Sunday, December 20, 2015

Kilimanjaro - Machame Gate to Machame Camp

On Saturday night we had a pre-climb meeting with Emanuelle, one of our guides (Mike was the other) at the African Tulip.  He described to us that the climb would be easy if we had the right gear, ate well, and drank enough water.  The rest of the night we spent packing.  I also got the most sincere and loving email of thanks from Shukuru that I'd ever received.  I hope to possibly help her visit America in the future.

  It was a 2.5 hour drive to Machame Gate and we stopped at a market along the way for the porters to grab some lunch before the climb.  We grabbed some drinks while they ate as we were still full from breakfast.  Upon boarding the bus we were approached through the open door by an older man trying to sell us coffee grains for our climb saying "it's cold up there" repeatedly.   

We arrived at Machame Gate at around 11am and waited in the climbers picnic area for Duma to get us all signed in and ready to climb.  We had to sign in ourselves with our passports but the rest of the time we just waited with the other climbers heading up the Machame Route.  A couple obnoxious Americans (typical), two very nice teachers from Ontario who had traveled here from Cairo where they've been teaching and a nice couple from the Netherlands (aka Holland - Hobie and Anna).  Duma provided us with a wonderfully big lunch while we waited and finished packing up our stuff.  

We got started around 1:15pm because the porters were carrying slightly too much weight in food and had to re-arrange things a bit.  We started the hike with Mike while Emanuelle was helping to make sure the porters were all set with gear, as well as help out a porter who this was a first climb for.  "Pole Pole" is the keyword for the climb which means "slow slow".  The first hour of the hike was along a gravel "rescue road" but after we entered the trail, passing deeply into the rainforest zone of Kilimanjaro.

It remained rain free on the climb until the final hour or so when it began to drip from the trees because we found ourselves deep in the clouds.  Occasionally, Mike would stop to tell us about the local flora and fauna along the trail.  I had to demonstrate to him that the moss all around us is what we call “old man’s beard” in the Pacific Northwest.  He kept us going at a slow pace and we enjoyed sharing the trail with porters from other groups.  It was truly amazing to see these men carry such loads on their backs and heads.  It was later clear to us how well Duma treats our porters, both by giving us so many so that their added weight is minimal but also providing them with really good gear.  

At one point we came across what appeared to be either a first time or inexperienced, or badly supported porter who asked if we had water.  He looked to be carrying far more weight than allowed and the four of us were quick to offer up some from our nalgenes but Mike and Emanuel seemed hesitant.  We think their reaction was because if they and other well prepared team support companies like Zara by helping their porters on the trail it only worsens the problem.

Emily and I had done our best to give our porters very little to carry.  We only gave them our sleeping bags and pads, our down outfits and Emily's bag of climbing clothes while I carried my own.  I think between Emily and I we gave them only about 10lbs to carry.  Each Porter is only legally allowed to carry 15kg of our gear (39lbs).  So we felt we weren't giving them much.  With my GoPro's, DSLR, Tripods, Batteries & Chargers, and lenses along with my equipment and clothes I didn't give the I think my bag with water weighed around 35+ lbs.  If I dumped my camera gear and instead carried my sleeping bag/tent/stove/mountain House meals I bet my bag for the 7 day climb would be about 40lbs so I felt better about not being "carried" up the mountain by the porters.  And... I'll come back with a ton of amazing footage.  

When we rolled into Machame Camp at around 5:30pm we signed in at the ranger station and then followed Mike to our camp, which was well past the chaos of all the other guided groups.  Having our own private chemical toilet on the climb allowed Duma to set up our groups camp in an area with more privacy and quite which was amazing.  We passed by the tents provided by the other guided groups and when we saw our $500-$600 Marmot 4 season tents and the easily $2000 dome tent for us to dine in we could tell Duma was a notch above the competition.  The chemical toilet Raymond set up for only us was really nice and was enclosed in a tent for privacy.  Our tents were already set up for us when we reached camp and they had pillows and huge foam sleeping pads laid out in them for us already.  We dropped our packs and put our sleeping bags and clothing bags in the tent then walked to the Marmot "Lair" dome tent.

Our waiter (yes... Waiter) was Humphrey and he meticulously laid out silverware and condiments for us on the pop-up table in the middle of the dome tent.  In less than 20 minutes upon arriving at camp we were served a huge thermos of hot water for tea and coffee and were provided sugar, milk etc.  They also provided a big bucket of warm water for us to wash off with... I've never experienced anything like this before and it took some getting used to.  "Glamping" I believe it's called (Glamourous Camping).  

Albert was our chef and by 8pm we were eating like kings.  He started us off with a super delicious onion soup that we were only able to eat about a quarter of.  We had no idea that there were "courses" coming so when Humphrey came back with vegetable stew, potatoes and fried tilapia we were all pretty much shocked.  We were told we would eat well but coming from a history of mountain house fart blasting dried food meals this was just nuts!  We stuffed ourselves, were supplied water for the night, updated on the following days plans, and then headed to bed as we were all pretty exhausted after the 4,000 ft climb to 9,300 foot Machame Camp.  

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