It started as idle curiosity with my searching the web for information on Kilimanjaro. There is a host of websites giving information and offering tours. I read of the different routes, Marangu, the most popular and also known as the Coca-Cola route; Machame (the Whiskey route) seemed more inspiring; Umbwe with its fine ridge; Mweka; Shira; Rongai and more. It seemed there were lots of failures, mainly due to a lack of acclimatization and the consequent symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), headache, nausea, vomiting, breathlessness, and at worst pulmonary or cerebral oedema, which can be fatal. The more I looked at the available tours the more it seemed that an extended trip via more interesting and quieter routes would suit me best. I'd never climbed abroad and never been higher than Ben Nevis so I looked to an company which could provide me with the support I needed. Eventually I settled on a trip with Jagged Globe. It was a twelve day tour, including Mount Meru to help high altitude acclimatization, ascending Kilimanjaro via the Umbwe and Western Breach routes. Cameron Burns writes of the Umbwe route, in his book "Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro", "This route is easily one of the best experiences of a lifetime.", and of the Western Breach "this excellent route is a classic scramble". Furthermore, Jagged Globe offered pre-expedition weekends in Wales where team members could meet, enjoy slide shows of the trip and attend various talks and seminars. I still had to pluck up courage to book, so I told my friends I was going, making the assumption that if I told enough people I couldn't back out of it. I didn't: I booked.
A very comprehensive expedition dossier soon arrived with information about visas, air travel, currency, medical checks and immunisation, equipment and much besides. The equipment list was comprehensive but some of my equipment didn't quite fit in. My Paramo Cascada jacket, for example, is far, far warmer than a Goretex jacket but not as warm as a down jacket. The Paramo is too hot for hot weather so I also took an old Goretex jacket patched up with Seam Grip so it didn't leak any more. In the end I took one too many jackets; the down jacket was probably overkill given what else I had. This is what I took. The pre-expedition weekend in Wales was very useful and also reassuring. It included a trip to a local outdoor equipment shop which gave us 20% discount. We had a choice of three walks on the Welsh mountains. I chose the Glyders which included a scramble down The Gribbin. I went out walking a few times in the months before the trip, including the Fairfield Horseshoe twice and the Kentmere round, just to keep myself walking fit. I caught a cold just a week before the trip but fortunately is cleared up and didn't end with anything worse.
1st/2nd February: I'd not been abroad for thirty years so a foreign holiday was almost like a new experience for me. My biggest worry was missing the plane so I decided to stay at a Manchester Airport hotel the night before, and since I could leave my car there for the duration of my holiday, all for 85 quid, the offer was too good to miss. I left Kendal in a rainstorm at 6.30 p.m. and checked in at the hotel around 9.00, glad to be getting away from the awful weather. Check-in time for the flight was 4.30 a.m. so I arranged to be called at 3.30. I hardly slept for fear they missed my call, I didn't realise it was all automated, and was up at 3.20 making coffee. The minibus driver was waiting for me at 4.00 to give me a hand with the 12.7 kilo kitbag and 35 litre rucksack I was struggling with, and take me to the airport. There I met another member of our party before flying off to Amsterdam where we met the rest who had travelled from other British and Irish airports. We were a mixed bunch of a dozen with an age range of 25 - 60 including two women; one a doctor, the other a dentist. This was quite fortuitous as well as fortunate. From this point on we were well shepherded and looked after by our expedition leader.
Soon we were winging our way over the Alps and heading for the Sahara and our ultimate destination in Tanzania. It was an eight and a half hour journey which was not relieved by appalling in-flight movies. Thunderstorms threw the Boeing 767 around like a paper kite near the end of our journey. It was dark by the time we landed at the posh new Kilimanjaro International Airport, struggled through Tanzanian customs, and were whisked away to our hotel in Moshi in a temperature of 26 Celsius. The hotel staff were waiting with a big meal for us and by the time we had eaten that it was 1.00 am local time and as we had to be up at 7.00 we were glad to get to bed.
Kilimanjaro Home Page
Mount Meru: Animals, huts, minor triumph and major disappointment
Kilimanjaro: Umbwe Ridge, Western Breach, summit and descent
Lake District Walks Title Page