Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Dream Tour to Kilimanjaro

During my high school time, I read a short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story centers on the last memories of a writer who lies on the safari near Mount Kilimanjaro, awaiting his slow death caused by an infected wound. His memory is full of regret that he has not been doing what he should have as a writer. In a dream before he dies, a plane takes him to the top of Kilimanjaro. The story impressed me and forced me to think about the meaning of life. It sowed a seed in my heart to keep on my own way, to be the true myself, and be dare to fulfill my dreams without any regret. Before I graduated, I wrote a to-do-list for myself to celebrate the start of my real life. One item in the list is to climb up Kilimanjaro and view its snow cap on the Equator.

I marked this item in October this year, five years after I wrote it down in the to-do-list. The Seven-day Machame Route on Kilimanjaro was like a dream, interleaved by moments of excitement, pleasure, fantasy, achievement and thankfulness. What I would like to share here are the pieces of memories that I will never forget about.

Into the Forest
After Machame Gate, I stepped into the forest and shook my hand with Kilimanjaro. The mountain welcomed me with towering old trees and sporadic wild flowers. The trees blocked the afternoon sun light, as well as the snow cap high above. For the mountain, I was a child, excited by every single plant which I saw for the first time in my life, breathing the fresh air released by the aged lives. For the mountain, I was also a pilgrim, although uncertain about what would happen in the following days, still walking every step with faith.

Kilimanjaro Impatiens *

Above the Sea of Clouds
It was a bit foggy in the morning. I left the forest behind and climbed up a ridge of heath land. The route was steep and continuously heading up. Looking up to the top of the rocks, a bunch of everlasting flowers was smiling under the sunshine.

Soon after a while, the fog dissipated. I realized that I was already above the sea of clouds. The snow cap of Kibo was clearly showing her face. Taking a deep breath, the pleasant air flowed into my heart. I felt that I was at a higher level of the world, one step closer to the heaven.

A Torch Lily growing above the sea of clouds,
with Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania

The following route up the ridge was rugged. But my refreshing mind was dominated by the sky blue.

Porters climbing up the ridge

The moss covered trees along the route were wizards wearing ragged robes.

On top of the ridge, the landscape transited to moorland. The snow cap was looming behind the clouds gathered in the afternoon.

The Lucky Stones
In the moorland zone, rocks were eroded into pieces by wind. Porters and travelers picked up the stones on the ground and piled them up, showing respect to the mountain and praying for good luck for the journey ahead.

Around Shira Cave Camp, my guide Netod picked up an obsidian and passed it to me as a gift. Kilimanjaro is actually a stratovolcano. Shira is the oldest and shortest volcanic cone, and also a collapsed caldera. So obsidian could be found around this area. At first I would like to take the obsidian home as a souvenir. But later I changed my mind and placed it on one of the stone piles. There was a long way ahead. I needed the blessing from the great mountain.

View of the snow cap of Kibo with the moon
from Shira Cave Camp in the early evening

Everlasting Flowers
Climbing up to the alpine desert, everlasting flower was one of the few species which were still able to show me their beauty. This tough flower can stay alive up to the altitude of 5000 metres, withstanding various of extreme weather conditions. Thinking about the equatorial sun during the day and sub zero winds at night, this tiny life deserves the great name of everlasting.

View of the alpine desert
with everlasting flowers scattered around

Everlasting flowers in the alpine desert

View of Lava Tower (4642 m)
with everlasting flowers scattered around 

Everlasting flowers (white) and lichens (black)
at the bottom of Lava Tower

Giant Groundsels
The significant population of giant groundsels makes a symbolic view of Barranco Valley. It firstly came into my sight on a rainy afternoon, with a sense of mystery. On the next morning when the mist was cleared, it turned into a totally different view. The giant groundsels immersed in the early morning sun light were the loyal guards of Kilimanjaro,silent but standing firm.

Giant groundsels with everlasting flowers
A giant groundsel with the snow cap of Kibo

The vibrant giant groundsels in Barranco Valley

A giant groundsel with the sea of clouds

Giant groundsels under Barranco Wall

From Sunset to Sunrise
Located at the southern slope of Kilimanjaro, Karanga Camp is arguably the most scenic camp along Machame Route. On that early evening, there was beautiful sunset above the sea of clouds. When it became darker, the full moon started to rise up from the east, with the clouds still colourful in the west. Facing the south, the Moshi Town was lit up by night lights. Looking up, the galaxy was as close as if it could be touched. Turning back, the snow cap of Kibo was resting peacefully under the moonshine. When I walked out from my tent at night, surrounded by the gorgeous view from every direction, I felt as if I was at the centre of the universe. How I wished the time could freeze at that moment.

The sunset at Karanga Camp

View of Mount Meru after sunset

View of Moshi Town with moonshine from the left *

I could not wait getting up early in the morning, to appreciate a different wonderful picture. When the sun started to paint the eastern skyline with orange from behind the ridge, the moon was still in the west staying with Mount Meru. Then the sun climbed up a little bit and illuminated the snow cap of Kibo. When the sun finally showed its face from the eastern ridge, the sky turned from gray to blue, and Kibo, the highest volcanic cone of Kilimanjaro, revealed his majesty to the world.

The early morning skyline in the east

The early morning skyline in the south

The early morning skyline in the west

The snow cap of Kibo illuminated by morning sun light

The majestic view of Kibo after sunrise

A panorama to the south of Karanga Camp after sunrise *

The Moon Was with Me
At Barafu Camp, wind was strong for the whole afternoon. It was the last stop before my summit. In the east there was a clear view of Mawenzi, the second highest volcanic cone in Kilimanjaro. Looking up to the northwest, Stellar Point was at the eastern edge of the snow line.

View of Mawenzi from Barafu Camp

View of the snow line of Kibo from Barafu Camp

On that evening, I walked out of my tent and looked to the east. The moon, which was incredibly red, rose up slowly from behind Mawenzi. In the fantastic moonshine, Mawenzi looked more like a castle of demon. I prayed to the moon, who was going to accompany me tonight, for a successful summit.

Our team left the camp at midnight and stepped on the most challenging part of the non-technical Kilimanjaro. The route was steep and continuously heading up. The wind was terribly strong and freezing, with no sign to stop. But every time when I looked up, the moon was on top of the snow cap, encouraging me to keep on going ahead.

The route seemed endless and time ran unbelievably fast. Two hours and another two hours passed. When heading close to Stellar Point, I felt a little bit lacking of oxygen. The feeling was like getting drunk. Well-prepared for this scenario, I started to sing inspiring songs to myself and focused on every step on my foot. My strategy worked effectively. Before the sunrise, I reached Stellar Point. The moon was still with me. Looking back, Mawenzi was wearing a cloud cap, waiting for the sun coming out from the skyline.

View of Mawenzi at Stellar Point

The Snows of Kilimanjaro
After Stellar Point, the way ascending on the rim of the crater was not that difficult. On the left there were glaciers. On the right, it was the crater, with huge rocks and glaring ice inside. When stepping on the snows under my feet, I spoke to myself, "I am now on top of the snows of Kilimanjaro".

Although every step was not easy at such high altitude, it took less than one hour to reach Uhuru Peak. Finally, cheers!

At Uhuru Peak (5895 m) *

The Great Team
I had a great team on Kilimanjaro. There were 17 of us - two clients and 15 mountain staff, including guide, assistant guide, chef and porters. Without the 15 brothers, my tour mate and I could not even move from Machame Gate to the first camp. They carried the tents, the food, the kitchenware, the private toilet and our duffle bags. Everyday they went faster than us to reach the next camp and set up everything. They made sure we had nice food, enough water and good rest at night. They are the lifeline on Kilimanjaro.

Team Photo at Mweka Camp after summit *

When we celebrated the successful summit at Mweka Camp, our brothers sang three songs for us. One of them is named Kilimanjaro Hakuna Matata in Swahili, which means Kilimanjaro no worries in English. It is a song inspiring climbers, joining up every stop on the route to summit. It gave me a pleasant look-back to the wonderful moments in my dream tour.

Forever in My Heart
Same as the ending of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, I said goodbye to the great mountain on a plane. But it was a dream that came true instead of illusion before one's death. Kilimanjaro, you are always the dream mountain in my heart.

View of Kilimanjaro from the plane

P.S. In my next post, I will introduce my guide Netod and assistant guide Arnold to everyone who has a plan to climb Kilimanjaro.

* Photos with asterisk mark were taken by my tour mate Chen Shilong.

No comments:

Post a Comment