Kilimanjaro – on the mountain, day one (24/02/2010)

The morning of 24th February 2010 – this is what it is all about. This is the culmination of everything that I have planned for over six months now, and it is finally here. It all feels slightly surreal however, like I am not really there. Maybe it is the altitude that I am not properly used to yet, or the heat, or the food, or whatever. It definitely feels like a dream though.

As we are waiting for the bus to arrive at about 7am, we are surprisingly greeted at the entrance to the hotel by none other than Henry Stedman himself! He has been on safari in Tanzania, is staying close by, and drops in to wish us luck, which was really nice of him. Henry if you are reading this – a thousand thank-yous! Here we are ready for the off, picture actually taken by Henry:

Are we ready - you bet!

So before we know it we are loaded onto one of the most rickety buses you will ever see – it is probably thirty years old for starters, and has about 14 seats and has us plus 27 porters on board. oh and it will only start if you bump start it in reverse:) Here are some of the sleepy guys who came with us:

A long way to go yet....

After a short while we met Tamara, Tayma and Kamal, our three remaining trekkers – all considerably younger (and fitter) than me, but we all got on really well from the get go. After about two hours we arrived at Marangu Gate, which was to be our finishing point for the mountain, but it was also necessary to register here too – and so this is our first picture together as a group:

Ready for action - Marangu Gate

From Marangu Gate we spent another two or so hours heading around Kilimanjaro to get to the Rongai Gate on the Northernmost (Kenyan, if not actually in Kenya) side of the mountain. The road is a dirt road and it just about passable in places – I have no idea how the bus made it at all.

When we arrive we are treated to a big lunch of soup (to become our staple diet), grilled cheese sandwiches, boiled eggs, fruit and the like – it was all great. Meanwhile the porters divide up between them all of the luggage, tents, food, camping and cooking equipment etc., and it is a huge operation – you realise then why it needs so many of them:

Glad I don't have to carry all this stuff too.....

And before we know it, we are off and away – we are trekking on Kilimanjaro! The first walk is a short one – up to the first campsite is just about 7km, and a three or so hour walk, principally through forest. It was also very very hot. This is how it looked, and it was hard at times to even reconcile the fact that we were on the mountain at all:

The path begins for Caroline and Heather, with assistant guide Raymond

Before long we get our first view of Kibo from the mountain itself – we had seen bits of it from bus, but now it was much more real. It is also strange as it looks so far away and so high as to be out of reach. It would of course take us five days to get up there from where we stood, so this was not surprising really. The walk was fairly straightforward, and almost before we know it we are at camp, at about 6.30pm. When we arrive our tents are already set up, the porters having long since gone past us, almost unnoticed as they would every single day. We had four tents between us, and so Tamara and Tayma shared one, Caroline and Heather another, I shared with Kamal, and Ronan got to be on his own, which I think he was happy with.

Camp on first night....2,700 metres

We soon got our first camp dinner – more soup, and seemingly endless supplies of stew etc. The cooks had their work cut out with us as we had one vegetarian, and two more non-red meat eaters amongst us, but they did fantastically well throughout.

After a great feast we get our nightly briefing for the following day. Deo would brief us on what time we would be woken up (with tea or coffee in bed every day!), then what time for the washing water, then what time for breakfast, and what time we would set out walking. He’d also advise on diamox, how much drinking water to take, how cold it might be, or whatever, and ask if we were all feeling OK. the whole thing was like a military operation.

For us the next day would start at 6am, as we had a long way to go, and it would take us to 3,700m already. We were all in tents by around 9pm, and I wondered if I would sleep. Deo had told us there may be animals around at this camp, possibly buffalo I think, although maybe I dreamed that. But I needn’t have worried – sleep came very easily, and other than a necessary pee break in the middle of the night, I slept like a baby – my first night sleeping on the mountain. What a place to be – the next morning would greet us with fantastic weather and breathtaking views…….

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