My Kilimanjaro Adventure – Hakuna Matata! (part 1 of 3)

This particular story starts in 2000 (wow – that sounds like Ted from HIMYM, but don’t worry, this won’t be 200 episodes long)…

Anyway – the year is 2000 and an unathletic 12 year old sits in front of a TV listening to a documentary. The narrator talks about the large glaciers on top of Africa’s highest mountain. The narrator mentions that by 2020 these will probably be entirely non-existent. Sitting in front of that TV I decided then and there that I would climb this mountain before the glaciers were gone.

Fast forward 9 years. Having wanted to go to the top of the Drakensberg for a few years, myself, my brother and cousin head out from Garden Castle. I struggle to reach Pillar Cave. We pitch a tent just past the cave and spend the afternoon playing cards in the tent. That night I saw the mountain under full moon for the first time – what a sight!

The next day we walk up Mashai Pass in thick mist, get lost a few times, and I realise how unfit I really am. Somehow I reach the summit of Rhino Peak in a strong wind. The Berg bug bites!

Fast forward to around 12 January 2015. Having just recovered from a bad bug picked up on a GT, I have under 2 months to go before I tackle the highest mountain I have ever taken a shot at. Over the next few weeks I book plane tickets and pay various costs associated with the trip. I am not in the correct physical state to climb the mountain – even though I should be the fittest I have ever been, having done more than 800km of hiking in the last 365 days, but the bug really took it out of me.

Early February 2015 – a dream I have held for over half of my life is coming within reach. I haven’t been at altitude since 3 January and I know that I usually feel altitude when I haven’t been up in the last 6 weeks. I send out an email to all my hiking mates, only 1 is available. I also send out an email on the MCSA mail.

1 week before heading out to Kili I have a team of 5 guys. The goal is very simple – Saturday up Mashai Pass, camp on the river between the Mlambonja and Leqooa Ridges. Sunday morning we will shoot up to bag Tsepeng (3431m) and return via Mashai Pass.

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9AM on Saturday we are on the trail. We make very slow progress up the pass. I have done this pass so many times now that I really don’t feel it warrants a description.

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It is cloudy on the pass, and occasional rain greets us. As we near the top of the pass it begins to pour with rain. We sit under a small rock overhang with some locals for about an hour. The rain isn’t passing, so we move out from the shelter. We walk around the Mlambonja ridge in pouring rain before finding a good spot to pitch tents. Somehow I manage to pitch my tent on my own faster than the others, but within 10 minutes we are all in our tents.

After about an hour of shivering in my sleeping bag, I finally start to feel normal again. It continues to rain for a while, but eventually we are all chatting and making plans. Only Nick is keen to join me on Tsepeng, but I know that after a warm night sleep, things may be different.

Sunday morning – the sun is rising, but the Mlambonja Ridge keeps us in the shade. Nick and myself set out toward Tsepeng. After about 45 minutes we finally reach some sunshine. We stop and sit in the sun for a few minutes. We make our way up the ridge very slowly. It is an exceptionally steep ridge. We wind around the valley, not entirely sure which summit is the top, but figuring it out as we go along. 2h30 after leaving our tents we find ourselves in the saddle between the 2 summits. The steeper one looks higher, and my GPS points to it. We make our way up – and it is clearly the highest.

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The summit has a trig beacon. There is also a massive cliff that tops out right at the top – if one was to open a trad line on this, it would probably be the highest route in Southern Africa.

The view from Tsepeng is by far the best I have ever found on a 3400m peak. The weather is perfect – a gentle breeze blows on the top and the view extends to Thabana Ntlenyana to the north and Knuckles are sticking out to the south.

For those who enjoy good views, this one is highly recommended. After about 30 minutes we began to make our way down from the top. After just under 4 hours from our departure time we were back at the tents. About 6 locals were crowded around the tents. The guys had given them a lot of food.

I explained to the others that they shouldn’t give food unless they get something in return – be it a story, a song or a photo – they told me that guys had been rather demanding. I told them that they must only give things to people who are kind and friendly in order to avoid encouraging a beggar mentality. The guys noted what I had said, and we began to get ready to leave.

1 hour after returning from Tsepeng we were walking towards Mashai Pass. SA was in thick mist, but the escarpment weather was still perfect.

We made our way down the pass in the mist. We stopped for coffee in Pillar Cave before storming the finish line.

Tsepeng had been a long outstanding Berg objective for me, and conquering it was something I really enjoyed. It was a worthwhile goal indeed!

Now my eye shifts towards the 5895m peak in northern Tanzania. 1 week to get a lot of work done, and then, a 14 year old dream will be shot at. I know the stats – roughly 60% of people who try Kili fail, around 40% of people who reach Stela Point also fail to summit (i.e. only 2 in 3 even reach Stela Point). I also know that it is usually the unfit guys who go slow enough to get up – strong individuals and experienced hikers are the ones that usually fail. Flying out to Tanzania I knew I was yet to meet my team mates, knew very little about my destination country – many variables await.

Coming in part 2 (out of 3) of this report, covering days 1 to 4:

  • Does Ghaz safely arrive in Tanzania?
  • Does he get along with the complete strangers he will hike with?
  • Will Ghaz feel the effects of high altitude en route to Karanga Camp?
  • Will Ghaz climb Lava Tower on day 3 of the route?

Stay tuned and find out soon!

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