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Mt. Kilimanjaro

2012/08/20

What I walked by: Africa in relief, a cold windless summit morning

We climbed the Lemosho Route up Kilimanjaro. This is a less-travelled route traversing the mountain as much as ascending it. The 44 km (27 mi) trek to the summit starts in the humid jungle and quickly climbs up into the much drier alpine heath and moorland. You spend much of the second day walking across a large caldera: the Shira Plateau. We spent the second night at the Shira 2 Huts (3895m, 12,779ft).

Kili_day2

Moorland.

Kili_alpenglow

Alpenglow.

Unlike Meru, and though these campsites include the word “huts” in their name, we camped in tents. Tents that our huge team of porters carried, along with our dining tent and bathroom tent. We carried little. As someone who has spent plenty of time in the mountains with a heavy pack and, more importantly, someone who cares about the well-being of people, I was conflicted in my participation of guided climbing in Tanzania.

Also in contrast to Meru was the isolation of our climbing party from everyone else on the mountain. Despite the large number of climbers, guides and porters, our little group of three climbers and two guides was generally on its own. There were exceptions. We were part of an endless stream of people both on Barranco Wall and on the final leg to the summit.

Kili_BarrancoWall

Barranco Wall.

The route from Shira 2 to Barranco Huts (3986m, 13,077ft) climbs up to the Lava Tower (4627m, 15,180ft) before descending into Barranco Valley through some spectacular tree groundsel. Now in the alpine tundra, the remaining days are dusty and dry with lower-profile vegetation.

Kili_KarangaValley

Tree groundsel at 14,000 feet.

Our summit climb was on a cold, still morning. There was little wind. It was just a matter of slowly walking up the rest of Kilimanjaro. First to Stella Point on the crater rim and then around to the summit. By then, the sun had risen and you could feel its warmth.

Kili_sunrise

Sunrise close to Stella Point.

Being at the summit revealed one of my expectations of climbing Kilimanjaro. Before coming to Africa my friends Joy and Wes, who had recently climbed Kili and gone on safari, suggested I suspend my expectations (for example, of the timing of things) and be open to the experience. I practiced just that, being intentional about being present in the moment. But then I summited Kilimanjaro and stood in front of a rather new green metal sign instead of the whether-worn, covered-in-stickers sign I had seen in summit pictures in guidebooks and all over Google. Alas, my time on the roof of Africa wasn’t going to be in the presence of that much-romanticized sign in my imagination.

The way down was short and steep. After lunch and a rest at our high camp, the Barafu Huts (4662m, 15,295ft), we continued to rapidly descend another third of the mountain. This amounted to a descent of over 9,000 ft in about seven miles. During our descent was also when I got sick and that made celebrating uninteresting for me.

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