May 15, 2019

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Travels in Africa & Kissing a Giraffe

Africa ›   Kilimanjaro ›   Tanzania ›  

By David ʻThornyʼ Hafner "All who wander are not lost... well, maybe sometimes."

From Stella Point, it was a fairly easy walk of 30 minutes to Uhuru Peak. If there is such a thing as an easy walk at 19,000 feet, to the very top of Kilimanjaro! Rising to 19,341 feet, a new altitude record for me, I put on my tuxedo jacket and took some photos.
​Itʼs always good to have a plan, that way, you know when things go​ ​amiss. ​The plan was to fly into Nairobi, Kenya, and spen​d​ a few days exploring the area​ ​before going on a photo safari to the Great Migration of the wildebeest herds in the​ ​Maasai Mara. After that, an independent climb up Mount Kenya in order to help​ ​acclimate for a climb to the roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro​. ​
It started out well enough.

I arrived in Nairobi, took a cab to a nice hostel on the outskirts of the city, and then spent a few days exploring the sites. First was the Farm of Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa, one of my favorite books. Then the Railroad Museum, the highlight of which was the actual sleeping car where the man-eating lions of Tsavo​ crept into and​ ate the professional hunter that was using it to ambush the lions. You may remember this from the movie​, The Ghost in the Darkness. Next stop, safari.

The photo safari was absolutely amazing! The great wildebeest herds gathered at the river's edge and then suddenly plunged down the steep bank to the river below, and sw​am​ across the crocodile-infested water​, to the opposite side.

At times, I was merely a few feet away from the animals here and we got to see the Big 5​ - ​lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo.

I was fortunate enough to see several lions on a kill and extremely lucky to witness a mother cheetah and her cubs, stalk, chase, then devour an antelope.​This was just the beginning and it ​already was​ the trip of a lifetime​.​

Next up, I went back to Nairobi for a few days to prepare for my climb up Mount Kenya. Several of us who were staying at the hostel decided to visit the David Selkirk Elephant orphanage. The orphanage cares for young elephants and rhinos that have been orphaned by poachers. Each elephant is assigned several keepers, one of which is with the elephant 24 hours a day including sleeping in a stable with them. The goal of the orphanage is to rehabilitate the animals then find a wild herd that will accept them. This process sometimes takes 15 years!

After this, we travelers went our separate ways to explore on our own, agreeing to meet that evening for a sundowner, the term given to the watching of the sunset with a friend in Africa. My choice was to go see a facility that bred the rare and endangered Rothschild Giraffes. When we left the elephant orphanage there were many taxis waiting so I simply got into one and told the driver where I wanted to go. It was a good ways out of town on a road that looked to be almost deserted. After viewing the giraffes, and kissing one, I needed to get back to Nairobi.

Easier said than done with no traffic on the road in front of the facility. The thought of a 15-mile walk not really appealing to me, I was getting a little worried, but after 20 minutes a motorcycle taxi came by. I flagged him down, and off we went. Now almost back to our destination, I could actually see it, when I felt something hard, bone-crushing hard, hit my left foot. It was a taxicab colliding with us. Then, just like in the movies, time slowed down! I watched the driver slowly fall off the bike. Then I watched the motorcycle slowly fall over with me still on it. After this, time caught up and I fell off the bike and slid on the asphalt across several lanes of traffic (can you say ʻroad-rashʼ). When I looked up I saw a delivery van headed straight for me so I got up as quickly as possible and hobbled to the side of the road. My foot hurt like hell! Quickly diagnosing my foot, I decided that nothing was broken... hopefully only a bad sprain. Time would tell.

Over at the crash site, things were getting interesting. Several motorcycles had stopped as well as several taxi cabs. Apparently, no one will call the police in Kenya as they are considered too corrupt. The assembled drivers were going to decide who was at fault right there in the middle of the road. The motorcycle guys were on one side and the taxi cab guys on the other. The group kept getting bigger and as more folks joined in, the people started shouting and pushing. It looked like a fight was about to break out so I decided to get the hell out of there. I made my way back to the hostel and iced my foot.

Remember the beginning: For itʼs good to have a plan, that way you will know when things go amiss...

Things have now gone amiss! My foot swelled up and it was black and blue...all the way through. Obviously, I wouldnʼt be climbing Mount Kenya anytime soon. Luckily I still had almost a month before I was scheduled to climb Kili. I hoped my foot would heal by then. I decided to go on another photo safari. This time to Amboselli Park in S.W. Kenya. That way I could rest my foot and at least see Mount Kilimanjaro. After Amboselli I spent some time near Lake Naivasha, visiting friends. A few weeks later I decided to test my foot with a short backpacking trip thru the Hellsgate National park. This park is the home of a rock ledge that is said to be the inspiration of Pride Rock in the movie The Lion King. The park is also home to all sorts of plains game with the noticeable exception of large predators. This allows one to wander on foot and camp without fear of being eaten. I set my tent up on a ridge overlooking a waterhole and watched as the animals came to drink. The sunset was amazing, and almost as spectacular as the sunrise the next morning.

It was an 8-hour bus ride from Nairobi, Kenya to Moshi, Tanzania. Thankfully both the bus and the roads were new. The next afternoon I met the other climbers in our group, and our guides, George, and Joseph, our chief guide who has been on Kilimanjaro for 16 years and has over 280 summits to his name! I think we are in good hands.

After a briefing, the guides checked our gear to ensure that we hadnʼt forgotten anything, and then we climbers took a cab into town for dinner to get to know one another. The next morning we were up early for breakfast then driven to the outfitterʼs office to meet out porters, load our gear, and help load 8 days worth of food onto an old bus. Then we were treated to several hours of a "Tanzanian Bus Massage," with the roads bad and the busʼs suspension worse. We spent the first night camped in a Montane forest at 9,120 feet.

The next morning I was greeted at 6 am by a hand thrust into my tent with a cup of hot coffee. We reached the next camp at about 2:30 where tea and coffee were waiting. After dinner, we were treated to singing and dancing by our crew to welcome us on the mountain. I was in my sleeping bag by 9 O'clock.

There was a heavy frost on the ground and on the tents. Not unusual at 11,400 feet. Today we hiked up to Sheela Cathedral at 13,500 feet then down to Sheela 2 camp at 12,800 feet. Up to this point, the days have been sunny but the nights have been cold. Today we climbed the Lava Tower at 14,000 feet. Much of this is a scramble on rock. On the way down it started to rain, but enough to make everything wet and slippery. We reached Baronco camp around 3 pm. It was a cold, damp night with no visibility. The next morning I was up at 5:30 and the coffee was waiting. The sky was clear. The stars, simply amazing. Our first obstacle was the Baronco Wall. A very steep scramble on rock. Hand over hand. It took me 1 1/2 hours to reach the top of the wall, then it was a gentle, but steady climb the rest of the morning.
We arrived at Karanga camp at 4:15 pm. It sits at 15,223 feet and is the base from where we will make our summit attempt. After supper, Joseph gave us a summit briefing. We would not be carrying our heavy packs to the summit, only the bare necessities. It is very cold here at 15,000 feet. As soon as the sun goes down the temperature plummets. Now itʼs time for bed.

Up at 3 am. It is cold!!! I am wearing everything I brought in my backpack in order to keep warm. 3 layers on my legs and 6 layers on top. A quick coffee and some popcorn for breakfast then it was time to begin our summit push. The way up was steep, occasionally on rock, scrambling, hand over hand but mostly on loose scree. The easiest slopes were greater than 30 degrees. The last 2,000 feet to Stella Point was an unrelenting 45-60 degree slope on loose ground. Take a small step then slide backward several inches. Take another step. Repeat. Donʼt look up. Just concentrate on your footing and force yourself to take that next step. It seemed like forever.

We caught the sunrise at about 16,500 feet. It was stunning. We lingered, watching the sunrise from behind Mount Meru (also catching our breath in the thin mountain air). Then we set off again on our slow, painful climb. Slowly, slowly (Poleʼ Poleʼ in Swahili) Around 9 am we reached Stella Point at 18,885 feet and took a much-needed rest. Stella Point is on the rim of the volcanic crater that makes up Mount Kilimanjaro. The crater was to my right, a few hundred feet below. On my left, the snows of Kilimanjaro... Glaciers in Africa!
I stayed in Africa another month and had many more adventures while visiting Zanzibar, Zambia, and Zimbabwe including a swim in the Devilʼs Pool and a sit on the Devilʼs Chair at Victoria Falls.
After leaving Africa I backpacked the Camino de Santiago from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. A distance of over 380 miles. Like most avid backpackers I am extremely conscious about my pack weight. The only pants I had on this entire trip were the Pick Pocket Proof Convertible Travel Pants I purchased from Clothing Arts. I wore them every day. The only time I wasnʼt wearing them was when they were in the wash (they dry very quickly) and when they were being repaired due to the motorcycle accident in Nairobi. I highly recommend these pants.