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The Marangu Hotel Route

The Marangu Hotel Route
 
 

I WAS freezing cold when I woke up despite being well wrapped up in my sleeping bag. Gary was already up and talking with Jim. I quickly put on my warmest clothes – my thermal trousers I had picked up in Lima before doing the Inca Trail last year, my polar fleece top and my alpine hat. I had just finished getting dressed when there was a knock at the door. It was Jaseri and three of the porters, with four bowls of warm washing water and four mugs into which they poured tea. I had three sugars as I was now in the three to four thousand metre altitude range. The air outside was freezing – too cold to have a proper wash like the one we had yesterday. The tea was very refreshing though, warming me up a little.

Hard frost at Horombo
Hard frost at Horombo

Once finished my cup of tea, I walked up the hill to use the toilet. The icy ground was very crunchy under my boots. The ground near the toilets was frozen solid thanks to the water from a leaky tap freezing solid. The sky above me was perfectly clear though, and the sun was soon to rise above the jagged spurs of Mawenzi Peak towering to my right. To my left was the Kilimanjaro summit poking over the ridge, some two thousand one hundred metres above me. It was hard to believe that all going well, I will be reaching the summit at about this time tomorrow.

The sun shines on the summit
The sun shines on the summit

I recalled a few weeks ago my doctor advising that once over three thousand metres I should not increase my altitude by more than three hundred metres in any given twenty four hour period. I was going completely against her advice by going seven times that amount today.

The yellowish pink summit was already brightly illuminated in sunshine. How nice it would be for the people up the top being able to experience the warmth of the sun. The mountain was leaning over with the left hand side to be a little higher than the right hand side. A snowfield partially covered the higher left hand side, shining brightly. The nearby ridge and hut area was still in the shade and below freezing.

Dawn along the route we have travelled
Dawn along the route we have travelled

Looking down the mountain in the direction we had come up yesterday, it was quite hazy down there, with low cloud about fifteen hundred meters below us. The haze created an interesting layering effect in the purple grey ridges and the small volcanic cone we had passed yesterday now far below us.

I had a bit of traveller’s diarrhoea as I generally do when at altitude. I made a note to take an Imodium tablet at breakfast to deal with the sudden ache in my intestines. The porters told me the water is boiled and filtered, so I wondered where I got these stomach cramps from. I crunched through the icy scree back to the hut where the others were getting ready to leave now rugged up. I quickly collected my cold water bladder and headed to the dining hut with the others, taking my Imodium tablet on the way. Thankfully the ache in my intestines very quickly subsided.

Early morning cup of tea - with 3 sugars
Early morning cup of tea - with 3 sugars

We entered the dining hut to have breakfast. It was the usual plate of fruit and porridge, which I couldn’t stand. Dawn was sitting next to me and had a large plastic container of mega magnesium powder. I found it quite intriguing, so she said I should try some as it relieves the muscles and joints and is good for stress management as well. It was very nice tasting like artificial raspberry. I also drank plenty of tea. I managed to eat quite a reasonable meal of toast whilst the others had porridge. Then came cooked sausages, tomato and scrambled egg.

Posing at the huts
Posing at the huts

The sun was shining deceptively weak when we left the hut. I knew though that the radiation would be very strong up here. I collected my cold water bottle and returned to the hut to pack up. It was still very cold outside but definitely starting to warm up. The frost hadn’t started melting yet, but no doubt it will do so pretty soon. A thin layer of cloud was approaching the bottom of the summit area, so it looked like another cloudy day will soon be upon us. There was some high cloud in the direction of the bottom of the mountain.

The moon is bright
The moon is bright

The waning gibbous moon was still high in the sky now directly above the summit, and still surprisingly bright even though the sun was up. It was a sure sign of the high altitude with being above the soup of the low altitude orange brown dross that covered the vast plains of Tanzania now over three vertical kilometres below me.

The air very quickly warmed to the extent that I could take off my alpine hat and polar fleece top, being down to a polo top over a thermal top. Cloud now started to envelope the sharp spires of Mawenzi Peak.

Trail junction just above the hut
Trail junction just above the hut

We entered the reception hut to sign out. We were ready to leave the Horombo Huts area to proceed towards Kibo Hut. Once signed out we started the slow climb up the moderately steep dirt trail, reaching a large obelisk after about a hundred metres. To the left was the lower route to Kibo Hut – 9.26 kilometres. To the right was the upper route to Kibo Hut 10.16 kilometres or Mawenzi Hut at 5.49 kilometres. Zebra Rocks was 2.4 kilometres away.

I had recalled Desmond the other day referring to the upper route as the Marangu Hotel route, and we took this route as it was apparently far more interesting than the lower route. Here we were starting the day at about the altitude of New Zealand’s highest mountain, about to venture onwards to altitudes higher than I have ever been before.

Leaving Horombo
Leaving Horombo

The track roughly followed the top of the ridge rising moderately. It was very slow going in the thin air. We had spectacular views over the gully filled with scattered alien Dendrosenecio Kilimanjari trees below sweeping up to the rugged Mawenzi Peak, Africa’s third highest summit now visible. The thick scrub along this ridge was only knee high, a stark contrast to the thick cloud forest we had been in up until this time yesterday. We passed a small area of about twelve small cairns. Jaseri led, Vicky was second as she seemed to be insisting on now, and I was next, followed by all the others.

Mawenzi Peak
Mawenzi Peak

I asked Jaseri if he had ever climbed Mawenzi Peak. He said that he had done it three times in his younger fitter days. I asked him if it was dangerous. He said that one in every thirty people who go there die in their attempts to scale the summit. It was very dangerous, even more so than Mount Everest. This was very sobering for me with now only being a few kilometres away and fourteen hundred metres below its summit and even more sobering knowing that I was climbing to an even higher altitude over the next twenty two hours.

Posing at Zebra Rocks
Posing at Zebra Rocks

It was a slow two hours after leaving Horombo when we arrived at some interesting cliffs in the rocks above us. By now there were quite a few small clouds around. I could hear someone ahead of us playing a small flute. It was one of our guides Imara who had gone on ahead. The flute created a very interesting atmospheric life to it in the midst of this otherwise barren landscape.

We were at the Zebra Rocks. There were numerous stone cairns beside the track. They were so named because the formations had vertical layers of black and white just like the zebra’s stripes. I had never seen a volcanic formation quite like this before. To me it looked more like limestone than any volcanic formation, but at almost four kilometres above sea level the formation of limestone would be impossible.

Posing at Zebra Rocks
Posing at Zebra Rocks

Mark and Jono asked me to photograph them, so I was happy to oblige. Once we had all photographed each other they had mentioned they were talking with another small Canadian group who were staying at Horombo an extra night being on the same six day itinerary as Levi and Rachel. Jono had agreed to create a traditional Canadian Indian cairn at the Kilimanjaro summit for them to see the next day. They explained the tradition to me.

Mawenzi peak was becoming enveloped by cloud now, so it would appear there was not going to be any more clear views of it today.

Everlasting daisy flowers
Everlasting daisy flowers

There was some strange everlasting daisy like dark cream coloured flowers here. They were on stems with small elongated silver grey almost succulent leaves. Here we sat and rested whilst Imara continued to play his little flute from his solitary rock outpost.

We left the Zebra Rocks, following the loose trail running parallel to the on-going diminishing row of cliffs. The terrain started to ease here as we reached a small plateau with Mawenzi Peak almost directly in front of us now. A small black pregnant lizard scurried away from us on the path. This was the first animal I had seen since leaving the forest at Mandara yesterday.

Heading towards Mawenzi Peak
Heading towards Mawenzi Peak

As the plateau levelled, we found ourselves walking through a very wide gully over fairly flat terrain. Four hundred metres away the track ascended to a very low pass. The scrub was now very scattered, with the ground mostly being small boulders with the grasses and very short shrubs nestled against them for shelter. To our left was a low hill with rocky outcrops and to our right was the sharp craggy Mawenzi Peak. The flatness of the local terrain made it very hard to believe we were now over four kilometres above sea level.

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Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

16 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

3°08'S
37°26'E
3720 - 4000m ASL

 

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