Tanzanian Safari and Kilimanjaro

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Tanzanian Safari and Kilimanjaro

For some time now I have fancied the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro, nearly 20,000 ft, the highest mountain in Africa and the highest mountain in the world not in a range. It is difficult to believe that 6? below the equator it is permanently snow-capped. Travelling that distance to Africa I wanted to see more than just a mountain and was able to combine it with a Safari.
I went with Explore Worldwide,a company which I had previously travelled to Iceland and Nepal with and who specialise in small group exploratory holidays


The tour started in early February. February is one of the best times to visit East Africa as it is between rainy seasons and the animals will have returned from their migration in Northern Kenya. There is a short rain season in November and December and a long rain season in March to May.
After flying in to Kilimanjaro airport we were transferred to a hotel in Arusha, the largest town in the area, where the group of 16 met Simon the tour leader. It was also a case of making the most of the relative comfort of the hotel. After this it would be camping.
The following morning we met the rest of the crew 3 local drivers in 2 Toyota 7 seat landcruisers and a Landrover Defender. There was also the cook with his driver in a landrover. All vehicles were 4 wheel drive.
Most of the tour was in the region of the Great Rift Valley, 9656 Kms long stretching from Jordan to Mozambique and created by the collision of the continental masses of Africa and the Middle East and marked by a chain of lakes and volcanic craters, an awesome reminder of the titanic forces which have shaped our planet.
The first stage of the tour was across country to the Serengeti. Initially this was on a tarmac road although we soon turned off on to an unmetalled road of a condition which even Jeff Kenyon would have questioned running a rally. This was caused by the very heavy short rain season which hadn’t yet finished. The only non 4 wheel drive vehicles were lorries most of which were stuck axle deep in the mud. I also saw a couple of buses which should have been pensioned off at least 30 years ago, both broken down with the passengers underneath supporting the prop shaft or whatever else might have broken. On returning home I was surprised to see this road marked on a world atlas.
On arrival at the Serengeti we had an excellent days viewing of the animals, herds of Zebra and Wildebeest returning from their migration and a number of Lions.
There was an opportunity for a balloon flight across the Serengeti. We were woken at 5.00am in time for what should have been a magical sunrise as the balloon took off followed by amazing views of herds of wild animals roaming across the plain. In reality it was overcast so there was no sunrise; there was also no wind so we only travelled about ½ mile and saw just one animal, “c’est la vie” as they say.
That afternoon we were taken to part of a river which contained about 30 Hippo’s, all taking advantage of the swollen water. We kept well back from the edge as there were a number of crocodiles. These were Nile crocodiles which, at up to 7ft long are said to be the largest and most dangerous. They claim their victims by creeping up to the waters edge just below the surface. Then, in one sift movement, flashes it’s tail knocking the victim into the water before dragging him down.
The only people allowed to live in the National parks are tribes such as the Masai. They live in sympathy with and not in conflict with the environment. It was strange seeing these tall figures dressed in red with painted faces carrying spears and, because of the weather, a black rolled up umbrella.
From here we were due to go to lake Natron but unfortunately because of the heavy rain some of the roads had been washed away leaving them impassable. This was unfortunate as this was a fascinating sulphurous lake where only Flamingos can survive.
Instead we went up to Lobo, still in the Serengeti but close to the Kenyan border. Animal viewing was a bit disappointing apart from a pride of lions about 200 yds from where we were to camp. I counted 18. Luckily they had just had a kill and had eaten.
That night it was a wild camp i.e. no protection or facilities. We were given strict instructions to pitch the tents in a tight circle and any food we had to put in a steel chest and not kept in our tents. Whilst our meal was being cooked we became contious of being surrounded by a number of pairs of eyes. These were Hyenas anxious to get in on the act. After our meal we were given strict instructions to thoroughly wash our hands and teeth so that no food could be detected by the animals and then sent off to bed with a bedtime story about a traveller at that site the previous year being eaten by a Lion. Her tour leader was not as diligent as she had salami sandwiches in her tent.
On the return journey we were rewarded with the sight of a herd of about 40 elephants, majestic in there progress destroying whatever trees and shrubs may get in their way. One was separated from the rest of the herd and very close to the road. He was not very happy with our presence and our drivers had to be very attentive as an angry fully grown African elephant would make very light work of a land rover and it’s contents.
After leaving the Serengeti we visited the Olduvai gorge where the oldest human remains have been discovered, some dating back 2 million years.
Next of the national parks was Ngorongoro crater. This is technically a caldera and formed 25 million years ago when underground magma escaped through volcanic action further along the valley. The resulting chamber collapsed leaving a crater 19 Kms in diameter. The crater is very fertile and has the highest concentration of wild animals in Africa. We had good sightings of Zebra, Wildebeest, Lion, Elephant and bird life such as Flamingos.
Our drivers were advised of Rhino’s on the other side of the crater. Unfortunately the route their was very marshy. Twice we went to the rescue of other vehicles stuck in the mud. At one point our driver had the power on so as not to get stuck when we hit something hard and submerged producing a yump with which Colin McRae would have been proud. Colin, however, wears full harness belts we weren’t wearing any, well they are restrictive when it comes to viewing the animals. I was the only one to suffer. I shot up cut my head on the roof opening and came down hard tearing all the muscles in my lower back. For a short while I thought my holiday was going to come to an abrupt end. I did however manage to continue although in extreme discomfort for a few days.
The next park was Lake Manyara. Here we saw Baboons, Zebra, Wildebeest and a group of Giraffes in some kind of mating ritual. We didn’t have that much time to wait to see what happened although with the size and shape Giraffes the mind boggles at the complications of mating.
The last of the parks on the safari was the Arusha national park where we saw Buffalo, Zebra and Giraffe. Also contained within the park is mount Meru, the fourth highest mountain in Africa and formed by volcanic action. One side of the volcanic cone had fallen away allowing us to climb up to the crater floor giving a good view of the other side of the cone and, at nearly 5000ft, one of the highest cliff faces in the world.
We stayed overnight in a hut near the crater floor where we were rewarded with a good sunrise view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
That was the end of the safari. After this most went home leaving 5, dare I say myself and 4 girls, to be transferred to another group for the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.


After a good nights sleep in the hotel we were transferred to Marangu gate, the entrance to Kilimanjaro national park and the start of the climb. Although the start was 6000ft up we still had nearly 14000 to go.
It was at this point we met our chief guide, named Boniface, and his 6 assistants. There was also a team of 32 porters which were used to carry all that was necessary for the trek.
The first section was along a path through rain forest up to Mandara hut which, at 2700m, was situated at the top of the tree line. All accommodation was in basic wooden mountain huts with bunk beds. There was a dining area were food prepared by the cook and assisted by the guides and porters was served.
The following day the path took us up through open moorland and Alpine meadows with strange looking plants. The atmosphere now began to get thin and we started to become breathless, from here on it was definitely pole pole (slowly slowly). That night was at Horombo hut, 3720m and in sight of Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi.
The following day was spare, included to help acclimatisation. We were taken for a walk to the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. From here we had a clear view of the route for the final ascent in 2 days time. It looked steep.
Soon after leaving Horombo on the following day we passed the last spring water, beyond this there was no natural resources and the landscape became almost lunar.
We arrived at Kibo, the final hut at 4709m, during the afternoon. The hut was very bleak, water and wood for cooking had to be carried up as well as the food. Outside the sun would burn the skin in the rare atmosphere, inside in the shade it was cold. The afternoon was spent trying to get some sleep in readiness for the night ahead, it was here we realised how cold it was as we all froze in our sleeping bags. After a light evening meal it was back to our sleeping bags this time wearing our thermals.
We were woken from our beds that night at 11.00pm (yes 11.00pm) for tea and biscuits and to prepare for the final ascent. It was stressed that layers of clothes were required to combat the cold which would be well below freezing on top. I had a thermal vest, tee shirt, cotton shirt, sweat shirt, fleece and Gortex coat.
At 11.50 we were lined up in the darkness ready for the final inspection. This was the only time I saw Boniface without his bonny face. His main concern that we were well and properly prepared. We were all now feeling the effects of the cold, lack of sleep and altitude sickness.
On the dot of midnight, aided by torchlight, we departed strictly “pole pole”. The lower levels were quite straightforward until we reached a steep scree slope which necessitated following a zig zag path across the scree - this was hard going, two steps up and across with one down. The final section was a scramble over ice and rocks to reach Gillmans point at 5.30am. Although this was the top of the volcanic cone it was not the highest point, this was Uhuru on the other side of the cone 11/2 hours walk/climb away. Five of us with 2 guides proceeded along a very narrow ice path on the inside of the crater before changing to a steep climb past dramatic ice fields to the Uhuru summit, 5,895 m high, arriving at 7.00am just after sunrise.
Although cold and tired it was an amazing feeling of satisfaction. The sun had risen, the sky was clear and the whole of Africa lay at our feet.
We savoured the sunrise views for about 20 minutes before descending. On the way down we missed out Gillmans point by cutting through an ice covered gully. Our 2 guides went ahead cutting foot holes with an ice axe. It was at this point I began to wish Father Christmas had brought me a set of crampons. Having survived the ice we arrived at the top of the scree slope and a scree running descent covered in a fraction of the time it took to ascend.
After a couple of hours rest to allow the legs to recover we returned to Horombo hut. The following and last full day the final descent to Merangu gate before being transferred back to our hotel for an evening of celebration which was somewhat subdued because of lack of energy.
On average 30% of those who attempt the climb fail. These are usually young immortal Rambo’s who eventually succumb to altitude sickness by climbing to fast. The final analysis of our group. Unfortunately 2 succumbed to the altitude on the final ascent and had to be brought down. The remaining 14 made it to Gillmans point. Of those 5 of us made to the summit of Uhuru.

Stafford Steed