We go with PMA! (Positive Mental Attitude)
Finally it’s 2023, been looking forward to the new year for months because on January 2 the flight to Tanzania was waiting for us. Yves (23), Frits (38) and I (41) had prepared everything as well as possible, checked off the packing lists. The preparatory hikes (although much less than planned) were also done and all the documents matched like a glove. The three of us decided to climb Kilimanjaro. For Yves and Frits, this is secretly the start of a “mountaineering career” with perhaps eventually the 7-summits to their name. For me, after the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, this is the 2nd ascent of 5000+ altitude.
I had been to Tanzania three times before and arriving at Kilimanjaro International Airport feels a bit like familiarity. The smells, the warmth and the hospitable welcome by the guide, it’s fantastic again. The first few days we stay at Rivertrees Country Inn, a lodge in a green, but really bright green paradise. Tall trees everywhere, one more beautiful than the other and monkeys jumping from one to the other, occasionally landing on your roof and quietly looking around on their ribs. They look at you somewhat curiously and you do so in return.
Arusha National Park
The climb starts day 4. We’ve thought of seeing some of the area first. So we head to Arusha National Park. Guide Hassan picks us up and the park is less than half an hour’s drive from the lodge. In the park we drive around in the jeep and on the first open plain there is so much beauty. The hills in the background dark green, the grass on the plain light green, the sun playing with yellow and on the grass herds of gray buffalo, black and white striped horses and very tall yellow-brown-also-a-kind-of-horses. This whole color palette is a painting and we stand for minutes marveling. Nature is also sometimes so crazy, that the zebras are again a completely different color from other natural shades and the shape of giraffes is also not ordinary shall we say. Further into the park are lakes, we have booked the canoe safari and the guide who will accompany us takes us. We row around and suddenly you feel very small, nature feels closer than in a car and on the shore the giraffes nibble a little on the highest tops, it is quiet and beautiful.
We row on and go around two bends that we hadn’t seen before. Now it is truly remote, there are no other people around and here you are completely away from everything, this is how the first people on earth must have lived here approximately. A herd of buffalo notices us and suddenly runs through the shallow water to another part (another crossing seen). In another part of the lake is the habitat of the hippos. We are careful and the guide explains how he reads the behavior of these giants. It is wonderful from a distance to hear the hippos breathe and see how they occasionally come up. On the way out of the park we see Colobus monkeys among otherwise beautiful scenery and always the view of Mount Meru, Kilimanjaro’s lower friend.
The next morning our mountain guide visits us to meet and explain. He introduces himself as 62-year-old Julius who has climbed Kilimanjaro over 400 times. We are immediately reassured. What a wise man, he talks about the mountain and its history and how the trek is structured for us. We can ask questions but especially let Julius speak, because it is so soothing. He explains how things can go with your health in combination with the altitude and how they keep an eye on us in that regard. Furthermore, it is important that we have enough PMA. After all, PMA is one of the most important parts of the climb and without PMA you can basically forget about it. So PMA! Positive Mental Attitude… We laugh a lot and often, it’s a beautiful day and the rest of the day we rest a bit, eat our bites and have another beer.
We are picked up the next day and taken to a village toward Kilimanjaro. On the way, we suddenly see a dot above the cloud cover. I ask the driver if that might…well…once…is…that…there…. and yes, for the first time we see the geographical spot we have been dreaming about for months, Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro! Three very happy elated little boys in the car who also get a little awe.
In the village, we transfer to a bus. The whole crew that is going up the mountain with us is also there and they get on with us. A total of 13 people go with us including 2 guides, the cook, the waiter and the porters. All the luggage is loaded, and we head toward the starting point of our trek. Meanwhile, Julius tells stories about daily life in Tanzania, the crops that grow there and politics.
At the starting point of the Lemosho trail, we get lunch. We expect a lunch box with some sandwiches and a juice but suddenly a tablecloth appears, then plates and cutlery. A large box is set down from which three pans emerge and then it turns out a very luxurious hot lunch is being prepared for us, delicious.
After lunch the time has come and we get to take our first steps on the steep ground. We walk along a beautiful path, it rains softly but that also stops and we feel good. We walk through an ancient rain forest and it is terribly beautiful. The earth is reddish-brown and looks fertile. It turns out to be so when you see what all wants to grow and again the greenness is abnormal. We arrive at the first camp (Lemosho Forest Camp, 2780 meters) and see for the first time what a camp is like approximately. First a picture in front of the familiar sign with the name and altitude of the camp, then register in the register so they know you are there. Then look for your camp. We have four tents: the dining tent, two sleeping tents and a toilet tent. We are explained the portapottie and after a few games of toupee (the toupee championship has begun) dinner is served. The waiter is the jolly-mad Felix a.k.a. Sony, he talks a lot and likes to make exuberant noises so he has received this nickname from his friends. He serves a tilapia curry that again is so incredibly good. These are the unexpected things; such good food while in such a remote area. At 7:30 we go to bed, this will become a standard bedtime for the next few days that actually pleases us.
The mornings have a ritual: at 6:30 Sony comes to your tent with a cup of coffee or tea, at 7:00 a bucket of hot water comes to your tent for washing, at 7:30 breakfast is ready in the dining tent. Breakfast is always porridge first, then eggs, bread, pancakes etc. So stack it up! Guide Julius always eats with us and explains what we are going to do that day.
We start the hiking day and walk another hour through the rainforest where the Colobus monkeys wish us good morning. Last night we heard them around the camp. After an hour, at 3000 meters, the rainforest stops and the landscape slowly changes to coniferous forest. That also ends fairly quickly and then we walk through low scrub, high heather and flowers. Occasionally Julius explains a bit about nature. For example, we see black ant nests made from elephant dung and he tells about what medicines can be made by mixing a flower with an herb that grow together here.
The walking itself goes well, we are a “steady” group. Others pass us sometimes but stop more often for a break so we catch up with them. We get to know some other people but it is quiet on the mountain, we are told it is low season. After five hours of hiking, we arrive at Shiracamp 1 (3650 meters), a vast camp on the huge plateau, the Shira Plateau. Julius explains to us how geology has done its work here. We learn where the eruption occurred and how the lava flows determined the shapes of this mountain. It is fairly cloudy and we do not see the summit. After lunch we walk around the camp and greet other peers. Furthermore, we entertain ourselves with games of toupee and fantastic food again. After dinner we get our first medical check. Every night our oxygen is measured and there is a questionnaire on how we are doing with appetite, nausea, etc. Everything is fine and we head toward sleeping tents. It is dark but the clouds have subsided a bit, I look around and suddenly there is Uhuru-peak again! What a mighty sight that is, it’s a mountain on a mountain and you know you’re already high, but the peak there is really very high.
The next morning we wonder what day it is. We figure it could be a good Wednesday. We check and it turns out to be Saturday, the sense of time is gone, delightful. Julius, by the way, points out that we have it all wrong, as it is “the best day ever. Another lesson learned, asante mze Julius.
Today’s hike is flat, we walk across the Shira Plateau to the next camp. We laugh a lot and hard and enjoy basically everything. All day we have views of the summit. This is how we arrive at Shiracamp 2 (3850 meters). We have lunch with chicken, French fries, salad and vegetables and realize that all the ingredients here are brand fresh and pure.
In the evening the weather is crystal clear and the starry sky is grand; we sit quietly on some rocks. We can see the city of Moshi in the depths. On the other side we look again at Uhuru Peak and suddenly some light appears to the left of it, getting stronger and stronger. A round ball peeps out … a moonrise in this place, pure magic.
Day 4 of the climb is not what I’m looking forward to much, as we will also be doing a lot of downhill today. My knee is a bit on the flawed side and I know that descending is not ideal for that. Anyway, we’ll do it with PMA! And by the way, Julius says at breakfast that it does happen to be the best day ever. We ascend quickly for the first few hours and arrive at Lava Tower (4600 meters). There the dining tent is set up and we have lunch. Yves and Frits have a slight headache from the altitude but drink this away with water, no worries. Then we descend to 3900 meters. Psychologically this is like a dishcloth being squeezed in your brain because you don’t want to lose altitude. But well, we know that acclimatization is very important. During the descent I’m focused, which leg first so the left knee is relieved, that’s the game for myself with each rockfall. It goes above expectations and we arrive confidently at Barranco camp (3950 meters).
At the camp, we look around and we ask Julius where the next day’s route is roughly headed. He points to a megalomaniac rock wall and says that will be it. We laugh. He laughs. So that’s Barranco Wall. See you tomorrow wall, pooh.
We start the day with some kind of banana egg toast, that makes us happy. So full of good cheer and calories we went to the Wall. Viewed from a distance, it is an impossible rock formation to climb but now that we walk up to it we see that it is actually a very cool route. We climb and scramble over rocks and the views are stunning. After the Wall we walk a nice stretch with lots of rock descents, so another challenge for the knee. Arriving in Karanga camp (4000 meters) the knee has become swollen, but it still feels okay so we keep PMA.
All three of us are talking more and more about the trek to the summit. We actually want to go on and get there but then think again how nice it is to just “be” here. There are no distractions, the people are cool and relaxed, we don’t have to do much. We trump again even though Frits is already a street length ahead in the championship. We listen to Bob Marley with the crew, we laugh a lot with everyone.
The next morning begins with discussion. Yves and Frits think this is ‘the day’ We go to Barafu camp today, eat there and then head for the summit at midnight. I think tomorrow is ‘the day’, because first this trek and then that trek. Julius comes over and says this is ‘the best day ever’. Once again, he is right on his side. The weather has been predictable for the past few days. In the morning it is clear and sunny, at 10 a.m. it becomes cloudier and just before sunset at 7 p.m. it becomes clear again. Again, we sit on a rock with a coffee in the sun, warming up like any reptile would. We feel good and acclimated and the knee is calm.
Today’s hike is easy, we walk up 2 tough ridges and after 3 hours of walking we arrive at Barafu Camp (4600 meters). You feel here that not only the meters but also the excitement rises a bit. From this camp it is happening and we know that tonight we will be awakened at 11 p.m. to go to the summit. We already evaluate our trip and are already a little proud of each other. That the 3 of us are doing this, they are great conversations.
During dinner we are updated by Julius about the coming night, the summit climb. We get an explanation that an extra guide is going with us. If one of us should have to go back, the two others can still continue. Furthermore, we discuss the choice of clothing and amount of water and food. Then we are allowed to go to the tent to sleep….
But I do not sleep, I lie with a smile, waiting until 11 p.m. At 11 p.m. I hear footsteps and a flashlight. It turns out to be Yves who is waiting just as restlessly and has crawled out of the tent. The guides are still snoring in their tents and half an hour later we do hear voices and more flashlights come on. We are allowed! In no time we get up. We eat some porridge and drink tea and feel like it.
The feeling is a little confusing. You know roughly what you are going to do and have heard stories but still you have no idea what it is really going to be like. And it’s dark and you’re tired and it’s exciting or something. The beginning of every hike is always a bit heavier, as it is now and today the ascent is really quite ridiculous. But after 10 minutes I am well into it. We walk silently and pole up. The silence is beautiful and also a kind of respect to nature and the mountain. A group of Aussies think a little differently and walk up with a sound speaker with hip chill lounge playlist. We let them walk ahead on purpose so we can go back into silent retreat. Meanwhile, we sometimes almost fall asleep while walking but also always jolt right back awake. Meanwhile, thoughts descend and I sometimes think I’ve fallen into a joke. That after the next rockfall my family will be there with flowers and cheering. Or that after that one ridge the summit is already there and Explore Tanzania has organized a party for us there with Swahili dancers and snacks. The altitude does something to you, and it takes a long time this. We just take some more energy bars and a gel and keep going. At 6:00 it gets a little lighter, very slowly the sun rises behind us and what we see is more than phenomenal. The sky changes all kinds of colors and we see clouds at different heights. In between we see Mawenzi peak, the lower peak. It is really incredibly beautiful and we regain our energy, also because you get more orientation because the darkness is gone. We see Stella Point coming into view and the last part to it is even steeper than the rest but after an hour we get to the top. Exhausted, I sit down on a rock by myself and can’t do anything anymore, rest. One of the guides brings a cup of strong, hot ginger tea and shows us again how the mountain is geologically constructed, fascinating but I don’t save the information. Stella Point is not the very highest peak, which is, of course, Uhuru Peak (5895 meters). It is still over 100 meters higher and is a fat hour from here, lets do it then! A path over a ridge, fairly flat but the altitude makes it toughWe arrive after an hour and see the famous sign from afar, there it is. The backpacks come off, we hug and take the familiar pictures with the sign. We are not completely elated, we are too broken for that. Proud is the feeling, of ourselves and each other. It is 8:00, we have been climbing for 8 hours.
The descent day 7, part 2
And then suddenly the road goes down, which in itself makes sense. So that’s one thing I was looking forward to with the knee but after the past few days I’ve also gained more confidence. So hop! We walk a different route and with a broad smile and feeling satisfied we go nicely and finally arrive at 11:00 at the camp from which we left. We want to sleep, just sleep. But that’s not allowed, we have to go further down. We get lunch that we can’t get rid of (appetite is gone) and have to continue to lower camp. It has started raining in the meantime, all three of us don’t feel like it anymore but we have to do it now with lots of PMA! So hop on! We descend for another 3 hours and during the last hour my muscles don’t work anymore, they have become spaghetti strings. Very slowly we just manage and with Frits’ mental support we arrive at the camp. Even dinner is no longer an option and we are allowed to sleep. Never slept as well as this night.
The next day we descend further. Slowly we see bushes reappear, then conifers and then the rainforest. On this side of the mountain, the forest is younger Julius explains. But we do happen to pass a 2000-year-old tree, so it’s all relative. The day is beautiful. Especially when we arrive at the gate after 5 hours, the end of the trek. We celebrate with the whole crew here and treat ourselves to cold beers. Then we ride in the van back to Rivertrees. Party!
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