There is something about volcanoes that fascinates me, and finds me craving to conquer their summits to be able to satisfy my curiosity and peer down their crater rims. Having climbed Mount Etna (3350m) in Sicily and Gunung Agung (3142m) in Bali, (Cotapaxi (5897m) in Ecuador was weeks away but the trip was cancelled at the last minute), the time had come for something African – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was the next conquest. At an altitude of 5895m, it is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, and I promised myself that one day soon I would have my picture taken at the summit, Uhuru Peak.
Kilimanjaro International Airport was our final destination after a dodgy, one-hour flight from Nairobi Airport in Kenya, on a flimsy, toy-like, propeller-engine, 16-seater (we were exactly 16 people) aircraft , inappropriately named ‘Precision Air’. Struggling to breathe in the gusts of sticky, humid air that greeted us on arrival, we were immediately welcomed by friendly staff from the Marangu Hotel, located in the village of Moshi (www.maranguhotel.com ), who took care of the whole trip we were about to embark on. Two hot, bumpy, dusty hours later we were tucking into a feast of meats and vegetables kindly prepared by the wonderful hotel staff.
Getting kitted for the climb
Having brought more gear than most professional climbers about to embark on an expedition up Mount Everest, we were told during our briefing the next morning that our rucksacks were to weigh a maximum of 20kg! Waves of panic and horror (and a little bit of embarrassment) swept through me as I struggled to imagine what I could possibly remove:
· A few dozen Mars and Snickers bars out of my chocolate treasure box? - no way, I needed all the extra energy I could get. I was, after all following guide book orders.
· Headlamp, flashlight, rope, penknife, cutlery, flask, mug, extra mug? - always be prepared they said, so none of these could go.
· Thin waterproof rain jacket, thicker-but-not-waterproof padded jacket, thin fleece, chunky, thicker, fleecier fleece, rain pants, wind pants, thermal pants? ……..This was getting tiring, and we hadn’t even begun!
Eventually, after painstakingly parting with half my precious items, I was properly kitted with the essentials, and hey presto, my bag weighed a very decent 19kg!
Seamus, a calm and collected South African man, is the owner of the Marangu Hotel and has been operating Kilimanjaro treks from here for a number of years. He is bursting with knowledge about the do’s and dont’s of climbing this volcano and there is no one better than him to brief any group about to embark on this expedition. So the 16 of us sat in silence and listened in admiration as he carefully explained some basic rules, as well as giving us an insight into what we should expect along the way in terms of climate, terrain and potential dangers, including signs and symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness).