"Summer Solstice is active: it's about doing and expanding, living the dream envisioned in the dreamtime of Winter"(Ruth Barrett, 2004). Our trip around the world, visiting and practicing with sacred mountains, is entering it's second half, its third phase, as the cycle of earth enters summer. The shoots and cotyledons of spring have grown into muscular stems, ready to build and support the fruit of our practice. We feel strong and able to nurture and sustain our focus as we travel into the second half of our circumnavigation. We spent the winter solstice on Mt Shasta, California, the spring equinox on the slopes of Mt Illampu, Bolivia, and the summer solstice summiting Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; the other side of the globe.
We were strong on this mountain. "You are strong, like Bu-FAllo", a porter said to us as we arrived at the high camp. Still acclimatized from our time in South America, the elevation of Kilimanjaro (5895m, 19340 ft) had little affect on us. But somehow, the physical act of hiking had little affect as well. We summited in record time, and amazingly, weren't even tired. It was no problem, no suffering, not even memorably any work. Very odd... it was the power of the Solstice. The prediction received at the Rock of the Jaguar (Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca) was right on.
After we returned from Mt Kenya, Josiah hooked us up with bus transport over the Tanzania border and to the town of Moshi. He also hired his cousin, Jerald, to be our guide for the mountain. Kilimanjaro is highly regulated by the Tanzania government (and milked for all the profit possible). All climbers are required to have a guide, despite the fact that the route is just a walk up trail, and camping locations are all well marked and obvious. And, it is basically impossible to just hire a guide... they come with porters and a cook... the full shebang. Rod was calling it the Full Employment act of Tanzania.
Anyway, the morning we are to head to the mountain, a reggae blaring, red-yellow-green painted, "one love" stickered van pulls up to our hotel... packed with a bunch deadlocked Rastafarians. We pile all our stuff in the Van and get in. Crammed full with us, the 3 porters, our cook, Josiah, bags of fresh vegetables and loaves of bread, our driver circled the van around town a few times looking for Jerald, the guide. Once everyone was stuffed inside, "Team Rasta" headed to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate, at Umbwe Village.
We decided to hike the Umbwe route up to the Barranco Camp (3950 m), instead the more popular and less steep/direct Marangu route. Glad we did, because it was a beautiful trail through the jungle and then along the top of a steeply sided ridge. It even had some rock scramble sections to keep it interesting.
At the Umbwe trail head, the porters packed up their bags to be weighed by park personnel. We were supprized to see that they were not packing the stuff into backpacks... it was packed into baskets and duffel bags. Why? These crazy guys carried 50+ lb bags on the top of their heads! Up trails that were rocky and steep and sometimes 3rd class scrambles!! Wow!
Some children at the gate were very interested in us. They stared and stared, and wanted to touch my skin and my hair... it was all the wrong color... was it real? At the trail head also was a father and daughter from Poland. They were very nice, and since we are leaving at the same time, we will probably be seeing them our whole trip. Worried about altitude sickness, they were carrying 4 L of water each! That is heavy. We named them "Team Poland".
After weighting and signing papers and such, we started up the mountain. We camped that night at the Cave Camp, just a clearing and flat spot in the thick forest. We were pleasantly surprised at dinner time because one of the porters, Stanley, will also be our server! He was very careful and sweet, saying "Welcome" every time he did anything. Imagine... hiking up and camping on a mountain, and being served tea and dinner on a table cloth!
The next day we slept in a bit, then continued up the steep trail toward the Barranco Camp. The excitement came when the trail stopped at a rock wall. A short 4th class scramble up the wall and we were off. The porters with huge bags on their heads carefully scaled the rockiness. We stopped for lunch a short way from the camp, and followed it with an hour nap in the warm sun. Liking Kilimanjaro so far! We had arrived at camp much earlier than most people, and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing in the tent. "Mambo VP, Dada" said Stanley as he served us our hot morning tea in the tent vestibule. "Ready for breakfast, Caca?" (Team Rasta had begun calling each other Dada and Caca, which means sister and brother respectively). We had a leisurely breakfast and were last of the groups to leave camp. We were the first group to arrive at the next camp, Karanga Valley camp, 4000m. To get there we had to walk up "the wall", which was a steep lava rock ridge. Along the way we met a group of Italians, Team Italy, and I really enjoyed talking with Gretchen, the woman of the group (have not had a lot of contact with other women on this trip :). At Karanga Valley camp, we watched a truly Kilimanjaro sight... a group of porters arrive and set up a huge, heavy tent, tall enough to stand in. Then set up a table and chairs inside. Pretty soon a group of about 5 hikers show up, eat lunch in the tent, then continue on up the trail. The porters clean up, collapse the table and chairs, take the tent down, and put it all on their heads and walk on up the trail. All that just for the group to have lunch!! Crazy!
The next day we continued at lightning speed to Barafu Camp (4600 m). This is the high camp. We enjoyed the great views of Mt Meru (4566 m) along the way, and drank water until we could take no more at the last creek before the camp, as there is no more water available above it. At Barafu camp, we had most of the day to kill, so all of Team Rasta took naps. Some of the other porters when arriving at the camp, were jealous that their colleagues got to rest so much, so walked around our tents yelling "Wake up Rasta!". We had an early dinner so that we could get a full night's sleep in before the summit attempt the next morning.
Stanly brought us hot tea and peanut butter and hunny sandwiches at 1:45 am, the night of Solstice. We left camp at 2:30 with Jerald and one of the porters. We were the last group to leave the camp, and enjoyed seeing the ribbon of headlamps bobbing up the mountain in front of us. About half way to the Stella point, the porter with us turned around, our pace was killing him. We passed everyone on the way up, hung out at Stella point (5680 m) until we were just too cold to stay, and were on the summit before sunrise at 6:00. We stood at the summit to watch the sun rise. What an amazing view. The crater's rings and glacier ice of Kilimanjaro with a Solstice sunrise raying gold and orange. It was cold though, otherwise i would have wanted to stay there all day! But, we headed down... Got in some good gravel foot glissade above Barafu, packed up our stuff, had second breakfast, and continued down toward Mweka Camp at 3100 m. This was a 10,000 ft decent! With knees aching, we stopped about 2 hours before Mweka at a hut where they were selling beer. We rested, imbibed, then continued "pole, pole" ("slowly, slowly") downward.
When we finally arrived at Mweka, were were beat. While eating dinner, we saw Team Poland arrive at the camp. They summitted, but they looked exhausted and not very happy. The following day, we walked the last decent through the forest to the Mweka Gate/Village. We talked with a father and his two sons from Reno (Team Reno) on the way down; they ski at Squaw. Small world.
At the gate, we received our certificates saying we climbed Kilimanjaro, and were picked up by Joshia. Team Rasta drove into town and ate one last meal together (ugali (corn meal mush), goat meat, greens, and beer), before they dropped us off at our hotel in Arusha.
"Summer Solstice is active: it's about doing and expanding, living the dream envisioned in the dreamtime of Winter"... Thank you Kilimanjaro! And thank you Team Rasta!