through our systems. Once back inside the tent, sleep was intermittent for some and immediate for others.

Bright and early at 6:00 a.m. a member of the tent crew wakes us up and brings a hot cup of tea or coffee to ease us into the day. By 7:00 a.m. we are dressed and packed and ready for breakfast. While we enjoy a nutritious and full breakfast, the tent crews are already breaking down the tents for the next camp along the way.

After breakfast we were introduced to every member of our “Dream Team,” some of who we had already met, but most who had worked on our behalf since the trek began. Then, prior to departing camp for the next segment, we had the great pleasure of the full team singing a variety of tribal songs, singing and dancing with a certain joy of sharing their heritage, and energizing us for the day.

The full Ian Taylor Trekking staff

After breakfast, we start the climb through the rainforest towards the more open terrain of Heath Moorland Zone. This is a steady climb, and after about 2 hours, we see the last big tree and immediately see a change in the vegetation to a wide variety of scrubs, bushes, grasses, flowers and small trees.

Leaving the Rainforest behind

Today’s hike is our first acclimatizaion day, where we will hike to an elevation higher than the elevation we will sleep. Before we get there though, we enter a small clearing on a bluff with a view of the rainforest and cultivation zones that surround the base of Kilimanjaro. On this bluff, the dining tent, kitchen tent and toilet tents have been set up for our hour long lunch. These are all then disassembled, packed and loaded for the porters to take to the Shira 1 Camp.

Lunch on the bluff

After lunch we continue climbing to our high point for the day at about 12,000’ elevation. Then we enjoy a gentle descent into camp on the Shira Plain. In our descent into camp we get our first view of Kibo Peak, the central volcanic cone that encompasses the “Roof of Africa.” It is a bit daunting to see the peak that rises some 8000 more feet above us, knowing that in four days we will be standing there if we are successful in our endeavor.

Shira 1 Camp with a full view of Kilimanjaro

Day 1: Time to Climb!

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.

The Dream Team

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.

Blue Monkey

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.

Arrival at Big Tree Camp

Arusha Arrival… Final Preps

After a very long, nearly direct flight to Tanzania from the U.S., our group of seven intrepid adventurers is ready to embark on our ascent to the “Roof of Africa.” Our two flights plus a 3-hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, totaled nearly 19 hours of travel, so we spent our first full day in Tanzania recovering from the flights, adjusting to the +8 hour time zone difference, exploring the town of Arusha, and prepping our gear for the 8-day trek that will culminate on the 19,341 ft summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Over the course of these eight days, we will traverse across the face of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, through 5 different ecological zones, and over 48 miles. There are several routes to the summit, but we will be taking the Lemosho route which is one of the longest, but gives us the best chance for success due to the built-in acclimatization days that allow for more time to adapt to elevations where there is only 50% of the oxygen compared to sea level. We’ll take 6 1/2 days to ascend the nearly 12,000 ft from the Londrossi Gate starting point to the summit, followed by a very short and likely uncomfortable 13,800 ft descent over 1 1/2 days to the Mweka Gate.

The Lemosho Route
Elevation Profile of the Route

Our full itinerary is listed below:

  • 6 Feb: Londrossi Gate (7,546′) to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp (9,186′); 3.6 mi.
  • 7 Feb: Big Tree Camp to Shira 1 Camp (11,482′); 4.9 mi.
  • 8 Feb: Shria 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp (12,795′); 6.2 mi.
  • 9 Feb (Acclimatization Day 1); Shira 2 Camp to Lava Tower (15’223′) to Barranco Camp (12,992′); 6.7 mi.
  • 10 Feb (Acclimatization Day 2): Barranco Camp to Heim Glacier (13’779′) to Karanga Camp (13,156′); 3.5 mi.
  • 11 Feb: Karanga Camp to Kosovo Base Camp (16,010′); 2.2 mi.
  • 12 Feb (Summit Day): Kosovo Base Camp to Stella Point (18,885′) to Uhuru Peak (19,341′), then descend to Mweka Camp (10,171′); 11.2 mi.
  • 13 Feb: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5’577′); 11.2 mi.

I am hoping to share some posts from the mountain, but that will be entirely dependent on the availability of cell coverage. Looking forward to sharing the experience with you!…