Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 3

The ascent begins

At Macame Gate Day 1unday morning and lovely warm weather. Little did we know what lay ahead. Packing, repacking, weighing, discarding and weighing again to get to the 15kg maximum that we were allowed to give to the porters to carry. Breakfast, millet porridge again, not a recipe I’ll be taking home with me. Then we got on the bus and off to Macame gate for the big departure.

First we had to sign in and meet the porters. There were around 45 of them to accompany us. It was humbling to see eager and smiling faces. I am told that they turn up for service at the gate and the tour companies select their favourite ones who will carry the huge quantity of baggage to the top of the mountain. There must have around been around two or three hundred porters waiting in total. The maximum that they are allowed to carry is 25kg, and all or most of it on their heads and backs. Unbelievably they carry up all of the food, tents, chairs, chemical toilets, drinks and in our case even a table cloth and decorations. All of the food is cooked from scratch; and water is fetched from the mountain streams.

Off we go!Finally at around 12noon we were ready to leave; dressed in shorts and t-shirts we set off on the first part of our journey into the forest. It almost felt like a National Trust walk through woodlands, although tropical  and with a steepish climb! This was a relatively easy walk, but hard in places. We arrived in camp at around 6.30pm with a delicious supper of freshly prepared courgette soup, fish, ratatouille and lots of tea. All very tasty and we bedded down for our first full night in our (very small) tents with our spirits high.

My tent mate, Kathryn the ultra-marathon runner, is a source of good advice and information having done lots of this kind of thing before. She is a real professional… unlike me who has a lot to learn. I get a feeling that I will be testing Kathryn’s patience on this trip, as I am not the most organised of people, the tent is tiny and my rucksack has a lot of pockets in which there is so much clutter that I really don’t know where to find anything. And I’m not even sure what I need. Here comes the rain!Malaria tablets, wipes, snacks, head torch, socks, I really can’t find a thing without getting everything out. Kathryn however has a neatly organised rucksack with everything ordered. Oh dear …

During the night a terrible storm woke us up, and in the morning it was raining heavily.  With our waterproofs on we set off at around 8.15 am for a 6 hour walk. Had it been a sunny day with clear skies and views, this would have been spectacular. However the weather closed in with more heavy rain and even hail. This made some of the walking quite tricky. With towering waterfalls, we were scaling rock faces with some fairly hairy and scary narrow paths. But everyone had a gung ho spirit and we finally rolled into camp at around 4.00pm, soaked to the skin and feeling pretty exhausted, but satisfied. However the mood deteriorated as the campsite was flooded, the sleeping mats were wet and the rucksacks were also soaked through. A very wet campsiteFor me that meant a very damp sleeping bag and wet clothes which I tried in vain to dry. After an hour or so more of relentless heavy rain it did finally stop and we remerged into the campsite to a clear sky and a fantastic sighting of the majestic summit. What a long way away it is!

Given that we were in the dry season, we had been told it would be very unlikely to rain at all, so this kind of weather was extremely unexpected, and a far cry from the sunshine we had enjoyed the previous day. Sleeping in the damp was not much fun, and as for the nightly foray to the loo tent in the mud, well enough said!

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Debbie Marshall

Founder of Silver Travel Advisor

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