Sunday, April 19, 2009

Primates of Kilimanjaro

Although there are a variety of primate species found on the slopes surrounding Kilimanjaro there are really only three species to be seen by the climber once he enters the park(with the exception of humans of course). The three species are

  • Blue Monkey, Cercopithecus mitis

  • Kilimanjaro Black and White Colubus, Colubus guereza

  • Large Eared Greater Galago, Otolemur garnetti

The most commonly seen is the Blue Monkey and in fact it is the only species that I saw within the park. When hiking the Marangu route the forest between the gate and Mandara huts should produce two or three groups of these. Acording to the literature they travel in groups of 10 to 40 animals. They are relatively small, 4 to 6 kg in weight and are an arboreal, diurnal monkey. When we did find them they were in trees and on the ground. They were not particularly shy of us and were quite close to the trail. If you are not paying attention or the monkeys are quiet you could easily miss them in the heavy growth of the forest. They feed mostly on fruit and leaves but will eat invertebrates such as slugs. They are dependent upon humid, shaded areas with abundant water and tall trees, (hmmm that pretty much describes the forest around Kili) providing food and shelter. They are preyed upon by leopards, snakes and some birds of prey. The troop is made up of an alpha male and his females and young. The photo below was taken by Ray on our descent through the forest zone.

From Kilimanjaro Climb

Blue Monkey

The next most commonly seen is the Black and White Colubus Monkey. Colubus's are a very arboreal species of monkey that are rarely seen on the ground. Kilimanjaro has its own subspecies, the Kilimanjaro Black and White Colubus, which is distinguishable by its tail being completely white. This variety is also seen on Mt Meru and some areas immediately surrounding the two mountains. I did not see this species as it is quite scarce along the Marangu route. Apparently as I learned after our climb the only place to see it on the Marangu route is at the Maundi Crater, a cinder cone near the Mandara Huts. As you will note in my post Gate to Mandara Hut I wimped out, and learned a lesson albeit later, when I never saw a Colubus. According to the literature the Colubus is fairly common on Kilimanjaro but varies in abundance, being most common on the north and west slopes, where "very dense populations occur" and rarest on the southern slopes.
The Colubus is a large black monkey with a white mantle. The tail is longer than the body and in the case of the Kilimanjaro subspecies it is entirely white. The photo below is not from the Kili subspecies. The males weigh from 9 to 13 kg, females 8 to 9 kg.

Black and White Colubus
Photo by: Júlio César Bicca-Marques

The Black and White Colubus is found in a variety of habitats all across the centre of Africa. It has at least 7 different subspecies, including the Kilimanjaro one. Colubus' feed mainly on leaves and fruit but, as might be expected with an animal found in a variety of habitats, its diet can be variable.

The third species of primate found on Kilimanjaro is a Galago or Bushbaby. These small, nocturnal primates are not well known and are subject to a lot of taxanomic work. There is considerable debate in the literature over which species are where and which are true species. They are called bushbabies because of the "crying" noises they make at night. I didn't see any of these but as I said in an earlier post, if I went back I would be tempted to walk into the forest at night with some lights, and look for eyeshine. These photos are of Otolemur sp. but probably not the Kili species. I found these on the web. They are not my photos.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The 'ambulances' of Kilimanjaro

I don't know about you but before I went to Kilimanjaro I must admit to the odd thought in the back of my head. I wondered if I was to get hurt or sick how would they get me off of the mountain. I didn't figure they would call 911 and the local ambulance would pull up seven minutes later along with the fire trucks and a police car, as we might get at home. No, I was aware that the service was different in the middle of Africa. I also knew that although we hear of helicopter rescues off mountains in the Rockies, the Himalayas,or the Swiss Alps, I didn't really count on that either. Iam not sure there is a rescue helicopter in all of Tanzania. I really didn't know what would happen nor did I want to make use of whatever service that there was. In fact I didn't, nor did anyone on our trip or anyone on our schedule. However I did see one woman being carried off on the "ambulance", so I can tell you what service is available.
When we arrived in Horombo Huts at the end of our second day of hiking, under the main hall were these contraptions.

Basically it is a steel stretcher with a motorcycle wheel and a set of shock absorbers mounted in the middle. At first glance I couldn't quite understand how it would be used. However on our rest day we saw one in action. Apparently the park has a crew of "paramedics" and I use the term loosely. I have no idea what if any medical training they have. However they are there purely for the purpose of bringing down those unfortunate climbers who cannot get down on their own. How do they do it? See the photos below.

I have no idea who the unfortunate person in the sleeping bag or what happened to her. I do know that when we arrived in Horombo there were three of these ambulances under the hut and when we left there was only one. Other than the case pictured above we never saw anyone being transported on the trail nor did we see any of these stretchers being brought back up the mountain. When we passed thru Horombo on our way down there were none under the shed.
I really have no idea how long it would take to get someone down in this manner but I do know that the guides and rangers are a lot faster than we might think. See my post on the summit climb re the woman carried down the scree slope, and you will understand what I am referring to.
Also, look up 'fastest climb of Kilimanjaro' and you will come to this site which tells the story of Simon Mtuy who runs a guiding company in Moshi and climbs the mountain regularily. Incredibly he has climbed roundtrip from gate to the summit and back down in 8 hours and 27 minutes. There was no "pole pole" going on there. Needless to say the people who work on the mountain year in and year out could probably carry a sick person off the mountain faster than we think. Lets hope we never have to find out!!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ravens of Kilimanjaro

White Naped Ravens at Horombo

Once you reach the moorland as you climb Kilimanjaro the most noticable bird you will see is the White Naped Raven. If you are not a birder you may think it just another crow. In Moshi and Arushu there is a crow, the Pied Crow which is fairly similar in appearance. They are however two different birds. In fact crows and ravens occur throughout most of the world and the differences between them are the same here in North America or Europe as they are in Africa. Ravens are larger than crows. In the case of these two species the Raven is listed as 22" in length and the Crow is 18 inches in length.

Pied Crow at Springlands Hotel, Moshi

This Pied Crow, above, which is in the courtyard of the Springlands hotel shows the white markings on the chest and on the back of the neck. The Raven, below, only has white on the nape or back of its neck.

The "roman nose " beak common to all ravens

Ravens have massive thick beaks, while crows seem to have normally proportioned beaks. Note the straighter, thinner beak on the crow photo above.
Ravens also tend to have a distinctive "crrroaking" call sound, while crows including the pied crow tend to caw. I do not have a recording of the raven call but do have this video of the Pied Crow cawing in the Springland Hotel courtyard.

The Pied Crow occurs widely in East Africa including in cities and up to altitudes of 3000 metres, although we saw no sign of them once we left Moshi for the mountain.

We did encounter Ravens once we reached Mandara huts and saw them as high as Kibo huts, including the one pictured on the rocks above. My field guide suggests they can be seen to 5800 mtres on Kili, ie the summit!

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Horombo to Kibo

Woke this morning early as our cabin mate, Trish the Australian, was headed for Kibo and the summit, so we wished her luck at 7:00. We had an altitude acclimatization day, so we had a leisurely morning and ate at around 8:30 AM. Sam collected us at 9:30 for a hike to Zebra Rocks.

Zebra Rocks are a formation of black volcanic rocks that have been stained with white stripes as a result of salts leaching out of the rocks. The hike was based on the principle of "climb high, sleep low". As Zebra Rocks are somewhat higher in altitude than Horombo we would acclimatize to the altitude better than if we just stayed in camp. There was a lot of flowers around the rocks and at one point we saw a Buteo like hawk. Sam called it an eagle but from the field guide it was a Mountain Buzzard. There were Alpine Chats about and a few Malachite Sunbirds up this high as well. From Zebra Rocks we had great views of Kibo peak, Mawenzi peak and the saddle region between them.
Up on the ridge we could see tommorrows hike stretched out before us. If we really looked hard and used our imagination we could see Kibo Huts on the lower slope of Kibo. It looked to be about 100 kilometers away but we knew it was only about eight. After eating our lunch on the ridge, we scrambled down the slope to the saddle, and followed the main trail back down to Horombo in the early afternoon.
When we arrived back at Horombo, we were brought back to earth seeing an "ambulance case" being taken down the mountain. We never did learn what the story was, but our thoughts were with the woman in the sleeping bag.

We had a relaxed afternoon and evening and were up and at it early the next morning. It was a fairly steep climb up over the ridge onto the saddle. Once we were in the saddle the climb was gradual but relentless. There seemed to be no downhills at all. In fact the depressions were very shallow and small.

We have left almost all of the vegetation behind the ridge. the Saddle is in the alpine desert zone with only a few tufts of thistle, arabis, helichrysum and sedges to be seen. We are going "pole pole" and it takes us 4 and a half hours to hike 7.8 km. As we hike into Kibo we see again a little village that strike me as what Base Camp Everest must feel like. Everywhere are porters and climbers from all countries. There are White Naped Ravens here and I would say they are the only birds to make it up here but this afternoon I see a magnificent Lammergeier soaring a hundred feet above my head. Sam advises us to rest and get ready for tonite and our summit climb.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Summit Climb

From Kilimanjaro Climb

Our little group arrived in Kibo hut early in the afternoon. Our guide told us to relax for the afternoon and that we would be fed at about 5 pm. After that we should try to sleep as we would be up again at 10 PM for the summit climb. I don’t remember what we had for supper. I do remember that after supper, the eighteen hikers in our room of the hut, about to embark on the biggest climb of their life, all keyed up and rustling around in nylon sleeping bags in a small room, and early in the evening, attempted to sleep. Speaking for myself, at best, I rested in a horizontal position. Judging by the amount of tossing, turning, whispering in a variety of languages, etc I think I was not alone. If the whole group of us got an hour of sleep in total I would be surprised. At approximately 10 PM our guide entered the room and “woke” us. They brought us hot boiled water to which we added lemon lime Gatorade powder.

He fed us hot tea and sugar cookies, and told us to get ready. Fifteen minutes later the three of us were outside ready to go. Our guide and assistant guide were waiting and we set off almost immediately. The trail leading to the summit from Kibo hut climbs a scree slope in a series of about a thousand switchbacks virtually straight up from the hut. The night was pitch black and the only lights visible were stars and the headlamps we and the other hikers wore. The guides did not use them. I don’t know if this was simply due to a lack of equipment or if it was to save their night vision. They did not seem to get lost! It seemed like every 15 minutes or so our guide Sam would stop and spend a minute studying our faces and asking us how we were doing. For the first couple of hours we all were doing fine. However after a while we stopped for drinks and to adjust our clothing. It was amazing how difficult little tasks like getting something out of your backpack can be on a cold dark night at 18000 ft. After about ten minutes we resumed our climb. By about 3 AM, and I really don’t know how far up we were, I was getting cold. My feet were cold and my hands were cold. I really couldn’t do anything for my feet except for more headwear. I might have already been wearing all the headgear I had. I really don’t remember. My hands were also cold. I was wearing thick fleece gloves that were always warm enough in Canada. The guides were barehanded!!! I changed to a lighter pair of fleece gloves with a large pair of mitts over top. I also dug around in my pack to find my chemical hand warmers and put one of them in each hand. Both Ray and I offered our spare gloves to the guides but were both refused. Diane also put her hand warmers to use. Ray had packed his the previous evening, but on the mountain that night he could not find them in his pack. Off we went again and after about fifteen minutes the hand warmers started to work. Our feet were all still very cold. I remember thinking about both my feet and hands at one point and telling myself that no mountain in the world was worth losing a finger or toe. All along the guides would stop us and look at our faces to see if we were alright. Ray and Diane were both breathing quite hard and Diane was having some dizzy spells. At one point Ray (he is a Doctor) gave Diane a dexamethasone pill. Diane, who is pathologic about not taking medicines, just happily swallowed it. All during the climb we would stop and drink from our Camelbak. We each had a hydration bladder full as well as a 1 litre Nalgene bottle. Eventually the bladder tube froze up so we drank from the Nalgene. The frozen bladder thawed out during the late morning descent to Kibo after summiting so it did not go to waste. It is amazing how good warm Gatorade tastes at 19000 ft. However we never seemed to have enough patience to dig around in our packs for food. This would come back to haunt me!
Suddenly it seemed the sun was coming up and we were at Gilman’s point. There were quite a few climbers here resting and taking in the view. For the last hour as Ray and Diane had struggled with breathing, etc, I had been mulling over what to do at Gilman’s. If the two of them decided to call it a day at Gilman’s point should I go on to the summit alone. I was feeling very strong at that point but had almost decided to go with whatever they decided. At Gilman’s Sam told us it was about a mile walk to the summit and that it would take about an hour. Diane suddenly seemed to come alive and said “let’s go for it then”. Ray and I were game so off we went. Here on the crater rim we were in snow and ice. The trail to the summit itself was not steep by any means. Also it was now daylight so we could see where we were stepping. However we were now in snow. One interesting thing that I experienced was that my feet which had been cold all the way up the scree slope were suddenly quite warm as soon as we reached snow. I might have thought it was a mental issue except that when I commented on it later Ray immediately stated that he had experienced the same thing. The trail at this point became quite icy and slippery. Sam our guide slipped and fell face first onto the trail. Due to the cold however he had his arms inside his coat and his hands in his crotch to keep them warm. When he fell he was not able to get his hands out to break his fall properly. In fact at first it looked like he had broken his wrist and dislocated some of his fingers. Ray, being a doctor immediately began examining him and found that there was no real damage, other than his hands being stiff with cold. At this point we forced our spare gloves on Sam and John, the guide and assistant guide. Sam, Ray and Diane were now all moving very slowly and John and I were moving well. John suggested that we move on ahead to the summit and let the others follow at their own pace. It seemed that the mile or so to the summit went on for ever and the trail was very icy. I wished for crampons of some sort as there were spots where a slip would have meant a long slide off to a hard landing a thousand feet below. As we got nearer to the summit the weather started to deteriorate until we were in a blizzard with about fifteen feet of visibility. As well there seemed to be more people around as the various routes up the mountain merged on the final summit trail.
With about a hundred yards to go I felt as if I had “hit the wall”. At first I did not understand what was happening until I realized that I had been climbing for close to 12 hours and, other than a few sugar cookies at 10 the previous evening, hadn’t eaten since 5:00 the evening before. I staggered my way the final 100 yards or so and had the energy to take the required photos. There was no view whatsoever due to the blizzard. In spite of my state of exhaustion and the lack of view the sense of accomplishment was amazing.
From Kilimanjaro Climb

However after a couple of minutes I asked John (the asst. guide) whether he thought we should wait for the others or head back down. He must have known what I was feeling as his answer was simple “you go down now!” As I started down I began to realize how little strength I had left in me. I began to think that I was in serious trouble. In fact after about fifteen minutes we met Ray and Diane and apparently I stated something to the effect that ‘They would never get me to climb another mountain again as long as I live’.
The icy stretch proved to be a real challenge. In my weakened state and feeling the effects of exhaustion the process of each step became a major decision. I seemed to take minutes deciding where to put my foot for each and every step. The trip back to Gilman’s point seemed to take forever but probably lasted about forty minutes. When John and I arrived there it was bright sunshine and when you got out of the wind it was quite warm.
The first thing I did was dig around in my pack to find some chocolate bars, one for John and one for me. Then we got into the Powerbars and any other goodies we could stomach. We drank the last of the Gatorade from the Nalgene. I felt better after that little meal but still completely drained. My brain was functioning well enough to know that if I sat here too long I might never get up. The view here was magnificent. We could see far into Kenya and down the mountain past Kibo hut. The descent seemed quite daunting as I started down on rubbery legs. On the way up the scree had been frozen but now it was loose and it was like walking down a sand dune at the beach, a four thousand foot high sand dune! I had to stop and rest about four times on the trip down. At one point while I was stopped I could see Ray and Diane above me but they were a long way up. On another occasion I heard shouting up above me and I looked up to see two guides from a British group running full speed down the mountain with a women draped between them flopping about like a rag doll. When I say running I mean it. At the time my first thought was that they were likely to tumble and break numerous bones at any second. I really don’t know how they did it. They stopped about a hundred feet below me for a breather. I caught up with them then and found the girl slumped against the rock while the guides caught their breath. I tried to talk to her and offered her a drink but got only glassy eyes in return. I really don’t think she was conscious at that point. Within a couple of minutes the guides had hoisted her up again and were resuming their breakneck run down the mountain. Watching them go it took another twenty minutes or so for them to reach Kibo hut while it took me well over an hour to reach the same point. At one point a young couple caught and passed me on the way down. He was a nurse practitioner with the British group and explained that the woman had collapsed unconscious at the summit. He had immediately injected her with Dexamethasone and the guides had carried her off at that pace. I think they got her from the summit to Kibo hut in about an hour, an amazing feat.
John let me go at my own pace and I really don’t remember him on the way down but I know as we neared the hut he went by and then met me with a drink of juice and as I crawled into my bunk brought me a steaming hot bowl of the most delicious stew I have ever experienced. I remember being cold and yet I didn’t have the energy too get properly into my sleeping bag. Every couple of minutes someone else would straggle in and let in the cold wind. Every one was in a state of exhaustion. After a couple of hours I got up to go the washroom and was waiting in line when I realized that the girl standing next to me carrying on a lucid conversation was the girl I had seen carried down a couple of hours previously. She seemed to have made a complete recovery and had no recollection at all of getting from the summit back to Kibo.
Soon the guides had us pack everything up and got us moving down the trail to Horombo hut where we would spend the night. We arrived there in about three hours compared to the four and a half it took us on the way up. Dinner was at about five but none of us had the energy to eat and in fact went to bed by seven and slept straight through till six the next morning Diamox or no Diamox. See the effects of Diamox on sleep in another post.

Lessons learned

Really this section could be called “what I would do differently if I did it again!” and it really only refers to the summit climb itself. The trip went beautifully as far as I was concerned with a couple of minor “I should have dones!” that will be mentioned in another post.

The first thing I would do differently would be to eat. I am referring to eating before we set off at 10 pm for the summit. I am referring to every couple of hours on the trail. The only real discomfort I felt on my entire climb had to do with “hitting the wall”. I had the feeling of fear that I had got my self into trouble and would not get down in one piece on my own. I really didn’t like the light-headedness and lack of ability to think clearly. This may have been altitude related, but it did not manifest itself until the other effects showed up. So what do I mean? Before you leave home decide on some food such as power bars, chocolate bars, peanuts, whatever you like and pack them as your meal for 10 pm on summit night. This starts your summit climb with a good base. Then before you set off pack a number of snacks such as power bars, peanuts, whatever in your coat pockets, not in your packs. Rooting around in your pack in the dark on a freezing mountainside was a big deterrent to eating. I would even go as far as unwrapping the snacks and putting them in a baggie with no tie so that you don’t even have to take off your gloves to eat. I think eating every few hours on top of a base meal at 10 pm would have made all the difference. You have to plan this in advance, because when you get to Kibo the atmosphere isn’t conducive to planning. There are a hundred keyed up climbers all excited, and planning your menu will fall by the wayside. Do it at home, and do the unwrapping etc, the night before Kibo.

As to drinks definitely take Gatorade or equivalent and have the guides bring you boiled water just before you leave to mix it up in. It is remarkable how appetizing hot lemon lime Gatorade is at 18000 ft and freezing temps. The tubes on your hydration packs will freeze so pack a litre size Nalgene as well for when the tube freezes. What is left in the pack you will drink on the way down after it thaws again.

The next thing I would do slightly differently would be to break out the chemical hand warmers sooner. As soon as my hands started to feel cold I would get them out. They were still working when I got back to Kibo the next day so length of time isn’t an issue and warmer hands would have made me a lot more comfortable.

I would also take something called YakTrax with me for the icy trail at the top. I saw a few people with crampons on, but that seems kind of overkill. Surer footing would have been welcome especially when I was feeling as I was and YakTrax are small, light and cheap.

I wouldn’t do much else different if I was to climb again. I was lucky in that my fitness or genetics helped me avoid altitude sickness. I was well equipped and as a Canadian I was somewhat prepared for the cold. If you are fit and equipped you should enjoy your climb as much as I did.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mandara to Horombo Huts

From Kilimanjaro Climb

We awoke in the AM having slept quite well although we did feel the effects of the Diamox. We all were up three times last night. During the night the sky had been clear and the stars were "stupendous" to quote my journal. We got up at 6:30 and when we looked outside the sun was rising and we were above the clouds. It was a gorgeous sunrise as the photo shows. At breakfast the occupants of one of the huts were complaining that they had slept terribly as there was a troop of monkeys on the roof of their hut all night. I am not sure what kind of monkeys these would have been.

Breakfast was quite good actually with a thin gruel of porridge, toast and scrambled eggs. We were on the trail by 8:30 am. We were above the forest, in the moorlands with some scubby trees festooned with an Usneoides type of lichen.

Usnea(?) type lichen on trees

The mist would roll in and out and we were constantly putting on and taking off layers. However the scenery now that we were out of the forest was spectacular. You begin to get a sense of scale, and realize how truly massive this mountain is! Behind us we could see cinder cones lower down the mountain. There were deep canyons where the meltwaters had carved into the volcanic rocks.

We were hearing birdsong a lot today but the culprits were hard to see. The only bird that I could identify were Malachite sunbirds. I saw quite a few of them. We also saw numerous skink like lizards, and one small gerbil like rodent.

Botanically, it was a very interesting day as not only were there a lot of flowers, we saw our first giant groundsels and giant lobelia, two endemics to the mountain. There will be more posts on the flora. It would be a fantastic trip for botanists, even if they just climbed to Kibo. Eventually we came to the Horombo huts. It seemed quite the little settlement with the huts, washrooms, dining hall, 'office and admin' buildings and a tent city as well. Some climbs that go up to the summit on one route use the Marangu route on the way down, camping at Horombo after summitting. The whole collection sits on a large point and the view in all directions is fantastic. Here we can see Kibo peak as well as Mawenzi peak. As well we can look down for what must be a hundred miles.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Best job in the world

OK, so this is shameless self promotion, but here goes! About a month ago Tourism Queensland in Australia advertised for the "best job in the world". Basically they want someone to go and live on the Great Barrier reef and blog about it. I have entered the competition. Here is the link to the site where my

video application is

Go there and rate me 5 stars

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gate to Mandara Hut

Our bags were weighed and they let us get on the van for the ride to the Marangu Gate. It is a nice sunny morning as we arrive at the gate of the Kilimanjaro National park. Everywhere there are people milling about of all nationalities. Our guide leaves us near the office and goes to deal with various issues which seem to take forever. Really it a case of mass chaos and somehow the guides and park staff make order out of it. The gate staff have a huge ledger in which it records details about every visitor in quadruplicate. Then we have to sign it in about 12 places. I never thought I would actually know my passport number offhand but by the time I left Kilimanjaro I could recite it from memory. Once the paperwork is done the porters have to be sorted out. When you consider that about 100 climbers start at Marangu each day, and that there are three guides/assistant/porters/cooks for each climber you can imagine the chaos. Most of 'our' gear is in nylon duffle bags. The porters tents, our food and cook stuff seem to be mostly in orange plastic garbage bags. How they know where anything is, is beyond me. We haven't actually seen our own bags since we arrived in the van and we are beginning to wonder if we ever will again. Somehow, Sam, our guide wades through all the red tape and organizes our porters, and we all set off. It is now 11:40 AM.

It is a sunny day as we enter the forest. The first day is spent entirely in the forest. It is lush and moist with many small stream and little waterfalls and pools. The trees are tall and covered in vines and ferns of many varieties. There are tree ferns 15 ft tall. The trail is good as thousands of hikers use it every year. The first hour we are all gung ho and really not that aware of our surroundings. Then it starts to rain. For the next hour we trudge along in the rain and the mud. We have gore-tex and all sorts of other fabrics. The porters that we see are wearing sandals and have no raingear other than the odd plastic poncho. Sam suggests that we bypass the lunch stop as we would be eating lunch in the open in the rain, so a little farther down the trail we stop under a tree, and eat our lunch standing in the rain. Lunch was some fried chicken, a banana, cookies and a soda pop. At this point everything was tasting good, rain or no rain. After lunch, we resumed our climb. The trail was soggy but it wasn't really muddy, as it is made of a sort of cinder gravel. The roots of the trees were slick. during the climb we heard a lot of bird song but the dense growth made it hard to see much birdlife. We also saw and heard the odd troop of green monkeys. Gradually we climbed out of the forest and out of the rain. As we reached the moorlands we saw Mandara huts, and the rain ceased. We registered at the huts, again a big ledger and passport number, etc. We found our cabin and changed into dry clothes and by the time we came out again the sun was out. For a while we watched groups of porters attempt to set up their sleeping tents. It seemed that none of them knew how to set up the tent, as after an hour or so it still wasn't up. Here there were a lot of White-necked ravens flying about. There were a few other birds around as well but since my bird book weighed about 10 pounds I had chosen to leave it at the Springland hotel. Apparently there are about 170 highland species found on the mountain although really only a few to be seen once you leave the forest zone.

At about that point Sam came around and offered us the opportunity of a short hike "to see a cinder cone". We decided that we would take a pass on his offer as we had all seen cinder cones before, but I kicked myself later. It turns out that one of the things that people who did take the short hike, saw, were Black and White Colubus monkeys. Apparently, this was the only opportunity we would have to see these monkeys. They are a fairly spectacular looking animal. So the moral of the story is to take these opportunities as they come along. I never did see a Colubus.
I might also have taken the opportunity at the Mandara hut to go back down the trail after dark with light to see if you could see Galagos. Galagos,also known as bushbabies are primitive nocturnal primates. They have very large eyes and might well be found by shining a light around in the forest and watching for eyes. Galagos are present in the forest around Kilimanjaro, and this might be a spot you could see them. Of course, you might see other types of eyes as well, such as leopards, snakes, owls, etc. I am not sure whether you could talk your guide into it, as we didn't try. If I ever went back I would definitely try. I don't think I would try walking into the forest at night without my guide.
That evening in the dark we could hear many "jungle noises" including monkey like sounds. I have no real idea what they were although they didn't sound like "crying babies" so I don't think they were Galagos.
Each half of the huts have four bunks so tonight we will be sharing with our half with Anne. She is from England and is the organizer of a group of 39 climbing in support of an Ovarian cancer group. She is the first to admit she has no experience on Kilimanjaro or mountains in general. We wish her well. We are at approximately 9000 ft of elevation and so far we are feeling no efects of altitude. The gate was at 6400 ft so we climbed 2600 ft today.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Side Effects of Diamox

Diamox is a drug taken by many as a preventative measure against AMS. There is considerable controversy over its effectiveness and whether or not it is for everyone. I am not going to wade into that discussion here. Myself and the two others I climbed with all took it and we all were successful but many climbing at the same time were successful without it. I have included links on various subjects including AMS and Diamox.
The main side effect of Diamox is that it is a diuretic. You are constantly peeing, and drinking and peeing again. This is one thing during the day but something else entirely at night. We climbed using the Marangu route so we had cabins each night. See the photo below. Most of the cabins have two rooms each having four bunks. Every bit of building material on the mountain is carried up by foot, so needless to say not much is wasted. The cabins are A frame styled and they have four bunks. I pity anyone who is over six feet tall as the bunks are tight. When all four of you are in a cabin and all your gear is in there is no extra room. In fact walking from the bunk to the door is a challenge. Even more of a challenge in the dark! There were three of us, so each night we had a roommate that was a stranger to us. Every night it was someone different. It is one thing to wake up a good friend in the night as you are going out to the bathroom, quite another to disturb a total stranger. Anyways this is adapted almost verbatim from my journal on the night at Horombo hut.

Slept like a baby last night with the exception of having to get up to go to the washroom three times, a side effect of Diamox. Going pee in the night is quite a comical operation, especially if you are in the top bunk. Generally you delay getting up until you are just about desperate. When there are three others in your cabin you try very quietly to unzip your nylon sleeping bag. Then in the pitch black you feel around to find the clothes that you so neatly placed somewhere the night before. When you find said clothing you attempt to put it on quietly in a very cramped space in the dark. After having accomplished that quite nicely, you reach for your glasses on the shelf over your bunk. In the process you knock everything off the shelf, find your glasses, put them on, find your headlamp and put it on your head, and find your roll of toilet paper. Now the part about being on the upper bunk comes into play. You then reach up and grab a hold of the rafter with both hands, hang from the rafter for a few seconds and then drop the six or eight inches to the cabin floor, landing awkwardly on someone’s boots and stumble making enough noise so that now everyone in the cabin is wide awake. At this point they all decide that they should go to the bathroom as well, so they turn on the headlamps and get dressed in the light and then we can find the latch on the cabin door and out we go!!
Repeat 3X per night!!!

Those of you who are thinking of going to Kili may find this a bit of an odd journal entry. Those who have been will find it quite apropos.

As promised here are some links on altitude sickness, Diamox and mountain medicine. They will open in a new window.


BaseCampMD A High Altitude Resource

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kilimanjaro: Arrival in Tanzania

Ray, Diane and I arrived in Tanzania via Amsterdam. We flew direct to Kilimanjaro airport which is near the city of Arushu. It was dark when we got off the plane, so we really couldn’t see a lot but the warmth and the smells told us that we were on the equator. Customs and immigration was the usual except there was only the one planeload to deal with. The whole airport was about the size of a small public school. We got our bag and went out to find our driver holding up a sign with our names. His name was Alex. We piled our gear into a large Toyota land cruiser and set off for the Springlands Hotel in Moshi. It was pitch black out so we really saw very little of the countryside on our hour drive to the Hotel. At the hotel we checked in and went to our rooms. It definitely wasn’t the Hilton, but not bad for a third world hotel.

The next morning we got up and went down to breakfast. The gardens in the hotel made it plain we were on the equator.
The first birds we saw were Pied Crows and Red Headed Weavers. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore!
Just about at that time one of us looked up and realized that what we were thinking was clouds wasn’t. Looming way up in the sky was our mountain. It was massive!!! We debated who’s silly idea this whole thing was, while we took in the shear magnitude of the task ahead. The fact that we still had a safari ahead of us before climbing the mountain allowed us to eat our breakfast. The food was an odd mix of eggs, European sausages, fruit and African style cereals and toast. It isn’t on your Gourmets list of places to go but we weren’t going to starve either. After breakfast we piled our stuff into the Land cruiser and set off for a couple of nights on Safari. I won’t go into that on this post other than to say if you ever have the chance to do a safari in Africa, do it!! You won’t be disappointed.
A couple of days later we returned to the Springland to prepare for our climb. That evening we met our guides who spelled out exactly what we should take and gave us our weight limits. They have a scale in the courtyard and your bag doesn't leave the hotel until it meets the limit!
They gave us the evening to pack and repack our bags. All evening small groups were carrying their bags to the scales, and then tossing a couple of pairs of underwear and/or bags of candy bars, whatever to make the weight. Eventually we were all satisfied that they would let us and our bags board the van for the drive to the mountain. We retired to the bar for a well deserved Kilimanjaro beer. It would be a while til the next one!!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kilimanjaro: Part 1

Ok "so we're not in southern Ontario anymore, Toto"!! Hey, I did warn you!

In February of 2007, two friends, Ray and Diane, and myself, set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We all have some experience in backpacking and hiking but we are not mountain climbers in any sense of the word. This was the highest I have ever hiked by about 12,000 feet.
I have been a naturalist all of my life and have traveled extensively throughout America and the rest of the world, usually focused on the natural world that is around me.
When I set out to climb Kilimanjaro I attempted to do some research beforehand. I found that although 30,000 people attempt to climb Kili each year there is not a lot of commonly available literature out there to help. Indeed some that I ordered through the internet never arrived, being on back order or out of print. Try finding a trekkers map of Kili and it is out of stock or out of print! I never did get one. A book on the flora of Kili? There is supposedly one for sale but I haven’t found it. The only book that I actually received through ordering on the web was Hemingway's THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO which doesn't really qualify as a "how to guide". The web is slightly better, although wading through the myriad of commercial sites attempting to get you to book your climb with them confuses the issue for someone who has already booked, and is looking for hard facts on the equipment you will need, the natural history, or the conditioning required.
This post is an attempt to add to the info that is available to you without any commercial interest.


If you are thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro you will need some equipment. If you read the travel guidebooks you will see that apparently you can rent everything you need in Tanzania. Perhaps you can but my climb was pretty much a once in a lifetime experience and I did not want a few hundred dollars worth of equipment to prevent me from success or enjoyment.
If you are going with a group, your travel agent will make recommendations about equipment and there are a multitude of books and websites that can help you. Just about any large outdoor equipment store will be very happy to help you out with their recommendations. If you can talk to someone who has done the trip so much the better.
I have done the trip so here are a few recommendations of mine.


Don’t skimp on boots and don’t leave it to the last minute. Get a good pair of multi-day hiking boots. You won’t really be carrying a full load as you will have porters, but much of the trail is fairly rugged so the heavier boot is welcome. As well, on the final night of climbing you will be cold. Take that as a given. Again the heavier boot will provide more warmth. I have two suggestions.

Buy them early. In fact if you don’t have a good pair now and are contemplating Kili, start looking. The last thing you want to do is break in a new pair of boots while climbing the mountain. You might make it to the top OK but the trip down will be a different story. The hike down is going to be a struggle regardless and if your heels are blistered it will be hell. Buy them as early as you can and start wearing them. You will be in them for eight or ten hours a day at minimum and on summit day for about eighteen hours. I would recommend building up to wearing them for eight hours a day in normal daily activities and then start hiking in them. If at all possible hike in a hilly area. Going up and down is where your boots and feet will feel it. When they are comfortable you will know it.

Make sure they fit correctly in the store. Before you start trying boots on look at the ones in the store and decide which models you are interested in. Then start trying them on. Don’t settle for the best fit in the store. Find the right fit if it means visiting a dozen stores and trying on a hundred pairs. Everyone’s feet are different so the right boot for one may not be the right boot for you. Boots can not be sloppy on your feet but you will want room for warm hiking socks. Try the boots on with the socks you will wear on the mountain. If the fit doesn’t feel perfect in the store it probably isn’t the right boot. The new boots will be stiff but they should feel good on your feet. Experience helps here, so if you have someone you trust who will help, by all means take them along on the shopping expedition. Most avid hikers are more than willing to spend a few hours in the local outdoors stores.


Hiking poles are something relatively new. I had never used them. They were recommended to me and so I tried them. I can pass on that recommendation! I am glad I had them and wouldn’t do a long hike again without them. I’m not sure I would do a short hike without them either. They give you added stability on tricky terrain and allow your arms to take some of the work off you legs. I bought the collapsible ones and considering you will probably be flying to Africa they are the wisest choice.

Sleeping Bag

Depending on the route you take you will really only experience one cold night sleeping. I bought a mummy bag rated for minus 12 degrees C and was quite comfortable. I don’t think I would want much less of a bag but neither would I want a heavier bag. There were quite a few people on the mountain with lighter sleeping bags but many of them complained of cold nights. If you are cold you aren’t getting a good sleep and it affects your days as well.


Only three things to say:

Gore-Tex (or some other waterproof breathable).

Seriously check with your local outdoors store!


Chemical hand warmers- I have seen photos of people at the summit in T-shirts. That wasn’t on our trip. On the hike up to Gilman’s point in the dark it was cold. No let me rephrase that. It was COLD!!!!!!!. After about four hours my hands were seriously complaining. Luckily a family member in Canada had given me as a gift some chemical hand warmers. They saved the day and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the rest of the climb without them. For a few dollars and a few grams of weight they are worth it whether you use them or not.

YakTrax- when we got to the crater rim the trail to the summit was narrow and very icy. Apparently I wasn’t the first to think of climbing Kilimanjaro. The trail was slippery and in some places the drop to one side or other would have been serious, or at least the stop at the bottom would have hurt. In Canada and probably anywhere there is “winter” they sell something called YakTrax which are a rubber mesh with steel grippy things that slip over your shoes or boots and provide traction on icy surfaces. While very cautiously picking my way along the trail to the summit and back I wished I had a set of them. Again, cheap, light and would be worth looking into. Mountain Equipment Co-op sells them.

Lithium batteries- if you are taking a camera (and let’s face it who isn’t?), ordinary AA batteries don’t last long in freezing temps. Lithium works. Before setting out on the summit climb change your cameras batteries to lithium and your headlamps batteries as well. They will last you till you get off the mountain even at 20 below.

Speaking of which, you will want a headlamp. The new lights are bright, lightweight and you will wonder how you ever did any camping without them. We used them every evening walking about the huts. Remember you are on the equator so it is pitch black by 6 pm. We also used them on the actual summit climb. Just about any outdoor store or the MEC has them

Fitness for Kilimanjaro

Before I start please do not take me as an expert. Do your own research. The group you are travelling with will likely make recommendations and or have a trainer lined up. There are numerous websites out there about climbing Kili and many of them discuss training in depth

When I climbed Kilimanjaro I was a few months shy of fifty years old. I have always kept active, but I am not a real fitness fanatic. Mostly, I like to be outside, whether on my bike or hiking. Regardless, when I committed to Kilimanjaro I obviously wanted to bring my fitness level up as high as I could. I did a variety of activities including hiking in hilly areas for a few hours at a time two or three days a week. I climbed in February so our later hikes were in the dead of the Canadian winter which helped acclimatize to the cold on the last days climb. It was still mind numbingly cold during the climb to Gilman’s Point but I am glad for those training hikes in the cold. I also went to the gym and did a variety of exercises to build up strength. However I think that the one thing that I did that helped me the most was spinning. For the last three months I joined a 50 minute Spinning class three times a week. If you are not a cyclist then I would recommend working your way into spinning slowly and as soon as you can after committing to climb Kilimanjaro. I climbed with two others, close in age and fairly active people. Both of them concentrated on stepping machines and both ran into difficulty the last night. I had no problems with breathing or fitness. I don’t guarantee that that was the reason for the difference but I feel my spinning classes gave me an excellent cardio workout. One trainer I knew who has climbed Kili recommended doing spinning classes with a paper dust mask on to simulate the struggle breathing that we would experience. I didn’t go so far but I never had breathing problems either.

Altitude Sickness

I really don’t believe you have to be an Olympic athlete to climb Kili. Anyone who is in good shape, and has some hiking experience should be able to make it. However everyone has a different reaction to altitude so fitness is only part of the equation. I experienced no symptoms of Altitude Sickness on this climb. If I was to do it again I might. I am not a Doctor. I recommend that before going you talk to your doctor about Altitude Sickness and about possible preventative measures. You can be the fittest person on the mountain and be turned back by Altitude Sickness. Having said that, being in good shape will make the climb more enjoyable. There will be some links to sites on altitude sickness later.

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