Kilimanjaro - Day 1 (Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005)

Overview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7

Depart Arusha by bus (9 am) 
Arrive Machame Gate (10:45 am)
Begin hike (11:45 am) at 1830m/6000ft.
End hike (5 pm) at  3100m/10,200ft. arriving at Machame Camp
Distance: 18 km

The alarm went off at 6:00 am. After a surprisingly good night's sleep (considering the 10 hour time difference between Tanzania and the US West Coast) at Le Jacaranda, we were ready at 8 am. to be picked up by Good Earth tours. The breakfast on offer at the restaurant consisted of cornflakes, bread, jam, eggs, fruits - included as part of the package.  After putting away our safari luggage in the storage closet, we sat expectantly and nervously in the open air lounge.

Waiting at the lounge at Le Jacaranda

Yet another big moment in the series of big moments that had started when we left home for the airport. We had neatly packed our safari clothes before leaving home and we left that bag and the computer in the hotel's storage area - a small space below a staircase that was stuffed full of bags from other tourists with similar objectives. We were wondering about the size of our group and if what kind of company we'll have. We had made great friendships on our Inca Trail trek as is usually the case when in a group of people with similar interests. Richard picked us up in a minivan that drove the short distance to the Impala hotel. After a brief period of waiting we moved into a bus that was already packed heavily with bags. While there were many trekkers in other buses, we were the only ones in ours until Gil joined us. And we were off. Amazingly we were a party of 3 with a support staff of 13 (2 guides, 2 cooks and 9 porters). Of course, it was possible that we'd be joined by others at the trailhead (coming in from Moshi perhaps) but it seemed unlikely. 

As the bus turned onto the highway, we caught sight of the looming foggy silhouette of Mount Meru (4595m) in its entirety. Within minutes the fog rolled in and obscured part of it as it vanished from our sight as we rolled along on a pleasant looking highway. The countryside resembled India a lot (bi-lingual signs advertising English Medium schools). We stopped for kerosene, petrol (1040 TSh. per litre, approximately USD 1) and vegetables on the way and after passing the airport and continuing on we turned left onto a smaller road leading to Machame Village. We asked one of the porters where Kilimanjaro was and he pointed in the general direction, but all we could see was cloud.

The road narrowed a lot, eventually becoming a single lane rugged surface leading to the gate that was briefly opened for us to pass through and then closed behind us. Kilimanjaro National Park - Machame Gate. Another big moment. 

At the Machame Gate


It was surprisingly low key and devoid of the commotion that we'd expected. The hawkers selling gear (hats, gaiters!), souvenirs, fruits and water had to stay out of the gate and project their voices across. The registration office was like an Indian government office. There was no queue and we completed the formalities without much fuss. There was a covered shed and clean toilets for the trekkers of which there were a few  but they were clearly outnumbered by the porters who faced a much longer delay as their packs were weighed for compliance to the 25 kg. limit (including their own possessions). Prominent signboards were on display warning the unprepared trekker of the hazards of trekking above the 3000m. mark. 

  Just in case you did not know...

Our guide, Arnold (he pronounced it Arnoldy), handed us our lunch packets and asked us to proceed with a porter  who'd already completed his formalities. He would walk with us at our pace until the guides joined us at the halfway point for the day. He said that his name was Fraterno but we learnt on Day 6 that he had an alias as well. It was 11:40 am when we started walking. Yet another big moment and we were soon on our stride on a 4x4 road under thick forest cover. Plenty of shade and not much wind. The upward slope was very gradual and once we warmed up and felt comfortable with our day packs and the walking pace, we relaxed at the thought of finally being on our way.

L-to-R:Venkatesh, Fraterno, Gil

The first day's walking distance was the longest (18km.) with an elevation gain of about 4000 feet culminating at Machame Camp (9600 ft). The trail narrowed down to a well maintained single track bordered by wooden planks with neat indentations for water drainage. There was the occasional candy wrapper to be seen on the ground but for the most part it was clean of litter. Fraterno announced 2 rest stops at the exact hour mark. It was neither warm nor cold but the effort of the walking had me sweating profusely. All around was pristine rain forest with the typical tree covering designed to trap moisture.

Just a few minutes from the gate walking along the 4x4 road

The trail was steep in parts but we kept a steady pace. We were none too tired at the half-way mark (there were no markers) where we stopped to peruse the contents of our lunch boxes. We were not amused by the non-vegetarian contents but were assured by the guide (Maiko) who blamed it on a supplier. All further meals and packets will, of course, be produced by the accompanying cooks who will ensure that we'll be served meatless fare. We argued pleasantly about whether it was half-way by distance or elevation. We had started to see familiar faces as a group of trekkers from South Carolina kept passing us after we kept passing them. After lunch, Fraterno joined the porters and sped along while we ambled along pole pole with our 2 guides, Maiko and Prosper. We resumed at 2:40 pm energized by out partial meal (yeah, rub it in!). 

The rain forest at 1:30 pm (left) and 3:30pm (right)

The Impatiens Kilimanjari (l) and Impatiens Paplionacea (r)

By late afternoon, we started seeing the sky a bit as the forest canopy gave way to heather and soon we were at the green colored wooden structure that was registration office at the Machame camp. It was 5' o clock. We'd been walking since 11:30, but we were not too tired. We enjoyed a very brief conversation with the govt. official (who seemed to us a mere lad) as we signed the register. The sight of the Shira peaks (Cathedral and Needles) were clearly visible in front of us. We will have to wait till the next morning for our first look at Kibo.

 End of the day's walk and out of the rain forest

  Registration (l) and Clouds over Shira (r)

To our surprise, our tent was a 4 person "Texas Camper" with full standing room for one under 6'. Two inch-thick green mattresses and our backpack lay waiting.  Gil had a longitudinal tent nearby. Tea and Dinner were served in a similar tent at 6:30 pm. Dinner consisted of Mushroom soup, sauerkraut, potatoes, vegetable stew, bread and fruits. Tea was a veritable cornucopia of instant drinks (tea, coffee, Milo, 2 varieties of hot chocolate).

   Malini at Machame Camp Machame Camp

We anxiously perused the toilet and were relieved to see that it was quite clean and not too unwholesome. A hole in the ground with a wooden privacy shelter that was being cleaned regularly. You can't really expect much more on such a mountain at this altitude. Certainly not flushing toilets and hot running water. By 7:30 it was dark and we had no trouble falling sleep early (owing more to jet lag than tiredness). 

The all important convenience - almost the first thing everyone looks for when they first arrive at any campsite at Kilimanjaro

It was cold but we did zip ourselves up quite tightly in our 20 degrees F rated sleeping bags. We were up by 3 am in what would be a repeating pattern for the remainder of the climb. The Diamox forced us to make bladder relief trips at night and also demanded more water.

Overview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7