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Magnolia couple back from Mount Kilimanjaro

By PATRICK PARKERFebruary 10, 2018

MAGNOLIA, Miss. (AP) — The Roaming Parkers, Patrick and Elise Parker of Magnolia, recently returned from the adventure of a lifetime. At the beginning of January we traveled to Tanzania in Eastern Africa, where we set out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Like any great trip, this one was at least as much misadventure as adventure.

I’ve never been able to put a finger on a definite reason why I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. Perhaps it had to do with Michael Crichton’s autobiography “Travels,” in which he talks about climbing the mountain.

Or maybe because of the mountain’s tenuous association with one of my favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway — but in any case, for as long as I’ve known Kilimanjaro existed, I’ve wanted to climb it.

For most of that time, the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro was so far beyond the realm of possibility that it might as well have been on the same bucket list as “colonize Mars,” or “raise a pet dinosaur.”

But then a couple of years ago Elise and I decided to start living a more deliberately adventurous lifestyle and travelling more. Elise had lived in Africa for two years after college, and she’d often talked about how fun it would be to return to Africa with me in tow to see some of the things she’d seen.

So about 18 months ago she said, “Why don’t we do both? We can return to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro!”

Thus began the seemingly interminable process of preparing physically, mentally and spiritually for the Rooftop of Africa. Eighteen months seemed like a crazy long time to prep for a trip, but then we looked up and we were just a few days out from the flight!

The flight-mare

The plan was to fly from New Orleans to New York to Doha and then to Kilimanjaro. We had a 12-hour layover in New York, but otherwise it would be a fairly direct flight with just-right connection times.

What really happened was that Winter Storm Grayson landed in NYC about the time we did, and we were stuck camping in the concourse at JFK airport for 36 hours.

When we finally arrived in Africa, we were exhausted and already a day late for our hike, and to top it off, the airline lost our luggage and gear.

“Hakuna Matata” to the rescue! Our Tanzanian tour operator’s response to every problem or obstacle was “hakuna matata” — “don’t worry about anything, we’ll fix everything!”

They checked us into a nice lodge where we could recuperate from the flight-mare, and then the next day they loaned us all the gear we’d need on the mountain.

To cap off their amazing hospitality, they sent a driver to the airport to hang out until our luggage showed up, then they hired a couple more porters to run it up the mountain to us, meeting us at the end of the third day of our hike.

A short first day

Our planned hike was an eight-day trek on a trail called The Lemosho Route that enters Kilimanjaro National Park from the west and requires several days approaching Kilimanjaro over the top of a nearby volcano named Shira.

Our first trek day started with a 4.5-hour drive from Moshi-town to the trailhead at Londrossi Gate. From there it was a short hike into the rainforest to a campsite named Mti Mkubwa (Big Trees Camp).

Because of the time lost finding loaner gear in their warehouse, we didn’t arrive at the trailhead until after 4 p.m., and we did not arrive at Mti Mkubwa until after dark — so it was not until the next morning that we saw the baboons and white-collared ravens playing in the campsite.

Days two and three

The next day we hiked upward out of the rainforest into the moorlands, and over the rim of the ancient, extinct Shira volcano to our second campsite — Shira I.

This was another epic long day and, again, we arrived at camp after the sun had set.

To approach Shira I camp from the ridge, we had to walk along an uneven causeway built of moor stones laid in a line. At night by flashlight, the Shira I causeway was unpleasant.

In hindsight, the causeway across the partly flooded Shira plateau (flooded in the mid-summer dry season) should have been a warning of things to come.

That night, though, I was treated to a really spectacular sight. The night sky above Shira plateau was breathtaking. The sky was crystal clear with no light pollution, so I saw more stars that night than I ever have before.

I could hardly make out any constellations because there were so many other stars visible — but I did see Cassiopaea and the Southern Cross. The starlight was so intense over the plateau that I was easily able to walk about on the moor without a headlamp.

The next day we continued across the caldera of the ancient Shira volcano that was at some point long ago filled with lava by neighboring Kibo (what we now call Kilimanjaro) to become a plateau.

This time we actually arrived at the next campsite during the daytime. We were finally getting the hang of this trek and figuring out our pace. Things were looking up.

Blizzard!

Day four we planned to finish crossing the Shira Plateau, hike by the famous rock formation known as Lava Tower, and down into Barranco valley to camp. That’s how the trek is described in the pamphlets, and that’s how it started out — until we hiked into a blizzard. In mid-summer. In the dry season.

It started out as a little sleet and progressed to mixed rain, sleet and snow. We had sufficient gear for warmth and waterproofing, and this weather was no big deal for our expert guide (15 years of experience and 190 ascents), so we continued on as the ice started accumulating. Pretty soon we were crunching our way through 4-6 inches of sleet and snow.

This slowed us down in a major way. Between holing up in a cave to let the conditions clear and just plain moving slowly (slow as Mississippians on ice), we managed to stretch this 6-8 hour hike into an exhausting 14-16 hour ordeal. We didn’t make it to our campsite until after midnight.

The second big problem was that the “descent into Barranco valley to camp” that was described in the trek itinerary was actually more like “pick your way down an icy cliff at midnight using headlamps.” We were in mortal terror for hours that night.

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Information from: Enterprise-Journal, http://www.enterprise-journal.com

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