Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Climbing Mt. Meru

This last weekend, my friend and I drove into Arusha National Park and summited Mt. Meru.

Mt. Meru

Usually a 3-4 day trek, we completed the roundtrip in 28 hours.  However, we had to pay 3 days worth of fees to the park and "tip" the ranger to do it in less time.  That is how it works here.  Officially, you have to do the trip in at least 3 days but if you work the system, you can do it in less.  In hindsight, I understand why people do it in three days minimum, because doing the full round trip in that short of a time was incredibly difficult and hard on the body!

Giraffes on the mountain.

So we arrived at the park at about 8 am with all our gear in hand. We started hiking out from Momella Gate through flat lands at about 10:15 am, we saw wart hogs, baboons, and lots of cape buffalo in the fields on both our sides.  The cape buffalo are the second most dangerous animals in Africa, behind the hippo, and seeing herds of them at close quarters was a little freaky.  The weather was nice, around 80 degrees and failry humid down at the bottom, with the sun beating down on us.  After about ten minutes of walking on flat ground we came to the foot of the mountain, we began ascending and wouldn't stop for 8 hours.  There is a nice road that people usually hike up to get to the first hut, but we didn't have time to take that route, so we took a shortcut.  The shortcut was essentially a straight line up the side of the mountain.  We hike for 2.5 hours and gained about 3,000 feet of altitude walking on a stony, grassy path through increasingly more wooded areas.

The hill was never-ending.

At one point, we snuck up on some Giraffes who eyed us warily for about 2 minutes before they bounded into the bush.  Giraffes look so funny in the wild, they have the goofiest faces.  I was glad that we were able to see them up close.

After 2.5 hours we made it to the first hut, most people overnight here but we just ate some food and refilled our water and then left after a while.  At this point, we were pretty firmly in a cloud forest ecosystem, with huge trees dripping with moss and vines all around us.  Clouds and fog permeated the air and whenever you walked underneath a big tree you would get wet from rain.  The climb from the first to the second hut was the worst.  About 200 meters into the leg, wooden steps appear, and they don't stop till you reach the next hut, a three hour hike.  It was absolutely brutal.  We stopped a couple of times to eat food and drink water along the way and admire the scenery.  It was delightful.

Cloud forest.
These steps sucked big time. 
Hiking through thick forest.

We finally reached the second hut, I believe it was at 11,700 feet.  We were exhausted at this point and sat down for a nice meal of canned sardines, canned mussels, and trail mix, we decided to err on the side of cheap while shopping for food!  We laid down at about 8 pm but neither of us could really sleep. At 1 am, we woke up and got ready to depart.  At 2 am, we left the hut to set off for the summit.  We knew the sun was going to come up around 6 am so we wanted to reach the top in about 4 hours.  Pretty aggressive since it was nearly a 3,300 foot climb.  The first 1,000 feet after the hut the flora and fauna reminded me a lot of southern california.  This part of the mountain experienced less rainfall and plenty of sun, a mediterranean-like climate.  Granted, I didn't know this about the plants and scenery until the descent, because during the ascent it was pitch black and we were relying on our headlamps for light.

The stars in the sky were incredible, with the whole mily way visible.  The shrubbery and trees started to dwindle more and more as we climbed and eventually we were walking on bare rock, ash, and stones. 

It got rockier and rockier all the way up.

We walked mostly on a large ridge the whole way up.  In several sections we had to physically climb up or down large areas of boulders and rock, a really hairy situation in the dark.  The last part of the ascent was all bouldering, climbing up a steep slope, rock by rock.  We made it to the summit at about 6:15 am, just in time for sunrise.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is directly to the east of Mt. Meru so we watched the sun rise over the mountain.  We were high above the clouds and below us was a massive ash cone on the east slope of the volcano.  It was beautiful.  We stayed there for about 45 minutes all alone before we headed back down around 7 am.

The sun rising over Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.

The view of Mount Meru's ash cone from the top.

I renamed it Capitalist Peak in honor of the U. S. A.!

We started our descent, delighting in the fact that we could see where we were going, now.  It took us about 2 hours to reach the second hut, where we rested for about 45 minutes.  We then continued to the first hut, the damn stairs destroying our knees the whole way down.  At the first hut we rested again, and then continued.  The last stretch was brutal.  It took us as long to walk down it as it had to walk up, 2.5 hours.  At this point my knees couldn't have hurt any worse if some maffioso had taken a drill to them.  It was not very fun.  We finally finished at 2 pm, on our way out the mountain area we were greeted with cape buffalo, warthogs, white colobus monkeys, and another giraffe.  They all came out to see us off, or to eat, whatever.  

An idiot's outline.

We checked our GPS at the bottom.  It was only 6.7 miles as the crow flies from the base of the mountain to the peak, but the actual walking distance one-way was 24 miles (23.97).  Assuming the GPS is accurate, we had walked about 48 miles round trip up a 15,000 foot mountain and back down.  Total time passed was 28 hours.  I was never so glad to take off my pack and my hiking shoes.  Last night I slept for 11 hours and could still barely wake up, and today I can barely walk.  I also have copious amounts of blisters.

I always wanted to piss off the edge of the world.

Although not as high, Mt. Meru is considered by some a harder climb than Mt. Kilimanjaro because Meru has a more difficult summit leg.  I am going to be doing Kili in August in 6 days, with porters carrying our stuff and cooks cooking our food.  It should be a piece of cake compared to our sprint up Meru!

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