Mount Kilimanjaro, Day 1: Mti Mkubwa (2700m)
Kilimanjaro- the tallest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, it had been an aspirational bucket-list item for a long time. But because of the distance and cost, I didn’t think I would do it this year. However, when I was on Zanzibar with some other Doris Duke fellows, one invited the group to join for a Kili trek. I looked longingly at the peak from the plane on the way home, as you see in the picture to the right. Between her and getting to know several others who opted to go, it became impossible for me to turn down (thanks Nick, Aarti, and Sruti!). I was talking to one of my best friends from back home, Peter, and mentioned to him that I was conflicted about whether I should join this group for Kilimanjaro. “You’re obviously going to hike Kilimanjaro,” he quickly responded. He knows me too well. Before I left Botswana, one of my friends asked me why I would decide to hike a mountain for a week. A fair question, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’d ever asked myself that.. I’d only thought of reasons why not and figured out a way around them. I guess that’s why I wasn’t so hard to convince.
I left Botswana at 6AM and finally got to my accommodations in Moshi around 3:30AM the next day. Was it worth the inconvenience to make the journey much longer than some more favorable options for a much cheaper flight? Yes, I think so. It’s the only way I’ve been able to sustain these trips on a student budget. At least I didn’t need to do a 9 hour layover overnight like I’ve had to do in the past.
Day 0 of the hike, we went to the hotel we were going through for the climb (Marangu), and checked out our gear. We all had some of our own but also needed to borrow some from them. As you can imagine, I didn’t bring a thermally-insulated sleeping bag from the US for the 100F degree weather in Botswana. We also got an extensive briefing of the route, pictured below. If you get confused about where I am on future days, you should look back at this. We start at the far left of the picture before climbing up then around to the other side of the mountain. It sounded intense, but we did all sign up for this, and in some way having a tangible understanding of the mechanics of the trip helped us all feel at ease. We also met our crew this day. It’s hard to believe all that goes into making a successful trip. For the 9 of us hiking, there are a total of 33 people supporting us between guides, cooks, assistants, and porters.
Day 1 had a lot of logistics- because we didn’t stay at the hotel, we had to meet them in Moshi at a restaurant that didn’t seem to be expecting us. It was then a long drive to get to the western side of Mount Kilimanjaro, but we had fun playing games as a group in this cool truck, which is probably ex-military or something. Then we had to register to enter the park, wait for all the crew’s gear to get weighed to ensure they weren’t carrying more weight than the limits (a good check to have in place), then we headed to our trailhead at Lemosho Gate (also the name of the route we were doing). The ascent wasn’t too bad- the angle up wasn’t too steep and the air was still dense from 2100m-2700m (~6900-8900 feet). One of the fascinating things you’ll see throughout my next posts is the contrast of scenery. We started the day in savannah, the drove to a rainforest and hiked under the dense coverage of trees and moss. When we reached our campsite, Mti Mkubwa (big tree in Swahili), we were greeted by a blue monkey!