Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Intro., Logistics, Planning and Maps

Related Post: Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast From Killarney to Snug Harbour – Maps, Logistics, and Days 1 & 2

Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom:

A Bit of History:

In 1989 the Ontario government created French River Provincial Park to protect and promote a river which was once an integral part of a water highway that stretched from Montreal to the Canadian Rockies.  Flowing downstream 110 kilometers from the south side of Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, it was a short but crucial section of a transcontinental trade route used by Indigenous Peoples and then, after 1615, by French and Canadien explorers, coureurs de bois, and Roman Catholic missionaries.

Frances Hopkins - shooting the rapids

a painting by Frances Anne Hopkins from 1879, long after the demise of the transcontinental fur trade route

With the British take-over of Canada in 1763 and the establishment of the North West Company in Montreal,  the interior route to the fur riches of the west continued to flourish.  Down the French River each spring came the twelve-meter-long canots du Maître with their 4 tonnes of cargo and crew.  They were on their way to Fort William at the west end of Lake Superior where they dropped off the trade goods and collected the furs for the return journey.  Some Canadien crews did the descent of the French River section in as little as a day!

the online source of the map: here

The river system’s integral connection with Canada’s early history meant that when the newly formed federal government program The Canadian Heritage Rivers System named its first river in 1986, it was the French River that was chosen.

Canadian Heritage Rivers plaque – French River Visitors’ Center off Highway 69

This June my brother and I made a return visit the French.  A couple of years ago we had spent a memorable week in mid-September paddling the French River delta from our put-in at Hartley Bay Marina.

Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1

In the mid-1980s I had also paddled the upper French River a couple of times  – once with my wife Laila and another with my bud Cyril.  On both occasions, we started off in Restoule Provincial Park and paddled down the Restoule River to where it meets the French.

Restoule Lake and River

Both times we also headed south just before Highway 69 to Cantin Lake and the  Pickerel River system, which we paddled up to a take-out at Port Loring.

The difference this time?  We wanted to include the Upper French above the mouth of the Restoule River and see for ourselves the following landmarks –

  • Canoe Pass,
  • Gibraltar Point,
  • the Kennedy Island Pictograph site,
  • the Chaudiere and Portage Channel dams,
  • the Keso Point pictograph site.

the French River from the bridge

We also wanted to do the Gorge stretch from Highway 69 down to Ox Bay.

Every time we’ve  crossed the bridge on the way up North to another canoe trip and again on the way back, we’d look down that dramatic corridor and say – “Someday we’re going down that!”

Pierre Sabourin (click on his name to access his website) captures the feel of that stretch just south of the bridge in a Group of Seven kind of way:

Pierre Sabourin. Land of the Voyageur

Where To Start?

The original plan was to start at Champlain Park in North Bay.  The Park is located on the shore of Lake Nipissing at the mouth of the La Vase River.  It is at the end of the portage route which Etienne Brule in 1610, Champlain in 1615, and everyone who followed made use of to get to the shore of Lake Nipissing from the Mattawa River and Trout Lake.  If we were going to retrace the route taken by those voyageurs this was the place to start!

La Vase Portage Plaque

Logistics:

The plan was this: we would get  Hartley Bay Marina to provide a shuttle driver,  whom we would pick up and then drive over to North Bay. He would drive the vehicle back to Hartley Bay while we set off on our little adventure.

However, a closer look at the map had me reconsidering the point of driving to the east end of the lake just to paddle southwest across a very exposed section to get to the Upper French.

Lake Nipissing from Sucker Creek Landing to North Bay

The conversation in my head went something like this –

  • It’s the route those voyageurs took on their epic journeys. That’s the route we gotta take!”
  • “Aren’t we getting a bit obsessive about all of this? They did it because they had to. We don’t have to!”
  • “It would only take us a day and a half to cover the 40 kilometers from Champlain Park to the top of the French.”
  • “But look how exposed we’d be to winds from the northwest or southwest.  That is some pretty open water there.  Surely we could find an alternative that would be less stressful!”

Sucker Creek Landing (Shuswap Camp):

At the west end of Lake Nipissing is Sucker Creek Landing.  It is a one-hour ride from Hartley Bay Marina to Shuswap Camp just off Highway 64 at the west end of West Bay,  a long narrow bay with a string of islands along its south shore. Compared to the open water from North Bay to the top of the French, it is more sheltered and we’d be paddling east,  a more favourable direction given the prevailing winds.

Hartley Bay Marina header

A phone call to James Palmer at Hartley Bay Marina established a $140. shuttle cost, a reasonable expense which eliminated the #1 logistical problem of most canoe trips.  Our vehicle would be waiting for us in the Hartley Bay Marina parking lot (a $10. a day fee) and we’d be able to get our French River Park camping permits at the Marina main desk when we picked up our shuttle driver. [You can also get your backcountry camping permits online here.]

Hartley Bay to Shuswap Camp

I also phoned Shuswap Camp to see if we could put in at their dock. Their response: no problem!  I figured we’d have lunch at their restaurant to even things out.

So – Sucker Creek it was.

Planning The Route:

For the most part a trip down the French River system – from top to bottom – is pretty straight forward: just stick to the main channel and you will cover the 110 km. to Georgian Bay in four or five days.

The three sections where you have some choice are these:

  1. the top of Okikendawt Island. You could go down the Little French River channel on the north side of the island and then rejoin the main channel after portaging Five Finger Rapids.

2. Eighteen Mile island. You could choose to paddle the North Channel instead of going down the main channel on the south side.

  • Once you get to Ox Bay at the top of the Delta section of the river, you have five main channels or outlets to take you down to Georgian Bay.  If you choose the Western Channel you have another three possible options –  a. the Bad River Channel;  b. the Old Voyageur Channel;  and c. the Voyageur Channel. Within these sub-channels, there are yet more possible routes!

We made the following choices as we planned our route:

  1. We went down the main channel on the south side of Okikendawt Island after doing the 580-meter Portage Channel portage and the Cradle Rapids portage. I planned on checking out the pictograph at Cradle Rapids.
  2. We went down the south side of Eighteen Mile Island so we could experience the half-dozen sets of rapids in the Five Mile Rapids section.  Also, the North Channel has quite a few more cottages along its shore and when paddling, fewer cottages is always better.
  3. We chose the Fox Creek route to Georgian Bay since it was one we hadn’t done yet. The 2018 Henvey Inlet Fire had apparently reached as far as Fox Creek and we wanted to see how things looked a year later.  Once we got to Georgian Bay and spent a couple of days out on the Bustard Islands, we planned to head back to Hartley Bay and our vehicle via Bass Creek and the Eastern Outlet.  We had already checked out the Bass Creek portages in 2017 and figured this would make for an easy return route with one easy portage and one lift-over.

Henvey Inlet Fire 2018 – and east end of French River Provincial Park

What We Ended Up Paddling:

A GPX file of our route can be downloaded here: French River June 2019

Click here to see the 220-km route as it appears on Garmin’s mapshare page.  On the Garmin map, I’ve indicated the ten campsites we stayed at, as well as the five pictograph sites that we had intended to check out.  Other than the Kennedy Island site, this aspect of the trip was not a great success!

Useful Sources of Information:

Tired of waiting in line for the one copy in the Toronto Library system of Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996), I turned instead to Amazon and found a used copy.  $20. (shipping included) and a week later I had my own copy of the best single source of information on the French River.

It has everything from geology to history to topography and canoe-specific information. While a few things have changed in the past quarter-century since it was written, it has aged well.  Any time spent on the French can only be enriched by reading this well-researched book; Harting points out all sorts of things that you will paddle by that you’d never know otherwise.  (Example: the Voyageur Channel is misnamed.  It was not used by the voyageurs as a way to get to Georgian Bay!)

We also got a copy of the third and latest edition of the 1:50000 scale  Friends of French FOFR Map 2017River map, which was published in 2017. The waterproof map is not only a good investment; it provides the Friends with a bit of money to keep on doing their work.

It replaced our older one from 2011 though we didn’t really notice all that much new on the map.  The one thing it is useful for is indicating campsite locations.  However, their exact locations are sometimes difficult to figure out given the map scale.

Once in the park,  we camped at eight different official campsites.  Some were truly memorable; too many, especially in the Upper French section north of Highway 69, were mediocre. We just kept on paddling after a quick look at a number of sites and wondered who it was who decided to put the campsites where they are.

For the record, our favourites were the following:

633 – on the north side of Pickerel Bay across from the beginning of the Fox Creek route. Incredible elevated views in all directions and a good spot to put our four-person tent.

419 – a campsite after the Five Mile Rapids section of the Upper French

822 – the westernmost campsite in the Park, though 816 on Eagle Nest Point across the bay has better views of Georgian Bay and Green Island Bay

The campsites are available on a “first come” basis with no need to pre-book as you do with other parks like Killarney.

a view of the French River CS419 neighbourhood from the hilltop

 Trip Conditions: 

the Kennedy island pictograph site – the entire collection of images

Water Levels:  This June water levels on Lake Nipissing and on the French River itself were quite high – a meter to 1.5 meters higher than usual.  Portage take-out spots like the one at Recollet Falls were under water; a stronger than usual current made paddling up some channels HIIT work-outs.  Without a doubt, a September trip would eliminate some of the issues we faced.  All in all, however, the French is a pretty mild river.

  • 196 m asl – Lake Nipissing
  • 185 m – below the Chaudiere Dam and the Portage Channel Hydro Dam
  • 180 m – below Five Mile Rapids
  • 180 m – Dry Pine Bay
  • 177 m – Ox Bay
  • 175 m – Georgian Bay

There is only a 21-meter drop in water level from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay; half of that happens at the first portage, the one around the Portage Channel hydro-electric dam.

Wind:  Our planned paddle out to and back from the Bustard Islands did not happen thanks to the fairly strong 20-km.+ wind and drizzle coming from the southwest. Instead, we spent a couple of days paddling inland from the Bay across the sheltered Cross Channel and going up and down some of the channels at the west end of the Park below Robinson Bay.  

Bugs: Given that it was June, we were expecting much worse!  Our Eureka Bug tent did get put up twice in ten days, mostly so we could refresh our memories on the best way to put it up!  We sat inside the tent just once and that was to escape a shower which coincided with our first breakfast at Lafleche Point on Lake Nipissing!

Other Maps:

Along with our copy of the Friends of French River map, we also had Max’s Garmin Etrex 20 GPS device with the Garmin Topo Canada 4.0 map set installed.  There are times when the paper map just does not provide enough topo detail and the Etrex helped.

I also brought along my iPhone 6 with David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app and the required topos installed. On a few occasions, especially as we paddled through a maze of channels and islands, I fired it up to see where we were.

The iPhone screen is certainly much larger than the eTrex ’20’s and that makes it more useful in getting some more context as to your location.  I did not, however, leave my iPhone on all day; it would eat up battery like crazy compared to the Garmin device!

Federal Government Topo Maps:

Natural Resources Canada

If you want to download and make your own paper copies of the relevant bits from the Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 topos,  just click on the following map titles.  The links will take you to a tif file at the Government of Canada’s geogratis site –

Note: the Federal Government provides the maps for “free” but is no longer in the map printing business.  Some entrepreneurs have stepped in and set up businesses to print the maps.  Most are using a plastic material (Dupont’s Tyvek?) instead of paper and individual sheets cost $20. CDN or so.

Unlostify:

unlostifyAnother useful map is the Unlostify French River map, also available for $20. in a waterproof plastic material here  –  and downloadable for free here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the legalese and click ACCEPT!)    Just print the parts of the map that you need and slide into a clear ziplock bag – or invest in the hard copy for multiple use!  Here is a sliver of the map to give you an idea of the look –

French River - G'Bay Coast

a slice of the Unlostify Map of West French River

If the overall style of the map looks familiar, the reason is the involvement of Jeff McMurtie, who used to be with Jeff’s Maps!  It has dozens of campsites indicated (probably taken from the Friends of French River map) and also provides some historical and geological background on notable spots.  One caution – the 1:50000 NRC maps provide more accurate mapping of narrow channels and passages between islands. I wouldn’t rely just on the Unlostify map, as useful as it is.

Cell Phone Coverage:

Along for the ride was our inReach Explorer+ with its two-way email communication and a once-every-ten minute track uploaded to the Garmin website so the folks at home could follow along.   We’ve come a long way since the unforgettable summer of 1981 when we said we’d be back in six or seven weeks and paddled from Pickle Lake to Attawapiskat without any contact.  Now that was off the grid!

Click on the following link to see what the Garmin web page I mentioned above looks like; it will show our  2019 French River route.

However, you don’t need an inReach for a French River trip.  Your cellphone will allow you to connect with the folks back home from most locations.

We should have kept a record of the campsites where we were able to make phone calls!  We were able to  make a commecton about 2/3rds. of the time. The Bell coverage map below shows a large area – the Dokis Reserve to the west of the French River delta – without coverage.  It also shows coverage along the French River’s Main Channel right down to Ox Bay/Pickerel Bay.

Calls that we were able to make include:

  • campsite on Lafleche Point on the south shore of Lake Nipissing’s West Bay
  • CS 419: on the Main Channel of the Upper French below the Five Miles Rapids section

Bell Cellphone Coverage – French River Delta

  • CS633: on Pickerel Bay not far from Ox Bay
  • CS920 on Finger Island at the bottom of Fox Bay
  • CS723 to the east of Whitefish Bay on the Georgian Bay Coast.
  • CS822 at the west end of the park.

Access Bell’s coverage map here

Check out the Whistlestop website for more info, as well as a comparison of Bell and Rogers coverage.  Scroll down to Ontario Network Coverage Maps and choose your cell provider from the scroll-down window.

For all the details of a short yet multi-faceted canoe trip we are glad we made, the following post will get you started!

Next Post: Day 1 – Lake Nipissing (West Bay) From Sucker Creek Landing To Lafleche Point

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 8 – High Camp To Mweka Gate

Previous Post: Day 7 – From Barafu To Uhuru Peak And Down To High Camp

High Camp (3827 m) was apparently established in 1999 when an emergency trail for those suffering from altitude sickness passed through here from Karanga (4034 m) on the way down to Mweka Gate. Exactly how a campsite only 200 meters lower than the one they were abandoning would help them deal with altitude sickness is not clear!

Team Popote at High Camp on Day 8 morning

We set off shortly before 8:00.  There would be some more altitude to lose!

  • High Camp: 3827 m/12,556 ft.
  • Mweka Camp: 3106m/10,190 ft.
  • Mweka Gate: 1633m/5358 ft.
  • Moshi: 880m/2890 ft.

By midafternoon we would be back in Moshi, some 3000 meters lower than our dining tent at High Camp on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro. The distance is about 11.5 km. I didn’t even bother putting my Polar M430 GPS tracker on for the walk so no distance, elevation, or heart rate data for this last day.

a satellite view of the terrain from High camp to Mweka Gate – mostly forest after Mweka Camp

Over the next four hours, we would walk out of the moorland and into the montane forest. On the way, we’d deal with a variety of terrain, beginning with a descent of what looked like a seasonal stream bed.

The trail from High Camp To Mweka Camp

a half hour into the walk from High Camp to Mweka Camp

It took us an hour and a quarter to get to Mweka Camp from High Camp. With that, we were out of the moorland/heath terrain and into the cloud forest.  The tree cover provided some cool shade as we made our way down the steps that the Park staff have installed over the past few years. While some find them an annoying feature, it may be that they reduce erosion when water courses down the trail as a result of torrential downpours.

Mweka Camp signpost

the steps on the upper part of the trail from Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

“The Old Man And The Tree” on the trail to Mweka Gate

Unlike our Day 1 walk to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp, we did not see any wildlife on the side of the trail on our descent to Mweka Gate. About a half-hour from the end, we reached the road that comes up from the Rangers’ huts at Mweka Gate. Keen on getting to the end, I recall speeding up my pace a bit at this point.  The eventual reward – the sign below!

In the parking lot, there were a few buses jeeps waiting for their people to arrive. Our Popote bus was there too. Already on board were all the porters and camping gear and our duffels. The crew was undoubtedly just as keen on getting back to Moshi as we were! If we were thinking about showers and the next legs of our Africa adventure, they had more immediate concerns that a week’s salary and additional tip money would help them deal with.

The 40-minute drive back to Moshi took much less time than our drive to Londorossi Gate and the backtrack to Lemosho Glades at the start of our Kilimanjaro trek.  First, we drove to the Popote office where we waited a bit while our certificates were laminated.  I had already learned from my Mount Meru climb, that the Parks office hands out certificates with official stamps and signatures for those who make it to the top.  For Kilimanjaro, they have one for Uhuru Peak, one for Stella Point, and perhaps one for Gillman Point too.

We got back to the Parkview Inn by 3:00 p.m. and everyone headed for their rooms and showers.  The two oldsters – Mark and I – would relax at the Inn that evening while the youngsters were the star guests at a dance party somewhere nearby.  We learned the next morning that even they had called it a fairly early night (9:30!)!

By the next afternoon, only Mark and I remained at the Parkview, the others headed to either Mombasa and Kampala.  Mark would begin a five-day deluxe safari the next morning.  And that left me – by 9:30, I was on my way to the big town in the Kilimanjaro district, Arusha. I had planned to arrange a climb of Ol Donyoi Lengai with a travel agency there.  See what happened in the following post!

Next Post: On Safari In Tanzania: An Afternoon In Tarangire National Park

Some 40,000 – 50,000 people set off to “climb” Kilimanjaro each year.  I am working on a post which will deal with the question of how difficult it is to do – and perhaps the question of why do it at all!  I am still collecting my thoughts!

Coming soon: Climbing Kilimanjaro – Is It Difficult To Do?

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 7 – To Uhuru Peak

Previous Post: Day 6 – Karanga To Barafu

  • distance to the summit from Barafu Camp: 5.1 km.
  • time: 6 hrs. 15 minutes to the summit; 2 hr. 35 min. back to Barafu Camp
  • altitude gain: 1225m/4019ft.

It was the climax of the trek – the walk uphill to Kibo’s rim at Stella Point and then along the rim a bit more to Uhuru Peak – but until after Stella Point all I got were the GPS track and the heart rate reading generated by my Polar M430 and one single image – the shot below which I took at 2:45 a.m.!!

Kilimanjaro summit morning 2:45 a.m.

Wake-up had been at 11 p.m. I had slept a little and when I wasn’t I was listening to the wind blowing hard and hoping it would not be doing that for the duration of our climb up the exposed slope of the mountain. I had packed everything that was coming along for the walk to the summit earlier that evening to avoid any last-minute panic.

My spare camera batteries were already in the chest pocket of my wool base layer. Before exiting my tent, I packed everything I would not be needing into the duffel and locked up the zipper. Our tents would remain standing for our estimated 9:00 to 10:00  a.m. return when we would crawl in for a brief rest.

Out of the tent into the dark and over to the dining tent for a cup of tea and some cookies – I think – and then we waited for the signal to start our midnight adventure.  Bottles and bladders were filled with hot water.  Going up with the five of us would be the three guides and – to provide extra emergency support – two of the lead porters, Fella and George.

the trail from Barafu to Stella Point and Uhuru Peak

We started off shortly after midnight.  Already visible on the slopes was a string of headlamps bobbing up and down.  Every once in a while I would glance up and see a something much brighter – a star above Kibo.  Mostly I focussed on the legs of the person walking ahead of me and walked into the zone of light created by my headlamp.

The wind was still blowing hard from the SE and we would feel its full force every time the switchback trail turned in its direction.  The temperature was a bit below freezing; I had on multiple layers to keep in my body heat!

On the bottom, I had on my warmest fleece long johns, my nylon trekking pants, and my Goretex rain pants.  On top, the four layers included a fleece base layer, a wool layer, a synthetic insulation layer, and my goose down jacket.  My head was covered with a balaclava, a wool hat, and the two hoods of my top jackets.  I would detach the goose down hood and give it to Fella soon into the walk.

the trail from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak – just 150 meters of altitude more!

We took a few breaks on our way up.  Amazingly, we eventually walked past all but one of those strings of light that we had seen on our departure. In retrospect, we made really good time even if we didn’t feel it at the time!  During one break I did something I have never done before on a summit hike – I accessed my workout playlist on my iPhone and started listening to some music.  It really seemed to help and gave me something else to focus on.

At about 5:30 we got to Stella Point, the point on the crater rim where the trail comes up to.  It was still dark so I did not bother to take any photos; I figured I’d get some on the way back.  And then a bit of confusion  – one of us had flopped down on the ground thinking that this was Uhuru Peak!  We rested for a few minutes and moved on.

Thirty-five minutes later we were there – at what all the travel brochures call the Roof of Africa!  There was one other party there already. We watched as they went through a bunch of different variations of photos – of trekkers only, of guides only, of trekkers and guides, of everybody with banners, solo shots… In the meanwhile, we took in the view from the spot that we had been looking at for the past week.

Shortly after we arrived at Uhuru Peak the sun came up and the camera came out!  The sky was brightening with the just-rising sun.  I looked towards Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s other peak and got the image below.  It was 6:21 a.m.

sunrise to the east of Kibo on Mount Kilimanjaro

Then I turned west to look at the distant profile of Mount Meru,  a trek to whose summit I had used as a warm-up for this walk to Uhuru Peak.

looking west from Uhuru Peak – a sunrise panorama

Behind us, other trekkers were approaching Uhuru Peak and the signboard that marks the spot.  They would soon be waiting for us while we did a photo session not unlike the one we were watching unfold!

trekkers approaching Uhuru Peak from Stella Point

a satellite view of the top of Kibo with Mawenzi in the background to the east

And shortly after 6:30  – photo time for our Canadian/American summit team!

the Popote Team group photo at Uhuru Peak – 6:31

We were up by the signboard for about 15 minutes in all and by 6:35 had already begun our return to Stella Point.  Everyone had made it and if anyone wasn’t feeling 100% it was not evident.  Our Popote crew had taken good care of us on the way up, setting a pole pole (slowly, slowly in Swahili) pace and taking on extra stuff in their packs so that ours would be a bit lighter.

If we were feeling a sense of elation at having “conquered” Kilimanjaro – such a military metaphor that harkens back to another age – then the Popote guys were relieved not to have faced any complications and satisfied that they had helped us reach our goal.

group photo – Popote team on Kibo top – from Mary Ella’s files

From our vantage point next to the Uhuru Peak signboard, I turned towards that chunk of ice to the west,  a remnant of the Southern Icefield.  In the photo below it is being lit up by the rising sun.

a glacial remnant to the west of Uhuru Peak

And beyond the glacier remnant, there was Meru again.

a sunrise view of Mount Meru from Uhuru Peak

our three guides waiting for the signal to go back down to Stella Point – 6:32

A Little About That Uhuru Peak Sign!

The iconic sign at the top of Kibo on Mount Kilimanjaro figures in thousands of photos that celebrate good luck, personal achievement, and the will to see something through to the very top! The signboard itself has gone through some changes over time.  A few minutes with the Google image search function and I came up with these –

  1. The Original Signboard

    or, at least, the one that was there before January 2012, is pictured below.  It had four somewhat off-kilter horizontal boards and a registration box at its foot with a registry in it where trekkers would leave their names. Other images have a larger registry box elevated from the ground and stretching across the entire width of the sign’s support posts.

the original Uhuru Peak signboard with registry box

  1. Here is another image of the same sign but with the various boards much more horizontal.  It may actually be the original one and eventually came to look like the one in the first image.

Uhuru Peak sign with four horizontal boards

  1. By 2011 the sign had lost the bottom board; also, the box at the foot of the sign had disappeared. While someone looking for a unique souvenir may be responsible, it is much more likely that they got blown away in a severe windstorm.

Draping the bottom of the sign in this image is a set of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, always a nice touch on mountaintop shrines the world over!

See my post: Blowin’ In The Wind: An Appreciation of Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags

4. The New Yellow/Green Sign (2012-2014)

In late 2011/early 2012, the Park officials replaced the iconic sign with the new one pictured below.  It was not embraced with enthusiasm by the trekkers who made it to the top!  They did not want bland and neat – they wanted the classic and iconic sign that was there before!

the short-lived Green Uhuru Peak signboard

5. The New Old Sign!

By mid-2014 the feedback had been negative enough that the green/yellow sign was removed and replaced with one which looked a lot like the first one above, right down to the askew third horizontal board. There is no registry box at the foot of the sign but someone has been good enough to fasten a set of prayer flags to the bottom of the posts.

So Where Are the Glaciers?

There is a bit of ice and snow at the top of Kilimanjaro’s Kibo but not as much as I was expecting.  An estimated 85% of the glacial covering has disappeared in the past 100 years.  Amazing to think that most of the glacial ice just turns into vapour and not the streams I pictured pouring down the slopes of the mountain!

Here are three images of the glacier cover on top of Kibo. The first shows what it looked like in the early 1970s; the other two are satellite images from 2002 and 2019.

1. Early 1970’s:

Kilimanjaro – Kibo glacier coverage map – early 1970’s

2. December 30, 2002

Kilimanjaro Kibo top glacier cover 12/30/2002

3. February 19, 2019

Kibo/Kilimanjaro glacier cover as of February 2019

Feb. 2019 – another angle

the Snows of Kilimanjaro - gone within my lifetime - i.e.2035

the Snows of Kilimanjaro – gone within my lifetime – i.e.2035

The satellite images show the ever-shrinking Northern, Southern, and Eastern Icefields as well as the disappearing Furtwangler Glacier not far from Crater Camp.

The image below is of the ice patch immediately to the SW of the Uhuru Peak signboard. I had also taken a photo of it when we first arrived – see a few images above for the shot.

another view of a remnant of the Southern Icefield to the SW of Uhuru Peak

Fifty years ago there were glaciers on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro with names like Diamond, Balletto, Heim, Kersten, and Decken.  And now? Not much more than the glacial patch you see in the image above.

looking back to Uhuru Peak – our main guide Dixon coming down – 6:50 a.m.

When we neared Stella Point on our descent from Uhuru Peak, I did turn back to the north and get the following shot.  It shows some recent snowfall as well as what is left of the Furtwangler Glacier on the middle left side of the image. I wish I had done a better job of documenting what is still up there.

Here is an internet-sourced image of the section inside the box. It was taken in 2014 and the perspective is a bit different but it does capture the Furtwangler Glacier nicely. It looks like the Northern Icefield has receded somewhat over the past five years.  As for the Furtwangler, it is losing some of its current 15-meter (50 ft)  thickness each year.

2014 image of the Furtwangler

When I first considered the various routes up to the top of Kilimanjaro, I was attracted to one that included a night at Crater Camp, located not far from the Furtwangler Glacier. In the end, a trip report which highlighted the absolute mess of that Crater Camp has become thanks to lack of sewage disposal turned me off the idea. Also, if an ascent of Kilimanjaro is already fairly rapid by most acclimatization protocols, then a night at Crater Camp at 5700 meters was just compounding the potential problems.

The image below – internet-sourced – with the person standing in the middle of the interior of the Furtwangler Glacier gets across the thickness of the glacier – perhaps 15 meters. I am not sure when the photo was taken;  we can expect it to shrink another meter or so each year.  By 2035 it should be gone!

inside the Furtwangler glacier

We were soon back down at Stella Point and walking past a group of just-arrived trekkers who were celebrating the success of this stage of their journey.  I spoke there with an American trekker who had spent the night at Crater Camp with his wife. For the past few hours, she had exhibited worsening altitude sickness symptoms, so they were making their descent to Barafu Camp. Their guides were carrying their packs.  Unfortunately, they had left their walk up to Uhuru Peak for this morning; now they were on their way down without having done it.  So close…

Stella Point signboard – time 7:00 a.m.

Like the signboard up at Uhuru Peak, this new copy of the old one has also replaced the unpopular yellow/green version that only lasted a couple of years.

The Return To Barafu Camp:

And then the descent.  If walking uphill on scree is awkward, it is even more so on the way down.  We would lose 1200 meters in 2 1/2 hours and eat a lot of dust being kicked up in the process. You have two choices – either get in front of the line so there is no one kicking up dust ahead of you or take a break every once in a while to put some distance between you and those ahead of you.  I found the first option to be the better one!

The photo below was taken perhaps fifteen minutes into our descent from Stella Point.  Already visible in the image is Barafu Camp, with its tents just to the right of the flat hilltop in the middle of the image.  You can even see the summit trail as it crosses that stretch of flatness.

the return from Uhuru Peak to Barafu Camp – 7:04 a,m.

On the way down I peeled off successive layers of clothing, top and bottom.  It was a beautiful sunny morning on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, a lot different from the cold and windy early morning that we had spent on our way up to the crater rim.

looking up the trail towards the crater rim and Stella Point

By 9:00 we were all back in camp, receiving congrats and a cup of juice from one of the porters who had remained in camp.  The juice went down easy and it also reminded me that I had not had hardly anything to drink for the past nine hours!  Before we left camp at midnight I had filled both my one-liter Nalgene bottle and my two-liter bladder with hot water. One liter of water weighs 1 kg. or 2.2 lbs. I had carried 3 kg./6.6 lbs. of water up the hill. Of that, I drank 1/2 liter!  Yikes!

Bartafu Camp coming up – the return from Uhuru Peak

We spent a leisurely morning at our campsite, relaxing in our tents or basking in the sunshine.  My boots and my base layers were draped on some flat rocks to dry out in the sun. My water intake had also increased to make up for the past nine hours!

The trail to the ranger’s hut and the registration book passed right by the Popote campsite. I watched as a large group of maybe twenty trekkers filed by.  They were going to sign in at the hut and would be going up at midnight.

As I scanned their faces, I was sure I saw one or two trekkers who looked at least a year or two older than Mark and I!

From Barafu Camp To High Camp:

from Barafu (4660 meters) to High Camp (3827 meters)

We left Barafu Camp shortly after noon. The usual post-summit itinerary for groups who have done the Lemosho, the Machame, or the Umbwe routes is to descend via the Mweka route to Mweka Gate.  It is a 16-km/10-m walk to the end and, given the morning’s massive energy expenditure,  the distance is divided into two days.  Trekking groups will either stop for the night at

  • High Camp (aka Millennium or Rescue Camp) at 3827m/12,556 ft. – about 4.2 km
  • Mweka Camp at 3106m/10,190 ft.  –  about 6.5 km from Barafu

and then finish the trek the next morning.

Our target was High Camp, increasingly the site chosen by trekking groups thanks to an accessible water source. It doesn’t hurt that it is also an hour or so less far than Mweka Camp.  At 6:30 a.m. we were at 5895 m; by mid-afternoon, we’d be at 3827m!

Everyone was in high spirits as we set off.  Someone commented – “Just think how we’d be feeling right now going down if we hadn’t made it to the top!” and all agreed it would hurt to have invested so much time and energy and money and not quite – for whatever reason –  getting to the top.

About twenty minutes into our afternoon walk, I looked back and got a shot of Barafu camp and then I seem to have put away my camera and just focussed on the steady downward path.

I had burned up almost 5000 calories getting to the summit and then returning to Barafu in the morning.

The afternoon would prove to be much less stressful – though that 519 kcal figure seems much too low.  Then again, it was a very easy walk!

the High Camp signboard – the elevation figures I use come from the Stedman guidebook

In any case, by 3:00 we were at High Camp and – as always – found the Popote camp all set up on our arrival.  The majority of the crew who did not make the ascent had enjoyed a few hours of off-time at Barafu while their guests set off at midnight for Uhuru Peak.  Now they had one more morning of hauling and their job would be done.

Next Post: Day 8 – High (Millennium) Camp to Mweka Gate

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 6 – Karanga To Barafu

Previous Post: Day 5 – Barranco To Karanga

The red line on the satellite image below is the track we took on Day 6 of our Kili trek. Over the three-kilometer distance that we walked, we would gain 600 meters in altitude by the time we walked up to our Popote campsite at Barafu Camp.

Lemosho Route Day 6 – Karanga To Barafu

An Overview of the Day’s Walk:

  • distance: 3 km.
  • time spent walking: 2 hr. 30 min.
  • altitude at Karanga Camp: 4034 m/13235′
  • altitude at Barafu Camp: 4662 m/15295′
  • ecological zone – alpine desert

The stats above give an idea of how my body dealt with the day’s walk.  Compared to the previous day, we covered 2.3 km less distance and spent 1:40 hr. less time doing it.  However, the calorie burn was only 15% less – thanks to the almost continuous uphill we faced.  The steepest sections would be at the start of the day and at the end as we approached our tent site.

Breaking Camp:

It was another beautiful morning in the neighbourhood as we gathered in the dining tent shortly after 7.  The sun was out and there was little wind.  We had clear views of Kilimanjaro’s summit and of Mount Meru, some eighty kilometers to the west.

 

a morning view of Kilimanjaro’s Kibo from our Karanga campsite

a view of Mount Meru from our Karanga Campsite

the members of our Popote trekking team getting ready for the walk to Barafu

Up and Over the Hump:

From the Karanga Camp, there is an initial uphill section to deal with.  It is up and over the hill with a nice bit of downhill or flat as a reward – as shown in the photos below,  the first of which shows our of our guides, Yusuph, watching as various members of the Popote team head downwards.

From Karanga (4034m) To Barafu (4662m)

our guide Yusuph watching as one of our porters passes by

Thirty minutes later that spot on the trail where Yusuph was standing was on the distant ridge on the top third of the image.  I sat there and watched the porters with their double carries – backpacks on their shoulders (but without the use of hip belts) and bags on their heads and wondered if having that weight on top of the heads was actually effective. This Wikipedia article (see here), while providing some interesting background,  left me wondering!

looking back at the trail from Karanga Camp

East Towards The Barafu Camp:

Turning around from the porters coming my way, I faced east and saw the Barafu Campsite on the top of the ridge up ahead.  While it looked fairly close, it would take us about 90 minutes and another 400 meters of uphill to get there.

approaching Barafu Camp on Day 6 of our Kilimanjaro trek

As we approached the Camp, I wondered about the name Barafu.  In Swahili, it means “ice”. My thought that there was a time when the glacier reached all the way down to the 4600-meter level and thus gave the Camp its name was wrong. Later that afternoon I would read in my copy of Stedman’s Kilimanjaro that “the camp is probably called this because of its proximity to Rebmann Glacier, away to the north-west.”

Well, there is certainly no ice at Barafu. But there was wind – and it would only pick up as the afternoon turned into evening.

Barafu Camp:

Barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro – the lower section

Given the number of trekking parties at Barafu, the campsite area goes up the ridge for some distance.  We walked through the lower Barafu tent sites and continued on towards the ranger’s hut. The Popote crew had set up our camp near the hut behind some rocks that provided a bit of a windscreen.

signboards in front of the Barafu park rangers’ hut

The mandatory ritual of the day – the sign-in at the ranger’s hut – done, we took in the scene – the fellow trekkers, the guides, the tents – and could feel a special buzz in the air. This was it, the spot we had spent six days curling around and up the slopes of Kilimanjaro to get to.

Barafu park rangers’ hut – and sign-in counter

Staring at the ranger’s trekker registration book, I scanned through the day’s list of signatures and the countries of origin associated with each.  There was one more detail I looked for – the age of each trekker.  I did a second scan when I did not find anyone older than the two 67-year-olds on our Popote trekking team!  “No way!” I thought. It meant that for a very brief moment Mark, my fellow trekker from California, and I might be (FWIW!) the two oldest guys on the top of Kilimanjaro the next morning!

a view of Kibo from the sign-in counter at the Barafu park rangers’ hut

A View of Mawenzi:

Behind the ranger’s hut and to the east sits Mawenzi, one of Kilimanjaro’s three volcanic cones. It is also the third highest peak in Africa at 5148 meters, only 51 meters lower than Batian Peak on Mount Kenya.

Kibo and Mawenzi Peaks on Mount Kilimanjaro

Unlike the walk to the top of Kibo, the climbs to the top of Mawenzi and Mt. Kenya’s highest peak require some mountaineering skills.  In speaking with our guides, it was clear that they had never taken on a climb of Mawenzi.  Googling for more information on how to climb Mawenzi came up with very little except for this summitpost.org entry from 2004!

Kibo and Mawenzi –  a satellite view from the east with Mawenzi in the foreground

Thinking About The Final Push to the Top:

Mawenzi – an interesting diversion but we had our own summit to worry about!  Well, not exactly worry but it still had to be done. This was not my first time at this altitude – the year before I had walked up and then over Saribung La in the Himalayas. It was 160 meters higher than Uhuru Peak.  My walk to the top of Chimborazo (6240) in Ecuador back in 2009 was the highest I will ever get to.  That same trip I had also climbed Cotopaxi which is just a bit higher than Kibo.  A Cordillera Blanca climb had also taken me to 6100.

In six days of easy to moderate walking from Lemosho Glades (2389 m/7838′) to Barafu Camp (4662 m/15295′), we had gone up 2273 m/ 7457′  in altitude.  All five of us were doing fine; no one had exhibited any signs of altitude sickness.

Still, you never know how your body is going to react to the increasing altitude.we just had to relax – and try to sleep – until our 11:00p.m. wake-up and then start our walk in the dark.

our tents at Barafu campsite – with Mawenzi to the east

On our ascent, we would be accompanied by our three guides – Dixon, Yusuph, and Majura. Also along for the climb were Fella and George, the two members of the Popote team who had taken care of us in the dining tent, bringing in the food from the cook tent, providing us with hot water – anything they could do to make things easy and comfortable for us.  So – five trekkers and five support staff.

the Popote Camp at Barafu – dining and cook tents

The nightly blood oxygen saturation level and pulse rate readings had become a ritual we looked forward to!  The finger pulse oximeter would go around the table and the results would be recorded.

However, we did not do the oximeter readings at Barafu!  Perhaps the thought was that the blood oxygen saturation level readings might be a bit lower than the 90+ that we had scored on the two previous evenings.  Why give us another thing to worry about as we went off to our tents after supper and tried to get a bit of rest before our midnight wake-up call!

Coming up – the single most difficult section of our Kilimanjaro adventure, the six to seven-hour walk up to Stella Point in the dark.  Barafu is at the bottom left of the satellite image below; Uhuru Peak is at the top right.  Of course, we would not really see a thing as we would do it in all but total darkness except for the light of our headlamps!

In six hours we would gain 50% of the altitude we had gained in the first six days of the trek!   With sunset, the temperature dropped towards freezing and the wind had gotten worse…much worse. I may have slept an hour or two!

the trail from Barafu to Stella Point and Uhuru Peak

Next Post: Day 7 – From Barafu To Uhuru Peak To High (Millennium) Camp 

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 5 – Barranco To Karanga

Previous Post: Day 4 – Shira 2 To Barranco

Overview:

On Day 4 we had walked a bit over ten kilometers on our most demanding day so far.  This day would see us scale back on the distance by almost half – and yet it would still be a fairly demanding day in its own way since there are two steep uphills involved – the first at the beginning of the day and the other at the very end as you walk the switchback trail up to Karanga campsite on the top of the ridge.  That is when I hit the max 140 bpm you see in the stats below!

  • altitude at Barranco Camp: 3986 m/13077′
  • altitude at the top of the Barranco Wall: 4219 m/13842′
  • altitude at Karanga Camp: 4034 m/ 13235′

When it was all over we were only 50 meters higher than we had been at Barranco!

It should be noted that this is where some itineraries (see here for an example)  save a day by continuing on to the Barafu campsite, another 2:30 worth of walking and with a demanding training load of its own. Our extra day on the mountain before our summit attempt is at least one of the factors that explains why all five of us made it up.

satellite view – Barranco to Karanga

The satellite image above gives an overview of the day’s route from Barranco camp to Karanga. The next day’s campsite, Barafu at 4600 meters, is visible on the right-hand side of the image. The day starts with a five-minute walk down to and over the stream flowing down the Barranco ravine.  That is when the fun begins!

Down to The Floor Of The Barranco Ravine:

Kilimanjaro porters heading for the Barranco Wall

As you stand there on the floor of the ravine you look up at a fairly steep rock wall that will require some scrambling and the occasional hands-on-rock. Mind you, nothing technical and certainly do-able given the existence of an actual trail up the slope and the ready help of one of our guides if we needed it.

Barranco Camp, Ravine, and Wall

In the image below is the large boulder you walk by as you begin the scramble up Barranco Wall. Also evident are the first of the giant groundsel – Dendrosenecio kilimanjari. They seem to thrive on the east side of the ravine, perhaps because of the shade provided by the wall and the water source running past. I had the feeling I was walking in another world – I thought back to the planet of Pandora on the set of James Cameron’s Avatar!  But no – definitely of this world.  I just need to get around more!

Zoom in on the image and you will see colourful trekker gear at various spots on the Wall.  That is your clue as to where the trail is heading!

Up the Barranco Wall:

About a third of the way I looked back to our Barranco campsite on the other side of the ravine.  And then I focused on some more immediate action: I looked down to see one of our team members was embracing the Kissing Rock on her way across a narrow part of the trail.

a look back our Day 4 tent site at Barranco Camp from somewhere on the Barranco Wall

The Kissing Rock on the Barranco Wall – one of our crew gives it a hug

While not in the same league as the line-ups below the Hilary Step on Mount Everest, there were occasional slowdowns as people less confident about their scrambling skills moved cautiously forward and upward.  The porters (and there were certainly a few on this stretch!)  dodged the trekkers by using secondary trails and sidesteps when necessary.

More than once, I celebrated my imminent arrival at the very top – just to be disappointed when yet another ridge higher up appeared when I got there.  Here is one such spot – getting closer but not quite there yet!  Still – a reason for a brief rest since the worst of the scramble was over, the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day near the top of the Barranco Wall.

And, of course, some eighty kilometers to the west the profile of Mount Meru!

Mount Meru some 80 kilometers to the west of Kilimanjaro

The porters did not stop at our rest stop; they kept on truckin’ up the Wall.  As always, seeing their loads move ahead and above us served as route guides for us. Ah, so that’s where the trail goes!

group photo time at the top of the Barranco Wall

Getting to the Top of the Barranco Wall:

approaching the top of the Barranco Wall

Finally, a summit that was not false!  There was almost a party atmosphere when we arrived at the plateau on the top of the Barranco Wall. Jackets came off, sunscreen was applied, water bottles and snacks came out of the backpacks, cellphones and more serious cameras were busy snapping photos of team members standing on the edge of the Wall or off Kilimanjaro’s summit to the east.  We were 230 meters higher than we had been at Barranco Camp at the start of the day – and maybe 270 from the floor of the ravine by the big boulder and the groundsel.

relaxed trekkers at the end of their Barranco Wall climb

a morning view of Kilimanjaro summit from the top of the Barranco Wall

The Trail To Karanga:

And then it was back on the trail – some easy walking down a gentle slope with mostly desert alpine terrain occasionally hosting those giant groundsels we had seen at the start of the Barranco Wall scramble.

traffic on the trail down from the Barranco Wall – the trail to Karanga

a stand of groundsel on the side of the trail to Karanga from Barranco Wall

a section of the downhill trail to Karanga Camp from Barranco Wall

I knew we were almost at Karanga when I walked into the image below.  Karanga sits on the top of the ridge in the background.  Unfortunately, in between was a steep ravine.

our first view of Day 5 camp – Karanga

Karanga campsite on the top of the ridge – steep approach trail

The image below has the floor of the Karanga Valley  (3947 m) in the foreground.  In the background is the slope we had just scampered down.  The stream running down the valley is the last source of water for Kilimanjaro trekkers and porters will have to haul it from here back up to the Karanga camp and to the next camp at Barafu (4662 m)!

trekkers taking a breather at the end of the steep descent to the floor of the Karanga Valley

No more pix after we reached the floor of the Karanga Valley. My brain switched into “git ‘er dun” mode and I forgot all about my camera. I just wanted to get up to the top. Later, when I looked at my heart rate record for the day, it was this section up to the campsite that had me pushing myself the most.  I hit a maximum of 140.

panorama of Kilimanjaro Day 5 Camp – Karanga (4034 m)

The Karanga campsite is a rather desolate spot on the top of the ridge.  when we got there, as was always the case, our Popote crew had already erected the sleeping tents and put our respective duffel bags in the right tents; the guides’ and crews tents, the dining and the cook tents were also up.  and on the left-hand side of our campsite in the photo below you can see our beige toilet tent.  We were home for the evening!

Some Advice On Choosing A Route and An Itinerary:

As mentioned above, some trekking groups press on and in another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, arrive at Barafu Camp, the last camp before the summit. In effect, they eliminate one day of the trek.  Not only do they have a very demanding day before the summit, but they also arrive at Barafu around 4 or 5 o’clock with the even more demanding summit attempt to start seven hours later.

Yes, they save the cost of one extra day on the mountain.  But consider the real cost.  They also reduce their chance of a successful summit!  If you are considering a Kilimanjaro trek, you will want to sign up for one that takes longer – and not less – time.  While I can’t say for sure that the following stats are absolutely reliable and accurate, here are the success rates that one agency gives at its website:

  • 8-day   85%
  • 7-day   64%
  • 6-day   44%
  • 5-day   27%

The eight-day Lemosho is an excellent choice. It sets you up at Barafu Camp on Day 6 shortly after noon with lots of time to relax before you crawl out of your tent just before midnight for the single-most demanding day of your trek.

our Popote campsite at Karanga – Day 5 of our Kilimanjaro trek

Next Post: Day 6 – Karanga To Barafu.

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 4 – Shira 2 To Barranco

Previous Post: Day 3 – Shira 1 to Shira 2

Another day on the slopes of Kilimanjaro – and another clear early morning view of the summit of Kibo.  Frost on the tent exterior when we got up at about 6:30.  We were in the dining tent around 7, and ready to start the day’s walk shortly before 8. We were gradually making our way around the mountain from the west to the south side. (See the satellite image below for the trail we would follow for the next three days.)

This day would be, next to summit day, the longest and most strenuous day of the trek. From Shira 2 camp we would walk 6.9 km/4.5 mi up to Lava Tower (4627m/15180ft) for lunch and then back down to Barranco Camp at 3966m/13077ft. The Polar M430 calories burned stats for the first four days read like this –

  • Day 1     938 kcal        5.42 km        2:32      109 bpm average   reasonable    2/5
  • Day 2    1920 kcal       7.74 km        4:41      111 bpm average     very demanding   4/5
  • Day 3    1134 kcal       8.07 km        4:00     101 bpm average     reasonable   2/5
  • Day 4    2185 kcal      10.21 km       4:58      112 bpm average    very demanding   4/5

Shortly into the day’s walk, I turned around to the west for the day’s view of Meru.  For sure the others I was hiking with did not have the emotional connection I did with the bump on the horizon. The three days I had spent summiting it the week before meant I was looking at an old friend!

looking back at Shira 2 from the trail to Barranco – that is Meru on the horizon

As I zoomed into Meru’s profile, I could make out the little bump on the right, that of  Little Meru. We had spent an hour on a beautiful sunny day sitting up there and looking east to Kilimanjaro and up towards the summit we would be doing a few hours later.

Meru from above Shira 2 Camp on Kilimanjaro

Our walk on the Shira plateau was coming to an end but not before a morning’s worth of gentle uphill to Lava Tower, where we would have lunch. Along the way, our trail would merge with the one from the Machame Route and the relative solitude we had experienced for the first three days would be replaced by the increased traffic of trekkers and guides and porters.

on the trail towards Lava Tower from Shira 2

Spending time at Lava Tower makes for an excellent acclimatization exercise.  It is 700 meters higher than Shira 2 camp. As the images above and below make clear, we were definitely in the alpine desert zone now. If anything was growing it was probably lichen!

the trail to Lava Tower from Shira 2 – the final stretch

approaching Lava Tower on the Lemosho Trail

a last short break before the climb to Lava Tower is done

Just behind the Lava Tower is a flat plateau;  some groups actually use it as one of their campsites.  When we got there a number of tents were up.  Amazingly, those included a couple of our Popote tents!  Our support team had walked ahead of us and set up the cook tent and the dining tent. When we arrived,  tea and munchies were sitting on the table ready for us!

We spent a bit over an hour up behind lava Tower in our dining tent.  It was somewhat fogged in and damp but sitting in the tent provided some warmth and shelter from the wind.

Having gained 700 meters of altitude in the morning, we were about to lose it all in the afternoon!  The satellite image below shows the trail from Lava Tower down to Barranco Camp.

Our afternoon walk started with a steep downhill to the bottom of the gully – a mini-version of the much larger ravine above which our next camp would be located.  When I asked Dixon where the word Barranco came from he told me it was the Spanish word “ravine”.  It did leave me wondering how a Spanish word got stuck to the side of Kilimanjaro – but then, given words like Kosovo Camp and Rebmann Glacier and Fischer Campsite, it is yet more evidence of Kilimanjaro’s global reach.

A steep eighty-meter drop from Lava Tower – as in the image above – and then it was up the other side of the gully to the top of the ridge – as illustrated in the following two images.

looking back at Lava Tower after lunch – on the way to Barranco

trekkers taking a break before the climb to the ridge ahead – Barranco 3 km.. away

Once we got to the top of the ridge – see the image above – it was downhill all the way to our cam for the night, Barranco. I lengthened my trekking poles a few inches for extra stability and let gravity do its thing as I went down at a faster pace than usual.  forty-five minutes later I got my first view of the campsite at 3986m/13,077ft.

We were now 147 meters/482 feet higher than we had been at Shira 2 Camp at the start of the day.  We had also gained some valuable acclimatization time.

Barranco Camp signpost and ranger’s hut

the Popote cook and dining tents – and a view of the final bit of the trail from Lava Tower

the Barranco Camp on Kilimanjaro’s slope – upper level

The campsites on the first three days of the Lemosho Route were all but empty. Now that our route had merged with the Machame route,  it would be much busier all the way to the summit.

We had some time to contemplate the next day’s big event, the scamper up the Barranco Wall, aka “The Breakfast Wall” since it is the first objective after leaving camp. The “Wall” is essentially the other side of the ravine.  From our campsite, it looked somewhat intimidating.  We wouldn’t have to wait very long to find out!

the trail going steeply up to Lava Tower and on down to Barranco

The satellite image above shows the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro above Barranco.  Apparently 100,000 years ago a massive piece of the upper section of the mountain came sliding down the slopes and created the ravine – the Barranco – we now see.

the Barranco Wall across from the Barranco Campsite

the Barranco Wall up close with some of the trail visible

Next Post: Day 5 – Barranco To Karanga

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 3 – Shira 1 to Shira 2

Previous Post: Day 2 – From Mti Mkubwa To Shira 1

Our Day 2 had ended with a walk down from the ridge onto the Shira plateau and to our Shira 1 campsite (3504 meters).  This day would see us gain another 400 meters in altitude as we walked across the gently sloping trail to Shira 2. It would be an easy day.  The red GPS track on the satellite image is the small section of the Kilimanjaro mountainside that we were traversing.

Shira 1 to Shira 2 – in context

The track illustrates nicely that a successful Kilimanjaro trek is the result of a string of easy-to-achieve smaller goals.  In our case, we had six days of moderate walking and acclimatizing to get ready for the final ascent to the rim of Kibo! By Day 6 at noon we would be at Barafu, the spot indicated on the bottom and right of center.

On this day we’d be walking about 8 kilometers, very close to what I walk my Icelandic sheepdog Viggo some days!

I was up around 6:50, having had a good night’s sleep.  It had been cool but I had been warm inside my bag. In fact, my biggest concern was the condensation on the inner tent walls.  The next evening I would unzip the top of the front door and the rear window to allow some air flow through the tent.

I waited just long enough to get my camera that by 7:14 when I snapped the photo below, it was too late! Instead of that nice red glow created by the sun behind Kilimanjaro, I got the full blast of white light.  On the plus side, the top was visible!

We left camp around 7:45.  Looking back a few minutes later, I got the shot below of the park ranger’s hut and the tents of a few trekking parties not yet decamped.

Less than an hour into our walk we came to a junction marked by a large boulder and another stone with signboards stuck onto it. To the right the trail went to  Cathedral Point (3862 m); the main trail – the one most groups walk –  goes straight ahead to Shira 2.

Along the way, we passed an eye-catching giant groundsel on the side of a creek and somewhat sheltered by the boulders. However, as we gained altitude,  the landscape started to look more desolate. The moorland was transitioning into the alpine desert terrain that we’d be walking in for the rest of the trek.

We got to Shira 2 just before noon.   As was the case on Days 1 and 2, there were very few other trekking groups at Shira 2.  The panorama below captures that desert alpine look. It also shows the last campsite that we would share with very few other groups. The next morning the Machame route trail would merge with ours and the volume of trekker and porter traffic would pick up significantly.

Four tents for the five of us –  and to the left, our own little toilet tent.  Not just convenient but also kept very clean and odour-free! And to be fair, the Park facility pictured below, one of the new palatial models, was also well-taken-care-of.

I also had a second Nalgene bottle which served as my pee bottle; it meant there would be no need to crawl out of the tent at 3:00 a.m.

Most days by mid-afternoon the cloud cover hid the sun as the remaining images will show.

Zoom in on the image of the Park toilet facility and you will see the notice – Tourists Only – pinned on the top of the center panel.

Every day on Kilimanjaro ends with a signing-in at the ranger’s hut. I guess it is to make sure that everyone remains accounted for. It more likely serves no useful purpose at all, other than to fill ledger books with illegible names and particulars that no one will ever actually look at.

The Shira 2 site has an automated weather monitoring station enclosed in a couple of fenced-in areas. It is apparently one of three maintained on the slopes of Kilimanjaro though I did not see any other stations, not even up on the summit plateau, where the rapid disappearance of the glaciers is a real cause for concern.

Given our noon arrival at Shira 2, we had lunch shortly afterwards in the dining tent and then some time to ourselves before we set off on a mid-afternoon hike for acclimatization purposes.

We walked up the same path that we would take the next morning on our way to Lava Tower.  According to my GPS tracker, we got as high as 4005 meters, about 200 higher than our campsite.  We sat on the lava rocks and took in the scene below us for a while. Shira 2 is in the foreground in the image below; the jagged southern rim of the old Shira volcano is in the background.

On our return to camp, we had some siesta time before tea time at 4:00. Then it was more relaxation time until supper at 6:00.  Meanwhile, it was getting dark and colder.  This would be the night that George and Fella, the two Popote crew members who took care of us at meal time, filled our Nalgene bottles with hot water to take inside our sleeping bags! A couple of us had shivered through part of the night at Shira 1. The water bottles would prove to be a big hit! A quick recording of the oximeter results from each trekker and it was time to crawl into our tents – Day 3 was in the books!

Next Post: Day 4 – From Shira 2 to Barranco Camp

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 2 – Mti Mkubwa to Shira 1

Previous Post: Day 1 – From Lemosho Glades To Mti Mkubwa Camp

Elevation Gain: 2785 m to 3504 m/9,137 ft to 11,496 ft
Distance: just under 8 km/ 5 miles
Hiking Time: about 5 hours
Habitat: Rain forest/Heath/Moorland

My Polar 430 HR monitor/GPS tracker recorded the following data on Day 2’s walk –

Day 2 – Lemosho Route – Mti Mkubwa to Shira 1

Day 2 – our first full day of walking after a Day 1 that got started at 3 in the aft due to the time needed to get to the trailhead at Lemosho Glades. In reality, none of our days involved a lot of distance walked with the exception of summit day when we did about 15 km. Blue skies as we set off around 8 a.m. for the Shira plateau and our next camp – Shira 1.  

the Lemosho route – Day 2 morning – the Shira plateau

By 10:30 we had gained enough altitude to have left the rain forest behind.  The forest was giving way to heather and we were in the ecological zone called the moorland. I turned back to the west and on the horizon I saw my old friend Mount Meru, eighty kilometers from where we were standing.  The week before I had stood on its summit; now we were heading to Kibo and Uhuru Peak, Africa’s highest point.

Mount Meru – Tanzania’s second highest mountain at 4566 meters.

Knowing that the day’s route had 700 meters of altitude gain, we were not surprised by the sustained walk up to the top of the ridge pictured below. While we moved slowly along the trail – pole pole! –  our porters travelled at a higher speed, even with the 30 kilograms on their backs or on top of their heads.  Often they would be the visible clue about where the trail was and where it was going!

Lemosho Route Day 2 – porters making their way to Shira ridge

By noon we were up on the Shira plateau.  One of the guides had told us that the Kilimanjaro massif is made up of the remnants of three different volcanoes, Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. While the first two are extinct, Kibo is categorized as dormant.  The Shira plateau is actually the crater of the volcano that Shira once was. Of the three volcanoes, Kibo is the highest on Kilimanjaro.  The goal of our trek was to climb up to that rim at Stella Point and walk along the rim to Uhuru Peak.

See here for the image source and an excellent intro to the geology of Mount Kilimanjaro

As we came to the top of the ridge and looked over the Shira plateau, we got our first view of Kibo.  Well, more of a tease than a clear look.  Cloud cover prevented a full view;  we’d have to wait until the next morning before the day’s clouds rolled in for Kilimanjaro summit to be completely visible.

But still – there it was, the first view of the objective of our “expedition”!

Lemosho Route Day 2 – our first view of Kibo

Everyone pulled out their cameras or smartphones and took the requisite photo to capture the moment and the view.  Our Shira 1 campsite is in the middle background of the image above; we’d make a gentle descent down to the plateau and our camp.

Already up when we got there was our entire camp – the cook tent, the dining tents, our  sleeping tents, each with the right duffel bag sitting by the door, and our toilet tent. Nearby the camp there is a stream that provides water for the cooking crew.

Lemosho route – Shira 1 Camp signpost

Note: The altitude figures in my post do not always agree with the ones on the Kilimanjaro National Park signposts!

I have taken all my altitude figures from the fifth edition of Henry Stedman’s Kilimanjaro: the Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain.

It is the single most useful and reliable source of information on the mountain and the various trekking routes to the top, as well as all the usual background material needed to organize the trip – trekking agencies, accommodation in Arusha and Moshi, and much more.

Our first camp was in a forest clearing and quite sheltered. The Shira 1 camp sits on volcanic rubble with very little vegetation around. In the image below you can see the green cook tent in the foreground, the dining tent in the background and our tents.  While four of us had tents to ourselves, the one couple on the trip got to share. Their conclusion: two people and two duffel bags in one tent make for a very crowded space. Standing in the middle of the sleeping tents is our beige toilet tent.

I’ve already mentioned that Popote Africa Adventure, the Moshi agency that organized and ran our trek, provided us with a toilet tent at no extra cost. [it is usually $125.-$150.extra.] Yet another way agencies will sometimes increase the cost of the trek is by charging extra if you want to have your own tent or hotel room at the start and end of the trek. Ultimate Kilimanjaro, for example, has a supplemental charge of $259. for this.  Popote did not put two solo trekkers in the same tent; instead, it provided a tent for each without charge.

Shira 1 Camp at 3500 m.

some of the many original outhouses at Shira 1 camp – the foundations of a palatial facility like at Mti Mkubwa waits to be built on!

In the image below the stream which provides Shira 1 Camp with water is visible; so too is a short section of the badly eroded rim of the ancient Shira volcano in whose crater we were tenting.

Here is a satellite view which illustrates more clearly the remnants of the caldera rim on the edge of the Shira Plateau where we were camping.

Also visible are:

  • the stream (one of the tributaries of the Ngare Nairobi River) flowing past the eastern edge of Shira 1 Camp
  • the 4WD Emergency Vehicle Road from the Londorossi Gate
  • our straight line route the next day to Shira 2 Camp

For a “live” Google Earth view that you can play with click here!

[Note: the Google Earth app has mislabeled the Shira 1 Camp as the Moir Camp. The Moir Hut is actually higher up at 4610 m and is located to the NE of Shira 2 Camp. See here for a trip report which makes clear the difference.

Day Two was done and everyone was feeling fine.  We were walking slowly, taking lots of water breaks, eating well – in short, doing all the things you should be doing to make a success of a walk to the top of Kilimanjaro.  All of us were also taking our Diamox tablets – splitting it in two and taking 125 mg. in the morning and the other 125 in the evening.

A solid night’s sleep is the other ingredient – off we went to our tents at 8:15.  It was definitely cooler than it had been at the Mti Mkubwa Camp.  I put on my base layer of expedition fleece (both top and bottom), as well as my wool hat,  and zipped my sleeping bag (rated to -10ºC) shut.

Next Post: Day 3 – From Shira 1 To Shira 2

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Kilimanjaro Via The Lemosho Route: Day 1 – Lemosho Glades To Mti Mkubwa

Previous Post: A Walk To the Top of Meru -Tanzania’s Second Highest Mountain

I returned from my Meru trek looking forward to a day’s rest before we set off on the main event of my Tanzania visit, an eight-day trek via the Lemosho route to the top of Kibo on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Waiting in the Popote Africa Adventures office while the staff laminated my Meru certificate (!), I noticed that I was the only client scheduled for the Wednesday departure. On the calendar board, another Lemosho trip was listed for the very next day – and it had four trekkers. A minute later,  my trek was no more and my name was added to the Thursday departure.  It would certainly simplify Popote’s logistics, beginning with the three-hour ride from Moshi to the trailhead on the west side of Kilimanjaro.  Doing it once with five made more sense.

While I would meet a few trekking groups made up of just one trekker with his/her support staff of four or five, being in a small group provides you with other voices and other stories and with extra motivation on those occasions when you’re flagging a bit. Our group of five would be a perfect number – three Canadians and two Americans ranging in age from 25 to 67. Seven days later on leaving Barafu Camp at noon, I did watch as a large group of twenty trekkers entered the camp – 20 is definitely about 12 too many!

the Popote bus at Moshi’s Parkview Inn

We left the Parkview Inn at around 9:00 for the ride to Londorossi Gate.  Already on the bus were two of our guides, Dixon and Majura, as well as most of the seventeen porters. The others we would pick up as we drove along the highway towards Arusha. After we made the right-hand turn at Boma Ya Ng’ombe and headed north, we stopped for a half-hour at Sanya Juu while the crew had breakfast.

the Crown Pub and Lodge in Sanya Juu on the way to Londorossi

Barbecued meat is a Tanzanian staple – as is ugali, a cornmeal dough cooked to a consistency of thick mashed potatoes.  This would be one of those times when I – the only vegetarian in the crew – would watch as the others munched away with gusto from a shared plate of meat and ugali, salt,  and dipping sauces!

the Crown Pub grill – Sanya Juu Tanzania


I had to do a double-take when I saw the guy in the Raptors jersey in front of the Crown Pub.  I took the shot below but the one I really wanted was of the back of his jersey with the number 1 and the name McGrady on it.  McGrady left the team in 2000 so we are talking retro here!

Sanya Juu is a farm supply town in the middle of an agricultural area that stretches to the north and up to the slopes of Kilimanjaro.  In years to come, the pressure on conservation areas and national parks like Serengeti will undoubtedly lead to shrinking wildlife areas and a smaller Kilimanjaro National Park. See the satellite image below for the current demarcation line!  Already the likelihood of seeing any of the Big 5 animals on in the park’s forest section or on the Shira plateau just above is pretty much zero.

truck cab in Sanya Juu on the way to Londorossi

By 12:30 our three-hour drive up the west side of Kilimanjaro park brought us to Londorossi Gate, where we completed entry formalities.  The Gate is the access point to a gravel road which goes into the Park itself and sees use as an emergency route.  Some agencies also make use of it to drive their clients up to Shira 1 Camp.  This is not a good idea since it deprives trekkers of the time their bodies need to acclimatize more gradually to the increasing altitude.

  • Moshi is at 800 m/2625 ft. ;
  • Londorossi Gate is 2377 m/7800 ft.;
  • Shira 1 is at 3504 m/11496 ft.

Our first camp would be at Mti Mkubwa (Swahili for Big Tree). It is at 2785 m/9137 ft. a.s.l.., a more manageable elevation to deal with on Day 1.

We drove past the side road to Lemosho Glades to go up to Londorossi Gate. Then we drove back down the where we had come from and headed for Lemosho Glades.

 Since very few trekking groups make use of the Londorossi Gate entry, I did wonder what the point of us driving up to Londorossi Gate only to have to return to the junction where the road to Lemosho Glades turns off.  I guess the Lemosho Route is still new enough that the park officials have not gotten around to providing an entry point with facilities at the Lemosho trailhead.  However, with the money that the Park and Government are taking in from each Kilimanjaro trekker – about $1000. – it cannot be for lack of funds!  When they do get around to it, a Lemosho Gate with full weigh-in and sign-in facilities will eliminate about an hour of wasted time.

One reason that a stop at Londorossi is necessary is to have all the gear and supplies weighed. I had to laugh when I saw the line-up of agency staff and the  equipment available for their weigh-in.

While the Popote crew had everything weighed, we had lunch in a roofed lunch area.  Thirty meters away some local men were standing by the gate and hoping to get last-minute jobs as porters for those agencies which had underestimated the amount of stuff they had and needed an extra porter or two.

our three Popote guides – Dixon, Yusuph, and Majura (MJ)

It was 2:30 by the time we got to Lemosho Gate and 3:00 when we started the day’s walk. Before we left Lemosho glades, it was photo time.   Here is a shot of our three guides – Dixon, Yusuph, and Majura. Together they have done the walk up to Uhuru Peak hundreds of times – we were definitely in good hands! [The guide to client ratio on Kilimanjaro is 1:2.]

And here are the five muzungu they were shepherding! (The Swahili term apparently means  “a dazed person who walks around in a circle”, a description which may well apply to some tourists!

Meanwhile, the rest of the staff was getting all the gear ready to be carried.  In all, there were 17 porters on our team. Over the next six days, they carried all the accommodation, the gear, the food, our duffel bags, and their personal gear from Lemosho Gate at 2100 meters to Barafu Camp at 4600 and then back down to the exit gate.  The going wage for a porter on Kilimanjaro is $10. US a day. [Last April I did a trek along the Nepal Tibet border, also as one of a group of five trekkers.  There too we had a local crew of 21- head guide, Sherpa, cook, porters to take care of us.  The wages of the different crew members were similar to those on Kili.]

the Popote crew at the Lemosho Glades trailhead

Here are the stats and route track generated by my Polar M430 GPS/HR monitor/watch.

Over the next two-and-a-half hours we’d gain four hundred meters in altitude (2785 m – 2389 m). From my heart rate date you can see that it is a pleasant walk in the park – well, lush forest with an easy trail to follow at an average speed of 2.1 km/hr.!  Not for the last time, we would hear the Swahili phrase pole pole – slowly, slowly!

Along the way, we would also see some locals peering down from their tree perches at us as we walked by.

an Eastern Black and White Colobus monkey in the montane forest of Kilimanjaro’s west side

a Blue Monkey watches as we walk up to Big Tree Camp on Day 1 of our Lemosho Route trek

By 5:30 we were at Mti Mkubwa Camp.  Mti is Swahili for “tree” and mkubwa means “big”.  The camp area has room for dozens of groups of trekkers.  On our arrival we found perhaps a dozen other tents up; it really was not very busy.

Mti Mkubwa signpost – Lemosho Route

the Popote camp set up at Mti Mkubwa

Waiting in the dining tent for us after we had opened up our duffels and unfurled our sleeping bags and mats were the trays of popcorn you see in the image below!

Yusuph giving us the rundown on tea time and other camp rituals

lots of empty space available for other trekking groups at Mti Mkubwa

Some trekkers worry about the toilet facilities available on trek.  During the day there really aren’t any other than the privacy provided by a well-placed rock or boulder. At campsites at the start of the day and at the end there are facilities provided by the park. Some are for use by the local staff – as are the ones which look like the first one below.

an original outhouse at Big Tree camp – still used by local crews

There is a more palatial facility that looks like the one below that sometimes has a notice on it saying – Tourists Only.  A number of the Camps on the Lemosho Route had one of these newer outhouses.  We were lucky to have had our own little toilet tent which Popote included without charge.

one of the new toilet facilities on the slopes of Kilimanjaro – for tourists only!

Meanwhile,   our camp attracted a local who has obviously become habituated to the presence and the promise of humans in his neck of the woods.

One not-so-secret to a successful Kilimanjaro climb is to take your time.  The other is to get lots of sleep so your body can recharge.  (Other tips include enough hydration and the use of Diamox as prophylaxis.)

By 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. it is already dark and there is not really a lot to do.  Of course, you’ll hang out in the dining tent with your fellow trekkers and sip tea and talk about the events of the day and all sorts of other things but soon everyone will have slipped away.  On our Day 1, it was 8:30 when the last two of us left the dining tent; that would stand as the latest time ever!  Off to bed – “To sleep, perchance to dream” of the next day’s walk!

Next Post: Day 2 – Mti Mkubwa To Shira 1

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Moshi & Arusha: Tanzania’s Gateway Towns to Kilimanjaro And The Northern Safari Circuit

Previous Post: Planning A Visit To Tanzania To Climb Kilimanjaro

If a safari or a climb of Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania is in your plans, then you will be spending some time in Arusha and/or Moshi, the two gateway towns which serve as the headquarters of the many local agencies which will organize your adventure and help you make it a reality.

Perhaps, like me, you will fly directly into the region from Europe, landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport located between the two towns. Others will approach overland from Nairobi, Kenya or from Dar es Salaam.  What you will find are two functioning urban centers which must be among the most prosperous in Tanzania, thanks to the massive infusion of tourist dollars and the jobs they create.

The streets are free of trash and litter and many of them are paved; the sewage systems work, there is all-day electricity, drivers in vehicles stop at pedestrian crossings –  I did not find the pandemonium and pollution and the smell of raw sewage in the air that characterize the Indian and Nepalese towns I have walked through recently.

So – what is there to do in Arusha and Moshi?  Should you set aside a few days to explore these urban centers before, in between, or after your Tanzanian adventures? The short answer – not really.  While the towns work, they really do not offer the visitor much in the way of things to see or do.  What follows is my attempt to give you some idea of the look and feel of the towns.

Moshi:

Moshi has a population of 200,000 and is located to the south of Kilimanjaro. It is the town more closely connected to trekking/climbing agencies and if a climb to the top of Kilimanjaro is your focus, chances are your agency will use Moshi as the starting point with a night in a Moshi hotel before the trek and a night on your return from the mountain.

That is what my Kilimanjaro package included. I did add an additional day before our trek started and an extra one after our descent to give my body some extra recuperation time. The hotel was the Parkview Inn – located towards the bottom right-hand side of the map above.  It would be considered a downtown Moshi location. Not far from the Parkview is another three-star hotel, the Bristol Cottages.  [Click on the hotel names to access their Trip Advisor reviews. Both score in the 4/5 range.]

Both are very close to a Moshi landmark, the Clock Tower pictured below.

The satellite image below has the Parkview Inn on the left-hand side, the Bristol Cottages just down a block on Aga Khan Road, the Clock Tower at the top of Mawenzi Road, as well as the town’s major bus station.

Moshi Tanzania – Clock Tower and south to bus station area

The Parkview Inn:

Uhuru Park sits on the south side of Aga Khan Road and it gives the hotel its name. In the photo below you can see the Inn from a view inside the park itself.  I would find that very few of the rooms actually have a view of the park, being oriented to the interior courtyard and swimming pool.

The gated property has a twenty-four hour sentry in charge of opening the gate for vehicles and people on foot. No worries about safety or security here!

the gated entrance of Moshi’s Parkview Inn on Aga Khan Road

I’d see a number of mini-buses load up with clients and gear in front of the Reception area of the hotel during the time I was there. The Inn is clearly a popular choice of local trekking and safari agencies.  At about $70. a night for a room, it represents good value. It is in the same class as the nearby Bristol Cottages, another decent choice for a couple of nights in Moshi.

[There are certainly cheaper options available.  Trip Advisor and the Lonely Planet guidebook will provide other options.]

As a place to get ready for your Kili climb, it even gives you a view of your objective as you sit in the shallow end of the pool and face north to the volcano!

The Bristol Cottages:

Just down Aga Khan Road is the Bristol Cottages, featuring four actual cottages along one side of the property, as well as a multi-storeyed L-shaped building enclosing two other sides.  Even though it is fairly close to the bus station area and to the mosque with its loudspeaker regularly announcing calls to prayer, the grounds exude a stillness and tranquillity which drew me to the restaurant on more than one occasion.  It also seemed that the internet seems to work better than at the Parkview Inn.  Such are the priorities of modern-day travellers!

Bristol Cottages – street entrance

Moshi’s Bristol Cottages – a view from just inside the main entrance from the street

Bristol Cottages lounge/dining area

The Moshi Dalla Dalla/Bus Station:

Near the two downtown hotels is the bus station area. It is actually made up of two halves – the north parking lot is for the dalla dallas, the mini-bus share taxis which get their name for the cheapness of the ride, dalla being a corruption of “dollar”.

On the other side of a shopping mall which separates the two parking areas is the larger bus station pictured below. Unlike the dalla dallas, these buses have regular departure times. They also represent a safer ride than the often overcrowded minibuses.

Across from the bus area is one of the town’s mosques.  Moshi is apparently 80% Christian though there I did see a Hindu temple just down the street from the mosque, as well as a Sikh Gurdwara.

The Moshi Train Station:

Step outside your gated hotel and head for the street and you will be approached by touts keen on guiding you to a certain shop or selling you some item they have in their bag – a postcard, a painting, or handiwork of some sort that they claim to have personally made. It can get a bit annoying just walking around and dealing with a succession of these local business entrepreneurs.

My solution after my first morning was to hire one of them as a guide around town. His name was Michael, a well-spoken 30-year-old who was knowledgeable about the town.  He was out of work and scrambling to make money for his wife and four-year-old. [I believed his story, though a skeptic would tell me it was just a part of the sales pitch.]  We spent two hours one morning and another two the next walking around Moshi checking out Michael’s Moshi highlights!

approaching Moshi’s train station on Station Road

One place he took me too was the shopping center between the two bus parking lots. I would never have gone in there by myself and framed the shots that you can see above. I also would not have found my way to the old train station. Built by the Germans around the year 1900, it has been closed since the early 1990s when rail service ended.

waiting for the train to arrive at Moshi train station

Now  the Tanzanian government apparently wants to revive the rail line from Tanga on the coast all the way to Arusha.  Maybe the Chinese will provide the necessary funds!

Moshi sign in front of Mosh train Station

the narrow gauge tracks at Moshi Train Station

Moshi Train Station – the entrance/exit passageway

A fe blocks south on Mawenzi Road is the commercial district with shops, restaurants, and a number of budget hotels.  The Indo-Italiano Restaurant gets good reviews and is clearly geared to the mzungu tourist crowd. Pizza and coffee were what I ordered on an afternoon visit.

the outside of the Indo-Italiano Restaurant

On the other side of Mawenzi Road is the town’s market district. On our second morning, Michael took me and one of the other members of my Kilimanjaro trekking group through the covered market area and the nearby streets. We also stopped for a coffee at the Union Café, one of the many coffeehouse choices in Moshi.

the covered porch of the Union Cafe in Moshi

the main counter of the Union Cafe in Moshi

Shantytown:

We never did get to the really posh Moshi district, with the puzzling name “Shantytown”. It is located in the NW corner of town as shown on the map at the start of this post. Michael did tell us that if he were to wander into the district by himself he would be stopped and hassled by the security force and told to get out. Shantytown has a few of the more upscale hotels and restaurants, as well as the safari/trekking agencies which have set up their offices there.

All in all, Moshi is a perfectly fine town for a tourist using it as the base for a climb of Kilimanjaro. It has decent hotels and restaurants and money exchange bureaus, all the things that a traveller would expect.  WiFi at the Parkview Inn was intermittent; at some restaurants, it was much faster. As already mentioned, a negative would be the touts who make a simple stroll around town an impossibility.

Arusha:

If Moshi is the start/end point for Kilimanjaro climbs, then Arusha is definitely the safari center of northern Tanzania. At 420,000 it is twice the size of Moshi. Its location some 80 kilometers to the west of Moshi puts it two hours closer to the main parks which make up the safari circuit in this part of the country. To no surprise its tour agencies also handle Kilimanjaro climbs so your Kilimanjaro package may well include a couple of days at an Arusha-area hotel.  Arusha also has its own mountain, Mount Meru, which is the centerpiece of Arusha National Park.

I only spent two nights in Arusha, just enough time to arrange a last-minute two-day safari to a couple of the nearby parks and conservation areas. While there is a bit more to do in Arusha than in Moshi, my safari choice was the right one! What follows are a few photos that will give you an idea of the city and its overall look.

My three-star hotel, the Arusha Crown, faced the city’s stadium. On the satellite image above it is located on the top left. It is a few streets north of the city’s main street, Sokoine Road, and I walked through the market area just south of the hotel a few times to get to it. Sokoine runs across from left to right on the bottom third of the satellite image above. At the east end, it (like Moshi)  has its own clock tower.  Are they a legacy of colonialism and the Euro attempt to get locals to shape their days by the dictates of the clock?

major construction on Sokoine Road in Arusha

Ksij Arusha Shia Mosque on Sokoine Road

a view of the Naura River as it approaches Sokoine Road

a stretch of Sokoine Road west of the clock tower

I was particularly interested in the Naaz Hotel thanks to my optometrist back in Toronto. He had grown up in Arusha and remembered the owner of the establishment. In fact, during my brief stay in Arusha, I dropped in twice to speak with him and relay greetings from Toronto but he seems to be a very busy guy!

the Arusha Naaz Hotel on Sokoine Road

Just east of the Naaz Hotel is the clock tower. That is as far east as I got in my rambles around town.  From there I walked up Boma Road to the Boma, a fort built by the Germans over 100 years ago but now a museum. Given the so-so reviews,  I gave the museum a pass and headed to the Via Via Restaurant around the back but it was a Sunday and the place was closed.  Back down Boma Road I headed, past the five-star Palace Hotel to Africafé for a vegetarian bite to eat.

Arusha clock tower – looking down Sokoine Road

the Arusha Clock Tower from Boma Road looking south

the Natural History Museum at the top of Boma Road

I can’t say I got much of a feel for the politics of Tanzania in either Moshi or Arusha. People expressed general approval for their President’s anti-corruption campaign. They seemed less concerned about the shutting down of dissenting voices in the press and in their national legislature.  I did take a photo of this bit of graffiti below but I have no idea what it is saying.  Marufuku is the president’s name. Kufanya means “do” and biashara means “business”.  Let me know in the comment section below if you can figure out the message!

some graffiti on a wall Makongoro Road – an anti-Magufuli statement?

Arusha serves as the host city for meetings of the East African Community. The weekend I was there coincided with one such meeting. The only evidence I saw was a VIP vehicle being escorted by a few police cars through heavy traffic.

The Arusha Monument on Makongoro Road

Arusha is also the city associated with Julius Nyerere’s 1967 Arusha Declaration, Tanzania’s embrace of socialism with an African face.  A key concept was that of ‘Ujamaa’ or brotherhood.  While 95% of Tanzania’s population belongs to the Bantu language family, it is still divided into 100+ different tribal groups. It makes governing a complicated proposition for countries like Tanzania or Uganda where “one person/one vote” often takes second place to “my tribe/my clan”.

Arusha Monument – close up of one of the four pedestals

Behind the Arusha Monument sits Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania next to Kilimanjaro.  A week before I had made the two-and-a-half day trek up to the top of Meru as a preparation for my Kilimanjaro climb. It turns out that Meru is actually a more technical climb than Kilimanjaro, only made easier by the fact that it is 1300 meters less high than Kili. [Click on the following title for more on Meru: Mount Meru: A Walk To the Top of Tanzania’s Second Highest Mountain]

As I noted at the start of this post, Arusha is a perfectly fine place to spend a couple of days – one before and one after your safari or trek.  Just don’t plan on spending more time there when you could be visiting one of the nearby National parks or conservation areas.

Faced with two days in Arusha with nothing planned until my flight back home, I arranged a two-day safari with one of the agencies on Sokoine Road.  The two following posts will make clear why I made the right choice! Just click on the title to access…

On Safari In Tanzania: An Afternoon In Tarangire National Park

On Safari In Tanzania: A Morning In Ngorongoro Crater

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