Thursday, July 21, 2016

Preparing for the Grand Traverse of Mt Kilimanjaro - Ndarakwai Lodge Preparation 20-21 September

Briefing by Head Guide Pendaely Lauwo (standing) of Thomson Safaris
Climbers in this photo include from L-R Jennifer Lindwall, Rick Billingham,
Rich Wortley, Tom Reveley, Tom Miller, Alex Branch, Anthony Welcher,
David Branch, and Robert DeWolf.  Unfortunately, David Branch was unable
to join us on the climb based on last minute health concerns, but his daughter
Alex and son Chris Branch, plus Chris's partner Alicia Chapman did participate. 
 David Branch was there to farewell us and meet us when the climb was done.

Pendaely Lauwo had been one of the Assistant Guides when Gary Drobnack and David Still made the Kilimanjaro climb back in 2009.  That also was an effort to raise funds for the Mufindi Children's Project.

Pendaely's personality and performance then made him a perfect choice to be our head guide on the 2014 climb.  He has an interesting personal history tied very closely to the first successful climb of Mt Kilimanjaro in 1889.  That was the year when German geologist Hans Meyer and Pendaely's grandfather were among the first men known to have stood on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.  Pendaely's family has been involved in climbing and guiding Mt Kilimanjaro over many, many years.  He is a member of the local Chagga tribe.

L-R Jennifer Lindwall, Rick Billingham, Rich Wortley

Anthony Welcher

Robert DeWolf

L-R Tom Reveley, Tom Miller, and Alex Branch

David Still
Gary Drobnack

Alicia Chapman and Chris Branch

After the initial briefing by Pendaely, the climbers collected the gear they chose to rent in Tanzania from Thomson Safaris rather than carry it with them all the way from the United States.  Most of us rented sleeping bags, air mattresses, and some also rented warm down parkas for the chilly nights on the mountain. 

Collecting rental equipment

The final weigh in.  Note small scale hanging above for weighing our individual duffle bags.  Climbers could choose to carry a small day pack and their camp porter was limited to carrying a duffle weighing no more than 33 lbs.  It was also possible at extra cost to hire a personal porter who could also carry up to 33 lbs.  Some climbers did not carry day packs and others did.  The personal porters went wherever the climbers did so ones snacks, water, and other gear was always at hand when needed.

On the next blog post, our group travels to the Londorosi Gate on the west side of Mt Kilimanjaro National Park.  There we sign in with the Park Rangers, meet all the rest of our porters and the assistant guides, and drive to the trailhead where we launch ourselves toward our first camp site, the Shira 1 Camp that is nestled inside the Shira Caldera.  More about the Shira Plateau and what we experience there in the next blog.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 10 - Hiking From Millennium Camp to the Meweka Gate - 1 Oct 2014

We awoke to a beautiful morning about 7000 ft. below the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We were back in the heather zone and enjoyed our cozy camp.  We ate breakfast already feeling nostalgic about the many times we had sat in our mess tent being fed and entertained by the head waiter, Pasco.  His droll humor was charming.  After a week, Alicia Chapman managed to perfectly mimic his words and patterns of speech which we and Pasco enjoyed.  For this display of talent, Alicia was allowed to assist Pasco in setting the table, serving us, and delivering, in her voice and accent, Pasco's wisdom about what we were about to eat.

During breakfast, it was resolved that Tom Reveley would ride in the stretcher from Millenium Camp to the Mweka Gate.  His knee was in poor shape and trying to walk on it might easily result in a fall on some of the terrain we would cover.  If was much safer for him to agree to go down in a stretcher.  What we didn't appreciate, is that the porters who took him down did so by running every chance they had, and Tom, the stretcher, and the stretcher bearers made it out to Mweka Gate in half the time that it took the rest of us.  Tom was on his feet and feeling pretty perky by the time the rest of us finished the trek and straggled into Mweka.

We now refer to Tom's trip down the mountain as "The Reveley Express"  It was a daunting undertaking that required Tom to place his complete trust in the stretcher bearers on their way down the mountain.  At times it had to feel like some thrill ride at the carnival.

With the sun rising to the east of us, we get a good look
at the glaciers near the summit.

Tom Miller and Gary Drobnack.  We are very close to
 leaving Millennium Camp.

A closer view of Kibo and its glaciers on the south and southeast sides of the mountain.

Tom Reveley is being prepared for his journey down the mountain.

Tom is securely tied to the stretcher and has put on his sunscreen and sunhat.  He is very nearly ready to launch.  The rest of us have already gone on ahead, but Tom and his bearers will soon catch up and pass us.

Some parts of the journey were like this and Tom appears to be completely relaxed.

The crew that surrounded Tom did a magnificent job and paid close attention to extracting him safely.

The better portions of the trail looked like this below Millennium Camp.

Here, Tom and his bearers are taking a break.
Now they are running down the trail!

Still running!

Parts of the trail are a bit more challenging than others.

Everyone pitches in to ensure Tom's safety.

Tom is practically vertical as he is lowered over this short rock face.

A stretcher evacuation involves lots of good judgment, hard work, and good balance.

The muscle of 10-12 men is brought to bear in negotiating this rocky and twisted section of trail.

Here we are looking south in the direction of Moshi and the Mweka Gate.  Our vehicles will meet us at Mweka Gate and take us through Moshi and some other towns on our way back to Arusha.
As we descend farther we will be entering the forest zone and the variety of flowering plants, vines, ferns, and large trees will be very different to what we have seen elsewhere on the mountain. The green roof below marks the location of the Mweka Gate Camp.  That is where we will have lunch, receive our certificates for having climbed Kilimanjaro, and fare-well our guides, porters. and other crew.
Some of the trees in the forest zone we pass through are quite large, including members of the Podocarpus genus or yellowwood family.

This forest flower was not seen elsewhere on the trek. Needs identification.

At this point in the descent, Tom Reveley has already caught up and passed us as we continue toward Mweka Gate.  On the left, Chris Branch and Alicia Chapman.

Mufindi Mountaineers L-R Rick Billingham, Jennifer Lindwall, Tom Miller, Rich Wortley, Robert DeWolf, and Anthony Welcher.

Time for a break.  The fellow in the orange hat is always very near or with us.  He carries our first aid supplies and the medicine and equipment needed to deal with acute mountain sickness as well as pulmonary and cerebral edema.

Needs identification.

Chris Branch

Rick Billingham

Tom Miller

Examples of Impatiens kilimanjari

Impatiens kilimanjari

Impatiens papilionacea

Local butterfly.

The fog is hanging low in parts of the local forest.  In these areas, one can sometimes see the holobus monkey.  We were not so lucky.

More fog and shadows.

Many of these trees are easily over 100 ft. in height.

An example of local ferns.

Massive fern frond.

Many of the fern species we saw are very attractive.

Lots of vines in this forest cling to the canopy high above the trail.

Several varieties of ferns and trees.

Striking colors and patterns in this fern frond.

We have reached the end of the trail, but this road is only open this far to National Park vehicles so we have to continue walking to Mweka Gate.  This vehicle and driver collected Tom Reveley earlier in the day and took him to Mweka Gate.

Typical of the forest understory here.

We follow a good road all the way back to Mweka Gate.

This is likely the stretcher that carried Tom Reveley down the mountain.

A cluster of Impatiens papilionacea.

Needs identification.

Gary Drobnack at the end of our trail.

Anthony Welcher and Robert DeWolf at Mweka Gate.

The video captures the song that the guides and porters sing to the climbers just before the climbers receive their Kilimanjaro Summit Certificates.

Jennifer Lindwall receiving her Kilimanjaro Summit Certificate from Headguide Pendaely Lauwo.

Jennifer and Pendaely again.

Alexandra Branch and Pendaely.

Alicia Chapman and Pendaely

Our tallest Mufindi Mountaineer, Robert DeWolf, gets his certificate.

Anthony Welcher and Pendaely.

David Still.

Chris Branch

Rich Wortley

Tom Reveley can still smile following his wild ride down the mountain from Millenium Camp.  He arrived there so much faster than the rest of us he had time to clean-up and get some food.
Gary Drobnack and his certificate.  While the certificates were being passed out, the assembled guides and porters sang rousing songs to celebrate our achievement.

Group photo with all the climbers, the guides, porters, cooks, waiters, and other trekking staff who made the trip with us.


L-R David Branch, Rich Wortley, and Robert DeWolf enjoying lunch at the Mweka Gate Camp after the award ceremonies have been completed.  David had trained to go up the mountain with us, but some health issues manifested themselves late in the training period.  His son, Chris, daughter Alex, and Alicia Chapman had to make the climb without David, but he was there at the beginning and end of our journey. While we were on the mountain, David hooked up with a local Maasai chief and followed him around on foot while the chief traversed his domain on foot and met with villagers who looked to him as their leader.  This was a very basic journey, often walking at night without lights of any kind, and living off the hospitality of local villagers.  David has some great stories about his adventure.

David Still is now almost back in civilization and has put his spectacles on and is checking his gear before we head back to Arusha.  At this stage in the trip, David had pretty much lost his voice and it was unnerving for the rest of us to be around David, a fellow we love to hear talk and who likes to talk.

Putting the finishing touches on our lunch.

In summary, all 12 of the climbers on the Mufindi Mountaineers 2014 team made it to the summit and down.  We had a great time and enjoyed our interaction with one another and with our support team.

After leaving Mweka Gate Camp, the group quickly split up and went in many different directions; some to Ethiopia, some to South Africa, one to Istanbul, some on African game safaris in Tanzania, and a few straight back home in the U.S.A.  Hence our stories and experiences from this point on started to diverge quickly.

There will be a few more new blog posts in the next few days focusing on what has been going on with the Mufindi Children's Project since the beginning of our trek and reporting on the total amount raised for the Mufindi Children's Project as a result of this Kilimanjaro climbing fundraiser.  Thanks to all our donors and to the team that helped get us up and down Kilimanjaro safely.  It was a great experience!