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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