“Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.” – William Blake
There aren’t many more adventurous and challenging feats than conquering the highest mountain in Africa – Mt. Kilimanjaro. Gazing over Africa from its “roof” is one of the most beautiful and daring things one can experience.
That is until you’ve climbed Tanzania’s second highest volcanic mountain and witnessed the sunrise from behind the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 4,566m above sea level, whilst over your shoulder to the west, the moon begins to sink below the jagged horizon. You might just find a moment of clarity up there.
Mount Meru, lying 70 km’s southwest in the shadows of Kilimanjaro, is an active volcano towering over the town of Arusha. The climb to the summit is rigorous with its high altitude, freezing temperatures, steep ascents over rocky inclines and narrow ridges to traverse, making it, in its own right, a profoundly challenging mountain to conquer. The rugged ash cone of this dormant volcano has not seen any lava action for quite some time and is not predicted to do so anytime soon – allowing you to eliminate at least one worry.
Because of Mount Meru’s big brother, Kilimanjaro, many people are unaware of the “little”, free-standing active volcano. And that’s why we love it. You’re unlikely to cross paths with many people on your formidable journey.
Open to amateur hikers and athletes, and sometimes used as a ‘warm up’ acclimatiser for Kilimanjaro, this is no volcanic mountain to take lightly. Mount Meru is its own deal.
BEFORE THE CLIMB
The climb involves long days of trekking moderate to steep slopes over rough paths as you ascend to altitudes where the effects will most definitely be felt. You don’t need the physique of a gladiator to conquer Mount Meru, but we highly recommend that your fitness is at a reasonable level for safety reasons as well as your own enjoyment. You may find it tricky to absorb everything occurring around you if you’re fighting for gasps of air.
Give yourself time to train. Two months before your expedition, replicate what you will be doing by going on long hikes and walks over undulating terrain. You’ll be hiking 4-6 hours per day, and the pinnacle of your expedition will see you spend 11-13 hours on foot. So, clear your schedule, add 10kg’s to a rucksack and hit the trails. You need to be able to handle this much weight on your back, your porters have the rest covered.
On top of this, we recommend delving into running, cycling and swimming. And, of course, yoga to attain physical and mental prowess.
The biggest battle you may encounter could be yourself.
Be aware of false summits. False summits can have a debilitating psychological effect. Ever experienced a sinking, punched-in-the-gut feeling? It’s 4:30am, you’ve been hiking for 4 hours, your comfort food is done, your lungs and calves are screaming, but you’re nearly at the summit. You’re okay. Just a few more grudging steps to the summit. You turn a corner. You aren’t close. You want to give up. But you’re prepared for this. You push on.
Gear. The basic idea behind the gear you’ll need is to keep you warm, avoiding hypothermia or frostbite, dry and protected from the sun. Once you’ve set your heart on conquering this volcanic mountain, we’ll share our favorite gear with you. You’d be wise to get a head start with wearing in solid, comfortable hiking boots so as to avoid expedition-ruining blisters.
ON THE MOUNTAIN
Your Mount Meru expedition will see you spend 4 days tackling the volcanic mountain as you trek through grasslands, tropical rainforest, alpine meadows, moorlands and desert uplands to the icy summit.
Your first day will see you spend 4-5 hours on foot, passing through the ‘fig tree arch’ and hiking over game-filled grassy plains and montane forest, ascending from 1,500m to 2,500m above sea level to the Miriakamba Huts. An armed ranger, along with porters and a guide, will be escorting you through the wild terrain. Don’t let this first day of lush, green rainforest punctuated with waterfalls deceive you.
Day 2 will see you spend 4-6 hours on foot as your path becomes much steeper passing through fine forests and moorland, ascending another 1,050m. At 3,050m above sea level, the air will become crisper and your breathing shorter, as the air thins depriving you of oxygen. You begin to rise above the clouds and gain some perspective of what you have accomplished thus far.
Upon reaching the Saddle Huts, you have the opportunity to hike to the peak Little Meru at 3,820m above sea level. Along with the stunning views of Kilimanjaro, this is a great acclimatisation hike to prepare you for the pinnacle of your expedition.
Day 3 – The pinnacle. This is what you’re here for. You’ll spend a gruelling 11-13 hours on foot ascending a further 1,002m to 4,556m above sea level before descending 2,062m. This is where it gets real.
The clock strikes midnight. It’s near freezing. You sink warm cups of tea and, barely awake, begin your trance-like trek through the pitch black night, traversing the exhilarating and narrow crater rim path, no more than a few feet wide. Sheer drops on either side. Perhaps it’s a good thing you can’t see.
One step forward, half a step back. Scrambling up rock faces. Crawling on all fours. It’s been six hours. The summit, Socialist Peak, is within arm’s reach. You creep forward with everything you’ve got left in you. You’re on the summit of Mount Meru. You’ve done it. To the east, the sun begins to rise behind Kilimanjaro, as the moon sets in the west. The ice begins to thaw. The wind is howling. You’re frozen, stuck in awe. It’s an exceptional moment.
It’s over all too soon and you begin the trek back down to the Miriakamba Huts for your last night on the mountain.
Day 4 sees you descend 1000m over 2-3 hours back through the montane forest to the comfort and safety of the earth’s floor.
AFTER THE CLIMB
You just accomplished something great. You deserve a Kilimanjaro beer. Well, that’s a personal favourite. Any one will do. A beer and epsom salts. A bath in epsom salts will help your muscles recover rapidly so that you can stay on your feet.
If you’re yearning for more, read Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.