Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 11 - Tanzania - Seventh day on the mountain

It's day seven and our final day on the mountain. We are up at 6:00am after about 11 1/2 hours of sleep and I'm feeling refreshed from our 37 hour day yesterday. I'm finally thinking clearly for the first time since we began the climb for the summit and as I lay here in my sleeping bag it hits me for the first time. I FORGOT TO GET MY FOOT SHOT AT THE SUMMIT! Everyone that follows my regular adventures knows that I get a foot shot for my "Traveling Feet" series of photos at all the important location and yet here I am standing at probably one of the most significant locations I'll ever stand and I forgot to get the foot shot. Needless to say I'm extremely disappointed to realize this at this moment but there's not much that I can do about it now. We still have a long steep downhill hike to go today.

Time to get packing and get ready for our final descent to the entrance gate of the Marangu route, the route we are taking down the mountain. Gaudy appears at our tent as usual with our final bowl of warm water for washing then it's time for a quick breakfast and a few photos around camp before hitting the trail just before 8am. Right on the edge of camp there is a grove of Giant Senecios or Groundsels. They are a strange prehistoric looking tree/bush that only grows in a very narrow band around Kilimanjaro between 11,000' and 13,200' called the Moorland region. Unfortunately these plants are endangered so most of the areas where they can be found are off limits to foot traffic.

They remind me of something that would be seen on the old TV show Land of the Lost. They really do look other-worldly.

I had really hoped to be able to get a photo standing under one of these to give it scale because they are massive. To give you an idea of how large they really are, the one that is almost dead center in the photo above is over 20' tall. The thing that makes them seem so strange looking is that the base is so very tiny compared to the huge upper sections. It seems almost impossible for it to balance on such a small "trunk".
 Unfortunately, we heeded the sign.

A quick look around camp here and you can see some of the very nice huts that people stay in when they are traveling up the mountain on this route. They look to be very nice little "ski lodges".

This camp site is called Horombo Huts and the elevation here at the ranger station is 12,340'

Now it's time to leave camp and we hit the trail. Just minutes after leaving camp I turn around to get a glimpse of the summit of Kilimanjaro before we head down into a valley and our view is obstructed for most of the way down.

It's hard to believe it's already so far away considering this time yesterday morning I was stand on the top looking this way. It's sort of a sad goodbye but I must admit that I really am looking forward to getting back to the hotel and a hot shower.
About a half hour later I turn back and notice that we've come back up from the valley a bit and I get yet another glimpse of Kilimanjaro and Mawenze Peak. It's strange how Mawenzi on the right appears to be much taller even though it is in fact 2,000' shorter. It's just an illusion because we are so much closer to it.

I didn't realize it at the time but this would be my final photo of the mountain on this trip.

Just past this point we come across a rather pathetic sample of the Giant Senecio so I pose for this shot real quick. This really is a young, straggly version of the Senecio but my only chance on this route to get a photo with one so I can't pass it up.

Before we know it we are out of the Moorland region, through the Heath region and down into the Rainforest. It's very dense and jungle-like which is very welcome. The temps were getting a bit warm in the direct sun all morning and now we have heavy shade to finish off the hike to the gate. Along the way I run across what can only be described as an albino slug. I've never seen a pure white slug before but here it is. all 6" of it.

Not long after that we are at the gate and Zach takes this one final shot of the three of us about to pass through the exit.

We are all smiles, not just because the trip is over but because this descent is over. It was much tougher then expected on my knees and my feet. I really had very few aches or pains on the way up but today's very quick descent did a number on my body. My toes are throbbing in the boots from being slammed for the last few hours and I'm really glad to finally be finished.
Colleen, David and I head into the gift shop to buy t-shirts while Zach and Killian take care of the official business of registering our summit with the park headquarters.

Details for today's portion of the trip:
Distance Hiked: 12.9 miles
Start Elevation: 12,287'
End Elevation:    6,153'
Total Elevation loss: 6,134'

Now it's only a two hour bus ride back to the hotel and that hot shower!
Along the way we are talking with others that have just come down from the mountain too and I meet a couple from Australia that are on a 40 day vacation that includes the climb and a 20 day safari around Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Congo. Man that's gotta be one heck of a tour. I'm headed back to the hotel to prepare for my 5 day safari that now seems so tame compared to what they are headed out on.
Along the drive I decide to snap some random shots out the bus window now that I'm no longer concerned about battery life and here's sample of what we ran across, maybe with a little commentary.

Notice the welded "Toyota" on the truck gate.

I noticed many buildings with the red "X" on the side and asked our driver what it meant. I was told the government was widening the roads and those houses or buildings would have to be demolished to make way for the extra lanes. I guess we aren't the only country that has Eminent Domain laws.

Random colorful buildings and students walking home from school.

One of the few speed limit signs I saw. That's 50 kilometers or about 35 mph. Most of the time the speed limit is controlled by huge speed bumps. There's not any cops around to enforce speed limits with radars so this country is covered with these ginormous speed bumps that force every vehicle to come to a crawl.

 "The Butchery" notice the slab of meat hanging in the window. Yummy!
Also notice the guy on his cell phone. I've never seen a country with so many people speaking on cell phones all the time. Even more so then in this country. Everybody has a cell phone there!

Everybody rides motorcycles here.

"Dallas Photographic"

More kids on their way home from school.

After returning to the Springlands hotel the first thing I do is of course take a shower. Water pressure is pretty poor but it feels so great to finally be clean again. After that we have a post climb meeting with Zach to take care of tips for the guides and porters and then we make plans for dinner in town tonight. We head for a local Italian-Indian restaurant to celebrate with Zach, Killian, Gaudy and a couple of our porters. It's one last time to let these guys know how much we appreciated how much they did for us on the mountain. There is simply no way it could be done without their support. At least no way I would want to try it.At the end of dinner we have the ceremony where Colleen and I are presented our certificates for reaching the summit. It's bittersweet that David doesn't get one but Colleen and I are very happy and proud of our accomplishment. It's a great way to end another very long evening.

One thing some may notice is my age on the certificate is listed as 47. I am in fact 46 at the moment but because I'm such a goofball, I didn't remember how old I was and listed my age as 47 on a form I filled out and when asked by Zach. Oh well, sounds even more impressive to do it at 47, right?

Tomorrow - The Safari starts! Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeest, Elephants, Hippos, Warthogs, Baboons, Monkeys, Antelopes, Cape Buffalo, Hyenas and Leopards.
Yep, I got em all.
Oh yeah, and a few cool landscape shots too.
I can't wait to share these pics and stories too.