Done! Fifth Highest Mountain in Africa

Despite my quads and feet screaming at me right now, I’m happy I decided to add Mount Meru to the list at the last minute. Meru is the fifth largest mountain in Africa (4,566 m or 14,967 ft). So I’ve now done numbers one and five in Africa. I don’t think I’ll be doing mountains two through four anytime soon, although I may ship some of the mountain gear home to insure I don’t change my mind. 🙂

I’m still processing, but I think I enjoyed this hike more than Kilimanjaro. It definitely takes more technical skill than Kili does. There are places where you are holding on to chains bolted into the mountain as you try and go horizontal around a wall of vertical rock. Then there is the part where you hold on to a waist high chain as you walk along the ridge of the mountain so that you don’t go off either side. Going off wouldn’t be a good thing. Surprisingly doing it in the dark was actually easier because you couldn’t see just how crazy stupid some of it was. On the descent the guide said to me at one point “it is not going to be good if you continue to shake.” I so wanted to respond “no shit Einstein” but then thought better of pissing off the only person on the mountain with me that could get me down.

Mount Meru is located in Arusha National Park. One of the coolest things about this hike is the animals that you get to see along the way. In addition to the porters, cook, and guide that go along with you up the mountain (there were 6 people for just me!) you are also assigned a park ranger when you check-in at the starting gate. The ranger is there in case any of the animals get a little too close. Turns out buffalo are pretty nasty.

On the way up we saw a poisonous snake that just happened to be on the path we were on, so of course, we deviated from the path instead of messing with it. We also saw baboons, colobus monkeys, bush bucks, buffalos, and all kinds of birds. On the descent we walked right through a field with giraffes and a herd of buffalo. One of the buffalo decided he wasn’t all that happy with us being there. It was the only time the ranger pulled his gun out the entire trip. The previous times the buffalo were far enough away that just rattling a plastic bag scared them off.

The scenery is lush and green for the first half and similar to the Shira plateau and the summit for those familiar with Kili for the second half. The first day you hike through the forest for about 3 hours up to Miriakamba Hut at 2500m. The second day you hike for another 4 to 5 hours to Saddle Hut at 3,500m. In the afternoon, I did an acclimation hike up to the summit of Little Meru at 3,820m. I wasn’t taking Diamox this time so I could have passed on the acclimation hike but thought it best not to.

One of the incredible things about this hike is that it was essentially me and the guide on the mountain by ourselves. There was a Spanish couple paired with the ranger I was assigned, but once you get to Saddle Hut the animals aren’t up that high so it is just you and your guide at that point. The Spanish couple decided not to do Little Meru and instead set out earlier for the summit, so when I was still ascending they were already on their way back down the mountain. It was a pretty awesome feeling to know you and your guide are the only two on top of the mountain.

Anyway after the acclimating hike up Little Meru I had an early dinner then went to bed. I got back up at 12:30am and we started hiking for the summit at 1:00am. The stars and moon were bright enough when we first started out that you could almost get away without the headlamp on for the first part of the climb.

Meru is significantly steeper and rockier than Kili. The other added challenge that I had to deal with was some crazy wind. I was blown away literally and figuratively. My face looks completely sunburned, but it is from the wind. We experienced some significant wind on Kili but it was nothing like what I dealt with on Meru. Despite the harder climb and being significantly more out of shape, I did much better physically and mentally on this one which makes me think the altitude on Kili really pushed me over the edge. I think my body is more of a 15,000ft person than a 20,000fter. My certificate says I summited at 7:30am but I think it was closer to 8am. There is actually a book in a lock box on the top that you have to sign.

After a cup of tea on the frickin’ summit (who actually carries anything more than the bare essentials? The answer, my guide), and time to take some photos and reflect on what I accomplished, we started back down. After 7 hours up, it took us another 5 hours to get back down. I was basically hiking for 12 hours straight with only minimal breaks. They don’t really let you stop because you would get too cold. I think I took a bit longer to get back down than many. My knees and feet were killing me at this point, and as I mentioned, seeing what I actually had to do to get down in broad daylight makes me really question whether I’m cut out for this level of hiking. We eventually made it back to camp a little before 1pm. At that point, all I really wanted to do was to crawl into my sleeping bag, but unfortunately they want to get you down to the lower camp for safety reason (altitude). So after climbing for 12 hours, I had to quickly pack and eat some lunch before heading out again for another 3 hour downhill (more like down rock) torture on my knees and feet.

Despite my complaining and the fact that I’m soaking my feet now as I type this up, it really was an incredible experience and an awesome way to conclude my time here in Tanzania. I used the same company/hotel I used for the Safari, Dik Dik Hotel and Tour Company. I can’t say enough about the company. Their food is outstanding even on the mountain. I was having lamb and beef tenderloin, soups, fruit platters, and full breakfasts. Plus it was the little things like a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag at night or hot tea on the hikes. I said it before, but it really is worth hiring an operator that treats its porters fairly and provides the small touches that really takes it from a good experience to an outstanding one.

Up next, I’m off to Kenya. Fingers crossed I don’t have any issues with customs. Supposedly some people who buy Tanzanite have a bit of trouble at the airport, and I’m wondering about some of the wood pieces I picked up. I tried shipping them earlier but it was going to cost me a $200 tax (more than they were worth) on top of the $100 mailing fee. Oh and by the way, in case you didn’t figure it out, I did pick up a piece of Tanzanite. I decided to go with a loose stone instead of one that was already laid into a piece of jewelry. Once I make it over the border, I might have a bit more to go along with the Tanzanite story. But for now I’ll hold off just in case. I also needed to get rid of all my plastic bags as Kenya just passed another ban on plastic bags last week. They’ve tried several times in the past, but it hasn’t been carried through.  They are threatening jail sentences this time. Nothing like making an example of a tourist coming into the country to make the locals take you seriously.

Happy Labor Day! I can’t believe it is already September. Once I get settled in Kenya I’ll send an update. It is an interesting time to be going. On Friday, the Kenyan Supreme Court threw out the presidential election that took place in August and ordered a new election be held within 60 days.

4 thoughts on “Done! Fifth Highest Mountain in Africa”

  1. Jessica, you are amazing. I am so impressed while at the same time concerned for your sanity. Enjoy your adventures and come home safe!

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  2. What a great narrative about your amazing adventure! You really help us see/imagine what it’s like to be there. Ugh to that snake! Hope the passage to Kenya goes well!

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  3. Wow! I think it’s the cook in me that wants an identification key to go with those dinner photos. I can’t imagine hauling myself up that mountain, let alone packing eggs for somebody’s breakfast! Good luck with your trip across the border to Kenya. Please do keep up your writing, it is fascinating! I’m reminded of Mary Slusser’s travel writing. She died Aug 14 but wrote a good piece about her life that is published on Asian Art’s website. http://www.asianart.com/articles/maryslusser/index.html Perhaps it will inspire you to go to the Himalayas after your stint in Africa! Best, Caroline

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