On Saturday morning (the 3rd of May) a group from school set out from Arusha for the base of Mount Meru. Although the mountain sits literally on top of the town, we climbed it from the other side, meaning that we had to take an hour drive into Arusha National Park to start our journey (at the Park Gate if you are using the map). There were four teachers and ten children on the trip. The children were all in the same year, and were about 14 years old. It was a great group to climb with. They were a fun group, have all known each other for many years, and were determined and fit as well.
On Saturday we walked through the National Park, past giraffe, wart hogs and buffalo. We had an armed ranger, Peter Matthew, who introduced himself as “the gunman”. He was to keep us safe from an eventual buffalo charge. Charles (another teacher) and I had our own plans, scouting out trees that we could climb up and ditches that we could pile into should we face a charge. ” Unbuckle and bolt” was the name of the strategy. We were all carrying packs that weighed in at between 30 and 35 pounds, so our options were limited.
The walk gradually became a climb, going from the lush flatlands up into the jungle of the lower slopes. We walked for about four hours until we reached Miriakamba Huts, where we spent the first night.
The next morning, in the brilliant sunshine, we set off for the second hut, called Saddle Hut. Like the first day, I was a thousand meter climb. Previous groups wad warned us about the dreaded steps, of which there are reputedly almost two thousand.
This day’s walk took us about four hours as well, and all along the way were buffalo droppings. Like a cow pat really. Nothing very exciting, except for the fresh ones, that indicated that there must be a buffalo quite close by. I was ready to unbuckle and bolt. The steps took us through more forest, and through the trees we had an amazing view of Kilimanjaro, sitting on a sea of clouds.
We arrived at Saddle Hut by about two in the afternoon, had lunch, and then went to bed. We had to get up at one thirty a.m. for the last climb up to the summit. We set out a little after two, and soon we were scrambling and climbing our way around some pretty steep slopes. To get to the summit of Meru you have to make your way around the side of the mountain until you can get at the peak. It is a strange shape, sort of like a letter C, hollow in the middle except for a spectacular ash cone. Several times on the climb we walked along ridges that were about two meters wide and dropped away for hundreds of meters on both sides. On the way up, at night, we didn’t really notice. On the way back, we noticed.
We summited at about eight in the morning, all of us. No-one had to go back. I could certainly feel the altitude in my lungs, but no-one felt any sickness at all. There was a three or four hour stretch when Charles and I entertained one another by talking jibberish. That must have been the altitude. Once we reached the summit, we all spent a minute remembering our friend Leebeth, who died earlier this year. The day she died, Meru was covered with snow like no-one had ever seen it before.
On our descent we reached Saddle Hut by one in the afternoon, all told an eleven hour journey. After resting for a couple hours, we walked it down to Miriakamba Hut again. Thirteen hours. I took a shower, the coldest shower of my life, and felt like I was ready for bed. The next morning, we finally crossed paths with a buffalo. He was only twenty meters away, but was sadly not interested in us. I was unbuckled and had picked out a tree already. You see, for us to be safe the gunman would have to drop the buffalo dead with one shot. My father always told me that a wounded buffalo was the deadliest animal that you could ever meet in Africa. The walk back to the car was only about two hours long, but by now our calves and thighs were really asking for a little clemency. We made it down, into town, and I came home to find that Sofia had grown and was more beautiful than I could remember. I had missed her and Samantha so much over the four days.
This week-end I am climbing up Mount Meru, hopefully to the summit. Socialist Peak. I will be back on Tuesday, and will be able to post a photo or two and tell about the trip. I expect lots and lots and lots of rain. We shall see. Leaving Sofia and Samantha behind is difficult.