Kilimanjaro, Day 1
Moshi (890m) - Lemosho Gate (2100m) - Mti Mkubwa Camp (2650m)
After a week of camping on safari, a real bed and solid walls provides the best night’s sleep I’ve had since arriving in Tanzania. The hotel breakfast adds to the great start to the day. I devour fruit, yams, spinach, beans, falafel, avocado and toast, stuffing myself to the brim. The luxury is to be short-lived - it’s back to tent-life tonight.
The Kilimanjaro tour officially starts at 8 a.m., when we are picked up and taken to the company office to organise gear, meet our crew and begrudgingly pose for dozens of photos. Our two guides are FC and Manyama, who have differing personalities but are both relaxed and positive. We can’t keep track of the number of porters we have, but it seems a little excessive for two people.
By 8.30 a.m. we board the bus and hit the road, only to pull in to a roadside stop half an hour later for a “short break, just 30 minutes, staff eat breakfast”. Thirty minutes turns into an hour. Danny finds an espresso machine and orders his first flat white in over a week. It’s so hot he can’t drink it for 20 minutes. I don't think it satisfied his flat white craving.
Turning off the main road, we travel down a dirt track to the entrance gate. Purple, white and yellow wildflowers burst out of the deep green pine forest. It’s disheartening to see patches of deforestation, but new trees have been planted where the old ones once stood. Vegetable fields abound, and we pass locals pulling up carrots, potatoes and green peas. It’s here that we receive our first educational lesson. Kilimanjaro has five climate zones, FC tells us, and this is Zone 1: the Cultivation Zone. It's not hard to see how it received that name.
Londorossi Gate is our first stop, where everyone is registered and bags are weighed. While we wait we are given a packed lunch. It’s only 11.30 a.m., and I am still stuffed from breakfast. I manage to force down some cold fries, a banana, and two bites of a sweet bread roll. I save the rest for later. As we’re eating we meet a German woman who is undertaking the trek solo with another tour company. She also has an entire army of porters. Our routes start at different locations but we will meet up with each other tomorrow night.
Once formalities are complete we jump back on the bus and crawl around to the Lemosho Gate. Now we can finally start trekking! I'm in awe that I am actually on Mt Kilimanjaro, about to hike up its slopes. This goal I’ve had for years is at last coming to fruition.
Manyama informs us that over 400 people start the Lemosho route every day in peak season (inclusive of all tourists, guides and porters), but today we are the only group to set off. The trek commences at an elevation of 2100m, and from there it’s straight up. It's the first time we've used our legs in any sort of strenuous way for a week, and it takes a little while to get going. At first we are ascending dirt stairs, and I’m puffing almost immediately. I thought I left the stairs behind in Hong Kong. Am I that unfit or is it the altitude? The porters seem to have no difficulty and speed on ahead, deftly balancing large loads on their heads. Once I warm up I start to find my rhythm and I settle into a comfortable pace.
The path is easy to follow as we climb through Zone 2: Montane Forest. I was hoping for views out over the hills, but the dense, unruly vegetation prevents us from seeing much of anything. Eventually it becomes warm enough to take off my jacket, and I’m grateful for the pleasant conditions that are nothing like hot and steamy Hong Kong. I’m keen to walk faster, but we are constantly told “pole pole” (slowly slowly) by the crew. I am happy not to powerhike up the mountain, but this pace is a little too slow for me.
As we're walking along, Danny spots a black-and-white colobus monkey in a distant tree. Soon after we find a whole family of the large, shaggy creatures, as well as a couple of blue monkeys. Our guides inform us that they frequently see a range of wildlife on Kili, including elephants, buffaloes and antelopes, although mostly on the opposite side of the mountain. I didn’t realise there might be animals on this trek. Our safari continues.
In a little under two hours we arrive at Mti Mkudwa Camp, only 5.5km from the start but 550m higher in altitude. I think we could have done it in closer to one hour if we upped the pace a bit and didn’t stop for monkeys and photos. The shady campsite is spacious and quiet, and we are the only guests here. We undertake a few loops of the site, hearing nothing but birds and leaves crunching underfoot. The temperature is bearable while we walk, but we cool down quickly once we stop.
Our tent has been erected for us, and it is bigger than we expected. The sleeping area is cosy but there is a separate dining vestibule inside, set up with a table, chairs and an assortment of condiments and hot drink beverages. The toilet block is rudimentary, containing only squat toilets and millions of insects. It doesn’t look like it has been cleaned for years, despite the presence of a mop and bucket outside. There is no running water. Welcome to the simple life.
Once we finish inspecting the campsite, we enter the tent to find a plate of popcorn and sweet biscuits waiting for us. We are stoked to see more popcorn! At the same time we are provided with buckets of hot water for “wash wash”. Danny refuses. I give a half-hearted attempt, then immediately jump into my thermals. After spending a week with only minimal clothing due to the airline losing our bags, we are elated to be reunited with all of our belongings (especially the warm gear).
FC and Manyama run through a briefing for tomorrow, and complete a health check for both of us. Our oxygen saturation and pulse rate are measured, and we fill out a form listing various symptoms. So far, so good. I also notice they are carrying an oxygen cylinder - it’s reassuring to know that safety is a priority.
Dinner is our first assessment of the new cook. The carrot and coconut soup is the best soup I’ve eaten so far. This is followed by macaroni, cabbage and pickled vegetables, then avocado and mango for dessert. We receive the main meal and the fruit at the same time, so we add the avocado to the macaroni to create a winning combination. The cook passes the test with flying colours.
Sitting in our own private dining area suits our personalities well, as we don’t have to sit through awkward small talk with the crew. Even though we are inside, I become chilly during dinner, and I worry about how I’m going to cope with the next five nights when we are at a far higher altitude. As soon as I finish eating I brush my teeth and jump into my sleeping bag, hoping to bump up my core temperature. I can’t remember the last time I was in bed by 7.30 p.m.