We started up the trail, which was slightly muddy, but well marked, that goes through the jungle. No machetes required. The vertical rise was rather easy. There are no views along the trail due to the vegetation. No animal, or unusual birds were noted. I walked at a rather brisk pace and the walking trekking poles I brought were invaluable. After about 4 ½ hours, with only one 15 minute stop for lunch, we reached camp 1, the Machame hut.
Camp 1 is located at 3000 meters. It should be noted that there are no "huts" available for sleeping. There is usually a park official in a single, small tin shack who is responsible for watching over things and has access to an emergency radio. Due to the clouds, there were not many views, however, at this elevation the trees were much smaller in size. The camp consisted of several campsites, which were flat areas cleared of rocks and debris. There are several outhouses, which consist of a wooden structure, some with doors, over a hole. There is a water source at this camp (a can’t recall if it was from a well with a hand pump or a stream). Everyone who departs on the Machame route camps in this area. Since we were the first to arrive, we were able to secure a nice spot and setup camp just before the rain started. About 80 people would be camping in this area that evening.
Here is some advice to make your trip more enjoyable...if you think you’ll be roughing it in a peaceful, quiet and serene setting, forget it! The porters from all the campsites will be talking, laughing, playing tape players and radios well into the evening. This is a cultural thing and it’s just the way it is...the sooner you accept this, the better time you will have. Also, the guides and porters will keep to themselves, so you may want to think about a traveling companion to help make the time go by.
Dinner was surprisingly good and consisted of onion soup, rolls, pasta, and steamed vegetables. I went to bed around 8:00pm. Daytime temperatures at the trailhead were in the mid-90’s. Daytime temperatures at camp were in the upper 70’s. Evening temperatures were in the 50’s.
Dinner with all the trimmings, at 10,000 feet
I was greeted in the morning by my porter. Breakfast was waiting and consisted of porridge, scrambled eggs, and rolls with butter. Upon completing breakfast, I pumped water through my water purifier and we broke camp. I was given a picnic lunch to put in my pack. This would be an easy day, crossing a valley and continuing along a ridge and camping at the Shira Hut at 3,800 meters. The weather was overcast and it began raining at around 1:00pm and continued for the remainder of the day. Due to the clouds, I could not see the peak (or more than a few hundred feet in front of me). It was a dreary and generally miserable day. There were only two other expeditions camped at the Shira Hut. Temperatures during the day were in the upper 50’s. Weather at night fell into the low 30’s.
At daybreak, the weather had cleared and I could see the massive mountain for the first time. I would swear it was a 15 minute walk away (it was actually a three day walk away). The air was unbelievably clear and you can see the snow and ice formations all the way up to the summit. It is truly breathtaking. This was another easy day. We ended the day camped at the Baranco Hut at an altitude of 3,940 meters. The weather continued to be bad and it began raining at 11:00am. We made camp in a storm at 12:30 and I spent a miserable day in the tent by myself. The weather finally cleared by nightfall and you can see the Great Barranco, a huge wall of stone and scree that extended for miles. You can also see a small stream with several minor waterfalls at the bottom of the valley. Daytime temperatures are in the upper 50’s. Evening temperatures were in the upper 20’s.
Camping on the Shira Plateau, with the peak in the distance. Even though it looks close, it's a three day walk away.
This would be the toughest day (excluding the summit push). 6-8 hours of moderately tough hiking, with thousands of vertical feet of elevation gain over ridges, then down valleys, then over the Great Barranco, and back down again, finally culminating with an ascent to the Barafu hut. There is no water at Barafu, so make sure that you get plenty of water, and start super-hydrating for the summit push at every opportunity (there is a small stream that you’ll hit about noon time that will give you a chance to pump water). The Barafu area is extremely rocky and has magnificent views. You can see Mawanzi to the east and Mt. Meru to the west. It is at an elevation of 4,600 meters. Nighttime temperatures are in the low 20’s. Daytime temperatures are in the upper 40’s. The summit is about 5,000 vertical feet up, and about 6-7 miles out. One mistake I made was that I didn’t open the contained of bug repellant (deet) for the past few days (there are no bugs after camp 1) and the pressure differential caused the container to burst. The DEET leaked out and was eating through my synthetic carrying case.
At 13,000 feet, above the clouds
At 14,000 feet enroute to high camp
I woke up at 11:30pm and donned my high-altitude gear. This consisted of thermal pants, with a triple layer Gore-Tex pant covering, wool socks, gaiters, Gore-Tex insulated hiking boots, a thermal undershirt, a 300-weight flannel jacket, an Insulated Gore-Tex jacket, a balaclava that covered by head and face, insulated Gore-Tex mittens, and a headlamp and backpack. The temperature was in the 20’s, so I was actually too warm and had my jacket partially unzipped. I made the mistake of keeping my water bottle on the outside of my pack.
My guide and I started our ascent in pitch blackness (don’t leave any valuables in the tent). As we ascended into the night, all you can see is the bright stars in the sky, the silhouette of the snows of Kilimanjaro, and a single ribbon-thin line of light going up and down the mountain caused by the headlamps of the other climbers. After an hour or so of climbing, I turned the light off and climbed by starlight. As we ascended, the night became bitter cold. Climbers from the previous day told us that it was 25 below zero (Fahrenheit) at the summit just before dawn. My water bottle had frozen solid within 20 minutes. This concerned me since it would be 5 more hours to the summit, and another 4 hours back to camp.
Each step became more difficult and climbers were already turning back. It became a routine after a while…step, rest until you catch your breath, and step again. I felt utterly exhausted. My stomach was bothering me and, more importantly, at about 17,000 feet I experienced a loss of vision in my left eye (it was a deep, cloudy haze). I didn’t know if it was ocular edema or cerebral edema, so, not wanting to take a chance (three climbers had died in January on the mountain from cerebral edema during the first 3 weeks of the year), I decided to climb down…only 2,000 vertical feet from the summit. We returned to camp at 3:30am. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed, but I knew the mountain would be there next year.
Feeling generally miserable and unable to see very well, I decided that I wanted to descend to the trailhead. This would involve a 20 mile hike and a vertical descent of 15,000’! I wasn’t sure how the guide would make the arrangements to get me back to the hotel a day early (I figured we’d have to camp at the bottom and wait to be picked up the next day, but as you will soon see, they have every contingency planned for).
We started the descent. My vision cleared up at about 12,000’. About half-way down, there is a table setup…beer and soda for $2 and water for $5. This little "store" is run by a ranger (supply and demand…I’m sure he can get $20 a bottle for the beer if he tried). My guide told the ranger what happened. He radioed the park headquarters, which called my hotel. The hotel immediately sent a special land-rover to meet me at no additional charge. The remainder of the descent was uneventful. It was moderately steep and a very, very long hike. At the bottom of the trail, we signed out with the ranger. Normally, you get a certificate here for ascending to the summit. The driver from the hotel was waiting for me at the trailhead. The driver felt worse than I did, and clearly felt bad for me after walking all that distance and not making it to the top. He brought me a lunch and some juice. We had a 90 minute drive back to the hotel. There was a room waiting for me (remember, they weren’t expecting me until a they received the call from the rangers) and my luggage was already in my room. I later learned that 25% of the people do not make it to the summit on the Machame route.
I tipped the guides, porter, and cook. This is very important since the majority of their income comes from tips and not the very small wages they make as porters. The standard tip they RECEIVE is $5 a day for porters and cooks, and $10 a day for the guides.The hotel suggested that, since I had an extra free day, that I might want to go on safari. Not being a big fan of safari’s, but not wanting to hang around the hotel for a day with nothing to do, I decided to go to Ngorongoro Crater.
Click here for my trip to Ngorongoro Crater