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 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 

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

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

Previous Post: Day 4 – Shira 2 To Barranco


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.

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 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


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.


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

Posted in Africa, Easy Travelling | Leave a comment

On Safari In Tanzania: A Morning In Ngorongoro Crater

Previous Post – An Afternoon In Tarangire National Park

We left Tarangire National Park shortly after 4 p.m., amazed at the number of animals we had seen.  As the map below shows, Tarangire is the southernmost of a sequence of parks and conservation areas that form the heart of Tanzania’s northern safari circuit –

  • Tarangire,
  • Lake Manyara,
  • the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and
  • Serengeti National Park.

[Arusha National Park and Kilimanjaro National Park are nowhere close to these four when it comes to wildlife viewing. They do provide excellent volcano climbing possibilities!]

By 6 p.m. we had reached the newly-opened  Kizumba Camp located above Lake Manyara some 24 kilometers east of Karatu. We found a combination campsite (with the tents, each with cots to sleep on, provided and already up), as well as a dining hall.

The set-up was a perfectly acceptable budget solution for a good night’s sleep. The washroom area included showers for anyone keen to wash away the day’s dust before dinner or as a part of their morning wake-up ritual!

We were up at 5 a.m. the next morning, ready for part two of our safari adventure.  By 6 we were on the road to Karatu; an hour later we were at the Loduare Gate, the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the 8300 square kilometer stretch of the Rift Valley escarpment which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Specifically, we were headed to the spot on the map above indicated by the black circle – Ngorongoro Crater. It is the most spectacular of the many calderas of extinct volcanoes characteristic of the area. The baboons were out on the road and our driver/guide slowed down as we observed the scene.

The road takes you up to the Loduare Gate pictured below.  We spent a few minutes here while Ali took care of the entrance fees and permits.  The park gate opens at 6:00 a.m. and visitors have to be out by 6:00 p.m.  As for the fees, they include $60. per person to enter the Conservation Area per 24 hours, a $10. for vehicle per 24 hours, and for those entering the crater, a $250. Crater Service fee for each vehicle per 24 hours.

Ngorongoro Crater – a satellite view from the south

For a Google Earth satellite view, click here! (Note: The file does not open in Apple Safari. You will need to use Google’s Chrome browser for access.)

Ngorongoro – “Basic Information and Rules” board

Attached to the entrance building is a small interpretative center with information boards on hominid fossil discoveries at Laetoli and Oldupai, as well as the following board illustrating the various animals to be seen in the conservation area.

I had heard the phrase “the Big Five” a few times and here it was illustrated! They were considered the big five not because of size but because of the difficulty of hunting them on foot. The phrase harkens back another century when hunting these animals was a way to prove one’s manhood. Most of us have moved beyond that rather dated concept and are content to marvel at their grace and beauty – and perhaps take some photos and videos!

And here is our safari crew at 7:20; we are at the crater rim viewpoint (2216 meter altitude) at the top of the road from the entrance gate.  The extinct Ngorongoro crater with its 260 sq. km. floor is the largest example of a caldera with a still completely intact wall.  Since the crater rim is about 2200 meters and the floor is at 1800, the wall is an impressive 400 to 600 meters of steep slope that creates a fairly closed environment.

Ngorongoro Crater – a group shot at the rim viewpoint

Montane forest on the slopes lead down to marshland, grassland, as well as some treed areas like Lerai Forest on the crater floor. The salt lake known as Lake Magadi sits a little to the west of the center. Rivers, waterholes,  and freshwater sources like Ngoitokitok Spring provide the inhabitants of this unique ecosystem with water to drink or to bathe in.

the Ngorongoro crater floor – 260 sq. km. of grassland, swamp, and forest

It took another half-hour to drive around the rim of the crater to the entrance gate and the Seneto Descent Road on the west side. (See the map above for details.) Along the way, the fine views we had were of Ngorongoro’s external slopes and of some Maasai villages in the distance. 

a view from the road along the external slope of Ngorongoro Crater

Until 2009 the Maasai had settlements and subsistence farms in the crater; after they were moved out of the crater by government order, some set up settlements outside the west slopes.  We drove by one of them on our way to the Descent Road, noting the characteristic round shape of their traditional huts.

a Maasai boy tending the animals on the west side of Ngorongoro Crater

While the Maasai were originally nomadic livestock herders, they have taken to subsistence farming over the past few generations.  In a country composed mostly of various Bantu-speaking peoples, the Maa-sai are a Nilotic people. [Maa is their name for their language; Maasai literally means “people who speak Maa”.]

The Maasai had moved into what is now northern Tanzania from further east in the 1800s.  In doing so, they drove out the previous inhabitants, the Datooga and the Mbulu peoples, the first of which are Nilotic people like them. (The Mbulu are  a Cushite-speaking people.)

Maasai settlements on the western slopes of Ngorongoro

the checkpoint and viewpoint at the top of the Seneto Descent Road

One last checkpoint at the top of  Seneto Road and we were on our way down to the crater floor.  As we descended, we stared into the rising sun and could see Lake Magadi.  An incredible day on safari was about to begin!

the Seneto Descent Road into the Ngorongoro Crater

The First Hour In the Crater:

Eland, Hyena, Elephant, Lions, Buffalo, Zebras…and more!

As we neared the floor of the crater,  our driver/guide spotted an eland in the shade of a lone tree. That is him in the image below!

a zoomed-in photo of the eland in the distance

Not too far away was a golden jackal scanning the scene, perhaps looking for an early lunch.

a lone golden jackal surveys the scene on the slopes of Ngorongoro

Always a clue that there was something special in the area was the large number of stationary Land Cruisers sitting in one spot on the road with everyone’s camera pointing in the same direction!  The radio signals which the various driver/guides send out when they spot something make it a common occurrence.

safari vehicles stopped for an animal sighting

In this case, it was our first lion sighting of the morning.  When it did not seem like he would be budging from his comfortable spot any time soon, we moved on. This time we would be rewarded for our impatience!

two Ngorongoro lions resting in the shade

Just down the road on the other side, we would get a clearer view of another lion also lounging in the morning shade, probably resting after having devoured his morning meal!

the bottom of the Ngorongoro Crater – vast grasslands for grazing species

The crater floor is mostly grassland and most of the animals you will see are grazers. How many are there?  I came across the following figures for some of the species – both grazers and predators.

  • 10000 wildebeest,
  • 5000 zebras,
  • 400 spotted hyenas,
  • 70 elephants, and
  • 55 lions.

Two species that are not in the crater are giraffes and impalas. While the former are thought to be unable to deal with the steep slopes of the crater wall, the absence of impalas remains a mystery. Leopards and cheetahs have apparently been spotted.

Thomson’s Gazelle with a couple of zebras

young Ngorongoro zebra with her mother

spotted hyena in Ngorongoro Crater

Hamerkop on the edge of a Ngorongoro marsh

Ngorongoro Crater – herbivores sharing the grasslands

It was interesting to see how the grazers seem to co-exist peacefully on the grassland. In the image above, a Thomson’s gazelle, a rhino, wildebeests, and zebras can be seen.

a slice of life Ngorongoro style – Thomson’s gazelle, rhino, zebra, and wildebeest in the same lunchroom!

the rhino  – a handheld shot at maximum zoom – the limits of my camera lens exposed!

a dozen Ngorongoro Land Cruisers all in a line for a nearby attraction

Ngorongoro pass-by – rhinos walk right by the wildebeest

In this case, the line-up of vehicles was for the rhinos.  First, we watched as a wildebeest strolled by. Neither seemed to be threatened by the walk-by. Then we watched a hyena pass by nonchalantly.  He seemed to have his eye on the gazelle, who also had his eye on the hyena.

While I am sure that some visitors relish the possibility of seeing a predator – a hyena or two or perhaps some lions – take down a herbivore and rip it apart for lunch, I am glad we were spared the spectacle. It has all the allure of going to the Colosseum in Rome 2000 years ago to watch the blood sport unfold.

a hyena walks by one of the rhinos – a gazelle and zebra in the distance

By now there were another half-dozen vehicles all in the same spot watching the goings-on.  It was shortly before 10 as we headed to the Mandusi Swamp for a possible hippopotamus sighting. Along the way, we did pass a few elephants. While there are some at Ngorongoro, they are not in the numbers we saw at Tarangire the previous afternoon. (Tarangire has an elephant population of about 2500.)

a Ngorongoro elephant grazes in the company of zebras and wildebeest

We were in luck when we got to Mandusi Swamp. The hippos were there! However, they remained almost fully submerged for the fifteen minutes we spent waiting for one or two of them to pop out of the water and head for shore.

the hippos under water at Ngorongoro’s Mandusi Swamp


In the grass on the marsh edge, we saw a grey crowned crane (the grey refers to the upper body with the crown a straw-yellow). I would learn from our guide that it is Uganda’s national bird.

Grey Crowned Crane in the grass on the shore of Mandusi Swamp

The previous afternoon in Tarangire we had seen some warthogs; now we saw a few more, this time including infants.

Ngorongoro warthogs with zebra, gazelle and pelicans in the background

young warthog at Ngorongoro Crater

young warthog at Ngorongoro Crater

Birders will love Ngorongoro thanks to the chance of seeing a large number of bird species.  This is where having a good telephoto on a larger sensor camera is a must.

Ngorongoro birds - the sacred egret in the foreground with the African open-billed stork and the black winged stilt

Ngorongoro birds – the sacred egret in the foreground with the African open-billed stork and the black winged stilt

Ngorogoro marsh life - birds and wallowing hippos

Ngorongoro marsh life – birds and wallowing hippos in the background

some of the many bird species at Ngorongoro Crater

some of the many bird species at Ngorongoro Crater

on the move on one of Ngorongoro Crater's many jeep tracks

Ngorongoro waterhole - Egyptian goose?

Ngorongoro waterhole – Egyptian goose?

Ngorongoro Crater - black-bellied bustard?

Ngorongoro Crater – black-bellied bustard?

down an Ngorongoro road to see the buffalo

down a Ngorongoro road to see the buffalo

Ngorongoro African buffalo in the mud

Ngorongoro African buffalo in the mud

Ngorongoro buffalo up close

Ngorongoro buffalo up close

Ngorongoro buffalo

a line of elephants in the distance at Ngorongoro Crater

wildebeest and zebras in Ngorongoro Crater

wildebeest and zebras in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro wildebeest at ease in the grass

wildebeest female with young one

wildebeest female with young one


Thomson's gazelles in Ngorongoro Crater

Thomson’s gazelles in Ngorongoro Crater

zebras, gazelles and wildebeest in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro waterhole - and toilet stop

Ngorongoro waterhole – and toilet stop

Ngorongoro zebras all bunched together

Ngorongoro zebras all bunched together

Ngorongoro zebras - heads

Ngorongoro zebras – heads

Ngorongoro bird -

Ngorongoro bird – any idea what kind?

Ngorongoro pelicans and other birds

Ngorongoro pelicans and other birds

Ngorongoro Crater - saddle billed stork

Ngorongoro Crater – saddle billed stork

The two following images were taken with the same camera. The first one was shot at 24 mm, the camera lens’ widest angle and greatest field of view. The second was shot with the lens at 720mm.  While a current smart phone with its typical 27mm field of view will get  you some decent shots, you will miss the ability to zoom in on more distant subjects.

a stork in the distance -a typical smartphone 27mm field of view

Marabou stork – Ngorongoro – at 720 mm – the sensor’s limits are clearly visible!

I took most of the images and video in this post and the one on Tarangire with my newly acquired Sony HX80, which I bought used from Henry’s in Toronto for $160. CDN.  I also had my Sony RX100 III with its better (but not APS-C sized) sensor for shots and videos in the 24 to 70 mm. range.

I found the combination to be acceptable. While  I did miss my Sony A77 and my Sony A6000 cameras, I did not miss having to change lenses or lugging around camera gear that weighed from five to ten times more than the two tiny point and shoots I took to Tanzania.

the start of the ascent road out of Ngorongoro Crater

The ride back to the rim of the crater was steeper and longer than our ride down Seneto Road at the start of the day. It was also less bumpy, given the bricks that made up the roadbed.  Check out the following video clip for a sample of that ride.


We stopped at the same spot where the Land Cruiser before us had stopped and quickly took a few last photos of the remarkable ecosystem that is the Ngorongoro Crater. We had wondered at the start of the day how we could top our previous day’s visit to Tarangire. Now none of us could say which of the two was the better!  We were just glad to have been able to do both of them.

a last shot of the Ngorongoro crater floor as we went up the ascent road

For a two-day safari that I had booked the day before I went, things had turned out remarkably well. I was glad that I had passed up on some of the $1500.+ package deals that I had been offered for a similar safari.

From the crater, we returned to the campground where a vehicle and driver were waiting to take four of us back to Arusha, and me onwards to the Kilimanjaro International Airport. Twenty-four hours after descending the Seneto Road into the crater,  I was sitting in Amsterdam at Schiphol Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Toronto.  Crazy world, eh!


Posted in Africa, Easy Travelling | Leave a comment

On Safari In Tanzania: An Afternoon In Tarangire National Park

My volcano climbs of Meru and Kilimanjaro done, I had six days of empty space at the end of my Tanzania visit.  Two of them I spent in Moshi and two in Arusha. The original plan had been to climb one more volcano – the active Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in the Lake Natron area to the north of Arusha.  It would have been a two-day excursion involving yet another five or six-hour climb to a summit with a midnight start.  Luckily, I gave the idea a pass and decided to do something else instead – go on safari!

Arusha is the safari capital of  Tanzania’s northern safari circuit with a large number of local agencies keen to provide their services. Nearby are the parks and conservation areas that make Tanzania the place to go for wildlife viewing:

  • Serengeti National Park
  • the Ngorongoro Conservation Area,
  • Tarangire National Park,
  • Lake Manyara National Park,
  • Arusha National Park, and
  • Mount Kilimanjaro National Park

I sent out a number of emails one afternoon and by the next morning had settled on Simba Adventures on Sokoine Road (Arusha’s main street) and a two-day all-inclusive package  that included a visit to Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as a drop off at Kilimanjaro Airport at the end of the second day.   The cost – $540. U.S.  It seemed very reasonable given some of the other eye-popping prices I had seen at other agency websites.  I paid the Simba office a visit and finalized details.

I would join a multi-national crew of four other tourists,  which included solo Israeli, German, Swiss and Chinese travellers,  all of whom were in their twenties except for the guy from Shenzhen who was in his late 40’s.  Our itinerary –  one day at each of Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, and for three of them, Manyara National Park on the third day. Two of us would return to Arusha after the second day.

It was a two-hour ride to the main park entrance at the north end of Tarangire National Park in the Central Rift Valley to the south-west of Arusha.  That is our vehicle – an older Toyota Land Cruiser – pictured below. Apparently, Toyota has taken over the safari vehicle market in the past generation from the Land Rover. Our vehicle comfortably seated six behind the driver. On the second day, we had seven passengers with the seventh one in the seat next to the driver. All of us had access to clear views with the roof raised. The following image shows a few Land Cruisers in full safari mode!

our Toyota Land Cruiser for the Tarangire safari

When we got to the park entrance, there were perhaps two dozen vehicles in the parking lot, surprisingly busy given that it was about 10:30 already.  To be honest, I figured that given the heat of the day, we would be setting off to view animals at the worst possible time. Also, our visit was in early February while peak viewing is during the dry season (July to November) when the park sees an influx of other grazing animals thanks to its water holes and rivers.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the number of animals we’d get to see.  It turned out to be an amazing five-hour trip through the park, which is best known for the 2500 or so elephants who seem to live there on a more-or-less permanent basis. They share the 2500 sq. km. space with lions, cheetahs, impalas, waterbucks, giraffes, warthogs …just some of the species we did get to see!

the parking lot at the Main Entrance Gate to Tarangire N.P.

We waited for a half-hour while our driver/guide got in the line at the ticket office to deal with the park entrance fees. (It is $45. U.S. per visitor for a day pass.)

Tarangire Park signboard

You could easily spend a second or even a third day at Tarangire Park, given its size. We confined our rambling on the jeep tracks to the upper third of the park; as the park map below makes clear there is much more to see and it looks even more secluded than the northern third which is what most one-day tours take in.

And then it was into the park.  Sergey, Rick, and I had pushed up the vehicle’s roof and we were set to go. Rick, the name the Chinese guy went by, readied his Nikon D5 and a massive 200-500 lens and we were all envious!

the landscape of Tarangire N.P. – woodland with lots of grazing areas

The Elephants Are The Stars of a Tarangire Safari!

zooming in on an elephant in Tarangire N.P.

traffic jam on a Tarangire vehicle track

one of the many elephant groups sighted at Tarangire N.P.

various cameras capturing images of a Tarangire Safari

The Impalas Grazing In The Shade:

another safari group with the impalas at Tarangire N.P.

impalas in the shade

impalas close up from Tarangire N.P.

Tarangire’s Baobab Trees: Maximum Shade!

a baobab tree – the tree of Africa! – in Tarangire N.P.

The Warthogs Make An Appearance:

warthogs grazing int he afternoon sun at Tarangire N.P.

Following the Tarangire River Through the Park:

Tarangire National Park – savannah woodlands terrain

a good overview of the landscape of Tarangire – the Tarangire river flows through

a stretch of the Tarangire River flows through the park from north to south

giraffes by the banks of the Tarangire River

Intermittent radio communication from other safari drivers alerts everyone in the park to the current location of animals.  Our radio would crackle with updates every once in a while; a few minutes later we would find ourselves on a stretch of road with seven or eight other land Cruisers looking for the latest sighting.  When we left the giraffes above it was a lion sighting that got our driver’s attention and we were nearby so off we went.

It took some time to finally zoom in to where they were. We waited for a while hoping they might get up and move – but the image below is all I got! And who can blame them – it was mid-day and they had a nice, shady spot in the grass!

two lions resting in the shade on a hot Tarangire afternoon

The Tarangire Lion And the Elephant:

Reports of another lion lounging in the grass and off we went.  When we got there I wasn’t seeing anything.  A bit more guidance from someone who had and I finally zoomed in under the tree where our lion was enjoying the shade and mostly hidden by the tall grass.

And then – some potential drama!  Behind our Land Cruiser, an elephant crossed the road and he was heading right to the tree where the lion was. I wondered how grouchy the lion was going to be when the elephant disturbed his afternoon siesta.

It didn’t take too long for us to find out what would happen next – the lion got up and nonchalantly started walking slowly away from the elephant and parallel to the jeep track where we and a half-dozen other vehicles were parked and watching the events unfold.

a Tarangire lion who has just given up his shade spot to an elephant

the Tarangire lion – looking fierce!

lion crosses the jeep track in Tarangire N.P.

the Tarangire lion’s new rest spot – away from the elephant!

The Elephant Carcass and the Vultures:

the Tarangire vultures – they too are a part of The Plan!

The Giraffe Under The Tree:

Tarangire giraffe under the tree with the lens zoomed out to 24mm

the Tarangire giraffe at 70mm – a bit closer!

the Tarangire giraffe at 100mm

Tarangire giraffe head – full 720mm zoom

A Nursing Baby Elephant?

I did not understand what the baby elephant was doing in the two images. I figured he was just nudging his mother playfully as they walked along. It may be that the elephant is still nursing and trying to access his mother’s teats, which are located between her front legs. Who knew!

An Elephant In Need Of A Scratch:

I should have filled the entire episode instead of snapping photos!  But here is what I got after I finally remembered that cameras these days have video too!


The Cheetahs Lounging In The Shade:

three cheetahs in the shade of a tree

Tarangire cheetah with eyes closed

 On To the Next Sighting – Waterbucks!

Tarangire waterbucks grazing in the shade







A Brief Visit With The Vervet Monkeys At the Rest Stop:


Elephants At The Water Hole In The Mid-Afternoon Heat:

Tarangire elephants taking to the water in the mid-afternoon heat


Sure – it was just another day at the waterhole for the elephants but for us – spellbinding! Everything was just right – the water, the clouds in the sky, the baobab trees in the background, the elephants (especially the little ones) cavorting and rolling over in the water…I think I held my breath for five minutes as the spectacle unfolded.

And then a new crew came in from the right and walked right by our vehicle, so close I could touch them. Maybe even more so than seeing the elusive cheetahs lounging under that tree, this was for me the highlight of our visit to Tarangire!


As we were getting ready to leave the water hole, yet another extended family of elephants was making its way across the road to the water. I guess it was their turn for a  dip in the muddy but cool water.


And so ended our remarkable day traversing the jeep roads of Tarangire National Park.  The visit surpassed all our expectations!  Our guide Ali has clearly spent a few years on the park’s roads and always seemed to know where to go next.  His commentary and observations – and his keen eye in picking out animals we were not seeing – definitely added to what was an unforgettable experience.

Now we headed to our evening campground above Lake Manyara, where dinner and a private tent for each of us was waiting.  The next morning we were up at 5 and would be on the road by 6:00 a.m.  Ngorongoro Crater would be another day of  WOWs!

Next Post:  A Memorable Morning In Ngorongoro Crater


Posted in Africa, Easy Travelling | 1 Comment

Mount Meru: A Walk To the Top of Tanzania’s Second Highest Mountain

Previous Post: Heading To Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Region

Google “Meru” and you come up with a number of destinations. There is the Meru of Hindu and Buddhist myth;  it is believed to be the very axis of the world in the same way, for example,  that Jerusalem is in Judaeo-Christian cosmology.

There is also a  Meru in the Indian Himalayas.  Jimmy Chin’s astonishing documentary captured an epic climb up its Shark’s Fin face in a film you just have to see!

The Mount Meru I climbed this January is neither of those!

It is the one in East Africa which apparently gets its name from a Bantu ethnic group living in the area.   It is, next to Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Tanzania. For visitors to this east African nation, there are lots of good reasons to include it in their list of “to do” activities.

  • It is the focal point of Arusha National Park and easily reached from Arusha, the main town in the Kilimanjaro region.
  • The trek to the summit is definitely worthwhile and actually more challenging than the walk up Kilimanjaro.
  • The trek serves as an excellent warm-up for a later visit to Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.
  • The trek attracts far fewer people than its famous big brother.
  • Wildlife sightings are common on the plains and in the rain forest on the mountain’s lower slopes

a sunrise view of Mount Meru from the top of Kilimanjaro

I had landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport a couple of days before and headed from Moshi to the park with my Popote crew.

Related Post: Moshi and Arusha: Tanzania’s Gateway Towns To Kilimanjaro and the Northern Safari Circuit

In the Toyota Land Cruiser were my guide Ken, two porters – Fella and George – and Wolfgang, the cook.  We would later add a third porter to the team.  A total of five locals to look after – well, me! A party of one!  I had paid $1100.U.S. for the four-day package, which included airport pick-up and drop-off, a room at Moshi’s Parkview Inn the night before and after the hike, as well as all the taxes and fees involved with entering the park with a trekking crew.

Unlike my later Kilimanjaro visit, which involved seven nights of sleeping in a tent, each day of the Meru trek ends at a hut complex. Each of the 20 or so rooms had beds for four but there were so few of us that we all got our own private room.

The trek can be done over a three or four-day period. While both options involve starting off for the summit at midnight or 1 a.m. at the start of Day 3, the big difference is that the three-day option has you do the 1200 meters up to the summit and then descend 3000 meters all the way to the park gate in one massive day.  Much better to add an extra day and sleep at the Miriakamba Hut at the end of your summit day and finish off the walk the next morning!

Meru – Momella Gate – Reception

I took a photo of the signboard outlining park fees; it brought home the extent to which fees and taxes make up the final cost of a Tanzanian volcano climb or safari.

Arusha N.P. – Meru – fee structure

I had paid Popote Africa Adventure  $1100. for my four-day trek, a very competitive price from an excellent local Moshi agency given that I was a party of one.  Subtract the $455. in government fees and taxes and that leaves Popote with $645.

  • Conservation fee (entrance fee) – $45. US x 4 days = $180.
  • Hut fee – $30.US x 3 nights = $90. US
  • Guide/Ranger Service Fee – $15. x 4 days = $60.
  • Mt. Meru per group fee – $15.
  • Rescue Fee – $20.
  • Porter/Guide fees   3,500 TZS  x 4 person per day X four days =  56000 TZS = $24. US
  • VAT on all the above  – 18%  x $385.  = $70.
  • Total fees and taxes =$455. US

From the $645. it has to pay for my two nights accommodation in Moshi, transport to and from the airport and the park as well as vehicle entry frees, and the wages for the guide and porters, and the food. I’m left wondering about their profit margin!

See the Ultimate Kilimanjaro website for a look at a competing agency’s offering. What it bills as a private 1-person climb of Meru is priced at $1869. U.S. It is certainly easier to see a sizable profit on the basis of these numbers!

the road from Moshi to Momella Gate

The ride from Moshi to the trailhead at Momella Gate took about 3 hours. Once there,  the crew got things ready in the parking lot while I waited with a couple of other trekkers at the starting point for a few more people to form a trekking group.  A park ranger – complete with his rifle in case of possible troubles with animals – is assigned to each group.  At noon we had six people – two Austrians, a Spaniard, two Danes, and me – and we were ready to go.

Arusha National Park board – hike distances

Day One: From Momella Gate (1500 m) To Miriakamba Hut (2500 m)

The map below illustrates the usual Day 1 route; it essentially follows the jeep track all the way to the Miriakamba Huts.  Only park vehicles are allowed to make the trip right to the hut; other visitors must stop near the final stretch where the track turns north towards Miriakamba.

Our route varied somewhat from the above, perhaps to take us away from the jeep track and what little traffic there was on it. (Two jeeps passed us during the hour or so we walked up the road.) The afternoon hike took less than three hours and much of it was in the shade, thanks to the montane forest we walked through, especially after we left the jeep track and took what the ranger said was a new off-the-road route. It would appear that part of our route was along the side of the stream indicated on the first map.

Missing in the image below is a Toyota Land Cruiser driving through the gap to indicate how large the arch actually is!

Meru hike – fig tree arch Day 1

Before we left the jeep track I did get a profile shot of the Meru crater ridge. That is the high point of the ridge (4566 m) in the middle of the image; the bump on the right-hand side is Little Meru (3820 m).

Meru Day 1 panorama of Meru rim and forest

I also got my first photo of a giraffe though I would never have even noticed him had the park ranger not pointed him out!  On Day 4 on our way back to Momella Gate by another route, I would see much more and get some better shots.

Arusha National Park – my first wildlife shot!

In the image below the ranger’s rifle is visible on the right.  During a brief rest stop in a shady spot, I asked him if he had ever had to kill an animal while escorting visitors through the forest up the mountain. “No” was the reply. He had only fired warning shots to scare off the overly curious creature.

park ranger and guides on our Meru hike

The hut complex at Miriakamba is made up of a couple of trekker huts with perhaps fifty beds in two huts.  There is also a hut for the on-site park official(s), a guides’/porters’ hut, a couple of kitchen/cooking huts, and a large dining hut. While we had walked up as a group, once we got there the three different cook teams set about to prepare dinner for their client(s).

Above the dining hut is a viewing platform with a nice perspective on the crater rim that is the objective of the hike.  The gathering of guides there with their cell phones in hand also made clear that it had the best signal reception!

Mount Meru –  the Miriakamba Huts

Day 2 – Miriakamba Huts (2500) To Saddle Hut (3500)

looking east towards Kilimanjaro from the Miriakamba Huts – sunrise view

I’m not sure why but I took very few photos on our morning walk up to Saddle Hut (3500 m). We set off at 8 a.m. and arrived around noon. the initial stretch included some clear views of Kilimanjaro, some eighty kilometers to the east. And thanks to the ranger’s keen eye, we did see a deer or two. On Day 1 we had gained about 1000 meters in altitude; this day would add another 1000 of ascent on a trail with lots of switchbacks.  The satellite image below shows our walk up to 3300 meters when we took a short break. I turned off my Polar GPS watch to conserve battery life – and forgot to put it back on when we continued!

Day 2 – Miriakamba Hut to Saddle Hut

approaching Saddle Hut on Day 2

We got to the Saddle Hut complex around noon and, after a hot lunch prepared by our respective cook teams, had a brief siesta. then, as an acclimatization exercise, we set off for a mid-afternoon walk up to the summit of Little Meru.

Little Meru and the Saddle Huts below – note the zigzag trail to the top!

It is about 300 meters higher than the hut we would be sleeping in. It was the climbers’ adage – “Climb high; sleep low” – in action!  When we got to the top, we lounged around in the afternoon sun for perhaps a half hour, enjoying the views.  We could see the trail we would be walking up to Rhino Point shortly after midnight on the east side of the crater.

the view from Little Meru towards Rhino Peak and the crater rim

Little Meru signpost with Saddle huts below

It was definitely colder and windier at the Saddle Hut than it had been down at Miriakamba the night before; I was glad to have the right clothing and my sleeping bag rated to -10ºC to keep warm as I rested up for the midnight alarm signal.  By 1 a.m. my guide Ken and I would be getting ready to move.

Day 3 – From The Saddle Huts To Meru Peak and Back To Miriakamba

No pics from Day 3 until sunrise on the summit!  We had our headlamps on as we walked across the Saddle to the trail that took us up to Rhino Point over a 45-minute period.  I had a pair of fleece long johns under my trekking pants; on my upper body, I had a couple of layers underneath my insulated and windproof jacket.

It took us about five hours to reach the summit, still referred to as Socialist Peak in most trip accounts. From Rhino Point we lost a few meters in altitude and then continued our way on a rougher “path” through the lava boulders. There was even a section which included four or five lengths of steel cable bolted to the rock face but I would only see them on our return after sunrise – we had not made use of them in our scramble along the west side of the crater rim.

My first attempt at getting a photo on the summit was a failure; my camera battery read “exhausted” thanks to the cold! Luckily I had another camera in my bag – and amazingly its battery was okay.

sunrise view of Meru’s shadow to the west

Since the summit of Meru is about 1300 meters less high than Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro,  in terms of possible acclimatization issues it could be considered an easier climb.  However, Meru itself makes demands on the body as far as adapting to thinning air – in the span of forty-eight hours you ascend 3100 meters from the Momella Gate trailhead!

The actual path to the top of Meru from Saddle Hut is rougher and more of a technical scramble than the fairly easy walk to the top of Kili’s crater rim at Stella Point and the ensuing walk to Uhuru Peak.

In the end, the Meru hike was an excellent hike on its own and it also made the Kilimanjaro ascent that much less a big deal.  When people mention that their walk to the top of Kilimanjaro is the most difficult thing they have ever done, they must be referring to the six hours and 1200 meters of elevation gain  from Barafu Camp to Stella Point; the rest of the seven or eight-day trek is literally a moderate walk in the park at ever-increasing altitude.

the view from Meru summit (Socialist Peak)

From Meru Peak we got a great view of the Ash cone, the caldera within the larger caldera, the entire eastern half which blew away a long time ago, leaving the western half for trekkers to walk along to the high point.  Also visible now was where we had started off from in the dark – the Saddle Hut. And behind it Little Meru where we had sat in the afternoon sun the day before.

Little Meru and Saddle Huts from Meru Summit

a group approaching the summit of Meru

my Popote guide Ken and me on Meru Summit

a look back up at the summit of Meru from the west side of the crater rim

It took less than half the time to return to Saddle Hut; by 9:30 or so everyone was back.  In years past the four-day trek package was set up so that clients would spend the rest of the day at Saddle Hut and sleep there a second night.  A recent change means that now the target hut for night #3 is Miriakamba, another 1000 meters down and admittedly warmer and more sheltered from the wind.

We would have a quick rest – maybe an hour – and then lunch before we got back on the trail to Miriakamba.  By then the Austrian couple had already left;  they had an even longer walk  – they were going down to Momella Gate and a ride out of the park that very afternoon!

approaching Rhino Point with Little Meru behind it

We got to Miriakamba in the early afternoon; the walk down had been relatively easy after all the “ups” of the two previous days.  Shortly after we arrived, a party of some 15 German trekkers and their guides and porters arrived; they were going up to Saddle Hut the next morning.

Day Four: From Miriakamba To Momella Gate

Day 4 is really a half-day; we covered the 6.5 kilometers from Miriakamba Hut to Momella Gate in about three hours of leisurely walking,  dropping about 900 meters along the way.

By mid-afternoon, we (the porters and guide) were either back in Moshi or dropped off along the way.  I didn’t know it when we started off in the morning but we would be treated to a mini-wildlife viewing before the trek ended!

porters at Miriakamba at the start of their day

the Miriakamba toilet and wash up area behind the sleeping huts

As we got closer to the end point of our trek, the terrain opened up somewhat and we walked through a number of meadows perfect for grazing animals. Just before we crossed Meru Plain near the end, we went down a side trail to see Tululusia Falls.

the Arusha Park waterfall on Day 4

The giraffes were an unexpected bonus!  The first thing I actually noticed was a group of visitors standing and watching them but it didn’t take long for the camera to be pointed int the right direction.

park visitors near Momella Gate – Meru Plain

giraffes in the meadow near Momella Gate

another giraffe shot from Arusha National Park near Momella Gate

my Sony HX80 at maximum 720mm focal length

giraffes on Meru Plain

A quick look back at where we had come from this morning – the clouds had moved in and Little Meru and the main crater rim were hidden from view.  But in front of us was a herd of perhaps thirty buffalo, most lying down with some seemingly standing guard.  The animal is apparently quite unpredictable in behaviour and best not aggravated!

Arusha Park – water buffalo lounging in the meadow

a couple of older males standing guard as the others are at ease on Meru Plain

Strolling among the buffalo and sometimes sitting on their backs were the cattle egrets living out their symbiotic relationship with the usually grumpy buffalo!

cattle egrets walk among the buffalo on Meru Plain

The trek would end with my guide had referred to as a “farewell cereomony” at the Momella Gate.  It was my introduction to the compulsory tipping that is a part of every tourist activity in Tanzania and, I’m sure, elsewhere in East Africa.  On the assumption that Popote was paying its staff fairly – that is, $10. US a day for three porters, $15. for a cook, and $20. for the guide, I calculated a 15% “tip on those wages in TZ shillings. I would later learn that I was being unbelievably stingy.

The tipping issue was the one negative apsect of my time in Tanzania . I would get to relive it, this time with the other people in the group I was with on my Kilimanjaro trek and on a two-day safari.

All in all, my four-day Mount Meru trek proved to be an excellent start to my three weeks in Tanzania.  I felt great at the end of it and looked forward to Part 2 – the eight-day trek across the western and southern slopes of Kilimanjaro and culminating in another midnight start for a summit that stood 1300 meters higher than Meru’s.

But first I would relax for a couple of days in Moshi and get to explore the town of 200,000.  It was Monday afternoon when we returned from Mount Meru.  I was scheduled to leave for Kilimanjaro on Wednesday.  When I found out that I was the only Popote client scheduled to leave on that day and that another group of four was leaving the day after, I decided to postpone my departure for a day so I could join them. It was the right decision!

the clock tower at the center of Moshi, some 80 km. from OUnt Meru and Arusha N.P.

Next Post: Moshi and Arusha – Tanzania’s Gateway Towns To Kilimanjaro and The Northern Safari Circuit


Posted in Africa, hiking/trekking | 3 Comments