Aidan Lawrence

Aidan's 2014 travels

Category: Holidays (page 1 of 5)

Holiday posts with sub categories for the major trips from 2014

Welcome

610_Kili_Day6_Summit_and_back_top_of_the_world_me1 Hi there. Welcome to my blog – at the moment a diary of my main travels to China, Mongolia, Russia and Tanzania during 2014. Have made it back home and the passport is locked away for now. A fabulous year and typing up the journals will take some time. Update as of 18th August – the entries for the summit days for Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru are published – other days to add but these are the most important. Hope you enjoy reading them and it gives some flavour of what it was like to summit these mountains. All pictures and videos are hosted on my photobucket site – if anyone wants copies of the originals just get in touch.

11th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 7 off the mountain

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Time to head home. It’s a relatively late wake up call. Today’s most important part is to the porters ceremony. They will find out how much tip each will get and then get to sing their  ‘Akuna Matata‘ song (with some of the translation here!). All good fun. We start an easy walk down around 09:00.  Nice and easy descending is order of the day.

Nice and Easy descending

Nice and Easy descending

The footpath is much easier than yesterdays descent and the final 45 mins or so is actually along a road. The biggest problem is getting out of the way of the descending porters:

So just after midday we reach the Mweka gate, then it’s a lot of queuing for final admin and a chance to get our certificate. We have a final lunch from our chef and have our boots and gaiters hosed down by more porters for a couple of thousand TSH each.

One or two have asked about some souvenirs and en route back to Arusha we take a detour into Moshi. Looks like an easier going town than Arusha and most of us end up with a t-shirt/fridge magnet/map etc. Still plenty of traffic on the way back and we are not too nervous when our driver stops three times to check that our luggage on top of the vehicle is still secure. We do finally get back to our hotel in Arusha somewhere near 18:00 and it’s time for that shower..

Keep scrolling down for the main summit day post…

10th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 6 Summit

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Day 6 – Barafu to summit and back. In fact technically it is still day 5 as there is not much sleep and we are awoken around 11pm. We have ‘breakfast’ of porridge, toast and coffee. It doesn’t feel that cold but is expected to get significantly cooler as we climb. So I start with the full works of 4 layers on top, 2 on bottom and both my inner cycling gloves and outer skiing gloves. Despite the recommendation of two pairs of socks I go for just the one pair of walking socks. I’ve never been someone who feels the cold and am pretty confident I’ll be OK.

We are underway around 00:15. It’s a pretty straight forward route – simply keep going up. We can see quite a few groups of nodding head torches ahead of us, but also plenty still getting ready in camp – we will not be the last up there. The full moon is up and we barely need our head torches. Very quickly it is apparent I, and others, have too much gear on – the outer coat comes off and goes round the waist. This whole thing about “It will be cold!” feels over blown. I am glad I made the decision to go with multiple layers rather than some of the arctic type gear recommended by others.

Yesterday we had walked the first hour or so of the climb as both a further acclimitisation walk and a chance to see what it is like in daylight. This is the most technical part involving a steepish scramble over uneven rocks – it definitely helps having pre-walked it. After this first part of the climb from Barafu camp it’s just a case of walk, walk, walk. We are starting off near 4,600m ultimately heading to Uhuru peak of 5,895m with a major milestone of Stella point at 5,700m. The target is to get to at least Stella point by sunrise near 06:15 and then allow another hour to reach the Uhuru summit. Setting off at 00:15 gives us about 6 hours to climb 1,100m. On previous days we typically ascended around 225-250m an hour. So basic maths shows we have a fair bit of contingency to go slower overnight and still make good time. As we walk the guides seem reluctant to have too many breaks. Their preference is to keep to the Kilimanjaro mantra of ‘pol-e pol-e’ to keep us moving and stop getting cold.

So on we go – checking my altimeter periodically shows we are making good progress. Everyone appears well and in good spirits. Even going relatively slowly we are overtaking some people ahead of us. We see the odd person stopped on the side looking ill and preparing to descend with a guide but more than 95% are fine. We pass through 5,000m near 02:15 – well on course. As we continue to climb it does start to get a little colder. The water bottles carried outside the day packs are showing signs of freezing, though no problems yet for those using Camelbaks. Body temperature is good and there is very little wind chill factor. From 02:15 to around 05:15 is a bit of a blur – we just continue on climbing at a steady rate. Conversation is diminishing as people get more tired and more effort is needed to simply concentrate on walking. For me I keep going by having songs like “You’ll never walk alone” and composing alternate words to “My Way ( “We climbed Kilimanjarrrr-oooo etc. etc… ). Some of the porters/guides are still chatting/singing away in Swahili. Normally just a pleasant distraction but as we get more tired and a little stressed it becomes a bit of pain to be honest. At one point an animated discussion breaks out prompting someone (who? me?! ) to call out “Will you two shut the $**! up!” which to be fair they do after this is translated into Swahili by one of the guides. I might have mumbled under my breath for a while before eventually calling out but I know at least some others were thinking the same thing. As I say just a symptom of being tired, cold and wanting to just concentrate on putting one foot in front/above the other one. At some point in this period it is getting cold enough to go back to 4 layers. Around 05:30 my altimeter shows us to be near 5,600m. So 1,000m climbed in 5 overnight hours is more than good enough – just 100m more needed in 45 mins to reach our target.

There is however a problem – I have drifted to the back of our group and am slowly coming to a near standstill – in running terms I have hit ‘The Wall’. Nothing to do with altitude sickness, I have just run out of energy and am dead on my feet, the body is saying “Stop!”. In hindsight this is probably a combination of not eating and sleeping enough over the previous 5 or so (more like 10 allowing for Mt Meru climb) days. While previously various electrolyte drinks, energy bars etc. had got me through it is now too late for those. This hour or so before dawn is/was always going to be the hardest part. However the sky is now beginning to brighten in the East and I know if I can somehow get up the next 100m to the ridge I will have an acceptable accomplishment of reaching Stella point. Will is a few metres ahead of me with Larak pacing him. They are regularly stopping and waiting for me but everytime they get moving again I can only shuffle forward through the shale for maybe 30 seconds or so before stopping and am quickly dropped. There is nobody near behind me so while Will and Larak were probably no more than 5-10m above, it feels like I am on my own. I am not of course but psychology is everything at this stage. To emphasise again, unlike some others I have seen I know this is not altitude sickness or other illness – I am simply exhausted. I have been in a similar position twice before on long distance bike rides and know it is just a case of keeping going, no matter how slowly. At some point (guess near 06:00?) darkness has lifted to the point where looking up I can see the top of the ridge at Stella point with people mingling around. This is maybe 10-20m above me – I have an attainable goal – there is no chance of me stopping now.

And so as the clock ticks round to 06:15 I gain the ridge, literally throw my walking poles to the ground, dump my backpack and collapse onto the ground sitting cross-legged facing the East awaiting the sun as if it was midsummer dawn at Stonehenge. The sun is within a few minutes of rising and despite the last desperate 45 minutes or so I have made Stella point :-). I have no memory of emotions at that time – just too tired. It’s a case of sitting facing the sunrise in a world of my own. I have no idea about anyone else in the group, other than being pretty sure they were ahead of me so are presumably nearby.

In probably no time at all, as  the sun comes up Larak comes over and says “Come on – we are going to the summit!” “Give me two minutes!” I reply. He picks up my day pack and maybe a minute or two later we are underway. At this point quite a few things have changed for the better:

  • Although in theory there is still 190m of climbing to go, it is a gradual undulation around the crater rim rather than the side of the ridge – much, much easier then the steep ash climb to the ridge – no problem
  • Daylight has broken – we have passed the pre-dawn psychological lull
  • Larak is carrying my day pack – cheers Larak!
  • There are a lot of people around
  • Reaching Stella point is an achievement in itself – there is no real pressure of ‘failure’ remaining
  • I have got past ‘The Wall’ and am feeling much better

All of the above means as we set off I now know nothing will stop me reaching the summit. It’s no longer a case of “I should be able to do this”, but “Bloomin’ ‘eck – I am going to do this”. However tired I have felt in the last hour, this has become irrelevant. It is now me that is cheery and encouraging the others along – I am back in ‘assistant guide’ mode. I even have enough wit about me to take some photos and a short video. It truly feels like the home straight.

So 7 hours after setting off from Barafu camp at 07:15 we reach the summit :). There are lots of weary but happy people queuing up for pictures under the signpost. To all our delights the whole group has made it up. Our group picture might be a bit haphazard, but who cares?

I had previously been told you spend maybe 5 mins at the top and then head down. In practice the timestamps on my camera show we spent around 40-45 minutes in the general area of the summit. A lot of this is literally waiting to have our pictures taken under the signpost and just admiring the view. The sun is up, I do not remember any wind and there are a lot of happy, if tired people around. Other than the glaciers to the sides, there is barely any snow on top – absolutely nothing on the track we are walking on. Apparently a lot of this has disappeared in the last 5 years or so.

We start our journey down near 08:00. Firstly back to Stella Point then down a slightly different part of the shale and scree back to Barafu. From Stella point we can actually see the camp site 1000+m below us (You have to zoom the picture a lot – in real life much easier to see). It’s a lot of work on the knees but we eventually get back to camp near 10:30 – a round trip of 10 1/4 hours is more than acceptable. The next 3-4 hours is a mixture of sleeping, eating, reflection but we are not finished for the day. We have a further 2,000m to descend to our last overnight stop at Mweka camp. This is not fun – the path has been cut out of the vegetation and has a lot of awkward steps going down. I particularly sympathise for those of the group struggling with their knees. It is just a hard, sometimes painful slog and it takes us around 4 hours to get to Mweka at 3,000m. The irritation of a long queue to sign in doesn’t help the mood but we eventually reach our tents, eat dinner and all of us hit the sack to end a 20+ hour day.

So what to reflect overall. A very long day but one that will live in the memory. Would I change anything? Not really – other than trying to eat/sleep better before hand and maybe saving a few more energy gels for the critical moments. I can confidently say the 45 pre-dawn minutes leading up to Stella point is now officially the most exhausted I can ever remember being. And yet within 5 minutes of reaching the ridge I am up and (more or less!) raring to go. For me the mental preparation/researched knowledge of route was at least as important as any physical/acclimitisation work. Will later told me that he thought looking back on that pre-dawn section I might not make it and that “you showed a lot of heart” to get there. Cheers Will :-). Knowing my altitude/timing so that ‘there’ was so close enabled me to continue. I know some of you reading this tease me about some of my over-planning but on this occasion it made the difference between success and possible disappointment.

So if any of you are planning on climbing Kili or similar efforts my advice is to understand what motivates you as an individual and make sure you can draw on it mentally when the going gets tough. For me it might have been inspirational music and knowing my facts for you it will be your own thing – perhaps following some of Franks advice and getting to change the final words to:

“The record shows, We took the blows – we climbed Kilimanjarrrrrr-oooooo!”

9th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 5 Karanga to Barafu

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Today is a (deliberately) short day. The difference between the 6-day and 7-day Machame routes is that the pre-summit day 4 is spread over two days – this is essentially the second of those days. So it is a no rush start and not particularly steep – only 650m climb or so in 4 hours to walk from Karanga up to Barafu camp. Initially there are  less people on the route as the ‘6-dayers’ will only do this stretch during the afternoon. It’s a case of taking it easy as we go.

Even going easy we arrive at Barafu a little after midday. However this is not the end of today’s walking. The first part of the summit night walk is quite a scramble and Nelson our guide recommends (no – he tells us) that it is worth our while doing this as an up and down this afternoon.  It’s a bit more acclimitisation and will familiarise us with this part of the walk in the day light. We decide to do this before having lunch and he wasn’t joking – it is quite steep and awkward in places and in hindsight it is a good idea to do this. Going up around 200m we see another camp site, essentially an ‘upper Barafu’. There’s quite a few tents pitched here – the advantage being to reduce the summit night climb by that 200m or around 1 hour of climbing.

After that it’s back down for a late lunch – so late that we decide as a group there is no point bothering with dinner as such. So by late pm we are all in our tents and settling down knowing the wake up call will be coming near 11:00pm. We are unlikely to get much sleep due to the general noise of the camp and anticipation of what is to come …

 

8th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 4 Barranco to Karanga camp

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Day 4 – and it is properly cold for the first time. The outside of the tents are covered in a layer of frost but within 30 mins or so of sunrise things are warming up. We are still around 4,000m and I suspect that the altitude amplifies the difference.

So today we are to tackle the Barranco wall. The wall is where will traverse a very steep face. Memories of summit night on Mt Meru return but at least we are going to be doing this in daylight. The other big difference is that we are doing this with literally hundreds of other people. There are places on the wall that are a little awkward and many places where there is no way to pass, even for the porters. This results in one a big queue. The wall is not that bad – just a few big steps. Larak has taken all our poles to allow us to use our hands where necessary. In any event the people do eventually spread out and after a couple of hours or so we reach a plateau – an opportunity for Nelson and Larak to play at being cool and some more photo opportunities as the summit gets closer

Continuing from the top of the wall it is a steady, undulating walk towards Karanga camp. Karanga is about half way between Barranco and Barafu camp and is the ‘extra acclimitisation day’ stop difference between the Machame 6- and 7- day routes. As we near our target altitude we can see the tents in the short distance – excellent. However what we had not seen was the deep,hidden valley in between us! Nelson displays a distinctly evil laugh and my reputation of knowing where are takes a hammering. Rather than a 10-min level walk it is more like 1.5 hours down and up. Good grief. We also discover the stream at the bottom of the Karanga valley is the last source of water before the summit – pity the poor porters.

Well we all do get there having trudged up the valley and after lunch we are offered the chance to do the first hour or so of the next day as further acclimitisation. All of the group except yours truly go and do it – for me it was a matter of timing – I had already changed out of all my walking gear into essentially shorts an t-shirt and the thought of sticking it all back on for an ‘optional’ trek in what is now some misty conditions doesn’t appeal At risk of contradiction, it’s not specifically as cold as last nights camp but there is a sense that the atmosphere is colder overall and it feels like there is a greater difference between day and night temperatures. However as we end day 4 all is well – no one has any problems with altitude sickness and we are getting closer all the time.

7th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 3 Lava tower

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Day 3. This is our first conscious acclimitisation day – we will end up more or less at the same altitude as we start but having climbed/descended 600m to Barranco Camp via the Lava Tower. While yesterday was tough in places, today is much easier – it is a wide, open track and relatively shallow. There are a lot of people around – we keep leapfrogging the Korean group.

We are now well above the clouds with great views back to Meru while Uhuru summit is getting closer. Lunch stop is at the Lava Tower. This is a plateau at 4,600m with, well a tower made of Lava.   Apparently there is an option to climb this but our guides are not keen (“Too slippy/dangerous – not worth it”). So after a chip-buttie lunch we descend back down  to a misty Barranco Camp near 4,000m. The descent is reasonably straight forward,. We are sort of following a path, Larak seems confident he knows where we are going even in the mist. We have a nice isolated spot tonight – hopefully will be a little quieter than last night.

6th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 2 Machame Camp to Shira Camp

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

Day 2 – Machame to Shira. We are promised a shorter day in terms of distance walked but around the same amount of climbing. The first night’s camping hasn’t been too bad – everything the previous evening was a little late due to the late arrival in camp but things do eventually quieten down. I am woken up at something like 01:30 due to some nearby commotion. It turns out that someone has left their bag in the porch area of the tent and the local ranger is not happy about security – they have to bring it back inside the tent. I do feel sorry for the others who are sharing tents – I’m fine for space having my own ‘3-man’ size tent but two adults and two holdalls in one of these does not leave much space. We are woken near first light (around 06:00ish) with a coffee and a bowl of warm water for washing. Although this sounds early, once the daylight breaks and the campsite gets active it’s impossible to sleep so no problem. A nice breakfast of porridge followed by toast, eggs and sausage gets us going. So somewhere near 08:00 we are ready to go.

We are now heading above the cloud layer and as hinted by the guides, the first part of the day is hard steep work. No more forest tracks to follow, now more of a scramble up rocks. This lasts for maybe an hour or so and we are now high enough for some nice views back to Meru. Many ridges are coming in sight, with cloud often in the valleys as we look down from above. Three hours or so after starting out we reach Shira plateau with the first views of Uhuru peak far above us. So far so good!. Despite now being significantly higher at around 3800m it does not feel cold. The second night of camping is better than the first, if only because we have arrived in the daylight. One big downside is the location of our tents – right next to a large Korean group who are chattering away long after darkness has descended. Hopefully tomorrow we will be somewhere quieter.

5th Aug Kilimanjaro Day 1 starting out to Machame Camp

NB For all the pictures associated with the Kilimanjaro climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc. Here we go – day 1 of Kili. I’m happy with the buildup and my time on Mt Meru. I feel I’ve learned a reasonable amount about myself on the mountain. In the whole lead up to the climb I’d told people that I could forgive myself for not making it the top but not forgive myself for not preparing properly. Maybe I could be a kg or two lighter but can’t have everything. I will find out whether it has all been worthwhile five days from now.

The group have been arriving at the hotel over the last 24 hours or so. We are officially a group of five, though for walking purposes we are effectively a six having merged itineraries with a single traveller. So first of all some introductions. Our guide and assistant guide are respectively Nelson and Larak. Both have plenty of experience and it’s an encouraging start. Our group consists of four currently living in the US, one ex-pat Scot from South Africa and myself. In no particular order Meg and Shelley are friends and colleagues living in Florida, Shelley is a US citizen while Meg is Canadian, with family in Toronto. Their business and passion is all things equestrian. Will is also US and a financial analyst with Boeing currently based in St Louis. Umang is originally from India but was sponsored through post-grad studies in the US and is now working for Youtube in San Francisco. Dave hails originally from Scotland but has spent the last 40+ years in Zimbabwe and then South Africa where he has a farm and building business. Dave is 70, started running marathons in his 50s and while he had originally planned to tackle the Kili trip over eight days joins us in achieving it in seven. Here’s what we look like before we have climbed a single step

So after a lot of messing around at the hotel we leave around 10:00. A couple of stops en route for some water and ATM and we get to the Machame gate a little after 12:00. Before we can start walking there is a lot of admin to be completed. Not too bad for us clients – little more than giving basic info and signing our names in the book. The problem isn’t even organising all of the kit – the problem is there is a huge queue for the porters. The (quite reasonable) rules are that an individual porter is limited to 15kg. The porters have to queue and where kit is over the limit everything has to be shunted around, possibly even more porters hired. There are a lot of porters and in the end we are not able to set off until well after 14:00. Given we have an estimated walking time of around five hours, and it gets dark by 18:30 we are going to be walking in the dark – not an auspicious start!

The walk itself is quite straight forward. We are walking through rain forest on an easy, well marked path. Not too many tree roots or stones to fall over and the gradient is gentle enough. Starting out there is a big emphasis on ‘pol-e pol-e’ or ‘slowly slowly’. It is pretty well established that those most likely to fail higher up are those that go too fast on the lower slopes and in any event – what’s the rush? While arriving in the darkness will be irritating it’s not a disaster – the path is well marked and we have enough torches between us. There is no timetable to keep to other than just getting there safe and sound.

Well it does get dark and the torches come out. Eventually we start to hear voices and see torch light ahead. However are tents are at the far end of the camp site and it must be 10-15 mins of walking past others wondering when we are going to stop. But we do eventually stop at 19:30 and get our first few of the tents. Dave is still technically on a solo trip so he has his own tent, mess tent etc. For the remaining five of us, Meg and Shelley are sharing, I have paid a single supplement so Will and Umang are also sharing. Our tents are ‘3-man’ size. Must admit I am very happy to have a tent to myself to spread out a little. In hindsight all credit especially to Will and Umang who had only met that morning but had no problems sharing. The group has a mess tent to eat in and a private portaloo type toilet. In fact toilet arrangements camping are much better than those in the bunkhouses on Mt Meru. No ‘Hold your nose’ long drop toilets here – but a single toilet between five that is effectively clean and fresh (well…) each day is not too bad at all.

After our meal of soup, Spaghetti Bolognese and fruit all that’s left is to settle down in the tent. One of the downsides of these large camp sites is the sheer noise – a lot of it coming from chattering porters well into the night. Inevitably there are some snorers amongst us – I am chief suspect for the first night (though later some others are confirmed!) but all in all the camping is fine. Maybe not a perfect 8 hour uninterrupted sleep but not too bad.  Time will tell what the next few days will bring.

3rd Aug Mt Meru Day 4 – exit

NB For all the pictures associated with the Meru climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are not working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc.

The final day is just a couple of hours or so down the mountain from Miriakamba to the same starting gate. No one is in much of a hurry and it’s an easy walk. We have views down to the valley and the last hour or so is a flat trail through the park. The water buffalo and zebra we saw on approach on the first day are still around and have been joined by a giraffe or two. So near 10:30 we walk out of the gate and can congratulate each other for the final time

After that it’s a lot of hanging around waiting to sign books etc. We eventually start off but my vehicle breaks down on the way back :-(. After a lot of time with the bonnet up a vehicle from a different company stops to help – and this guy recognises the fault as a loose wire somewhere under the main part of the carriage. We do eventually get back to the hotel in Arusha and that welcome shower.

2nd Aug Mt Meru Day 3 – summit day

NB For all the pictures associated with the Meru climb click here. There are some specific links in the text below and I will add more over time. If any are note working then the album is chronological and pictures are prefixed with ‘Day1_…,’Day2_…’ etc. Day 3 – summit day. Wake up call is 01:00 to leave at 02:00. Wakeup just means getup in reality as a poor nights sleep due to various disturbances has not helped. Breakfast consists of popcorn (yes reallly!) and coffee. Main decision is what to wear. Ideally will test out kit I plan to wear for Kili – thermal vest, standard walking shirt, down jacket and walking jacket. However it’s not that cold – perhaps 5C or so? and the 4 layers are just to much. Decide to leave the walking jacket in the backpack for now. We set off in conjunction with the Canadian group around 02:10 – essentially 6 walkers and 3 guides. There are I believe two reasons for the middle of the night start – firstly to summit somewhere near sunrise purely for the views and secondly to not have to spend too much time in the sun later. So we set off on a clear moonless and starry night with head torchs bobbing along. Looking up we are close enough to the equator for a few Northern hemisphere constellations to be visible – wish I had more time to enjoy. The start is a simple low gradient track – only problem is to avoid the drainage cut periodically across the path. Chloe is suffering from nausea/stomach pains, causing us to pause a couple of times but she is determined to go on – good for her. We are one of the last groups to set off and can see the torchs of other groups ahead and above us – they almost look like a bunch of pilgrims on a mountain side. The starry sky really is a fantastic sight. We reach our first milestone of Rhinopoint at 3800m without a problem. Soon after the fun begins.. the route descends for a while and then we have to traverse a precarious rock face, alternately descending and ascending. My first thought is that the guide must have gone wrong but no – it is just a horrendous part of the route. The only way to get across is poles in the outer hand and hold for dear life to whatever you can with the inner hand while stepping across. And remember it is still pitch black bar our head torches. It is sheer enough that we come across climbing pegs stuck in. Good grief. After about 5-10 mins of this we are back on a path – phew! – but then soon after it is another similar traverse – aargh!! we do all get across but it is not fun in any way. I hear later that some guides refuse to take groups on Meru because of this section – I know what they mean.. Anyway thereafter we are on to a ‘proper’ ascending path. A little steep in places but at least it is going up and not dangerous in anyway. We can’t see much yet but the surface feels like a combination of gravel, ash and sand. The route to the summit is basically westwards meaning the sun will be rising behind us. As twilight starts to appear we look back to a fabulous view of Venus directly above a distant Kili with the constellation of Orion pointing its belt at the Kili summit. Impossible to take a meaningful picture but that image is a lasting one for me. Dawn starts to break four hours into our walk around 06:15 and with it the wind starts to pick up and things get decidedly colder. Sadly not much of a view of the sunrise due to rising clouds. We are at around 4’100m – just over half way, though more than half the climbing due to earlier descending. Definitely time to but the top jacket layer on. Around this time the path is getting more difficult with increasing scrambling required. We are basically in a volcanic landscape with the path being marked by little more than some green paint on rocks every few meters. I do think it is bordering on too difficult and debate aborting. We are starting to meet people coming back down the mountain who have abandoned. If it was raining or the wind had got really high then I would have turned round. However the winds may be cold but they are manageable so keep pressing on. My strategy is to walk for a short while then deliberaly stop for 30s to rest/gain my composure, check what is coming up. Don’t think about how far to go, just do it in 20m height gain chunks – for this my altimeter watch is a godsend – I can see I am making progress. The group has got spread out along the mountain and it is down to just me and my guide. In this manner I pass through the 4300m mark having been walking about 5+ hours, mostly in the dark having had barely any sleep and no meaningful breakfast. Water is starting to run low (Will have more for Kili!) – this is hard! Yet I can keep going. Stops are becoming more frequent and less and less path vs scramble. But we are still going up – I am now down to counting in 10m chunks – 180m to go, 170m to go…. Then around 08:30 we round a corner and blow me down we can see the Tanzanian flag that marks the summit no more than 30-40m above us – oh yes :). So at 08:45 the final steps are taken to the cheers of those ahead of us and we are there. 4562m (15,000′) height and 6.5 hours of climbing up with I guess around 1200m of height gain allowing for the descents. The views are just spectacular above the clouds in all directions. eg. here or here – more in the main album slideshow. We stay on the summit taking pictures and chatting for about 30 minutes before beginning the descent. Down is of course much less effort, but more hazardous to limbs. Trekking poles save me from slipping more than once and probably save my knees to live another day. We are going down in day light so much more views available – again check out the pics. We are down around 12:50 – around 3.5 hours instead of the 6.5 hours up – going up and down in under 11 hours is a good job. We have to do those rocky traverses in reverse – still pretty hard in daylight and still shaking my head about doing them at night. After lunch at Saddle camp it is an easy descend down to our first camp at Miriakamba – for a total descent of around 2000m for the day. Summary Mt Meru summit day is hard – harder than the equivalent day for Kili – and in hindsight all the more exhilirating for it. While I planned this trek as a training one for Kili it is a genuine achievement in its own right. I am very happy to have summited Meru and would come again. Anyone reading this, debating about doing the hike I have just three words to say – just do it!

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