Two citizens of Kappelen, emotion at the Kilimanjaro


Why the heck would you climb the Kilimanjaro for? That is generally the question one would ask! To wake up at half way, at 2 am, being short of breath on the verge to bring up? Is the sight of the summit the real motivation then? If you are unlucky, the sky will be clouded over but even with clear weather, it will not be "out of Africa".
Why would one go there then? Well, I have flown several times over this majestic volcano with its snow-capped peak in the middle of the African continent. The sight impressed quite much and I began to dream about climbing this mountain.
Once I was decided to go, I went in search of a tripmate who would accept to follow me in the adventure. I found it, asking Bernard Lambert who later turned out to be the ideal partner.
The Kilimanjaro is the largest volcano on the planet.
It has quite impressive dimensions: 80 km at the foot and about 6000m (19,340 feet) high, it can be seen from hundreds of kilometres around.
It contains 4 ecological zones:
 1800-2800 m rain forest Climate : damp and warm 22° C to 28° C
 2800-4000 m Moor, heathers and flora Climate : dool and foggy  
 4000-4500 m Desert plateau Climate: warm at day, cool at night  
 4500-5895 m Stone, everlasting snows, glaciers Climate : cold and windy  -5° C to -25° C

Getting started.
We rapidly decided ourselves for an individual trip and a few weeks after, we had established our itinerary, a Strasburg-Amsterdam-Arusha Tanzania flight. We had to find a tour operator which could offer a trekking service.
After having actively searched the internet and gone over with about ten offers, we choose Zara Travel in Moshi lying at the foot of the Kilimanjaro.
We found very complete lists of material on the internet ( sleeping bags, warm clothes) and a whole lot of medicines against paludism, an altitude sickness (really frequent), which provokes vomiting, vertigo and diarrhoea. We obviously also got vaccinated against yellow fever.
Climbing does not involve any particular difficulty, it is mainly a question of endurance and physical altitude adapting capabilities. You have to be ready to walk 1000m in height every day.
According to a swiss investigation, it is not advised for the body to go more than 400m in height if you are not used to it and if the altitude is already over 2500m. This is why the Kilimanjaro is considered a dangerous mountain. The climate is another factor of tiredness especially at my age.
We had been warned and we had worked on our condition (outings in the Alps, the Vosges, running, cycling, etc…) we were ready.

1st day: Departure on September the19th 2003
Strasburg, Amsterdam flight at 6:30 am, arrival at the Kilimanjaro airport at 8:25 pm, then we were taken 80km away by minibus to the Springland hotel in Moshi (125.000 inhabitants) at the foot of the Kilimanjaro.

2nd day: relaxing day at the hotel
Surprise! The Kilimanjaro and its summit surrounded with clouds can be seen very well from the hotel. The mountain and its impressive size are majestic. You would say that it belongs to another world.
At 5.00 pm, briefing in the hotels garden, numerous instructions which will be useful during the ascent! We are encouraged to keep a clear mind to arrive not only at Gilman's Point but also to reach the summit Uhuru Peak (=freedom peak). We are also told not to get influenced by other people discouraging discourses when they come back from the summit.
3rd day: Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut (2700m)
Greg, an Australian guy will make the ascent with us, our group will be composed of a guide and a cook followed by their respective assistants and nine carriers.
A minibus takes us to Marangu Gate (1800m), the most used and easiest way. We quickly notice that other people get the same idea as we did. The day is spent in the tropical forest where lianas, giant ferns and all kind strange plants bow above our heads. From time to time we get frightened by some baboons or colobus monkeys. After 5 hours without difficulties we reach Mandara Hut (2300m).

4th day: Mandara Hut to Horombo (3720m / 12,400 feet).

Nice day, it is hot and there is a lot of dust. The landscape is magnificent and we have a nice view point on the African Plain. The vegetation becomes rare. We go from the forest to a flourished area. The lack of oxygen due to the altitude is now felt by everyone and we slow down. It is an occasion to appreciate the panorama which stretches out as far as the Kenyan frontiers.
Once we had arrived at Horombo Hut, a dark cloud came lowering the temperature and the traditional tea which had just been made by the assistant was very welcome.

5th day: acclimatization day
JI had a bad night. I was envious of Bernard and Greg who slept like logs. The guide offers to climb the Mawenzi, so we can become acclimatized. I have a little headache, is it a sign of the mountain sickness? Obsessed by this sought I take some more "coca 9CH", a homeopathic replacement for the allopathic Diamox. We left with the guide assistant. The path is steep, the vegetation becomes even rarer and the landscape almost only made of stone. After three hours walking, we reach Mawenzi Hut and there, take a one hour break to eat some müsli bars and dried fruits. Then we get back to the Horombo camp to spend the night there. My headache had disappeared. We cannot wait for tomorrow, we are impatient to climb the Kibo (4700m) which is the last step before the final assault.

6th day: from Horombo to Kibo (4720m / 15,520 feet)
IIt is cold in the hut, the water in my bottle was frozen this morning. We feel good in our sleeping bags. Mine kept warm until -15°C but Bernard's one, which was supposed to keep warm until -25°C, was actually -2.5°C (he forgot his glasses the day he bought it!).
Departure from Kibo, the air is cold, we put on our warm clothes and our carriers take some water because there are no more waterpoints from now on.
We go through a strange landscape, stony and savage as if we were on the moon, with a nice sight on the Mawenzi which we climbed the day before. The altitude becomes more and more difficult to stand for Greg who staggers and finally vomits. But as proud and courageous as an Australian could be he goes on his way keeping a nice smile on his face. After 7 hours walking we reach the Kibo. Greg did not recover and goes to bed while Bernard and I are relaxing, enjoying the last rays of sun before they disappear behind the summit of the Kilimanjaro.

Night from the 6th to the 7th day
The fun is over now, we wake up at 11pm (no need to try to get asleep, the altitude, the cold and the apprehension keep you awake). After a little tea and some biscuits, we get ready for the ascent. We will leave at 11:30pm. Outside it is -10?C. It is pitch dark, we put on some headlamps and leave the camp. Though we are totally conscious that the ascent will not be a piece of cake: Gillmann's point is at 6 hours walk. We zigzag slowly along the mountain. Elias, out guide is first, Bernard, Greg and I follow him, and Steward, the guide assistant bring up the rear.
The ascent becomes a nightmare for Greg, at 5200m he vomits and has to give up. Steward takes charge of him and we go on with Elias. The more the path becomes steep, the more the cinder layer becomes thick. We now really lack of oxygen and we breath heavily, which make the ascent even harder. We pause more and more frequently, but no more than 2 minutes, otherwise we could not go further. The battery of my headlamp becomes weaker so I base my landmarks on Bernard's legs which remind me of the way robots march. It has been six hours now we walk silently, thousands of thoughts are running through my head. The most frequent one is "when will I wake un from this nightmare?". But suddenly, I hear Elias' voice "we have arrived at Gillman's Point".
It is still dark but we are surrounded with happiness, we congratulate each other. But we have not reached the summit of the Kilimanjaro yet.
The summit of the volcano, Uhuru Peak at 5895m (19,340 feet) is only at one hour and a half away. The path around the volcano is less steep, therefore easier. It is during this last step that the night progressively fades away. Under these equatorial latitudes, auroras are relatively short. the sun quickly floods the whiteness of the glaciers and all the top of Kilimanjaro.
The emotion invades me, I have tears in the eyes and at this moment, I understand what feel the mountaineers, these conquerors of the useless: happiness to have triumphed over the mountain and over themselves.
Now I know that I will reach the top of Africa. Elias congratulates us for the feat. I share the joy to be victorious with Bernard, I owe him our success because I would never have tried this climb without him.
And now you think it is over? Not at all! We still had to go down and to walk in one day what we had done in the two days and one night. After 12 hours walking we spent the night at Horombo hut.

7th day: down to Horombo hut
We have reached Horombo, we are tired, but happy and relieved. The stress we were under these last few days has gone. We meet Greg who is exhausted and sick: he tells us he reached Gilman's Point with the guide assistant. What a lesson of courage! But was it really reasonable, knowing the risks?

8th day: down to Marangu Gate.
Drinking a good Kilimanjaro beer (the local beer) in the hotel's garden is one of the greatest pleasures of the days. We also meet people who are going to climb, fresh and not aware of what they will go through! Before we leave, we pay the guide and the carriers. I give them some of the clothes I used during the ascent. Everyone is satisfied.

Kilimanjaro, snow and glaciers on the equator, a geological curiosity, but for how long?
Because of the climate, which is brutally changing, and even more on the equator, the glaciers and the snows are going to disappear in the next 10 to 20 years, if we believe the specialists. It will have important impacts on the ecosystem.
A large population is nowadays concentrating around the foot of the Kilimanjaro because the region is fertile and irrigated by the water coming down the glaciers: there is rice, coffee, cocoa beans. What will happen to this population?
The decreasing snow cap and glacier will obviously reduce the number of tourists.
The eternal snows of the Kilimanjaro celebrated by Hemingway will become nothing else than eternal regret…

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September 2003 -contact: Robert Baumann on