By Debi Lander
The challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro attracts many mere mortals as well as adventure enthusiasts. It’s the biggest freestanding mountain in the world, rising over 19,000 feet. For those who train, it is doable, unlike the monster Everest — but I didn’t visit Tanzania with that in mind. I was in Africa on a Volunteer Vacation with Discover Corps. Nonetheless, I wanted to see the famed peak.
Visibility is typically difficult from the Moshi area, the location of the Discover Corps’ home-base. Most days the mountain hides behind clouds, only occasionally playing peek-a-boo. But Day 8 of my Tanzania itinerary called for an excursion to the mountain.
My group boarded a bus and headed out, passing brown, dusty surroundings. As soon as the incline rose slightly, we encountered vibrant greenery. We continued climbing higher in the hills through lush vegetation. Huge banana trees towered overhead shading the ground under their palms.
We stopped in a touristy little town that sits at about 5,000 feet. It rests in a humid rain forest and the mist was swirling around us. Alas, the visibility was even worse on this day. Nevertheless, we picked up our guides: hearty sorts that head pilgrimages up the peak.
The plan for my group was to continue uphill and park just below the National Park boundaries. We’d trek to a few scenic waterfalls, something I didn’t associate with mountain climbing.
We began on a gravel path that soon became narrow and as slippery as a fish right off the line. I was happy I wore my Gore-Tex jacket because the air was chilly. I had to plant my footing with care, especially on the downhill portions. I vacillated between basking in the jungle-like beauty, snapping photos and not slowing down those behind me. I also had to focus on not falling off the inclined path.
The first waterfall we encountered sparkled through the spray hanging in the air. We proceeded onward, the way becoming more perilous and steep. The tricky part was that dampness made traction difficult. Thankfully a few men offered stabilizing hands.
We trudged on, carefully balancing and traversing rocks over a shallow but flowing waterway. Nearby, we rested at another wondrous waterfall cascading over multiple falls. Flowering plants like impatiens peeked out of the nooks and crannies.
To proceed onward, we had to ascend one vertical, treacherous rise. Whew! We were then above the waterfalls and could stroll on through grassy fields and small farms growing mainly bananas and some corn, beans and coffee. It was peaceful there, far from the sounds of the city.
Eventually, we returned near our starting point and enjoyed a picnic-style lunch. We discovered the local bottled beer, Kilimanjaro, and had to taste it.
I ventured on to the Visitors Center to learn all about the famed mountain. I also dropped into the gift shop where I bought a tee shirt emblazoned with a drawing of a Kilimanjaro beer bottle and the slogan, “If you can’t climb it… Drink it!” Exactly my sentiments.
Eventually, my group made their way to the Marangu Gate, one of the official starting points into Kilimanjaro National Park. Our guide explained that most hikers take four days for the ascent and another two to come down.
He said he wakes the climbers around midnight the night before they reach the summit. I asked if that was so they can watch the sunrise from the top.
“No,” he said, “it’s so they don’t see the trail. Once they arrive on top, they have to come back down.”
Hmmm. Mountain climbing has never been my thing. Need I say more?
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander.
Hikers begin the trek at Mt. Kilimanjaro.