The Roof of Africa, March 2005

Well I am back safe and sound from my latest adventure, and I almost… made it to the roof of Africa.  We set off 6 days ago to climb the south-western aspect of Mt Kilimanjaro’s slopes – the so-called Machame route.  I was joined by a Belgian girl as well as our team of 1 guide, 1 assistant guide, 1 cook and 4 porters!  We camped all the way, but were well fed by our porter/chef August with 3 course meals including eggs & sausages for breakfast every day.  We had good weather on the first day only, and the remainder of the time we walked in rain, hail, sleet and snow!

We hiked about 18km and climbed 1000m on the first day, rising up through dense rainforest – saw a couple of Colobus monkeys, but nowhere near the wildlife from Mt Meru. The second day took us another 1000m up to the Shira plateau at 3800m.  Mt Kilimanjaro is actually a volcanic range made up of 2 extinct volcanoes (Shira and Mwenzi) either side of a dormant volcano Kibo, which makes up the summit of Mt Kili.  We spent the next 2 days circling the base of the cone, crossing towards the eastern aspect, eventually climbing to 4600m, the final camp before the summit.  We hiked through rainforest, into moorlands and then up into alpine desert, before finding ourselves in a veritable lunar landscape below the summit – only black volcanic sand strewn with old lava flow and volcanic boulders.

At the top camp, after arriving in the afternoon on the 4th day it proceeded to snow all evening, and when we started our attempt on the summit at 1am we walked out into the night trudging on a few inches of fresh snow.  The trek to the summit takes between 6 and 8 hours (up 1300m).  We were about 3 and half hours into our hike when a blizzard hit us. The force of the winds was incredible – 30 to 40 knots – we could hardly stand, and with snow being whipped across the slopes at us.  We huddled in a foursome, bracing ourselves against its fury – but it wasn’t to abate for another 4 hours, and it was clear we couldn’t carry on.  The longer we stood there the more frozen I got – I narrowly avoided frost-bite in a couple of my fingers – managed to rewarm them just in time. (I did see a German guy the next day that did make it to the summit that night, sporting two severely frostbitten fingers – one of which would probably require amputation!)  So we turned back towards camp, stumbling down through snow now over a foot deep.  I have never been so glad as then to have a local mountain guide by my side because the trail had vanished – blasted into snowy oblivion.  We retreated back to the safety of our camp, disappointed, but it had also started to sink in what a narrow escape we had from extreme weather.  I have had adventures aplenty, but the feeling of vulnerability to the elements that night is not one I want to repeat in a hurry.

So, I am now back down in Arusha town, a little exhausted after the last couple of weeks – but despite a twinge of regret that I wasn’t able to make the summit of Kili I still spent a fantastic 6 days climbing the roof of Africa, but know to beware the moods of Mt Kili!


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