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Mt. Kilimanjaro


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).





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.


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.


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.


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.

Adventures in East Africa


Africa begins with climbing Mt. Meru, Tanzania

What I walked by: Cape buffalo, upepo (wind)

I climbed two mountains and went on a safari while in Tanzania. In writing about my trip the intertwined nature of the people, the mountains, and the animals is apparent.

I went to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Believe it or not, climbing Kilimanjaro was never on my list of things to do. It was always Mt. Kenya. Since reading the book No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, I’ve wanted to climb Mt. Kenya. Still do. The book is an account of three Italians who in 1943 escaped from their P.O.W. camp for the sole purpose of climbing Mt. Kenya, after which they snuck back into camp. That’s my kind of adventure, both physically and psychologically.

Mt. Meru is an active volcano that last erupted in 1910 and is the third highest mountain in Africa (after Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya). It also makes for a great acclimatization climb before Kilimanjaro. Flying into Tanzania, I could see Massai villages circled by protective acacia branches. But driving into Mt. Meru National Park is where I saw the first of Africa’s wildlife: zebras. They would be followed by monkeys, warthogs, dik diks, cape buffalo, and giraffes. You don’t see many animals on Kilimanjaro, maybe just some monkeys. On safari, you see plenty of animals, but you’re likely in a vehicle. On Meru, when you see all of these animals, you’re on foot. You simply walk by. You also have an armed park ranger with you for protection from buffalo and, to a lesser extent, elephants.


Gideon, our armed park ranger scanning for buffalo.

The other great thing about Meru was that there were three other climbing parties and their guides with our park ranger, which made travelling from trailhead to the camps a social affair. We learned Swahili on our way from camp to camp, and learned about all the guides and their cultures. Our head guide, Raymond, is from the local Chagga people who live on and around Meru and Kilimanjaro. He works on his family farm between guiding trips.

Our 4-day climbing itinerary:

Day 1: Momela Gate (1597m, 5240ft) to Mariakamba Huts (2503m, 8212ft) – The trail is gentle but you feel the altitude. Lunch is next to a grand old fig tree. The day ends around the elevation of the crater floor.


Monkeys near Momela Gate.

Day 2: Mariakamba Huts to Saddle Huts (3560m, 11,689ft) – This is a steep hike through the rest of the rainforest and into the moorland (that reminds me of the vegetation where I live in California). After lunch, we did a short acclimatization climb up nearby Little Meru (3799m, 12,398ft).


The view from Little Meru. Summit Huts in lower left. Mount Meru summit on far side of the crater rim.

Day 3: Summit climb – Leave at 1AM to reach summit around sunrise, return to the Saddle Huts for lunch then descend all the way to Mariakamba Huts. A long day, as summit days usually are.


Mount Meru summit.


Mount Meru, also known as Socialist Peak.

Day 4: Mariakamba Huts back to the Momela Gate down a steep track where we saw lots of Cape buffalo.


Much warmer as you descend.

One final note about this climb. My guidebook said, “do not underestimate Meru.” That’s true. In general, it’s steeper than Kilimanjaro. There’s more scrambling over rocks and gentle rock faces. We also had the strongest winds our guides had ever experienced on our way to the summit. While I can’t give a wind speed, by strong, I mean strong enough to nearly blow people off their feet. The wind lasted almost the entire six hours to the summit. My right ear was caked with volcanic dust. It just didn’t stop until sunrise, which was spectacular.


Spectacular sunrise. Mount Kilimanjaro in relief from near the summit of Mount Meru.

Day 42: San Simeon State Park to HOME!


Day 42: San Simeon State Park to HOME!

Miles: 30

What I rode by: golden eagle


It was just a short ride home today from San Simeon over familiar roads. The hills we always thought were steep felt gentle compared to what we’ve ridden through Big Sur. We had a couple friends meet us at the big Los Osos sign to take an end-of-the-journey photo.


Some trip statistics:

Total miles: ~1,389

Total ascent: 65,164 feet*

Calories burned while riding: 47,951*

Animal sightings: gray whale+, dolphins, sea lion, sea otter, elk, deer, zebra, fox, raccoon, skunk, squirrels, California condor, bald eagle, golden eagle, osprey, baby swallows

Flat tires: 1 between the two of us (plus a broken spoke)

Number of zip-ties on my bike: 5 (3 to attach my Binners Market flag, 2 for my fender)

Pieces of duct tape on my bike: 3 (all holding parts of my fender together; it just couldn’t handle road vibration)

Favorite meal: Cascade potato cheese soup and a grilled fish sandwich at the Rising Star Café in Wheeler, OR


* Plus whatever didn’t get recorded on the 3 days my Garmin bike computer wasn’t working.

+ The gray whale in the Klamath River died on August 16, 2011.

This sign is less than a mile from our house.

Our dog Laila was happy to see us. The cat wasn't so happy to see her.

Day 41: Limekiln State Park to San Simeon State Park


Day 41: Limekiln State Park to San Simeon State Park

Miles: 42

What I rode by: a California condor!, roadside scripture

In a way, today felt like our final day of the trip. That was because, by the end of it, we were back on roads we ride all the time. In a way, this feeling really started for me near the Oregon-California border. The vegetation began to change from Pacific Northwest coniferous rainforest to the chaparral and coastal scrub biomes with which I’m familiar (i.e., like the native plants in my front yard).

Anyway, today we rode through the southern half of Big Sur, which was just as spectacular as the first. It’s been one of my favorite sections of our trip. Our maps have elevation profiles of our route, and Big Sur stands out on it as a hilly place. Today, you could pretty much count down the number of climbs remaining for the entire trip because once south of Big Sur, the road turns flat (relatively speaking). I remember savoring our last climb and the descent even more.

That was where we met a curious woman. She was in a small pullout, next to a shopping cart full of stuff, and surrounded by more stuff. A sign hung on the shopping cart, “roadside scripture”. That’s what she was doing. If any of you are looking for some roadside scripture, you can find her with a smile, in the saddle of the southernmost climb of Big Sur.

Our friends and neighbors, Mack, Joan, and Clay, met us at the campground and brought us dinner and firewood! We shared it with the fellow touring cyclists who congratulated us on finishing our trip.

Breakfast in Big Sur.

We had been following these signs for weeks.

Day 40: We slept under a bridge


Day 40: We slept under a bridge (i.e., Andrew Molera State Park to Limekiln State Park in the middle of the Big Sur coast)

Miles: 31

What I rode by: Big Sur climbs, the same cars over and over again because they kept pulling out to take pictures

Even though the marine layer was positioned out over the water last night, our tent was quite wet in the morning. It’s been wet a lot on this trip. There was a bold squirrel running around the campsite in the morning, checking out everyone’s stuff.

This bold squirrel checked out all of our panniers at the campsite in the morning.

We were expecting Big Sur to feel rather treacherous given the hills and our proximity to the ocean but it didn’t turn out that way. Maybe it was because of all the steep, shoulder-less roads we’ve ridden recently. Maybe it was the weather. Things are always better when the sun is shining and generally seem worse when it isn’t. Today, the sun was out. The climbs were great. One thing was true about Big Sur: there really isn’t much of a shoulder. When climbing, it’s easy to stay in a six-inch wide shoulder. When descending, we would take the entire lane for three reasons: it’s hard to stay in a six-inch wide shoulder at 25+ mph, cars shouldn’t be going more than 25 miles an hour on all of those tight turns anyway, and it’s just a lot of fun.

We camped at Limekiln State Park. There are some old kilns in the hills (hence the name) that were used to purify limestone into lime that was shipped north to San Francisco for use in cement. In three short years, the lime was gone and so were most of the redwoods that provided fuel for the kilns. Now, it’s a state park (with one of the southernmost groves of redwoods in the state). The hiker-biker campsite is the closet one to the beach and is located directly under the Hwy 1 bridge that crosses over the park and partly on the concrete footing of a bridge pylon. There happened to be a crescent-shaped bench (a metal frame painted white with a vinyl seat cushion) on the other side of our bridge pylon that overlooked the water. It made for a most unusual campsite.

Big Sur coastline.

Beach at our campsite.

Our campsite came complete with a curved sitting bench up against the bridge pylon.

Watching the sunset from our sitting bench. Our tent is just in front of the bridge pylon.

Day 39: Moss Landing to Andrew Molera State Park (just north of Big Sur)


Day 39: Moss Landing to Andrew Molera State Park (just north of Big Sur)

Miles: 44

What I rode by: my ability to predict mileage, Hurricane Point

So, for the second day in a row I underestimated just how many miles we would be riding today. In general, today was eventful.

Kristen wants me to put on record what I ate for breakfast this morning: French toast (4 pieces) with bacon, A side of bacon, Four eggs, Corned beef and hash (this was delicious), Two pieces of toast

We had our first flat tire this morning! Kristen’s rear tire picked up two small shards of glass that somehow managed to make their way through our awesome tires. We changed it on the side of a farm road.

Kristen pumps up the new tube.

After the flat tire, we had about 12 miles on a rolling seaside bike path. Then it was the streets of Monterey. Once we climbed over Carmel, we were back on Hwy 1 though I was concerned with how many miles we had left to ride. There is not much in the way of towns and villages between Carmel Highlands and Cambria (25 miles north of where we live), and it was ever so relaxing to be in the middle of that again.

This was the first sign that had San Luis Obispo on it.

Late in the day, we would later learn, we rode by Hurricane Point. This, and the area around it, were buffeted by CRAZY gusting winds. We were getting blown all over the place. At one pullout, if I released my brakes, my bike would start to quickly roll forward. It was crazy. It was also fun to just scream into the wind. As we continued south, the winds eased up a bit and became mostly a powerful tailwind pushing us toward our campground. Hurricane Point (a local told us) happens to be a westerly point along the coast that has no other land mass blocking any wind that travels across the Pacific Ocean and comes down the coast from the north. Everything south of it is on the leeward side of the Point and is subject to less wind, in general. Hence, Hurricane Point is a windy place. This guy also told us he was driving near Hurricane Point one day and saw a woman, bike and all, get picked up by the wind and deposited on the opposite side of the road. Based on the winds when we rode through, I completely believe him.

We shared a campsite with two sisters from Switzerland and showed them pictures of our trip.

One of two famous and historic bridges we rode across.

Day 38: Ano Nuevo State Reserve to Moss Landing, CA


Day 38: Ano Nuevo State Reserve to Moss Landing, CA

Miles: 54

What I rode by: boy scouts, farm laborers working late

When we were at a campground in Oregon, we met a woman who lived on a sailboat in Moss Landing (just north of Monterey). When she heard what we were doing, she invited us to spend the night in her office at the yacht club. So, our destination today was Moss Landing. But first, we had to ride through the greater Santa Cruz area. That meant a combination of Hwy 1 overlooking a number of surf spots and too many city streets. I much prefer riding on remote stretches of highway to city streets.

Near the end of the day, we came across a boy scout troop that was riding from Half Moon Bay to Disneyland! There were a total of 13 scouts and 12 adults, and a support vehicle with a big trailer. The last handful of miles zig-zagged us through fertile farmland of the Salinas Valley.