Hank Snow, the cowboy poet from Nova Scotia, hit it big with a song that mentions all the places he had passed through in his rambles. It is like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on speed – a veritable tour de force of rhyme and memory. The chorus goes like this:
I’ve been everywhere, man
I’ve been everywhere, man
‘Cross the deserts bare, man
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man
Of travel, I’ve had my share, man
I’ve been everywhere.
It comes to mind as I think about my next trip. While I have been to the Nepalese Himalayas and to various parts of the Andes on more than a few mountain trips, I’ve clearly not been everywhere, man! Everywhere in Africa is mostly missing. Trips to Morocco and Egypt have been the only two and they were almost twenty years ago when I was approaching fifty! I do remember them fondly:
- a two-week cultural tour of Morocco’s highlights with Laila
- a two-week trek in the Atlas Mountains (including a summit of Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest)
- a two-week tour of the highlights of Egypt’s Nile River valley from Aswan to Cairo with a primary focus on pyramids and temples.
This is about the change! Coming up is a three-week visit to northern Tanzania in East Africa. The main attraction is Kilimanjaro, the volcanic massif created by a colossal eruption about three-quarters of a million years ago on the edge of the East Africa Rift Valley. The geology of the area is stunning. Highlights include –
- the growing rupture in the African Plate which will see East Africa split off from the rest of the continent during the next 50 million years;
- dead and dormant volcanoes – as well as active ones – most of which one can hike up;
- vast craters like that of Ngorongoro which have become the sanctuary of countless animals, both predators and prey;
- the fertile upland plateaus like the Serengeti, the #1 safari destination of wildlife watchers;
- large and deep inland lakes like Victoria and Tanganyika
I had no idea that East Africa had so much to offer! It never even entered my mind as a travel destination until the evening I watched a documentary by David Breashears, an American whose Everest climbs and excellent related film work I was familiar with. The forty-minute film- Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa.- is from 2002 and was meant to be viewed in an IMAX theatre. The visuals wowed me on my 13″ Macbook! Watch it and you may be booking a trip to Tanzania too!
The chance to walk through the various ecological zones over a seven day period on my way up to the top of Kilimanjaro is what sold me! From the savannah to the montane forest, and then up across the moorland to the alpine zone, with a final walk in the Arctic zone to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the mountain. Wow! While I have climbed volcanoes before, this sounds so much more interesting!
A decade ago I had stood on the top of two of Ecuador’s highest peaks, also volcanoes, and, to be honest, it had been a somewhat lacklustre experience. Those Ecuador summits involved leaving Quito in the morning, driving to a hut high on the side of the mountain by 2 or 3 p.m.; having supper and then a nap until about 1 a.m. and then walking in the dark until a sunrise arrival at the top. By 2 the next afternoon we’d be back in Quito! Yes, I’d done it – but the experience soured me on climbing any more volcanoes just to do it!
Kilimanjaro will be a different volcano experience! It will also be my introduction to a corner of the globe I can see revisiting for all the attractions other than Kili it has to offer.
Making A Kilimanjaro Summit More Likely:
There is, however, a complication. While you do not have to be an extremely fit athlete to do the walk – all but one route is less than 70 kilometers long – there is the problem of acclimatization. Some guided groups going up will hit the summit at sunrise on Day 4; others on Day 5 or 6. This is too rapid an ascent for many people to be able to acclimatize adequately and explains why about 50% of the forty to fifty thousand people who start off at the foot of the mountain each year do not make it to the top. The fewer the number of days on the mountain, the less likely a hiker will succeed. Some that do make it, feel so bad they can’t really enjoy the experience.
The More Time, The Better!
The body needs time to make the adjustments as it goes up in altitude since the falling air pressure means that a given volume of air contains less and less oxygen. By the time you have reached Uhuru Peak at 5895 meters (19,341 feet), the effective amount of oxygen in the air is about half of what it is at sea level.
I booked one of the longest itineraries available, the eight-day trek via the Lemosho Route (see the charts above) with the acclimatization issue in mind. The 56-kilometer distance is almost what I walk with my dog Viggo in a week! As with the other routes, summit day starts around 1 a.m. In the case of Lemosho, we’ll walk from the Barafu Camp at 4640 meters to Uhuru Peak (5895) and then back down to Mweka Camp (3100) over a 12-hour period.
A Pre-Kili Hike Up Mount Meru:
To improve my acclimatization, I have also arranged a walk to the top of Mount Meru in the week before the Kilimanjaro hike. Meru is Tanzania’s second highest mountain at 4562 meters (14,968 ft.). It is the focal point of Arusha National Park and is about seventy kilometers west of Kili.
While I chose it as a warm-up, from all accounts It is an excellent hike in its own right and may surpass Kili in terms of wildlife sightings in the montane forest on the way up. Some who have done both say they prefer Meru for the lack of commotion that Kili creates thanks to its status as one of the Seven Summits. Unlike the Lemosho Route trek on Kili, which is tent-based, the Meru hike takes you from hut to hut to summit and back to the Miriakamba huts at the end of Day 3.
When I am not on either mountain, I will be in Moshi, a prosperous city of some 200,000 just south of Kilimanjaro. To the south of Meru is the city of Arusha, population 400,000 – I plan to spend my last two days in Tanzania there. The airport that I fly into and out of is located in between the two.
I have about a week after my return from Kilimanjaro to spend on other things. I could just relax and check out the coffee houses and restaurants of Moshi and Arusha. Some other possibilities include
- a hike to the top of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano just to the south of Lake Natron
- a visit to a few of the pictograph sites near the town of Kondoa
- a visit to the Leakey archaeological sites at Laotoli and Olduvai Gorge
- a brief visit to the Serengeti area for wildlife viewing.
Popote Africa, The trekking/safari agency in Moshi that I booked my Meru and Kilimanjaro treks with, will probably be able to make arrangements for any one of the above. I may be able to join another small group on an outing. Time will tell!
Getting To Kilimanjaro Is A Piece of Cake!
I mentioned above that David Breashears’ Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa planted the seeds of this trip in my mind. However, it didn’t become a “Go!” until I googled my way to the KLM website and found a flight to Tanzania that worked out much better than I thought possible.
Instead of flying into nearby Nairobi, Kenya or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, I fly into an airport I did not know existed – Kilimanjaro International! It means that the hassle of getting to the Kilimanjaro region from either of the two large urban centers was eliminated – no eight-hour bus rides! Even better, the flight from Toronto to Kilimanjaro involves only one transfer in Amsterdam. The fewer the transfers, the more certain my checked baggage will arrive with me!
My flight there will take a bit under 19 hours, which includes a two hour and forty minutes wait at Schiphol Airport. That is fantastic! The flight back will take a bit longer thanks to a six-hour wait in Amsterdam but it still comes in at under 25 hours.
The price for the economy-class return ticket – $1178. CDN.!
I still have a month before I leave. In the meanwhile, there are the usual preparations to make.
- To aid in the acclimatization process, I got my travel clinic doctor to write out a prescription for Diamox. I have used it on several high altitude treks and it does help.
- I also have a container full of malaria tablets – I am using doxycycline – since I will be spending time at an altitude where mosquitos are common. Moshi has an altitude of 700 meters and Arusha 1200 and both Meru and Kilimanjaro have montane forests where they can be found.
- I have already made a $700. U.S. deposit on the $3200. package that the Popote Africa agency in Moshi put together for me. I will complete the payment before I go so that I do not need to carry large sums of money with me or make use of bank machines while I am there.
My package includes the treks up Meru and Kilimanjaro, as well as accommodation in Moshi for seven nights. It always feels like a leap of faith to surrender large sums of money to someone you have never met. Popote Africa is one of three hundred agencies I could have gone with. It was founded by Sabino Kekwa, a Moshi local who began as a Kili guide before starting his own company ten years ago. Its prices would be considered “budget” as opposed to ridiculously cheap or extravagant. I’m good with that! You can read Popote Africa’s Trip Advisor reviews here.
Until then I have another month to work on my Pimsleur Swahili lessons (I’m on Lesson 17 of the thirty half-hour units I hope to cover).
I should have a vocabulary of about four hundred words to draw from. Even if the people in Moshi in the tourism industry can speak English, it is always good to know a few words in their #1 language too.
As well, I have been doing background reading on Kilimanjaro and surroundings, as well as Tanzania in general. The fifth edition of Henry Stedman’s Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain was an excellent buy from Amazon. I’d put it in the essential category for anyone contemplating a trip to the Kili region and while its main focus is Kilimanjaro, it also covers Arusha And Moshi accommodation and restaurant options and a bunch of other useful topics having to do with culture and language.
Stedman also has a website with up-to-date info – see here.
Upping My Cardio Level:
Finally, since mid-October, I’ve been following a six-day-a-week training program with a heavy emphasis on cardio and core work to up my fitness level. It is the same Uphill Athlete 12-week trekking training plan I followed for my three-week high altitude trek in Nepal’s Upper Mustang in April of this year. Which reminds me – it is time to head up to the Danforth for today’s seventy-five-minute stairclimber workout!
Check back on a couple of months to see how everything unfolded!
Here is a clip of Hank Snow in 1965 doing “I’ve Been Everywhere”!