Mt.Kilimanjaro Travel Junkie Diary of

Omar Al-Jaddou

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Omar Al-JaddouLike0

Omar Al Jaddou, a director at Yas Beach, which is located on Yas Island serving guests of the hotels on the island and open to the general public for an admission fee, {review here} shares his diary from the highest mountain in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro. His incredible diary might be one of the longest we had, but left us with our jaw to our knees!! Read more on his adventure, share his story with the world and be inspired!

Here is his diary

Destination: Mt Kilimanjaro

A thirst for adventure really got me thinking of this destination, it started as a conversation about the seven summits, and then I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, and one sentence from there captured my imagination, “He who climbs upon the highest of mountains laughs at all tragedies”.

Stayed at  We stayed one night either side of the expedition at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi, which is owned by the same company who operate the climbing expeditions, Zara Tours.

The hotel was akin to a ranch or fort, it had the ambiance of a 1950s colonial movie, you kind of resent having to see it in colour, as black and white would be more suitable. Sleep came easily in rustic twin rooms, under mosquito nets which, even when coupled with insect repellant, appeared to represent the most minor obstacle to the mosquito. Breakfast was a rugged affair, the lodge is surrounded by a fence which is patrolled by the Massai tribesmen, who operate as a trustworthy security force in that part of Africa. A dirt road, which was more rock than dirt, separates the Spring-lands from what passes for the outside world.

Month August

In your suitcase The pack you have to take up the mountain has to allow for the subzero temperatures, with four layers of clothing, thermal underwear, hiking boots, gloves and most importantly a camelbak, which keeps your water from freezing using your body warmth.

Dined at The cuisine was prepared by our cook each day, it was far from desirable and was the motivating factor in leaving the park 24h after summitting. The tea was probably the most horrific memory, as the water was boiled and chlorinated.

Shopped There were a lot of interesting shops in Moshi and the other villages around the mountain.

Diary An old Landrover Defender was our means of transportation to the National Park which is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, we were accompanied by our trusty guide, David, and his team of porters and cooks. Narrow dirt roads wound through the rural areas which had an almost impossible degree of detachment from civilization, the relaxed air was tinged with a sense of underlying lack of security, social order seemed to be held together by only the most tenuous of shared values and an innate goodness which appears in just enough people to keep the whole jamboree from falling apart.

We had elected to take the Shira route up the mountain, which approaches the mountain from the west. By the end of the first day we had reached Shira 2, where we broke camp for the evening, the Landrover had dropped us in the middle of a barren plain, populated by large rocks. The trail was littered with small running streams streaking their way down the mountainside, the Shira 2 camp lies at the base of the mountain, whose magnitude lumbers over the camp like an unspoken challenge. We arrived at the camp to find our tent had already been set-up, the porters had already set about preparing dinner in the mess tent, a favela-like patchwork of canvas and what looked like old potato sacks. The porters had overtaken us on the trail with a casual indifference and impossible pace, the tranquility of the camp was almost spiritual.

The second day saw us breaking camp for lunch at the Lava Tower, aptly named due to the large rock formations, we picked our way through the rocks and made it to Baranco camp by the end of the day, some 3950m above sea level. Our tent buffeted by a continual envelope of cloud, the vista was truly breathtaking.

The third saw us start our trek at 6:30am, meandering up a rocky steppe, whilst crossing one of the many mountain streams, I suddenly found myself knee-deep in what you could generously describe as slurry, a viscous mixture of mud and water. My companions turned to find me laughing, 2 feet down in the mud and getting shorter. They helped me out of it and we continued our journey, each mud logged squelch of my boots a reminder to watch my step more carefully. What followed was an hour of arduous climbing, safety came in the form of survival instinct and friendly banter which took our minds off the sheer drop, and more importantly the pointy rocks below, malicious invitations to a world of hurt. We reached the base camp at Barafu Hut that afternoon, 4600m up and told we would be resting until 11:15pm when we would make our summit attempt.

At 11:15pm we were dog tired and weary, yet somehow excitement bubbled at the prospect of the summit attempt. The cold easily penetrated the 4 layers of thermal clothing we had donned, we had managed to sleep for around 45 minutes in total, the rest of the time was spent huddling in a sleeping bag, praying with a zealot’s passion that the footsteps we would hear coming and going outside our tent would not be those of our guide coming to tell us the time had come to summit. There was a distinct lack of oxygen in the air, we suited up and stumbled out into the pitch black of night, the sky a stunning tapestry of stars and constellations.

In the deep darkness of night, we had nothing but a lamp affixed to our heads and some well placed glow sticks to light our way, we paused for a final chat with our guide. Our oxygen bottles had been commandeered by another party to keep one of their climbers alive while evacuating him, a South African who had succumbed to the effects of altitude sickness. Eventually, we reached a stony slope, at an almost impossible incline of around 70 degrees, we greeted the sight with an almost incredulous sense of pragmatism. Looking up, the hillside stretched up into the clouds, as far as the eye could see, thinking back we cursed the progenitor of the adage, don’t look down, when climbing mountains its probably best not to look up!

We fought our way up the mountain as best we could, the steep and unforgiving incline was challenging, but we knew failure was not an option, our sense of time and altitude was blurred. We were soon high enough to see many of the local towns surrounding the mountain, such as Moshi, where we had begun our trip. The town, so far in the distance, was an unsightly bubble of light, a beacon of civilization’s ugly intrusion amidst stunning natural beauty. The awe and wonder engendered by the beauty of our surroundings was quickly eroded by the grueling difficulty of the tortuous climb. We came across other groups on the same trail, making their own journey to the summit, a deeply personal pilgrimage each with their own reason, but we felt a deep solidarity, bonded by our collective challenge to the beautifully indifferent cruelty of nature. Their solemn faces, filled with an almost sullen expression, stripped down to raw determination, like commuters making the final leg of a long journey. The solidarity was evident in the banter we enjoyed with them;

“South Africa?” one American climber asked me, such directness was not rude for we both shared the realization platitudes and etiquette waste valuable energy at 19,000 feet.

“Arab” came the reply, I could see he was slightly taken aback, perhaps it dawned on him that maybe humans were more alike than different, and how cheap a facade notions like nations and races were in a place like this.

Later, I was explaining to my guide how the energy drink mixture I had concoted and was slurping through my camelbak straw had helped numb the muscle pain, when an older man with a white beard, who kind of looked like Santa Claus on an adventure holiday, walked past. Hearing the tail end of my conversation, he turned back with a mirthful wink and asked with a heavy Bostonian drawl;

“Whatchya got there? Alcohol?”

The note of hope in his question was palpable, we would pass the same groups of climbers as we made our way up the mountain, they would pass us on our rest breaks.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the sun lazily emerged, cresting the horizon. Dawn painted the sky in stunning hues of orange, red and purple, knowing that we had planned to summit at around dawn, there was a brief sense of excitement. By now feeling in my hands and feet had become a distant memory, eventually the rocky boulders gave way to a small ridge, which we crested and came across an outcrop of craggy rocks, their overhand providing an alcove which protected us from the bone-chilling wind, we could see a small sign that read “Stella Point – 5730AMSL”. We stopped to plank on the sign and take some pictures for instagram.

The final 200 or so meters of ascent lasted around 45 minutes, sheer exhaustion had regressed our pace to a shuffle that would put even the most dismembered zombie to shame. When the summit finally came into view, elation and euphoria swept away the fatigue. We enjoyed the stunning panorama with a crystal clarity which can only be bought with 5895 pain-filled meters in altitude. The landscape, arid air and insufficient oxygen combined to create a surreality that was compounded by the magnificence of nature in its rawest and most indifferent form. We felt almost like astronauts, surrounded by lumbering glaciers.

We were goaded along by our guide and porters, whose civil servant-like impatience with awe-struck patrons was evidenced by their constant prodding, we reached a sign which declared Uhuru Peak, meaning freedom in Swahili. We had reached the summit in 3 days and it took us another 20 hours of trekking to exit the park, rendezvousing with a landrover we had arranged to meet us at one of the gates which we reached via a 6 hour stumbling trek on a jungle path in dense fog. Sheepishly huddled in the corner of the landrover’s carrier, we made it back to the Springlands hotel, where I enjoyed a new found and profound appreciation for soap, running water and shelter.

Tips If your climbing the mountain, you have to allow for the tip you should pay to your guide and porters. Avoid taking privately hired transport.

Mode of travel I took emirates airlines from Dubai to Nairobi, with a connecting flight to Moshi directly from there.

 

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Travel Junkie Diary

A bohemian traveler

One comment

  1. nadia says:

    What an adventure!

    ““South Africa?” one American climber asked me, such directness was not rude for we both shared the realization platitudes and etiquette waste valuable energy at 19,000 feet.

    “Arab” came the reply, I could see he was slightly taken aback, perhaps it dawned on him that maybe humans were more alike than different, and how cheap a facade notions like nations and races were in a place like this.”

    So true!

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