Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March (Travel) Madness: Mt. Meru

I think I have probably mentioned one or a hundred times the lack of rain around here.  All my complaining managed to catch up with me the one weekend I decided to be outdoors-y girl and drag my rear up the 15,000 ft mountain just outside of View of Meru from Arusha Center Arusha  - Mt. Meru.  It all started innocently enough with a moderate drizzle that kept us cool on day one as we ascended the first 3,300 ft over the course of 8.7  miles.  Most of us were more preoccupied by the burgeoning blisters on our heels, guiltless-ly consuming all the chocolate in our packs and praying to the gods thatCloudy View of Mtn Before Hike Melanie's shoe* would make it to the first camp.  And by the time we reached the first camp at 8,250 ft, the damp clothes felt good against the cool breeze.  Equally  convenient was not only the full moon weekend we'd chosen, but a SUPER moon no less.

Day 2 had us climbing the same amount of elevation as day 1 (3,450 ft) but over 1/2 the distance (3 miles).  The day started with a heavy fog and light mist.  Within 30 minutes of hiking, the faucet was open even further and we were drenched by the time we reached camp 2 (3.5 hours later, 11,700 ft).  Again, feeling pretty bad ass, we didn't let the rain get us down.  We'd made decent time considering the entire hike involved climb steps.  Once changed into the last vestiges of dry clothes, we were happy campers again and the world smiled with us
Day 1 Hiking - Fig Tree Day 1 Hiking - Crossing Valleyby bringing out the sun.  After lunch, we opted to climb Little Meru (12,533 ft) which was about a 45 min hike from the camp and was possibly our only chance to summit anything AND have a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Being the outdoors-y warrior that I am, I single-handedlyfought off the rain gods by wearing long johns under my rain pants, plastic bags over my socks and a rain jacket over my thermal top.   The sun stayed out and I was drenched in sweat (badge of honor forthcoming).  After  dinner, it was early to bed as we'd be rising at midnight to start our climb to the summit.
Day 2 weather at beginning of hikeView of Mtn from Camp 1
Supermoon at Camp 1Again, the cosmos smiled down on us and we departed camp 2 with a clear sky and full moon bright enough to illuminate our path without headlamps - if that doesn't put a spring in your weary step, I don't know what will!  Nevertheless, our weather-luck ran out quickly and the clouds quickly flew in.  They managed to hold on to their precipitation for the first 4 hours or so, but then the higher we climbed and neared the summit, it started to snow.  Yeah, I was pretty cold and tired by this point, but snow!  In Africa!  Cool!  It had  been two years since I'd seen any of the white stuff so I managed to feign an enthusiastic grunt for the guide every time he checked on me.  Then, finally, 6 hours after having set off, we scrambled up some rocks and arrived at the summit (14,980ft) and were treated to an absolute white out.  The sun had risen, but you couldn't tell.  Mt. Kilimanjaro was out in the distance and we could barely see 30 ft in front of us.  I was cold, filled with pride and accomplishment and ready to get the &^%$ off the summit and back to the land of hot chocolate. 
Little Meru Summit - Lisa, Melanie, DixonWe  only spent about 20 min on the summit and then down we went.  The snow was letting up and we could see green slopes down below - surely the more we descend, the better the weather will be!  LMAO!!!! (translation for the parents: laughing my ass off).  It was certainly exciting to see snow after a 2 yr absence, but hail?  Sleet?  Not so fun, especially when you're 14,000 ft in the air, 30 miles from home and 15 hours (if all goes well) from embracing your family.  I won't lie, panic fueled my walk back.  Screw the trail mix and frozen chocolate bars in my bag, get me off this mountain.  Four hours of small but consistent hail accompanied us across loose sand/ash, narrow mountain saddles and forty-five degree angle lava flows that had to be scaled (hi mom!) until we reached a safe point and could finish our descent in peace.
Summit BexSuffice to say, we made it with puddles in our boots and morale still mostly intact (two of the women said immediately after getting to the safe point 'I definitely want to do this again!' I was not one of the two).  Mt. Meru looms over us in Arusha every day and there's hardly a spot in the city in which you cannot see it (provided its not hidden in the clouds).  Admittedly, its quite gratifying to have conquered it.  I can't help but feel a tickle of pride every time it shows up in my peripheral vision or looms ahead of me as I approach the house.  
Summit with LisaRoger has also climbed Mt. Meru but with optimal weather (things like sun!).  So he may have the whole I-write-judgments-against-perpetrators-of-the-Rwandan-genocide-and-what-do-you-do thing going on, but I summited Mt. Meru in the snow!
*Our co-climber, Melanie (also my upstairs neighbor), had some very bad luck with her boots about 15 min into the hike.  The sole of her boot completely detached from the boot.  Some blister tape and borrowing gaiters from the guide seemed to do the trick.  About 30 min later, the sole of her other boot did the same thing.  Same remedy.  When we got to camp 1, a porter sewed the soles back on and used duct tape to “weather-proof” them!  And they survived!
Had there been no adverse weather, it might have looked more like this (from Roger's summit in Nov 2009):
Mt. Kilimanjaro in the BackApproach to Summit - I climbed all that! Descent from Summit - Ours was snow coveredA rock or two to climb over


  1. It's Roger's pictures that make me want to do it again. It's gorgeous! (Although we were sort of lucky in that we didn't really have much of an idea about how sketchy it really was)

  2. You are so brave! I'd have been home on the couch. The pictures of the clouds are amazing.

  3. What a great story...Mahalo for sharing

  4. Great post! Very enjoyable read!