Ascent of Mount Meru on 2006-01-17

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:ranger Godfrey
guide Joaquim
Date:Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Meru
    Elevation:14977 ft / 4564 m

Ascent Trip Report

"KILIMANJARO TRIP 2006" (Jan 9 to Feb 11)
I came to Tanzania to climb Mt Meru and Kilimajaro (Africa's highest point), go on a Serengeti Safari and if at all possible squeeze in a climb to Point Lenana (Mount Kenya) in Kenya (Africa's 2nd highest point). I was able to do all 4.
I have posted 3 TR in PB for this trip:
1) This MOUNT MERU TR with a short resume of the days activities prior to today's (Jan 17) climb to MOUNT MERU.
2) The KILIMANJARO climb
3) The POINT LENANA (Mount Kenya) climb

JANUARY 9 & 10 - I flew Montreal/Amsterdam/Nairobi - leaving on the 9th at 18h50 hrs, arriving Nairobi on the 10th at 20h30 hrs (Nairobi time is Montreal +8 hrs). I took my first weekly malaria pill.
At the Nairobi airport I was met (prearranged) by Nathan, from DAVANU transportation service. We went to his airport office to look after business, I paid for tonight's shuttle to the hotel, AM shuttle to the bus station and the bus fare to Arusha ,Tanzania (gave me the tickets). His driver drove us to the Meridien Court Hotel (they had a room reserved for me), leaving after Nathan checked me in. All went very smooth.

JANUARY 11 - Davanu's mini bus arrives to drive me to the bus terminal. On the way out of Nairobi with real heavy traffic, the bus made a stop at the airport, Nathan came in to say hello and said to call him if I need anything. Very professional, nice people. The streets and fields are full of people walking in every direction, an unbelievable/chaotic scene.
I should also note that I saw more air pollution here than in all of Canada put together.
11h20 hrs - We entered Tanzania at the NAMANGA BORDER entry, easy, they stamp you passport and ask no questions or check your gear. While waiting you are hounded by peddlars, dressed in beautiful/colorful/local costumes, selling their wares.
The slow bus ride (Nathan had told me that the police are very vigilant) from to Nairobi to Arusha is very arid and barren, with never before seen conditions/panorama - not for me to talk about in this report, I came here to climb.
13h30 hrs - Arrived ARUSHA (elev 4500 ft) Mt Meru hotel under a light rain, Arusha is an "oasis" of green vegetation, compared to what I witnessed on the way here. A taxi took me to my base OUTPOST LODGE B&B, I met the owner Anna Maria - I had chosen her thru the internet and she had also recommended W S Safari ltd for my guiding services.
Thru the internet I had chosen W S SAFARI, Arusha, for my guiding services, mainly because of their contact person ,LISA. Her responses were prompt and precise, not like most of the others who were slow and didn't answer my questions. A few hours after checking in, Lisa (a friend of Anna Maria) came over to introduce herself, together with her 2 children (12yrs & 8mons). As expected she was a very warm, likeable, accommodating person. We agreed to meet in her office on the 14th, to look after the contract and its payment for the Mount Meru climb, which is to start on the 15th (I had sent her a 100$ deposit for this climb). We will look after the Kilimanjaro contract after I get back from this one. Also, the day after tomorrow, the 13th, I want to do a acclimatization hike on the slopes of Mount Meru - she will arrange for a guide to here that AM.
So far on this trip all of my choices have been good, nice people. No pressure.

JANUARY 12 - A SETTLING IN, ORIENTATION DAY - After a breakfast of eggs and sausages, I put my personal papers in the lodges safety deposit box and walked to town. I was immediately approached and HASSLED by street hustlers from all directions, like never before. I was very frustrated and to be honest, somewhat scarred of this whole scene. After walking around for a while and putting up with this constant attack, I decided to go back to the lodge (after lunching at a restaurant).
The lodge desk clerk told me that the town hustlers don't mean any harm, however he advised me not to walk around the side streets after dark. Also Lisa called to tell me that a guide, Steve, will be here at 9h00 hrs AM. I spent the rest of the day doing a bunch of errands.

9h00 HOURS - Lisa dropped off STEVE, MY GUIDE for the day. We will walk from here thru town, up dirt roads on the slopes of Meru, visit typical Maasai villages up on top (elev 6200 ft) and go down to a water fall deep in a gorge.
Steve, a stocky well built 32yr old, has been guiding for 10 yrs and is well known in town. He has a wife and 2 kids. When we walked up the slopes he would visit the huts, and stop and talk to the people, some came up to him, he would hand out money. They didn't bother me. Steve is very popular.
We stopped in at a SCHOOL on the outskirts of Arusha, the children in full school uniform were playing in the yard. Some came running up to me with big smiles and proudly saying in English "good morning".
We saw mostly women and children all over the place and the odd man, who apparently are in the fields guarding the animals. The women do all of the work, including looking/carrying fire wood from the woods, working the fields and all of the work around the house. The COLORFULLY DRESSED WOMEN are friendly, some being good looking and very sexy, they carry everything balanced on their heads. Steve talks to most of them. I took a photo of a bunch of them bundling the fire wood - I had to give them 2$. I asked Steve "What feature the Tanzanian man like most in a women?", with a big smile he said "A BIG REAR END". It was because of this experience, that on the way down, we went back to an art shop that we visited on the way up. I bought 5 beautiful "Batik linens of women carrying a basket on their heads".
The MAASAI HUTS are framed from wood and plastered with "cow dunk mixed with dirt & water", dirt floors and very dark. We sat with a lady cooking over a fire pit, you could hardly see her for the smoke. Everything is covered with soot which apparently has medicinal values, used on cuts and bruises.
The very LUSH FARMED SLOPES of Meru have an irrigation system, fed by a huge reservoir and springs. At the main Maasai village on top of a hill, Steve had to get registration papers and PAY FOR OUR VISIT to the village elder. Here the trail went thru a pine forest and then dropped straigh down to a river at the bottom of a gorge - very steep and slippery with jungle like dense vegetation.
We hiked up-river to the bottom of a BEAUTIFUL 100FT WATER FALL, lunched here. Steve left me here for 45 min while he climbed up the other side of the gorge to a "military post", to get his registration papers stamped. The military guards the water sources of Tanzania.
On the way down we had a HUGE DOWNPOUR, Steve just walked in a Maasai hut without permission to wait out the rain. A lady and her child sitting in one corner. I took a huge spill on the way down ..... a bit dirty but no damages.
17h00 HOURS- Back to town center. I shopped for Tanzanite with NO HASSLE. Amazingly the hustlers now knew who I was associated with, in fact they were all very friendly. Everyone knows who is who in town and there appears to be a strict code of respect, something like the mafia. Tomorrow I'll go to Lisa's office for the Meru trip. I called Rose at home. All is going well.

I left the Outpost Lodge this AM for the Mount Meru climb and I'll return on the 18th - I made the necessary arrangements with the Lodge for the gear that I'm leaving behind.
8h00 HOURS - LISA arrived with her crew, Yoaquim the guide, Prosper the cook, and the driver who drove us to the Arusha National Park Gate. Lisa registered/payed for my climb - very expensive fees (4 days at 60$/d), this included 2 porters and a ranger, Godfrey, equiped with a rifle for safety reasons. You are in a wildlife park. I had to sign in c/w with my home address and passport number.
10h00 HOURS - We drove to the MOMELLA GATE where we repeated the signing procedure. Yoaquim instructed the ranger, Godfrey, to start out and guide me up to the hut, he would stay back to wait for the two porters to ensure all of the gear is looked after. He and the porters would take a more direct to the hut and arrive there before us.
The MERU CRATER (last erupted 250 yrs ago) is U shaped, the open side being on the east side and the summit on the Westside of the rim. The ash cone is the center of the U.
The TRAIL, a rough dirt road for 4x4's, winds its way up on a Northwest direction on a easy/moderate grade, mostly in a dense tropical vegetation with moss covered trees. You walk under a fig tree arch - a fig tree is a vine that climbs up and smothers the tree. There are no views until you get to the open side of the crater as you near the hut - the crater view is most impressive, as is the view to the east of Kilimanjaro.
I gave most of my lunch that Lisa gave me to Godfrey, at our lunch break at Maio Falls picnic area, not too hungry. Godfrey sets a nice comfortable pace, I sweated a lot cause of the heat, drank a lot of water but no huffing & puffing.
We saw a lot of WILDLIFE today - buffalo, zebra, giraffe, bushbuck, worthog, dik-dik, monkeys (white colobast & blue monkey),touque bird (huge with red wings), huge red ants nesting in trees. Godfrey is a very intelligent, humble, helpfull and respectfull young man. He is 24 yrs old and is planning to marry this fall. He knew his park, the vegetation and the animals - very informative and pleasant company.
15h00 HOURS - Arrived MARIAKAMBA HUT located in green site with super view of Kili to the east. A large 6 building complex, solar power, ranger station, kitchen, toilets, 3 very clean bunkhouses mostly empty. I was alone in a 2 bunk (4 person) room. About 12 other hikers in camp - German, Dutch & Spanish. The locals don't mix or sleep with the hikers, they have their own area.
After settling in Joaquim brought me a pan of hot water for washing, and set up a snack table in the dining area of the bunkhouse c/w table cloth, china & utensils - tea, coffee, milk, juice, chocolate, cookies & popcorn. Joaquim confirmed what Lisa had told me "that all drinking water will be boiled".
A GIRAFFE walked up the side of the camp, eating just the top of the lush vegetation's new growth. It wasn't bothered by the gawking photo seekers, apparently this is a daily occurrence.
18h00 HOURS - I was SERVED DINNER by Joaquim & Prosper, as were the other hikers by their own people. However we all had the same - pea soup, pasta, with meat sauce, veggies & fruit. All of the different oufitters cook together as a family, which I think is smart, they save a lot of money. Joaquim and Prosper were there at your beckoning call, running back and forth, they couldn't do enough for you. I had 5 people looking after my every need ! ! which I normally do myself ! ! I am not used to servant-like service and I didn't feel comfortable with this royal treatment. I don't like it, however I must admit, its nice. This "after a hike" service is a daily occurrence.
The 2 porters stay away and there is no personal contact, in fact I rarely saw them, not like the others. Perhaps its because the porters are provided by the park and they are not Lisa's people. Like a unionized type worker, they are assigned to a job and have no personal contact with Lisa's people. However the same can be said for Godfrey.
20h00 HOURS - Tucked in my bag.

Had a huge downpour just prior to getting up. I didn't sleep well, I used my pee bottle instead of walking to the far away toilet. I took my 2nd malaria pill. Joaquim served me a breakfast of egg omelet, papaya and tea c/w table cloth, china and utensils.
8h10 HOURS - We left the hut under cool overcast skies, everything wet, Godfrey leading with his rifle and Joaquim following me. The trail stays viewless below the North rim and at places comes up to the rim for great views, there is a section of about 1500 stairs in the 1st km. Easy to moderate with slippery sections and a number of zig-zags as you climb higher. Godfrey set a nice confortable pace, I sweated/drank a lot, Joaquim kept telling me "POLE POLE" (slowly, slowly), advice that would here thruout this trip.
A dense, jungle like, tropical vegetation with beautifull wildflowers, more so than yesterday. Weird looking huge trees with crooked horizontal branches, full of moss. As you climb higher and near the hut the vegetation gradually diminishes and you start to get volcanic slag/cinder. At the Saddle Hut it is mostly slag/cinder/ash fines. We did't see any animals on the way up, apparently they rarely come up this high.
11h30 HOURS- We arrived SADDLE HUT, located on a flat area between the North rim to the left and Little Meru to the right, some sun with fast moving clouds. A complex of 2 bunkhouses and 3 other buildings. They were presently erecting a new kitchen, a wood frame on a concrete slab. I looked at the plans/talked to the workers, every piece of wood was portered up, they used everything, no scrap. We had a heavy short rain storm with winds after lunch (with the usual royal treatment), delaying my hike up to Little Meru.
Relaxed in the hut.
15h30 HOURS - I left for LITTLE MERU (elev 12,532 ft) with Godfrey in the lead minus his rifle, followed by a friend of Godfrey. The trail was muddy, eroded and slippery, especially on the descent. After a 30 min stay on the summit with fast moving clouds and the odd partial view, we descended back to the hut.
I received the usual "after hike" royal treatment - hot water, a snack and a dinner of oriental rice with a beaf sauce, hot coleslaw, fruit, juice and cookies.
19h15 HOURS - A group of 5 just down from the summit , they left at 6h00 hrs (13 hrs - normally a 8-10 hr climb). They got disorientated on the way up and got the same mid-day storm, except that they got rain, hail, snow and wind. They were scheduled to descend to the Mariakamba Hut, however they'll stay here tonight.
I discussed TOMMOROW'S CLIMB with the necessary gear with Joaquim. We will have breakfast at 1h30 hrs and leave at 2h00 hrs. We should be back down 10-11h00 hrs.
20h00 HOURS - in my bag

JANUARY 17 - DAY #3, MOUNT MERU SUMMIT DAY (back down to Mariakamba Hut)
0h45 HOURS - Couldn't sleep, all I thought about was the climnb, got ready and ate small snack of cookies and tea. Lot of activity in the hut as everyone getting ready for summit day.
2h00 HOURS - We left Saddle Hut with our headlamps, following others . It was very dark as it was about to rain, Godfrey leading without his rifle and Joaquim following me. In the darkness it is impossible to pace yourself because you can't see the trail or its steepness, the only thing you see is part of the guy ahead of you, and the eroded or rocky ground below your feet. Your whole concentration is on your pace, breathing and where you plant your next step. At places the dark, wet, rock scramble seemed extremely tough and dangerous - I slipped a few times. You seem to go around in circles as the trail is very hard to follow, especially as you near the summit. However, this is not the case in the daylight, the trail is actually an easy/mod/steep, low risk trail, except perhaps for the wet/snowy rock scrambles. At the Rhino Point's lower part the trail has smooth, eroded, mud/fine cinder sections. Higher up the trail stays below the ragged, rocky rim and where it comes up to the rim, it is very exilirating. The U shaped volcano is SPECTACULAR AND BEAUTIFULL - Kilimanjaro in the distance with the sunrise is breathtaking. There is nothing better in life than being part of this scene, I just love it.
About half hour into the climb and for the next three hours, we had a light rain, off and on, with SNOW on the summit. It was very cold. I started out with nylon pants, two top layers, light gloves touque and a headlamp. I was very comfortable. However I eventually got wet and very cold, as I put my poncho on off and on. We stopped to add my full gortex gear, and I was ok after that, except for my wet hands gripping the hiking poles (I didn't bring my heavy gortex gloves). My hands were freezing in particular my fingers. I stopped a few times to warm my hands with my body heat. I stopped using my poles, and climbed the rest of the way with my hands in my pockets, off and on. (freezing hands as always been a problem for me). The other 10 climbers had similar problems, stopping at different times, we would be either be behind or ahead of them.
7h10 HOURS - The rain/snow ceased at the summit. The group arrived more or less, at the same time, except for the 3 who turned around half way up. I had no altitude symptoms.
We were all grouped together on the small summit space, ate a snack, took photos ! ! ! A SPECTACULAR SUNRISE SETTING but cold, within 30 min we started our descent. I just loved the exilirating descent - the rocky sections are green blazed and easy to follow. In order to better appreciate the beauty of this volcano the climb should be done in the daylight ?? however then you'd miss the sunrise?? We took a short detour to enjoy the Rhino Point area. This climb is truly spectacular. No rain on the descent.
10h30 HOURS - We arrived the Saddle Hut after an 8 1/2 hour morning, got cleaned up , ate a lunch of eggs and sausages (hardly ate anything this AM, didn't feel like eating). We had a good rest, packed our gear for the descent. Not cold.
13h15 HOURS - Left the hut under a light rain and a very muddy, slippery trail, wore the poncho all the way down. Not enjoyable.
15h30 HOURS - Mariakamba Hut for the night, the usual royal treatment - hot water/snack/dinner. I felt good about my day, no soreness or altitude problems. I believe I'm properly acclimatized for Kili, socialized with the other climbers for the rest of the day.

I got up early to watch a superb Kili Sunrise right from our camp, followed by breakfast. I tipped the porters before we set out for a short (1 1/2 hour) walk down to Momella Gate. Lisa's driver was waiting for us at the gate, he drove us to the W S Safari office in Arusha.
This Mount Meru climb, if properly acclimatized and rushed , can be easily done in 2 days, however this existing 4 day program that they offer is very enjoyable, no complaints.
The RANGER GODFREY was great and really professional, also JOAQUIM AND PROSPER did a good job and I accepted them for Kili. I tipped all three. I was driven-to/checked in at the Outpost Lodge again.

Tomorrow (the 19th), is a rest day, I'll go to Lisa's office to sign my contract and pay for the 7 day Kili climb, via the longer Machame Route. Kili will start on the the 20th. Besides JOAQUIM AND PROSPER I will have to have 2 Porters (park rules).

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3284 ft / 1000 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6729 ft / 2050 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Hut Camp
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3284 ft / 1000 m
    Distance:8.7 mi / 14 km
    Route:north rim trail from saddle hut to summit, day #3
    Start Trailhead:saddle hut  11693 ft / 3564 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6729 ft / 2050 m
    Route:north rim trail
    End Trailhead:mariakamba hut  8248 ft / 2513 m

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