Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 5 - Tanzania. First day on the mountain

So last night before we turned in we had our official "climb meeting". Time to discuss any last minute needs or concerns before we head for the mountain this morning. We got a chance to meet Killian, our local African guide and veteran of the mountain. Our American Guide, Zach has climbed the mountain a crazy 8 times already this season. Usually with only two to four days off between departures. But that's nothing. Killian will be climbing his two hundred and tenth time with us. He's one of the few locals that we meet that actually keeps a log of each trip and documents everything. Almost everyone else is unsure just how many times they have climbed the mountain.
We discuss the route and elevation at each camp and I'm a bit surprised to find out the schedule is different then I expected. We were expecting to have one day on the mountain that is considered a "rest day" where we stay at the same camp two nights in a row but hike higher during the day. As it turns out, we will be using that rest day to move to a higher camp. Initially Collen, David and I are not too happy about this, thinking we will desperately want that rest day but Zach assures us we will be fine.
As it is we should make our next camp each day around lunch time and still have plenty of time each day for an acclimatization hike. Hike high, sleep low. That's the plan. Each day we get into camp around 12-2pm and have lunch and rest then go for a hike to higher elevation to get used to the altitude. The plan is to try and hike around 1,000' higher then we are sleeping each day.

After the meeting it's time to pack for the trip. 3 bags.
Bag #1 is the bag that will stay at the hotel in storage with items not needed for the climb. The majority of my camera gear including the big lens is part of this along with the extra clothes and items only needed for the safari.
Bag #2 is my pack. It should contain only water and food necessary for the days hike along with rain gear and extra layers since it will be getting gradually cooler each day as we climb to a higher altitude. Ideally it should be under 25lbs. Mine turns in at 26lbs including my camera gear so I'm feeling ok about that.
Bag #3 is the Porter's pack. This is the pack that contains all my extra stuff that the porters will carry. It will go ahead of me each day and be waiting at camp as we arrive. The limit on this bag is 15 kilos or roughly 32 lbs. My pack weighs in at 31 lbs.

So now it's morning time and we gather in the hotel courtyard to await our bus. Everyone is anxious to head out. The bus arrives and we pile in to head out. Seems like a big bus for 5 people but that's ok. Just after pulling out of the hotel we stop and then we find out why the bus is so big. We are picking up most of the porters and supplies as well. We pull over and are met by a small car that is loaded down with fresh fruit and other items. all this food is transferred into baskets and strapped to the roof.

Out transportation to the trail head. The car on the right is full of supplies that are being transferred to the roof of our bus.

After everything is loaded up all the porters pile in too and suddenly our spacious bus is a bit cramped. I'm amazed looking at these guys, they all seem so young. Supposedly the workers have an 18 year old age limit but some of these guys seem awful young. As it turns out most of them do not speak English. Our guide Killian and a few others do so we'll manage just fine.

It turns out that Coca Cola is a huge contributer to this country and the Coke logo is splashed everywhere. It seems they pay for many of the road signs even so you will see the Coke logo on signs for directions even.

A Coca-Cola supply truck. They are all over the place. It seems as if Coke owns this country and I mention it to Zach. He tells us that Coke pays for many of the signs all over the country so that's why their logo is everywhere.

Notice the coke logo's... Twitter is misspelled.
Coke is everywhere! Twitter is misspelled.

Once all the supplies and porters are loaded it's time to head to our trailhead. along the way we have to stop at the south gate, our exit, to get the permit for the mountain. While waiting in the bus we are approached by a number of people selling just about anything from chameleon photos to bracelets to bandanas. Turns out I can't resist and have to get my photo taken with the chameleon. How often do you get a chance like this, right?

I paid a kid 500 Tanzanian shillings to let me photograph his chameleon on my arm. There's 1500 shillings to the dollar.
 I paid a kid 500 Tanzanian shillings to let me photograph his chameleon on my arm. There's 1500 shillings to the dollar.
I paid a kid 500 Tanzanian shillings to let me photograph his chameleon on my arm. There's 1500 shillings to the dollar.

Next there's a guy selling bandana's with the Tanzanian flag print. The guy is asking $5 and Zach tells him no way. Time to put some of those French Quarter haggling skills to work. I offer him $1 and he calls me crazy and informs me this bandana is made from "very special material". Eventually I get it for $2 but the "special material" comment will become a trip long running joke.
As we head up towards the trail head we can tell by the straining the bus is doing that we are gaining some altitude already. Great, let's just drive all the way to the summit!
Eventually we start passing many women walking along the road and they are all carrying these huge bundles of bananas on their heads. They all seem to be headed in one direction and then suddenly we are in banana heaven.  For a stretch about 1/4 mile long on either side of the road all you can see is people gathering to sell bananas. It's a wild scene as we slow down to get through the congested area. I've never seen so many bananas in one location. As we drive through I manage to snap a couple shots through the window.

Ladies bringing giant clusters of bananas to the local banana auction area.
Ladies bringing giant clusters of bananas to the local banana auction area.

Finally we make it to the trail head around 2pm and as the porters are sorting all the gear and weighing in, Zach checks our SPO and heart rate for the first time. Our elevation at the trailhead is around 6,500' and my SPO is reading 96. My heart rate is high but normal for me around 95.
The SPO reading is the level of oxygen in your blood. Normal sea level reading should be around 98-99.
I'm glad this isn't a contest because David would win for lowest heart rate somewhere around 50 and Colleen would win every day with the highest SPO levels. More about that later.

Time to hit the trail so I take a couple snaps as we prepare to get going.
Zach goes over last minute details at the trail head as we prepare to take off on this adventure.
Zach goes over last minute details at the trail head as we prepare to take off on this adventure.

The porters are sorting the gear, weighing in and getting ready to head out.
The porters sorting all the gear as we get ready to hit the trail.

One last check of the signs and you realize how serious this mountain really can be.
Points to remember.

As we start out, Gaudy, our assistant cook takes the lead with us so Killian, our main guide, can stay behind and make sure all the porters are organized and headed out. He'll pass us later.
Gaudy, our assistant cook, will be a welcome site in camp every day. He takes the lead on day one as Killian, our main guide, stays behind to make sure all of the porters get going.

As we start out on the hike I'm immediately taken by how slow we are going. The saying on the mountain is "Pole, Pole" which is Swahili for "Slowly, Slowly".  I even ask Zach if he's joking! I've never walked this slowly ever. Imagine helping a 100 year old with a walker across the street. That's how slow we are moving and I'm thinking this is going to drive me crazy. Really? This Slow, really? I ask several times. Eventually I realize he's not joking and this is the pace that we will keep for the next 6 days. My first thought is we are moving this slow to give the porters time to get ahead of us and set up camp but that is not the case. We are moving this slowly because it is the key to reaching the summit. Slow and steady and your body will adjust to the altitude as we get higher and higher. You'll adjust so easily you will not even realize how high you are climbing. I must trust Zach so this is it, Pole, Pole.

Eventually we make it to camp Simba and our porters are almost finished sitting up camp.
That's my tent there on the left. The Yellow & Blue Sierra Designs two man tent. Home, sweet home for the next week.

Arriving in camp Simba in the late afternoon, no aclimatizxation hike today as rain appears to be headed our way. Besides, we are still relatively low at this point and we had a late start today because of the 4 hour drive to the trail head.

The big tent next to it is our mess tent. Wait till you see the stuff these guys pack up the mountain for our comfort.
David and Colleen are sharing a three man version of the same tent and are set up just off to the right.
We drop our packs and look around camp just to get a lay of the land. From the camp site you can just barely make out the summit that is still many miles and several days away. Enough of that for now, its time will come.
We notice a permanent structure here at the camp and learn there is actually a park ranger that stays at each camp to check people in and out every day. They also weigh the porters load each day to make sure they are not carrying too much weight. In this shot you can see the rangers hut and the scale used to keep us in line.

each camp site has a ranger hut that is always manned. Every day we arrive we must check in with the rangers. Notice the scale to the right. Every camp has one and the porter's loads are weighed each day to make sure we are following the rules and not overloading these guys.

And finally, my tent. Notice the bowl of water near the entrance. Each day we are brought warm water for washing up when we arrive in camp and before each meal. It really is a first class operation.

My tent already set up for me as we arrive in camp. Notice the bowl of warm water waiting for me to wash up.

A quick wash up and time for a late afternoon snack of popcorn and hot cocoa. Then a bit later dinner, consisting of fish kabobs, potatoes and cabbage. It's probably a good thing I'm not sharing a tent with anyone.....
Just as dinner is served the rain starts. Not a problem as we are all settled in camp.
We are informed during dinner that if we need to go out for a bathroom break in the evening to make sure to exit the tents slowly and use our headlamps because the Cape Buffalo are all over this area and sometimes like to roam through camp and night. I'm really glad I brought a pee bottle so I don't have to exit my tent if it's raining or cold outside. It's just one of those things you have to carry on a trip like this. With all the water I'm drinking on this trip and already becoming known as the guy with the tiny bladder, I'm sure the bottle will come in handy.

Details for today's portion of the trip:
Distance Hiked: 4.3 miles
Start Elevation 6,523'
End Elevation 8,665'
Total Elevation gain: 2,142'

Tomorrow we head for Second Cave campsite at 11,400' - 3.6 miles