Tuesday 29 October 2019

2. Kilimanjaro Challenge: Lemosho Route - Day One - Londorosi Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp 2,650m

Jambo Jambo!

Thanks for joining with following my Kilimanjaro challenge for Action For M.E embarking on the first day of the 42 mile Lemosho Route to the summit of the 'Roof of Africa'.
First the great news - my luggage came! So relieved it arrived on the next flight from Doha and was delivered to the hotel from the airport the night before the climb. I must have been the happiest girl in the place that I could attempt the climb with all my gear and not have to worry about renting it all.

But despite arriving in glorious hot African sun and going on a practice 'acclimatisation' walk to a nearby waterfall and coffee plantation the day before, we awoke on the first day of our climb to torrential rain - we wanted to groan but its part of the challenge right? to take on whatever comes our way. I had chosen to come to Kilimanjaro in the last month of the 'dry season' less crowds and still dry enough to trek. Well, it looks like this time the rainy season had come early on us and we would have to deal with it. We had waterproof bags right? 

'Hakuna Matata' as they say in Swahili - no worries, no worries. Our first day looked like it was just going to be a wet one....
The Lemosho Route is said to be one of the most beautiful routes on the 42 mile Kilimanjaro climb, passing through five different climate zones and approaching the the three volcanic cones of the mountain Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo from the west of Tanzania and over the Shira Plateau. It is also said to have a 97% summit success rate for its trekking days broken up into more manageable days on the mountain with a 'climbing high, sleeping low' technique to help with slow acclimatisation. This was the best shot I was going to have to put the odds in my favour, but we first had to drive to and officially check in to the Londorosi Gate at 2250 metres, the gateway to the Kilimanjaro National Park.

So with our luggage weighed at 15kg, we packed in the bus like antsy sardines, our duffels slung and secured on the roof as we all sat wet and clutching our covered daypacks setting off on the long route from Moshi to the Londorosi Gate in the beating rain, drinking bottled 'Kilimanjaro water' and passing every shop and settlement seemingly named after the mountain 'Kilimanjaro supermarket', ' 'Kilimanjari Sports Centre' you name it, it was named after the mountain. I didn't seem to doubt for a second I was in the Kilimanjaro region.

The long drive with the odd traffic jam holding us up...

October is meant to be the last month of the dry season where Chagga farmers begin planting seeds for the forthcoming rainy season to nurture. The first 1800 metres of the National Park is cultivation land, spotting carrot, coffee and potato farmers grinding away in the rain as they tended to their land. As we turned off the main tarmac roads and onto the more earthy dirt roads, the persistent downpour made the thoroughfares extremely clogged with mud and were held up by a stuck bus and needed to rescue the stranded climbers into our bus where our driver performed amazing mud driving which was deserving of a tip!

Continuing on to the Londorosi Gate, the checkpoint was swarming with different groups queueing to register themselves with the officials which require your passport number, name, age, occupation, company, guides name, number in group and days on the mountain - all just filled out in a book sodden with wet sleeves. The rain was still lashing down which made things a little tedious and pushed for space as everyone crowded for shelter trying to nervously prepare for the trip ahead. After lunch and trying to awkwardly kit ourselves up with waterproof clothing, the porters making last rooftop adjustments, our team were relieved of anticipation when we could finally board back onto the bus after an eternity of waiting and be driven to the official start of the Lemosho Route at well....quite fittingly, the Lemosho Gate at 2,100m.    

This is where the first step of many, many, many steps along the way would start for our great challenge through the first stage of the montane forest, not knowing what lay ahead (except for Charlie in our group who was giving the Lemosho Route another whack). We would be starting the route walking 7km to our first camp Mti Mkubwa about 4 hours away and I had no intention of getting there first.    

Follow the umbrellas! Some of group took up our guides Robert suggestion of having umbrellas and ponchos but I wasn't having it. I saw this as a a challenge to fight through and a rainbow umbrella would just be something else to carry, so I toughed it out in my rain gear and started immediately with my strategy and advise I'd been given by those who had attempted Kili - being the tortoise at the back, drinking lots of water with electrolytes, going 'pole, pole' slowly, slowly and 'breathing and believing'.

I had been advised to take 1/2 a pill of Diamox the night before we set off on our climb which is meant to help with the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), you have to time it right, best very early AM and maybe 3pm/4pm in the afternoon as the diamox side affect is increased urination so you didn't want to be taking it just before you go to bed! I made a conscious effort to start sipping through 3 litres of electrolyte water a day and with that I was grateful to have made the investment of a 'She Pee' - you read it right, the trail over the first two days would be very difficult to just 'nip off' to relieve myself so the she pee was a well worth investment in the moments of desperation - it was just stripping all your layers down which would become the bugger!

So slowly in fact that the rest of the group got away from me and I found myself plodding along with assistant guides along the rather well paved early stages of the walk. The rain continued to relentlessly trickle down through the canopy of the rainforest and I found the porters steadily catching me up and passing me to reach the next camp to set up.

A Kilimanjaro porter is a popular job in Tanzania over the age of 18, with Kilimanjaro being a world class attraction and being voted #1 destination of the world for tourists at one point, there is no shortage of work and the amount of revenue the mountain can bring to the economy of Tanzania in the high season is staggering. The porters have an allowance of 20kg per passenger luggage (and some can take as much as 30kg would you believe) which is fair considering our own luggage could not be more than 15kg, then carried in another waterproof sack, including our sleeping mat would tot it up to 20kg and then straight on the head and up the mountain they go! I was never failed to be amazed by the porters and what they were doing and tipping them generously helps them a great deal. Many porters do not have a privileged education or find it difficult to find work in other sectors in Tanzania, so many work solidly through the dry season on Kilimanjaro and use their tips to pay for farming equipment, investing in education, family fees or starting a side business.   

'Porter on your right!'

But it is hard work and I would see how hard the porters would work in the conditions we were due to be under and how their customer service would be outstanding towards us. You have to give them right of way to pass on the trail as their job is to get all the equipment to the next camp and have it set up before you get there. My guides would tell me, they first started out as porters for years which really is a rite of passage to becoming a guide. Many experience altitude sickness on their first trip up the mountain but seem to acclimatise through regular trips so they can continue their job.     

Rain still coming down....the monkeys that inhabit the montane forest of Kilimanjaro are the black and white colobus monkey and blue monkey - think it was wet play for them

The montane forest of Kilimanjaro is full of tropical flora and fauna - the left is Impatiens kilimanjari which look likes an elephants trunk and Impatiens pseudoviola which both only grow on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and alive for short periods.

'Pole, Pole'

Can you see the group? This first 7km was not really a taxing trek through the montane forest but I wanted to set my own pace by deliberately going slower than everyone else (plus my K-tape strapped knees were grateful too). I didn't want to regret going too fast too early and minimise my chances of getting further - plus what was the rush? this was my own personal challenge and we had beautiful scenery around us to take in - hakuna matata!

Victory, Stage 1 Done! After about 4 hours plodding through the rain, my jacket was completely saturated but the tougher side of me wanted to deal with it as we arrived at our first camp on the Lemosho Route Mti Mkubwa which means 'bigger tree' in Swahili standing at 2650m. The porters were already there in the pouring rain setting up everything on the pooling ground as we queued up to record our arrival at the camp. 

Waiting patiently to get out of the rain, I got very lucky being assigned my own tent which I would be so grateful for later on and we all set onto getting out all our dry gear. 

Except, our gear wasn't dry - it was all soaking wet. 'Water-resistant' duffels from top outdoor brand names just didn't seem to exist and no bag seemed to be 'Kilimanjaro-proof'. It was pretty grim and with the rain still relentlessly pounding down, it was near impossible for us to get anything dry. Alot of my fellow climbers sleeping bag and sleeping mats were soaking wet but fortunately having rented a fresh one in a plastic bag set me fine for the first night. However, rain water pooled in our tents and was near impossible to find a dry spot inside to place anything down without it getting damp. Moral seemed pretty low that night, but I remained philosophical - if nothing could be done, it was just a challenge I would just have to try and deal with and hope the weather would ease off us.    

It wasn't the start we were hoping for but my advise to you if you want to do Kilimanjaro - keep everything in dry bags. 

Assume it will rain all day, keep your clothing dry and you won't have the discomfort of wet clothing. Charlie (who was making his second attempt at Kilimanjaro) knew all the better and had packed 8 days of base clothing in 8 dry bags - so he would only open each dry bag once and store any wet clothing in each same-day bag. Genius - but it takes experience to know that and we all learnt the hard and wet way.  

Plus, with it being October 'the second driest month' on Kilimanjaro who would have doubted! 

'Hip Hip (Hop Hop)' was our 'welfare mantra' that our guide Robert would ask us with a 'Hip Hip' and expect a response of 'Hop Hop' from the group. This was how they could keep tabs on the groups well being and whether things were in trouble. Compared to how worse it could be, we still could bellow out a 'Hop, Hop' as a team in the mess tent at dinner time.

The first night in camp sets the routine for the rest of the trip, the amount of food we were given was COLOSSAL and must have been 3 times the amount you would eat at home, always starting with soup followed by many courses (I was the only vegetarian so I was given my own food and gluten free bread). The cooks did a thoughtful job in feeding us and making sure we had had enough and it was far more than enough! 

We also had our health check readings which at this altitude wouldn't be a problem, heart rates and blood oxygen levels were normal between 60 and 100 bpm and 80% - 100% because we were not under much strain at this level. Then followed a briefing of the day and what we would be expecting the next day and so on. The forecast was never really clear as the weather on Kilimanjaro can change moment to moment so we would just have to roll with the punches of whatever came our way. 

So with Day One over and our Kilimanjaro quest well on its way, Team 'Seo Cac' resided to our wet tents to try and remotely keep a touch of warmth in there as the rain continued to patter down during the night sending a little prayer to the spirits of the mountain to give us some sun and dry weather for all our damp clothing. 

'Knock, knock - anyone in the loo?' 

The luxury we couldn't be bummed about was our own private toilet, hauled up the mountain with us too by our toilet man Lukas (who we would tip very generously) - complete with toilet brush! Uninhabited conversations around the dinner table would ensue later in the evening about the mechanics of how to use the toilet between the 12 of us depending on what you wanted to do! lol! 

Hand sanitiser, maybe a couple of bottles was a good call!        

That's all from Day One of the Lemosho Route and if you would like to donate to my Just Giving page to help sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome please hop on over to help the thousands of people in the UK with the illness like my sister who don't get the privilege to even attempt the likes of this cheeky mountain.    

Asante Sana and follow Day Two on my Kilimanjaro Challenge - hopefully not so wet! 

'Hip! Hip! Hop! Hop!'

Equipment and clothing I used were from Ultimate Outdoor and Cotswold Outdoors

Meindl Boots
North Face 
TYTNY Walking Poles
Regatta Outdoors 

Day Ascent Distance : 400 metres (1312 ft) 6km

Total Elevation (Day 1) 2650 metres (8694 ft) 

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