Kilimanjaro Rongai Route

2-16 Sep 2006 - by David Cohn

Trips like this sometimes have a long incubation period. For me, it was about 35 years since a friend and I started talking about it, way back in 1971. Since then, he developed problems with altitude and couldn't make the trip. Other friends were in, then out, until finally I was left to do it alone. There was a lot of inertia, but being retired and still working full time, I thought it's either now or never, literally. What clinched it for me was the thought that I sure didn't want to spend the next 10 years wishing I had done it, but having the opportunity slip away.

Even with my new found dedication, I still sort of dragged myself through the first phases of getting ready. But once I got into a training regimen and found out I could handle long hikes, the rest wasn't so hard. There seemed to be a lot of logistics-gear, medical, insurance, choosing the trek operator. I was more worried about these things than I needed to be, probably a result of being in the physical sciences for so long. The result was that I probably spent $3,000 on equipment, of course a little excessive.

The first big decision was what company to team up with. I found some good recommendations for Marangu Hotel and after lots of emails with them, I came to respect their judgment and patience with all my questions. I chose them and it turned out to be first rate. Their hotel is charming and it's perfectly situated. It gave me the chance to walk through a local village the day before the trek which added immensely to the charm of the whole experience. I had a crew of five and my guide's name was Eliawon Mosha, very capable and knowledgable. I suggest asking for him if you use Marangu. And don't forget to pick up one of the embroidered Kilimanjaro patches they sell.

The next decision was the route. Again, after lots of emails and reading, I figured the Rongai route would be the best for me. That was also a good decision. That part of the mountain is drier than other routes and it took us up to Mawenzi Tarn and then across the saddle to Kibo base camp. I thought that would be the best part of the trip and it was. The second best part was the two hour ride to the Rongai gate itself through lots of villages and finally a clapboard little village just below the gate, thoroughly fascinating.

The trek was uneventful, six days of rather leisurely hiking and great meals. I guess the over-training I did paid off. At age 63, I hadn't wanted to take any chances on not being fit enough. Not to worry though, no problems at all.

I was on the summit on Sept 9 at 7:30 am. We started fom Kibo basecamp at midnight and to Uhuru peak was uneventful, no wind, temp of 18 below, we just kept going. Took the usual pictures you've probably seen hundreds of. I took along a couple of digital point and shoots and a digital video cam, all kept under the parka to keep them warm. One poor girl from S. Africa kept her camera in her backpack and it froze, so I took the pics for her and emailed them later. There's a shop at the Marangu exit gate as you exit the park. There you can pick up an aerial map of the mountain. A very nice souvenir.

The hotel, the trek, everything was way beyond my expectations. It was simply great. The Rongai route was not all that challenging. If I had it to do over again, I would probably choose the Machame or Shira. In any case, I'm now training again for another climb, and I'm hoping to do something in Tibet, Mongolia, or Nepal. This latest dream is fueled by the content at the Alpine Ascents website. They tell me that these expeditions require being able to carry a 50 lb pack up 1200 ft in an hour. I'm just about there. Of course, I sometimes think this thing is nuts and it's getting out of hand, also the view of most of my family and friends. But it's too late to turn back now.

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