Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania to Kilimanjaro National Park (Kibo Hut, 4703m), Tanzania
08.05.2010 - 14.05.2010
Heading out to grab a bite to eat, back in sketchy Arusha on Saturday night. Today, day 5 and the last of the safari, saved the best for last. After breakfast in the brisk dining hut (around 5 degrees this morning - eek!) in Ngorongoro campsite, we headed down in the 4x4 into the massive crater (around 20 km wide at the bottom) with some spectacular dawn views.
Not 20 minutes after hitting the bottom of the crater we were spotting a cheetah and some groundhogs, then the jackpot - a lioness attacking a small wildebeest.
Soon, of course, all other 4x4s down there were at the spot, but fortunately no worries of penalties going off-road, she dragged it right next to the road - actually leaned up against a 4x4 for a while!
We were jockeying for position with other 4x4s, most of which were far less considerate about sharing the view - some just flat out drove up and cut off our 4x4 from view - damn rude, reminded me of Jersey drivers! When we were able to reclaim position for a better view, we were witnessing something quite incredible - while the lion had initially bit her prey several times in the neck,
here about 20 minutes later, the wildebeest was still alive - and still trying to flee! The lion was literally eating the wildebeest ALIVE... it was truly a site of nature at its most raw and unfiltered one could ever hope to see - as gruesome as it appeared, you couldn't look away!
Eventually, the creature did die,
and while the lion ate, a hyena came about, keeping an eye on the fresh carcass while maintaining a safe distance.
Our guide told us that if a pack of hyenas forms, they'll eventually move in and overtake the carcass - but unfortunately for us, that could take several hours/all day, and with the time running out we decided to move on to spot other wildlife like black rhinos, kori bastard birds, and ostriches.
We came upon another family of lions who had taken up residence in a drain pipe system underneath the road - they came out of the home to take a look at us, taking a look at them!
Today I met up with Yi, a guy from China who posted a note in the Arusha tourist office looking for fellow travelers interested in climbing Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately for us, all tour companies are closed today (Sunday), so we'll have to start looking tomorrow.
Today Yi and I visited a couple different tour operators to negotiate a 5 day Kilimanjaro climb up the Marangu path (most popular). The same company Yi had booked his earlier safari with was quoting a pretty good price, but seemed to want to cut corners/add-on charges for basics like rain jacket/pants and waterproof bags for the luggage. We got the price down to $800/person (ouch!), which was probably as cheap as it would get booking from Arusha instead of Moshi. We also visited the tour company I booked the safari through, and got the price down, but only to $850/person, so we settled on the first, heading out tomorrow.
Kilimanjaro National Park (Mandara Huts, 2700m), Tanzania
Well, day 1 of climbing 'Kili' was pretty easy - this morning back in Arusha Yi and I were picked up by the tour company's guide Huessin and porters, and driven to Marangu, small farming village at the base of Kili and our starting point. During the 2 hour drive over, found myself having to start up most conversations with Yi - he's definitely not the most outgoing/sociable person I've ever met. At the park headquarter main gate (1800m), we met a group who had just finished the climb and were heading down - they didn't look so great, but were happy, all having made it to the summit. After the delay of bank card issues courtesy of the dodgy tour company I knew we'd regret booking with, Huessin got it sorted and at 12:30 we started out.
Headed up the well kept path through lush rainforest (with lots of rain),
greeted along the way every so often by a team of ants in the path, a couple of which here and there would climb up your shoe to your leg and start biting - not fun. Later in the afternoon, I felt one on my lower back biting - how'd it get there?? Anyway, arrived here at Maranda Huts at 15:00, having walked 7.11km to an altitude now at 2700m. During dinner, met other climbers heading up on the same route - a German girl/Irish guy couple, S. African guy with 2 Aussie girls, solo Norwegian girl, and a Canadian and local Tanzanian duo. Now, even though it is only 19:00, going to rest up for day 2.
Kilimanjaro National Park (Horombo Huts, 3720m), Tanzania
Here in the Horombo Huts, just finished dinner and at 3720m altitude, feeling just a little light headed (first sign of altitude sickness), so going to rest in a bit. Not a great night sleep last night - the German girl kept yelling at the Irish guy in the adjacent cabin last night and early this morning. This morning we headed up the trail at 08:30. Yi soon decided our pace was too slow, saying "Going slow makes me more tired."... um, ok? So he decided to walk ahead of Huessin and me, despite the guide's recommendation of "poley poley" (slowly slowly), to help our bodies acclimatize to the altitude. Huessin and I took our time along the 11.7 km route, and watched as the landscape changed from thick rain forest to sparse moorland.
Passed by the Maundi crater (too foggy to see anything), then further up as it cleared, some pretty views of snecio trees surrounding waterfalls.
Continuing the ascent the vegetation gradually becoming more and more sparse. We arrived in good shape at 15:15, Yi having arrived about 30 minutes earlier and saying the path was "difficult" in some spots - which it wasn't, provided you were going slowly (kind of makes sense??). Anyway, the various groups arrived at different intervals, and at dinner we met another group, 3 French guys and and Australian girl, who are hiking the same Marangu route but taking an extra day to acclimatize, having arrived here at Horombo yesterday. During dinner we met a couple Swedish girls stopping off at Horombo on their way down, having just summited, and mentioning the difficulty of the climb, and not having a sunrise this morning but faced with a blizzard - not the best reward!
Kilimanjaro National Park (Kibo Hut, 4703m), Tanzania
Here at Kibo hut, its only 18:00 and after force-feeding a few bites of pasta for dinner (no appetite whatsoever), going to try and sleep a few hours before starting off at midnight for the climb to the summit. This morning back in Horombo, now above the base clouds, we awoke to our first glimpse of the snowcapped summit.
After breakfast, and feeling pretty good (despite another early morning wake up call from the German girl) with the light-headed feeling passed, headed out at 08:30 and along the pretty easy 10.26km route, as the landscape changed from moorland to a lunar-looking alpine desert, we passed the landmarks Zebra Rocks,
and Mawenzi peak (5149) - which although lower than the summit, was glad we didn't have to climb that sucker!
As we approached the Kibo hut with the steep slope to the summit looming overhead,
I started getting a headache - 2nd sign of (worsening) altitude sickness. Arrived at 13:15, nibbled a bit of lunch and hoping that resting will take care of the headache, but remembering the problem just worsening last year back when I arrived in La Paz, so definitely getting concerned.
Well, it wasn't easy, I feel like hell, but I did it. Last night with my headache worsening (as expected), couldn't fall asleep so just laid in bed and waited for midnight. After popping 2 aspirin with my hot tea and one cookie (I could barely eat), Huessin, Yi, one of our porters and I took off this morning at 00:00 with all 12 other climbers and their guides/porters. Fortunately, it was not too cold out (of course, maybe that had something to do with my 6 layers of upper body, 3 layers of lower body, 2 pairs of socks, etc.) and the stars were out. We kept a slow pace, zig-zagging up the steep slope. Most groups were clustered together at the beginning, but we started spacing apart as the slope grew steeper and more difficult - the path soon became snow-covered, the clouds moved in, and more snow began to fall. After a while, there became less and less of a defined path, the snow was becoming thicker, and instead of walking we were mostly climbing over big snow-covered boulders. Yi dropped back with the porter, and although my body was telling me to stop, mentally I knew I wasn't quitting (singing some motivational tunes like "Rocky IV" soundtrack to myself along the way). By this point, well above 5000m, we were taking rests frequently. During one of the rests, Huessin mentioned that near Gilman's point he often vomits. And if I need to vomit, I should just go ahead and do it, and it doesn't mean I can't finish. Well, ok then, I'm thinking that is a possibility because in addition to my headache, definitely began feeling nauseous (3rd sign of altitude sickness). Well, at 04:45 Heussin and I reach the 5681m Gilman's point milestone (without vomiting),
and passed what most consider the most difficult part of the climb, as the last 214m up is much more gradual (albeit, another 1.5 hours away). So along the next stretch, sometimes the path would narrow to about 1m wide wedged between a slope wall, and about a 50m drop straight down the side of a crater - yikes! Along the way, a few km from the summit, Huessin started to vomit (just as predicted). Several times I thought I'd join him, but never did. As we approached the summit, the S. African guy and one of the Aussie girls, followed shortly by the other Aussie girl who was paired with the French group, passed us on their way back down having just summited, calling out encouragement that I would repeat to other climbers behind me. Finally at 06:30 we arrived at the summit, waited a minute or so for the sun to rise while soaking up as much of the spectacular view as I could.
Watched the sunrise,
stayed for about 10 more minutes for some more photos,
then started to descend - quickly. My head felt like it would explode, still felt like vomiting, and with the sun now up, the snow on the path was melting and becoming quite slippery for the 11km trek back here to Kibo hut. Arrived at 08:30, exchanging stories with the S. African and Aussie girl. Although I passed him on his way up to the summit, still no sign of Yi yet and it is now almost 12:00, but Huessin and I will wait here for him before descending further to Horombo huts - hopefully that will be soon, because although my head feels better, I still am anxious to get off this damned mountain!