A Walk Above the Clouds: Kilimanjaro by the Machame Route

By Jerry Fine with comments in italics by Lee Waite

Day 1 -- Sunday, July 27
I had just settled into peaceful sleep at 7 am, when, oh no, it's time to get up. After breakfast in the hotel dining room, we put our excess baggage into storage, and hauled the duffel bags containing our hill gear out to the hotel courtyard. Seamus was there, and so were the crew of guides and porters who were to take us up the mountain. It pains me to say it, but to start with we had 12 porters. They were strong looking young Tanzanian men dressed in a very strange assortment of cast off clothing. One of them was wearing a tee shirt which had a tuxedo pattern printed on it. Another had on shower sandals and socks (which he later wore to 15,000 feet). Seamus introduced us to the porters, to Geoffrey our chief guide, and to Chales, Peter and Howard, the assistant guides. We shook hands, made some pictures, and got ready to move out.

I could tell they were sizing us up too. Probably they were asking themselves at least two questions: "Can these people get up the mountain?" and "What kind of tip will they be good for?" Geoffrey was quiet, compact and strong looking. Chales on the other hand, who was also a completely qualified guide in his own right, was bigger and louder. As we got into the Land Rovers, Jeffra said, "Which one of you will carry me up?" Chales laughing, said, "Me, I think." He looked like he could do it too.

It took the Land Rovers about an hour to drive us to the village of Machame. At this point the road got very bad, so bad that Sarah and Jeffra were really laughing and whooping like it was a roller coaster. The Land Rover we were in kept on grinding up the hill and we soon reached the Machame gate to Kilimanjaro National Park. The elevation was about 6000 feet. We were in a glade in the middle of a cool green rain forest.

Many porters from several different expeditions were waiting to start. We signed into the park book, and waited for our guides to arrive. As we waited we observed a fight break out among the porters, and some Tanzanian soldiers waded in to keep order. Later there was some sort of conference to sort the whole thing out. But, our expedition seemed to be unaffected. Chales politely asked if we wished to take to the trail while the guides waited for all of the porters to arrive. The trail was really like a pleasant road at first, and they would easily catch us later.

We started hiking. We were dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Birds sang, and the sun shown down warmly. The rain forest was showing us its best face. The air smelled good, and I felt full of energy. Sarah, Lee and I found we had a compatible pace, and so off we went. Following the trail was easy, and we were occasionally passed by porters. We always said, "Jambo" which means "Hi" in Swahili. There were several small groups on the trail, and one very large one, sponsored by a well known American adventure travel company. We passed these folks as they were having lunch on the trail. They actually had a portable table and chairs carried by their porters, and looked like they were feasting in high style. Our small group seemed rather "low rent" compared to them.

Shortly after passing the big group we found a spot where the sun was shining through the forest canopy onto the trail and sat down to lunch. Chip soon came up, and with him Geoffrey, who produced big thermos bottles full of tea. "First tea," I thought. "Better drink a lot." We went through two of these bottles. Our sack lunches were not inspiring on this day, nor on any other day. They consisted of sandwiches, with unknown meat, an orange, a boiled egg. Sarah, a vegetarian, had been provided with a sandwich whose filling was an unknown substance. We ate cheerfully, really enjoying each others' company and the fact that we were finally climbing our dream mountain.

After the lunch, we hiked with Geoffrey. I talked to him some, about his life as a guide, and his family. His English was adequate, but not all that great. He seemed very competent, though, and I felt that we had a leader who was going to do a great job.

The trail got kind of steep in places, but was never unpleasant. In fact, this first day's hiking was so pleasant that I was in no hurry for it to end. By 2 pm, we noticed that the vegetation was getting somewhat thinner. The trees weren't as tall, although they were hung with moss. Some trees looked like fir trees. The trail seemed to be taking us up a ridge with deep watercourses on either side. At 4:08 pm, we crested the ridge, entered an open area, and Geoffrey said, "Machame." We had reached the end of the first day's hiking. We were at about 9,800 feet above sea level.

The porters had beaten us there, and the tents were set up. Lee and I, old Ixta buddies, decided to tent together, and Sarah had her own tent. Chip and Jeffra were together. Chip arrived soon after we did. Jeffra came in later, accompanied by her faithful guide, Chales. Tanzanian guides will never leave anyone behind on the trail.

We lazed around wondering what to do, and basking in the pleasant sunlight and warm temperature. The western end of the mountain, called the Western Breach, is a steep slope created when the crater blew out to the side. It looked closer and very scary looking. The mountain was a real presence although we were still far away.

Around 5 pm we were summoned to supper by Geoffrey. There was, to our surprise, a mess tent. Inside, on the Figure 3: Lee and Jerry at Machame Camp

floor, a table cloth was spread. We each had individual place settings, plate, bowl, cup, knife, fork and spoon. There were individual cloth napkins! Geoffrey brought in a huge plate of spaghetti, and a big bowl of meat sauce. There was also a mighty dish of cabbage and potatoes. There was plenty of bread and butter. They weren't going to starve us. Again, there was as much tea as we could possibly drink. We ate well, but there was no way we could down all that food. I'm rather sure however, that with a crew of 16 Tanzanians, the left-overs were probably taken care of.

On the entire trip, the food was surprisingly good. Keep in mind that the porters have to carry all cooking utensils and all of the food for the entire six day trip. They also had to fetch water and firewood each day. Despite the difficulties of cooking outdoors, high on a mountain, the food was really very similar to what was served in the Marangu hotel. I enjoyed most everything that was served, and they served a lot. The only complaint one might make is that the menu suffers somewhat from the British culinary influence. Cucumber and tomato sandwiches are interesting the first time or two but can get old in a hurry.

Sunset was lovely, at about 6 pm. We retired to our tents, to try to sleep. I did not do well. It was excitement, it was jet lag, it was the altitude, but mostly it was my bladder. I was well hydrated to say the least, and spent the night going to the latrine or planning my next trip. Fortunately, Lee Waite is the world's soundest sleeper. He doesn't mind my latrine trips or my snoring. I think my flatulence, produced by the gaseous diet we were given, did get to him in the end.

It is true that I do not suffer from the hardship of insomnia. I have slept in a mountain hut on Mt. Hakusan in Japan in a room with 30 or 40 Japanese people, side-by-side with an older Japanese man who snored extremely loudly. I have fallen asleep on a Mexican bus bumping through the countryside. I can always sleep on airplanes, in trains and yes I even slept in a few classes when I was a student. I have even slept fairly soundly at 16,500 feet above sea level, in a tent, in a (fairly mild) snowstorm. So, it was no problem for me to share a tent with Jerry and let Sarah have the relative luxury of a "private" tent.


Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at lee.waite@rose-hulman.edu

Copyright 1997 by Lee Waite and Jerry Fine
Rebroadcast or any other use of this document, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball or the authors, is prohibited