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TrailPair

[TR] Kilimanjaro, Tanzania- Umbwe Trail 12/20/2005

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Climb: Kilimanjaro, Tanzania-Umbwe Trail

 

Date of Climb: 12/20/2004

 

Trip Report:

OK, this trip was definitley not in the usual areas.....and it is a bit late....but better late than never...especially since it was such an awesome experience.

 

This was a tip that Super K and I ahd been thinking about and planning for nearly 18 months before it really happened. Initially we had researched several giude services on-line and purchased a guide book that also had guide service recommendations. We finally settled on Zara....and it was a very good decision.

 

Leaving Sea-Tac December 18th....to Chicago....to Amsterdam.....to Kilimajaro Airport. A sacrifice of 25 hours getting to East Africa. When we finnaly arrived at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi, we were ready for sleep.....then the adventure.

 

We had one day to work out the kinks from the loooong flight. So, we decided to visit the local market in Moshi. Where else could a white couple from the good ol' USA experience the local African culture? A visit to the was indeed a learning experience. Our walk to the market is a story I won't get into right now......to much to write about when I really want to expound about our mountain experience.

 

The afternoon of December 19th, we met our guide, Prosper at the Sprinbglands Hotel (our base while we were in Moshi). We discussed our planned route up the grand mountain as well as his recommendations for gear. After our time with Prosper, we went to our room and got ourselves organized for the hike up Kilimanjaro.

 

Day 1: Prosper and the rest of the crew including the assistant guide, Arsen and 5 porters were at the Springlands at 9:00. We had been up for a couple of hours ready and excited to get started. We loaded gear into the rugged Land Cruiser truck and were on our way to the Umbwe Gate. The route goes through several small villages. We stopped a few times as Arsen was searching for fresh eggs to take up the mountain for our breakfasts. Evgerytime we stopped the village children would pear out from behind their mothers and look at the strange mjungas(white people). But the people were always friendly and waved at us.

 

We arrived at Umbwe Gate before noon. While Prosper did the paper work in the ranger station, the porters were preparing the food that was gopinng up the mountain with us....water mellon, pineapple, papaya, mangoes, potatoes, etc.

 

At this point my respect for the porters grew enormously. These men loaded the fresh fruits and vegetable into baskets. I watched as the porters started up the trail with a pack on their backs, soomthing in one hand and a basket of fruit and vbegetable on their head. By the time Prosper had checked us in with the park service the porters were already on their way. Prosper, Arse, Super K and I followed.....at a deliberatly slow pace..pole, pole (slowly, slowly).

 

Starting at about 6,000 ft at Umbwe Gate, the trail starts on a road bed...but soon becomes steep, sometimes muddy, sometimes rocky (kinda like Mailbox Peak....except in the rainforest).

 

Wwe continue ascending for about 5 hours climbing to Umbwe Cave (elev. 9,300 ft)....our first camp site on the mountain. As we arrive at the camp site, the tents are already set up....dinner is already cooking. We get our first look at our facilities. The tent wwe use I call the "palace". It is a two room, 7 person family tent. One room is our dining facility, the other room is our bedroom. We get warm water to wash up with...and dinner is served. Can you believe fried chicken on the mountain!

 

The next morning we get started at 7:00 with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and toast. This is more like hotel service that a mountain climb! Again going slowly, we start day two. After a couple of hours we encounter a nice rock wall to scramble up ( the porters have to climb this stuff with all the gear!), As we gain elevation the jungle canopy gives way to a tall heather....then we get our first glimpses of the glaciers hanging on the mountain....very cool! After lunch, that included hot tea, a couple more hours and we arrive at our second camp site, Barranco Hut.

 

Nestled next to Kili at 12,800 feet, we have some spectacular scenery. The clouds swirl in and out. A short rain, sleet, hailstorm adds some more white to the mountain. Then the weather clears in the early evening. We find this is pretty typical weather pattern. Clear in the mornings.....the clouds build during the day.....then clear in the afternoon.

 

Anyway, due to thevolatile weather conditions and the distinct possiblity of dangerous ice conditions on the rocks going up the Western Breach Route (our original intended route) we made a change of plans....instead of attempting the summit via the Western Breach, we would travers to Barafu and attempt the summit from the east side.

 

Day 3: After another hearty breakfast, we load up our day packs for the day.....the porters carry everything else. Our first challenge is a scramble up the Barranco wall. With our trekking poles stashed in our packs, it takes all fours to climb up the rock face.....but no problem for the porters with all the gear!

 

From the top of Barranco ridge to our next camp at Karanga, wwe enjoy the changeing scenery. Some areas have low shrubs and grasses...other areas resemble a moonscape.

 

As we approached Karanga Valley, we could see the water source in the deep valley below. the trail swithcbacks down to the stream...then up the other side. Camp is on Karanga Ridge (elev. 13,100 feet). The porters go down to the valley bottom to the water source and carry 5 gallon jugs back up the steep rocky trail on their heads.

 

There are several other groups camped at Karanga. We had opportunity to chat with a couple from the U.K. and a solo woman hiker from Australia (she did have her own guide and porters).

 

As usual, the afternoon weather pattern brought a short snow storm. It dropped a dusting of snow on the mountain, increasing it's majestic appearance.

 

With evening coming on, dinner was served...always very tastey..then settle in for a good nights sleep.

 

Day 4: The trail today is short. The terrain reminds me of photos that were published of the rocky surface of Mars. Just a 3 hour hike to high camp at Barafu. (elev. 15,100 ft). Super K and I have both been pleasantly surprised that we have had no problems with the altitude....not even a headache.

 

We enjoy a relaxing afternoon. When the sun is shining we soak up it's warmth....when the clouds swirl...we put on some fleece and duck into the tent.

 

Dinner is served early. It's going to be a short night. Our wake up call will be at 11:30.....climb is to begin at midnight. We are in our tent at 6:30. The camp is busy. The porters are being chatty....after all, they get to sleep in tomorrow. But we manage to get few hours sleep.

 

Day 5: Summit day...Christmas Mornings! Arsen wakes us at 11:00. Gear is laid out or already packed for the day. WE have a short breakfast of ta nad buscuits. I am already out of the tent at 11:30. I see a solo woman hiker and her guide getting a very early start. The pace they are going rersembles a funeral march. but at this altitude, there are only two paces...slow and slower.

 

Super K and I are eager and ready. With Prosper and Arsen we start for the summit. The moon is nearly full. So, we don't ned the headlamps to being with. In the darkness we don't really see how steep the trail is. The trail has been nicely frozen. So we can hear the cruch of gravel under our boots. As we approached 16,500 feet we passed the woman and her guide who had started earlier. As we passed about 17,300 feet we encoutered a couple who couldn't handle the altitude and ahd to descend. Even in the dark I could see the disappointm,ent etched on ther faces. At about 18,000 ft I cold make out the rim of the crater...with the ghostly appearnce of glaciers on our left.

 

As we crested the rim, the moon was haning like a spot light in front of us....lighitng up the crater and the glaciers. Bright enough to leave a lasting impression in my memory.....but not bright enough to take photos.

 

We crested the rim at Stella Point at 4:45. we were too fast. It's too dark for the photos. We will have to hang out until the sun beings to rise....but it is also cold, with a light wind....makeing it feel even colder....at least while we were sitting in the rocks waiting for the sun to rise.

 

When we finally saw the crease of orange to the east we continued toward the summit....Uhuru Peak elevation 19,340 feet. Hugs all around. The sun is begining to rise....it's Christmas Morning. The photo opportunities are all around us. From Stella Point to the summit was about 1 hour and 15 minutes....including timw waiting for the sun to rise. Going back to Stella Point toook a little longer becasue of the photos. From Stella Point descending to Barafu was only 2 1/2 hours. Our guides encouraged us to come down the mountain quickly to avoid possible altitude problems. At Barafu we took about an hour to rest, have a snack, repack gear and then start the hike down to camp at Mweka, elevation 9,300 ft. It's been one long exhausting day. But a day of accomplishment.

 

Day 6: Breakfast at 6:30. the crew wants to get home to be with their families for the holiday. (Yes, the Tanzanians celebrate Christmas too). So, we are glad to oblige and we are ready to complete the last leg of the adventure. Just 2 1/2 hours and we are at Mweka Gate. The rangers issue certificates for climbers. We got our gold certificates because we made it to the summit. Those that stop at the rim (Stella Point, or Gillman Point) get silver certificates, Those that don't make it that far get green certificates. Our certificates are framed in our study at home.

 

This is a trip I would do again someday. Although I would still like to attempt the Western Breach. I highly recommend Zara and their superb staff.

 

Oh yea, the 4 days of safari through Lake Manyara, the Serengetti and Ngorongor Crater were awesome too.

 

PS: I'll post a few photos when I figure out how it's done.

 

 

Gear Notes:

No technical gear was needed. The route began with shorts and sleevelss shirts, graduated day by day to down jackets over fleece layers on summit day. fleece liner gloves inside OR mits were comfy.

Edited by TrailPair

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Oh yeah, the Springlands Hotel! Sweet pool. Made for nice skinny dipping after the climb. Bizarre pizza though. More like a meat pie. Did they tell you to keep a "positive mental attitude"? "Poly poly"

 

Zara (Zainab) is hillarious. She's like the gangland leader of Moshi, but man she runs a sweet trip. Popcorn and hot cocoa at the end of each day? Watermellons and live chickens at 12,000 ft?

 

Glad you had a good time. Post some pics.

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Start by clicking the "gallery" button at the top of the page, then there is another button labelled "upload photos" That will help you get your photos in the gallery. Putting them in the message text will be your next lesson...

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They range in size....but may be about 80 ft. They are an amazing sight. If you are considering climbing them, be careful. Due to climate change, they are calving off in places.

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Hmm, damn not as tall as they look, still might be fun though. I'll definitely will head the warning, I know that I really don't want to visit a hospital out in Africa.

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Messner did the FA of the ice in the photo, and Scott Fisher and Wes Krause did the second ascent. Henry Barber and partner (forgot his name), went up sometime later, and partner fell...and had an epic that was written about for years.

 

Haven't heard of anyone doing them...or the glacier to the right, of late (probably ??). Anyhow, the approach was difficult years ago, and is much tougher now with less snow. The actual approach comes up from the lower right, traverses the snowfield left, to the start of the ice.

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Thanks treknclime, I was wondering if those were the ice columns that Barber and all others climbe once upon a time. I didn't think they were around still, but from the the looks of it from trailpair's pic looks like they still come in.

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