Friday, June 08, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro; Day 1

Day 1 started at the Kigongoni Lodge in Arusha where we had our briefing the night before. The lodge is located at the top of a hill with the individual bungalows scattered along the steep hillside. It was our first encounter with porters carrying our bags in what was to become a daily pattern on the mountain. But were already at a bit of altitude and as Sunny, one of the trekkers commented, "its hard to watch but not as hard as carrying them yourself."

We drove to the Machame Gate at 6000 feet, the starting point of our climb. There we signed in and handed off our bags to the mountain porters already busy loading up the rest of the supplies. We had heard the night before that there would be 45 porters supporting the 14 climbers and 6 guides but when you finally see them, the scale of the effort (and guilt) sets in. We reminded ourselves that it's good work for the porters and the returned to our more personal worries at the trek ahead.

Although we had been in Tanzania for 5 days, we had yet to have a good view of the mountain. Today was no different as there was a thick fog that had settled around the gate for the start of the trek. So, suited up in our gaters, rain shells and technical wear, we started hiking. This was also our first experience of, "Pole Pole"... "slowly" in Swahili. We had heard about it but now that were finally experiencing it first-hand we were amazed at just how slowly "pole pole" really is. Little did we know how hard it would be to do anything other than pole pole on summit day.

The truly amazing thing about the trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is that the scenery changes dramatically every day. Today, we started in a dense rain forest... full of fog and inhabited by colobus and blue monkeys. Five or six hours later, you arrive at Camp 1 just at the edge of the rain forest and the beginning of the moreland zone marked by fewer, thinner, moss covered trees and our first view of the peak high above us. From here, the top of Kilimanjaro still looked a long way off and the swirling clouds and fog gave it a stormy appearance. It was just enough to make it appear intimidating and the perfect setting to contemplate the hike ahead.

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