Climbing Kilimanjaro: Day 1 – Starting Out

Fri. 5th July 2013

Start altitude: 2,250m
Max. altitude: 2,750m
Camp altitude: 2,750m

Ready for the offMemories of the Inca Trail come flooding back as we make our final preparations to get off. Firstly our kit needs to be sorted out into stuff that will stay in backpacks at the hotel; that which is going to be carried by the porters; and that which is going in day packs. We’re expecting the temperature to vary from around +20C to -20C so there is an emphasis on layers. Do I have sufficient? I am encouraged by the down jacket that I’ve hired for the trek – really soft thick and warm. We’re only allowed to give the porters 15kg to carry (on the Inca Trail it was only 6) and there is a man with scales to check you aren’t handing too much over. Steve has to jettison a long sleeved top but otherwise we’re OK and our bags are loaded up on top of the Land Cruiser.

We're climbing that??Everyone is nervous as we stand around outside the hotel waiting to load up. Will we make it? Will the altitude be too much? Or the slope? Or the cold? I keep reminding myself that I’ve risen to other challenges I’ve set myself. Have faith in that and in the itinerary – not every day is a full day of walking and yet every day we do a bit of acclimatisation, climbing higher but camping below the high point of the day.

'Designer' Colobus monkeysThen we’re off – a quick kiss goodbye from Janet and we load up. There’s about 100km to drive to get to the starting point and it’s mostly on decent road. Just after we turn off the tarmac for a dirt road we pause as we get our first glimpse of the mountain. It still looks pretty big to me. Just to distract us, on the other side of the road some shaggy, black and white Colobus monkeys (which Liz immediately started calling ‘Designer Monkeys’ due to their fluff) are scampering up and down trees.

Points to rememberOnce we get to the Londrossi Gate and the registration hut to sign in, we try not to think too hard about the warning signs that are on prominent display. The shorter, Shira, route starts from here but for us it is not about distance walked, it’s all about acclimatisation so we have another drive in the Land Cruisers to our start point. Although we are in the National Park, the forest is sustainably farmed with patches of trees at different heights and ages. Where the trees are small, the ground below is also planted with potatoes and carrots. With the temperature like an English summer, we could nearly be at home.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end and we have to get out and get ourselves ready to start walking. We also get to meet the guides and the porters who will be helping us up the mountain and doing all of the hard work – there are 51 of them to get just 12 of us up to the summit, a bigger ratio even than the Inca Trail.

Are we nearly there yet?The walk today is through rain forest on a dirt path that is marked out – often orangey brown gravel bordered with logs. It’s no surprise that we are generally heading up hill but the walking is pretty gentle and we are all in good spirits, happy to be underway at last. The forest is beautiful and not really like any I have seen before. It’s definitely not jungle but equally not like a forest in the UK either – perhaps it is due to the long straggly lichen beards on the trees.

Unlike on the Inca Trail, we are in single file and Makeke (the lead guide) has one of the other 5 guides at the front keeping the pace down. We keep being told ‘pole pole’ (slowly, slowly) and there is no overtaking the guide at the front which eager Steve needs to be repeatedly reminded of. At first, the pace feels very slow – much slower than I would normally walk – but, after a while, you get into a rhythm and it just feels comfortable. There is a bit of chat as we all get to know each other but often I’m just lost in my own thoughts and admiring the beautiful scenery.

Our camp for the nightThe walk to our camp through Lemosho Forest takes us about 4 hours and so it is late afternoon by the time we arrive. We have to sign in again – a good sign that they have a record as to where we have been but as it is all on paper it will be the devil’s own job to reconcile it in case of problems. Anyway, our tents are all set up for us and we get a big warm welcome from the porters as we arrive and, even better, a bowl of warm water to wash in. Steve and I meet Julius and Ferringe (?) who are the porters assigned to carry our kit and set up our tents.

Afternoon tea is servedTo round the day off, there are two very pleasant surprises for us. Rather than having to use the smelly ‘long drop’ toilets in the camp, we have our own portable camping toilet that has been set up in its own little tent. This is immediately christened the ‘internet kiosk’ as people troop off to do some ‘email’. Also, whilst we were worried when we were introduced to our cook that he was tiny and very skinny – we needn’t have worried. The food is excellent and plentiful as we tuck into our three course meal.

There is plenty of chatter around the meal table and everyone is happy to have got the first day under our belt.

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