Arriving at the entrance to the Rongai Route at midday, we feasted on a light meal of breads, fruits, and vegetables and used the latrine before setting out on our first hike. I remember the excitement and apprehension I felt knowing that I was about to take the first few steps of one of the longest and most difficult journeys of my life. I prayed for God’s protection to keep me safe and healthy during the climb. Even if I didn’t make it to the top of Kilimanjaro, I wanted to return home none the worse for wear.
Our first day of hiking from 1,800 to Camp 1 at 2,700 meters could not have been more beautiful. The weather was sunny with a hint of breeze, and the trail was dry. My wife had warned me to expect rain, but we were blessed with excellent weather conditions. We stopped several times along the way for photo ops and to play with local farmers’ children intent on searching our packs for candy and other goodies. We arrived at camp after three hours of virtually unbroken ascent. Several porters from our entourage arrived ahead of time to set up camp. The team was a large group with three guides and 12 porters and other support staff.
At a lower elevation we passed a selvaculture forest and several fields dotted with potatoes and other vegetables. The fields gave way to untamed forest at a higher altitude. The trail wound through the woods, up rock formations, and over rocks and roots. Along the way we encountered different species of monkey, birds, and lizards. The monkeys reminded me of Africa. A group of climbers from Germany and some brothers from Tanzania studying in the United Kingdom paralleled our ascent.
We were in good spirits when we arrived at camp. I went to my tent to unpack and gear up for the next day’s hike. Another climber, Betty, thought we should acclimatize a bit, so after snacking on popcorn, tea, and “Milo” hot chocolate (which climber Tom savored to the point of levity) we hiked about 300 vertical meters further up the trail. I wasn’t thrilled with hiking the same route twice but understood the need to adjust to higher altitudes. Thankfully, none of us felt the common side effects one can experience at more than 8,000 feet such as headaches and lightheadness. My chest felt a bit tight that night but I otherwise felt good.
We returned to camp at nightfall as the rain started. Seeking shelter in the mess hall tent, we dined by candle and headlamp on an eclectic meal of bread and jam, hot cucumber soup, vegetarian pasta, beef goulash, and mangos. Our guide was disorganized and offered fewer amenities than other groups using the Rongai Route such as makeshift chairs and tables. However, the meal was delicious, and the guide offered the tour at a reasonable price.
We retired for the evening as the rain picked up. I enjoyed some much needed down time after a long day of hiking. A perfect time to chronicle day two. I wrote this journal using the Amazon Kindle I brought with me for the trip. It’s a unique feeling sitting bundled up in a small tent writing on a handheld device in the middle of the night while the sky pours down on you.
Hours later the rain had yet to cease and started to cause leaking in what seemed to be an impermeable tent. I opted to defer clean-up to the morning because of the rain. The cook provided some water boiled over a camp stove for us to wash up. The camp latrine was hideous; other climbers thought the brushes were a more attractive option to use as a toilet, but I braved it.
Latrine lesson for westerners unaccustomed to using squat pots: Go #1 forward first, then turn around and do #2. Unless you’re a catcher with good balance, hold on to something to steady yourself, hold your pants away from the line of fire, plug your nose, and let ‘er rip. Bring toilet paper and use copious amounts.
Lesson learned: When climbing, try to use a two-person solo tent so you have enough room to store your gear inside. Disregard if you’re hiking with someone you love. Climbers Betty and Kay shared a double tent and had to stash their gear in the tent foyer. Their gear was soaking wet after the torrential rain. Tom and I used solo tents and were relatively unaffected.