Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Point Lenana (Africa)


By: Tina Bowman

On June 11, five of us-Barbara and Dave Sholle, Jack Miller, my husband Tom, and I-flew to Detroit, Amsterdam, and then Nairobi, arriving the evening of the twelfth and being met by a driver from Discover Kenya/Discover Tanzania, our excellent travel agency in Nairobi recommended by Rayne Motheral. After a night in the Nairobi Hilton, we were on our way to Tanzania to Moshi at the foot of Kilimanjaro, where we met with Thomas and Castro from Trans-Kibo, our guiding company for the climb of Kilimanjaro. Because Kilimanjaro is in a Tanzanian national park, the regulations require all climbers to have a guide.

The next morning, June 14, we were driven to the start of the Machame route with our guide Mathias. Some porters were driven in a separate Land Cruiser; others were hired at the park gate. We had ten porters, including the cook, and an assistant guide as well as Mathias. After signing the park register and having a box lunch (Mathias had asked whether we vegetarians ate chicken!) at the park entrance, we were finally on our way, hiking in the rain up to the Machame hut at 9850', about 4,000' of gain in five hours. At first we were on road and then trail, muddier and muddier. The porters passed us at one of our rest stops, most of them carrying our duffels on their heads. The Machame hut is at the transition from rain forest to a drier zone, and we were out of the rain before we reached our camp there. We were served a snack and then dinner-a lot of food and good. Some of the trip descriptions we had read from others' climbs of Kilimanjaro complained of not having enough to eat. That certainly wasn't our problem.

During the night we had our first glimpse of the summit in the moonlight, the peak having been obscured previously by the cloud layer we were under. The next day we hiked up to the Shira Plateau, passing many giant groundsels, and camped for two nights at the Shira Cave area at about 12,500' for acclimatization. Fortunately, the camps have outhouses; unfortunately, some of them don't have doors. We lollygagged, ate, read, and visited with hikers from Chicago and Colombia by way of Louisiana On our layover day we hiked away from the summit past the Shira Hut and out toward the Shira summit, the lowest of the three widely separated summits of Kilimanjaro. We hiked up Cathedral Ridge for an excellent view of the Kibo summit cone of Kili and its high point, Uhuru summit. Then back to camp for more dawdling.

The nice thing about our "Whiskey Route" the Machame-Mweka route-is that we had varying views of the mountain; from the "Coca-Cola Route," the Marangu route, the view is always the same with the same trail in and out. The Machame trail is an up-only route; the Mweka a down trail. We used a variation on this route, going up to the Arrow Glacier camp at about 15,750' for a night before our climb to the summit via the Western Breach. On June 17 we moved to the Arrow Glacier camp, stopping for lunch at the Lava Tower. Some snow fell in the afternoon but then gave way to great views of the Western Breach and Breach Wall.

On summit day we got up at 1 a.m. and were hiking by the light of the full moon at 2:45 after coffee or hot water and biscuits. We climbed with Mathias and Alpha, the assistant guide, while the porters carried gear around to the Millenium Camp. Eventually we got to some snow as we went up the scree slope. Mathias was using one of my hiking poles, and I gave the other one to Alpha when I got out my ice axe; neither one of them had an axe. Mathias had instep crampons, one of which fell off and I retrieved to give back to him. No wonder the guides didn't want to go up the snow! Following the maxim of Trans-Kibo, "pole-pole" (slowly), up we went the use trail with a bit of scrambling through the breach and into the crater at about 18,700'. It was good to get in the sun once we reached the crater rim. My toes had been a bit cold-from stopping frequently to get the group back together-but they soon warmed up. We strolled to the base of the final climb up to Uhuru Peak and took off more layers. Astounding glaciers are in and around the crater, astounding because there is dirt and then a wall of ice, like enormous wedding cakes dropped there. We had some steep plodding to do to get up to the rim and the walk over to Uhuru, which we reached at about 10:45. The top of Africa at 19,340' was sunny, mild, windless in strong contrast to all we had heard and read about. Of course, not trying to get there at dawn helped a lot. Jack pulled out his SPS flag for us to display in various photos. Later Barbara and Dave went a short ways down from the summit to where Jennifer Lambelet Mencken died on New Year's day and remembered her with a small memorial.

When we left, we continued east on the ridge and then started down the trail to the Barafti huts, a scree slope that Mathias, Tom, and I ran down, dropping 3,000' very quickly.:We were at Barafu camp about 1:15 where we again met the father and son from Chicago. They were following the normal Machame-Mweka trail and would try for the summit the next day. On we went to Millenium camp, 6,000' below the summit. Many people descend 9,000' from the summit, but we wanted something less punishing. After all, we were used to having porters, a cook, warm water to wash our face and hands, etc. Just after dinner it began to rain, and rain it did. Tom and I soon discovered that my ancient Early Winters Starship tent, made of Gore-tex when I bought it in 1978, now seemed to be made out of Leak-tex. We spent hours bailing out the tent with our little sponges and camp towels. Fortunately, it didn't rain all night. Barbara and Dave had some leaking, but Jack was quite snug in his new Bibler Ahwahnee tent.

We had showers off and on our last morning on Kilimanjaro. As a result, the five of us crowded for breakfast into one of the tents used by the porters, Sitting on camp stools, nearly doubled over under the roof of the tent. It wasn't the most comfortable arrangement and would have made a funny picture. We finally left camp at 11:00 and hiked through a long forest of protea plants to the Mweka hut where we had originally planned to spend another night. Not wanting to have to deal with the leaking tents, we decided to go on down to the Mweka park gate, arriving there about 4:30, 7,000 feet lower than we were in the morning. From the Mweka hut to the gate we were back in the rain forest, which means mud and more mud. It's a land of fems, tree ferns, spider plants, papyrus, and things we think of as houseplants-and mud. We camped at the gate, pitching the two leaky tents in a covered picnic area About 11 p.m. a solid rain began; thank goodness we were under a thatched roof.

We tipped our porters $35 each, gave the cook an extra $10, gave Alpha $70 and Mathias $80. I gave Mathias my old tent, warning him to make a fly for it. He was most appreciative. We walked down the road to the small town where we waited for our ride back to Moshi. Several men wanted us to buy souvenirs or trade for them, but the things we'd brought for trading were in storage at the Trans-Kibo offices. We passed on trading Gore-tex jackets or Oakley sunglasses for thumb pianos or Maasai spears. This was to be a recurring theme when people wanted to trade, we didn't have our trading stuff.

We had a night at the Keys Hotel in Moshi where we took advantage of the sunny front patio to dry out gear and of the laundry service to wash some things. The next morning Martin, our driver from Discover Tanzania, met us and took us in the Land Cruiser to Ngorongoro Crater, where we stayed two nights at the Serena Lodge on the rim and went on animal drives in the crater. We saw baobab trees near Lake Manyara, amazing trees I've always wanted to see since I read The Little Prince when I was young. From Ngorongoro we went to the Serengeti, stopping at Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge to see where the Leakys made their discoveries. Eventually we went back to Nairobi and then to the Aberdare Country Club and the Ark, situated by a water hole and natural salt lick which is supplemented. We saw so many animals at these places: thousands of wildebeeste and zebras, Thompson's and Grant's gazelles, impalas, dik-diks, elands, topis, cape buffalo, hartebests, bushbucks, waterbucks, wart hogs, giraffes, elephants, hippos, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, leopards, a genet cat, hyenas, jackals, flamingos, kori bustards, black kites, tawny eagles, Nubian vultures, white-backed vultures, superb starlings, and all sorts of other birds. Jack was attacked by a black kite that swooped down to snatch a bite of lunch from his hand in Ngorongoro crater. We saw cheetah cubs at play and rest, hyenas defending their food, lions mating, lions feeding, elephants hoping to breed.

After the Ark we started our hike up Pt. Lenana, the third highest summit of Mt. Kenya. The two high points, Batian and Nelion, are multi-pitch rock climbs; Pt. Lenana is a lowly trekking peak about seven hundred feet lower at 16,355'. On June 27, we met our guide Sammy at the Mountain Rock Hotel and were driven in a huge Mercedes truck/bus with the porters to Sirimon Gate on Mt. Kenya, stopping at a town along the way for a few things and being mobbed by beggars and fellows selling carvings and trinkets. We stopped at the equator for the obligatory photos and ignored the fellow demonstrating water spinning one way on one side of the equator and the other direction on the other, a little slight of hand trick. Going through bamboo forest and to the edge of the giant heather plant zone, we hiked up the road to the Old Moses camp, our porters and gear getting a ride in smaller trucks. No more tents-we stayed in nice bunk houses the whole time we were on Mt. Kenya, several with flush toilets. We met a couple doing Peace Corps work in Tanzania and several young Israeli women.

The next day we went up to Shipton's Camp at about 13,700', moving up through the giant heather zone and into the alpine zone. We passed more giant lobelias and giant groundsels. Just before reaching Shipton's camp and for a bit afterwards, we had some snow. The others in the bunk house got up around 2:00 to go to Pt. Lenana; we got up at 4:20 and were hiking at 5:17, turning off our headlamps in half an hour. We went up the moraine to the ridge by Harris tam and from there up to Pt. Lenana. As we neared the top, we met the Israelis coming down. One was very timid on the steep slope with its use trail and some ball bearings; she was scrunching down on her butt, scared and slow. I gave her one of my hiking poles, the one that wouldn't extend in the bottom section, so that she could stand up, and her guide gave her a shoulder to lean on also.

It looked as though they were making much better progress as we headed on up. Dave was nauseated with flu symptoms; Sammy had us regroup often and take breaks so that we reached the summit together at 8:37. After the photo frenzy we left the summit, which we had approached from the north, and went south down to the Austrian hut, negotiating some snow along the ridge. After a snack at the Austrian hut we went to our last camp at Mackinder's, where we lazed away the afternoon. I fed almonds to the rock hyraxes, the closest living relatives of elephants. They turned out to be snarling, quarreling animals, clambering over one another to get at the food.

Our final day we hiked down through the Vertical Bog and a muddy trail and road to the Met Station hut. Just below that the truck picked us up for the drive out to the Naro Mom Gate and back to the Mountain Rock Hotel. Here we had showers and lunch before our ride back to Nairobi.

From Nairobi we went on one last safari to Masai Mara for the wildebeeste and zebra migration. We stayed in the north at Kichwa Tembo camp, a resort with tent cabins rather like Camp Curry taken to the five star level. Here we were able to talk to Maasai warriors and see a traditional dance as well as spend our money on souvenirs. It is a very interesting time in the Maasai culture as some take up western wear and ways and others remain more traditional, herding their cattle and goats, eating milk, blood, and some meat. Our last night on safari was spent in the southern part of Masai Mara at Keekorok Lodge. The last morning we took a hot air balloon ride as a delightful way to end our safari. Fittingly, about the last animal we saw were vultures and a hyena feeding on the carcass of a giraffe. We flew back to Nairobi for one last night and dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant, which does serve vegetarian meals also. Zebra, crocodile, and eland were served this evening, along with roast beef and chicken. We had one last frenzy of shopping before we said goodbye to Africa with our long flights home. What a wonderful trip! What great company!

SPS Trip Report Index | Sierra Peaks Section