In February of 2010 my daughter Lyndsey and I climbed Kilimanjaro – the highest walkable mountain in the world – and we made it to the top.
The slopes are whiter than I had imagined they would be. It is vast beyond human scale. I am speechless and just a little scared. I take photographs but like all the subsequent photographs I take they do not do justice to the real thing.
Having signed in at the Machame Gate we forgather – or rather the porters, cooks, bottle washers and other not-so supernumeraries forgather. There are two groups under the wing of Zara – the Outfitter. Lyndsey and I constitute one; and the other is 7 strong. We have two head guides between us.
Felix is our guide. He is old – one year older than me. Moody is the other guide – a stripling at thirty something. Felix and Moody assemble the porters, cooks and assistant guides into a military column. There must be over forty of these guys! What are they all doing there?
The initial vehicle track soon deteriorates into a walking trail, and then to a series of steps. We walk through forests which should be dank and dark but are not. The canopy is high. Tree Trunks are embraced and festooned with moss. The air is cool and soupy. The vegetation is lush and familiar with ferns, restios and plectranthus.
We had been given lunch boxes at the start of this walk. White cardboard boxes that had expectations of carefully manicured and crust-less white bread sandwiches, iced cupcakes, juice cartons, party hats and those whistley things that you blow and they squawk as they shoot out in other peoples faces. The essence of all the above were there – boiled egg, meat filled bread roll, juice carton – but regrettably nothing as frivolous as a party hat. We browsed on this picnic while seated in a clearing on our as yet untested poncho’s. Some of our party ventured into the deeply foliated interior for toilet purposes and returned ashen faced with tales of signs of earlier visitors - a common theme throughout this trip.
At one point we glimpsed a distant waterfall, and it was here that I realized that we were in fact walking up a ridge with steep sides disguised by thick vegetation, and suddenly we broke through from the forest into sparser vegetation with no canopy, and within half an hour had arrived at Machame Hut.
Our tents have been set up and we are invited to partake of tea, coffee and popcorn. The popcorn is piled on an aluminium platter and tastefully decorated with chocolate cream biscuits. It is all covered with clingfilm. Lynds and I sit in palatial isolation in a battered mess tent set for two eating popcorn and drinking the worst instant coffee ever designed by man – this in a country that grows the stuff. Lynds suggests that it is silly to be sitting here like this and we should surely join the others. I think that this is a tad forward – she says don’t be stupid – and so do the others, and from then on we are a group of 9 rather than two groups of 2 and 7.
Supper consists of soup and chicken pieces. It is served on a table covered with a blue tablecloth lit by two candle stubs set in hollowed out sweet potato halves and adorned at either end with a fetching bunch of plastic flowers. In the middle is a lonely battery operated fibre-optic spray centre-piece. 110% for presentation effort from our guides, cook and porters – but why?
|Camp 1 Machame Hut. The blue tent to the right|
is a mess tent for two. The one on the left is a
mess tent for 7, now 9.