We all awoke at 7AM. I jumped into the shower to take full advantage of the hot water and proper washing facilities in my hotel room, as for the next 8 days this is a luxury that we will all be deprived of. A thorough wash was followed by a breakfast of fruit, eggs on toast and coffee. Fed, washed and watered we all got our kit ready - as we would be trekking and camping for 8 days we left non-essentials at the hotel. Life will be pretty basic with little opportunity to wash, use conventional toilets or use any item that you can't charge via a AA battery charger. We met Bruce at 8AM and headed out in our landrover to the registration station at the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
The car journey took about 3 hours. The roads soon turned to tracks as the town of Moshi fell away behind us. The journey was notable for two reasons. Firstly, during our first of two stops, at a local supermarket where we stocked up in some beers and whisky to see us through the cold nights, we were passed by the Presidential motorcade. Bruce explained that the President was arriving for an official visit to Moshi and would stay several days for government business. We waved the President by - if not the grandest motorcade we had ever seen, it was certainly the longest.
Even more exciting than our brush with the President was our next sighting, about 2 hours into the drive, when we stumbled across herds of Zebra and Hartebeast. Our driver took us off road to get closer to the herds (I use ther term 'off road' loosely, as by this point of the journey it was pretty hard to distinguish between road and open land). We were very lucky to get so close to the Zebra. They are a notoriously skittish and shy animal. We'll post pictures when we are technologically able...
Once we registered for the climb ("at the same station where Cheryl Cole also registered", we were excitedly told by the official) we ate a packed lunch and head off on our final drive to the point where we would commence the ascent.
We are taking the Lemosho route up Kilimanjaro, which is one of the longest and is widely reputed to be the most picturesque. The route is quite new, but owing to its beauty it has become very popular over the last 10 years or so. As the route lasts 8 days in total and there are 6 full days before you attempt the summit climb it also gives you a better chance of avoiding AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).
After taking a few pictures for posterity, the three of us took our first steps towards the summit of Kilimanjaro. For the next 3 to 4 hours we hiked through lush, dense jungle. We stoically undulated along our walking track lead at a metronomic pace by Bruce and surrounded by verdant vistas in every direction. The ground was muddy, which made some of the steep sections tricky if not quite trecherous to complete. Along the route we came across swarms of African (killer) ants and spotted the odd Colobus monkey.
I kept reminding myself to drink water regularly s that I'd fall into the habit. Regular rehydration is vital as you experience successively harder days of trekking as you get higher up the mountain. It is recommended that you take on 3 litres a day, which is definitely more than I am used to.
We reached our first camp ('Big Tree' camp) about three and a half hours after we began walking. The first ting we noticed was how cold the temperature felt when we arrived. We all agreed that we had underestimated how low the temperatures were going to get the higher we got on the climb. I am shivering just thinking about how cold we are all going to be on summit night...
Dinner, a beef stew cooked by kerosene burners, was better than any of us were expecting. Although, as usual Paul is attempting to stick to his usual staple diet of cheese sandwiches and sweets (this is a worry!!). The fact that you are not allowed to build fires on the mountain limits the evening acitivities. Cooking is more basic and communing around the warmth of a camp fire is not an option. As a result evenings are pretty uncomfortable and you tend to be tucked up in the warmth of your sleeping bag (or two) pretty early.
Before we started the climb this afternoon I was only concerned about the impact of altitude sickness, but now I have a real appreciation of how bitterly cold it will get and I know that dealing with the cold will be a major part of the challenge of summitting Kilimanjaro in winter. Now more than ever I believe that we will all feel a genuine snese of achievement at the end of this adventure.
The sense of foreboding is more than matched by our excitement about what our first full day of climbing will bring tomorrow. We went to bed cold, but with expectant smiles on our faces...