Sunday, 30 June 2013

Kilimanjaro - Part 1

After a long decent from Mount Meru on Summit Day, followed by a night's rest (and a few beers) at a lodge just outside Moshi, we were ready to take on Kili.  We we pre-acclimatised to over 3500m, but also 3 days tired.  Our plan was to walk in via the Machame  Route, but summit via the Western Breach. 

The Machame route is nicknamed the 'Whiskey Route' as it is harder, more intoxicating and more expensive that the 'Coca Cola Route'.  The Western Breach has its own reputation.  In 2006 part of a glacier on the Breach collapsed killing 3 climbers.  After that, the route was closed for a few years whilst it was modified to minimise the risk.  Some sources still maintain it is a hazardous approach, while others say that, with proper precautions, the Breach is no worse than most Grade 1 routes.  Either way, it is probably the toughest challenge on the mountain which does not involve a roped rock or ice climb.



The first few days, however, would be easy walking.  Day 1 took us from Machame Gate at 1800m, through the forest, to Machame Camp at just over 3000m.  The path, just as on Meru, was excellent.  Several times I wished we could import some of the Tanzanian path builders and set them to work on the Lakes.  With the good path, the trees shading us from the harsh sun and the flowers that we passed on route, it was possible to believer you were  in some National Trust Garden or other back at home.

Once we were settled at Machame Camp, it was time to be introduced to our support crew.  It's a fact that no tourist walker could climb Kilimanjaro without a lot of local help.  To service and support the 7 members of our party took a 21 man support team of porters, tent crew, cooks and guides.  They are paid a daily wage, but it is not much, so it is important to tip at the end of the trip.

With a lack of light pollution and atmospheric pollution, the night skies were the clearest I have ever seen.  Dusk came at about 7.15pm each night and, being so closer to the Equator, it fell like an anvil.  So with little else to do at that time, other than go to bed, I tried a start trail shoot.  This was the same technique as I used in Cornwall.  For a focal point, I used a nearby long drop and neighbouring tree, painting them with head torches for the last of 30 shots.

Day 2 took us from Macahme Camp to Shira Camp at 3850m.  We left the forest behind and headed into the second of Kili's 5 habitat zones, the moorland.

The change in terrain meant that Shira Camp was more open than the tree dwelling Machame Camp.  We could see the tents of the other teams taking this route.  More importantly, we could now clearly see our objective.  From now on, the upper mountain would be a constant sight until we finally reached the Breach.  At times it seemed so close that we imaged we could run up it in a couple of hours.  At others it still looked a long way away.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mount Meru

Last Thursday I returned from my trekking holiday in Tanzania, where I successfully scaled Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro.  I am slowly (as always) sorting through the photos and they will be the subjects of the next few posts.  First some plugs and excuses.  For the plugs, the trip I took was expertly organised by mountain instructor and international mountain leader, Rob Johnson, using local operator Ashante Tours.  I highly recommend both, should you be planning a similar adventure.  As for the excuses, the sole goal of this trip was to summit Kili. Everything else was secondary, including photography.  Combining a hard day in the hills with taking great photos is tricky at the best of times.  Add the extra difficulties that come with high altitude and the task is much tougher.  So the photos that follow are unlikely to win any competitions.  They are a record of an amazing journey (to sound like a X-factor finalist).

So, on to that journey.  The first task of the trip was to climb Mount Meru, a 4566m peak in the Arusha National Park.  The goal was to spend a couple of nights “sleeping high”, for pre Kili acclimatisation.  Actually summiting the 5th highest mountain in Africa would merely be the cherry on top.

Day 1 took us from the Momella Gate (at 1500m) to Miriakamba Hut at 2500m.  On the bus trip through the park to the start gate we saw zebra, water buffalo, baboons, warthog and dik dik.  Sadly most of these encounters were too quick garner photos.  White necked ravens became our constant companions and were with us at every camp on both Meru and Kilimanjaro.


The rainy season had not long finished (ours was one of the first trips of the new season) and the countryside was a lush green that we were assured would not last long.  All the trees were covered in lichen, a sign of excellent air quality that is rare at home.

Accommodation on Meru was hut based, meaning we needed fewer porters and support crew than would be the case later on Kili.  However, due to the wildlife, especially the baboons and buffalo (the latter of which kill more people than lions), we also had to be accompanied on the walk by an armed ranger until we reached the 3500m point.  


Day 2 we climbed another 1000m vertical from Miriakamba Hut to the Saddle Hut (3500m).  After lunch and a brief rest, a few of us climbed the subsidiary top of Little Meru (3,820m).


Meru is a volcano that had a major, Mount St Helens style, eruption approximately 8000 years ago.  Two thirds of the crater rim remain with an ash cone in the centre.  There have been minor eruptions since (the last in 1910) and it is still categorised as an active volcano.

The above photo, a 5 shot stitch taken from Little Meru, shows the final route to the summit, from Saddle Hut (bottom left) around the crater rim to the high point of “Big Meru” (at the back at roughly 12 O’clock).  At their highest point the sheer crater wall cliffss drop almost 1200m to the floor below. 

This picture (taken on the way back from the summit) shows the ash cone at the centre of the crater.  The cloud inversion behind was a constant for all the 9 days spent at altitude on both Meru and Kili.

Summit day (Day 3) began when we were woken at midnight.  A quick bite to eat and we started walking at 1am, lit only by the stars and our head torches.  Normally scrambling is something I enjoy.  But doing it by torch light, whilst feeling the effects of altitude, is another experience entirely and one I would heartily recommend to my very worst enemy.  For anyone wanting a similar experience, without the exotic travel, I suggest taking on an easy scramble such as Halls Fell Ridge in the Lakes, in the dark, with a bad hangover and emphysema.  

After 6 long hours, I eventually dragged my sorry ass to the summit and was rewarded with the sight of sunrise behind the distant Kilimanjaro, the only other feature visible above the cloud.  Once, whilst climbing Carn Mor Deag, I looked behind me to see Ben Nevis appear through an inversion.  I had always maintained that it was the most beautiful thing I had seen in my hillwalking career.  Until, that is, I saw Kilimanjaro.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


On the last full day of my recent trip to Wales, I made an early start and took a trip up Snowdon via the PYG track.  I reached the top in good time but, as is so often the case, could see nothing but mist.  Deciding to make a day of it, I crossed to the otherside of the horseshoe to tackle Y Lliwedd.  As I neared the top, the mist started to clear from Snowdon behind me.  At first just enough for this shot.

Eventually, it cleared sufficiently to allow me to make the 10 shot panorama below.  A few minutes after that the mist closed in again and Snowdon was gone.  Sometimes it's just a matter of timing and luck.

This was my final hill training exercise before I tackle considerably bigger hills.  This weekend I am off to Tanzania to climb first Mount Meru and then Mount Kilimanjaro.  I am taking more camera gear than is strictly good for me and hope to have some decent shots to post here in a couple of weeks time.