Mount Meru, the quieter Tanzanian peak

Heading off to climb two African mountains felt like a huge challenge, though mostly of the mind, as I felt confident that (minus potential altitude issues) I could cope with the physical challenge.

Mount Meru is the 5th highest mountain range in Africa, but was every bit just as challenging as Kilimanjaro which I would climb later.  The walk takes 4 days to complete and as it is in the Arusha National Park all groups also require a park ranger (complete with rifle) as well as a guide and the team of porters.

I would definitely recommend this mountain to anyone who truly loves walking and is keen to do more than just Kilimanjaro. The walk is not difficult but the final night’s ascent is scrambly and much more technically challenging that what you will encounter on Kilimanjaro. So thankfully its not at the same altitude!

We started the walk at Momella Gate.DSCF5146The first day’s walk meanders through the forest, passing by plenty of monkeys and birds as it ascends up to the Mirikamba Huts at 2514m. DSCF5165

It also passed through the large Fig tree arch en route which was a good place to stop for lunch. DSCF5153

Miriakamba huts were bigger than I imagined and I felt very lucky to be given a room to myself (being the only single female in our group and Meru being a relatively quiet mountain in comparison to Kilimanjaro). As this was the first night I’d slept at this altitude in a while I did wake in the early hours listening to the bloody rushing through my head. It wasn’t uncomfortable only unexpected.

Its worth getting up for sunrise on the first morning to see the sun rise behind Kilimanjaro and light up the rocks of Meru.

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DSCF5194From the Miriakamba huts, the second day is a much steeper ascent up to Saddle huts at 3566m following the edge of the crater, so its great that all walking is ‘pole-pole’ (slowly slowly) so there’s not as much need for regular stops and no chance of breaking a sweat from walking too fast.

As this isn’t a particularly long walk we arrived at Saddle huts at lunch time, leaving time in the afternoon to climb Little Meru to acclimatise to the altitude. This was only a 2 hour round trip but worth it for the views across Tanzania but also to be able to see the challenge to come.

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Meru peak with Saddle huts below

The ascent day started at 1.10am with a very slow walk in the dark heading up to our first checkpoint of Rhino Point, which took until 2.45am. We had a very short break before continuing on, the wind was strong and blowing volcanic dust everywhere making it hard to see.

The route from Rhino Point is quite scrambly, traversing around rocks and slowing picking through them to find a route up. In the daylight it is clear that the way is marked by rocks painted green, but in the dark you simply follow the feet in front.

The route is also deceptive and has numerous false summits, (including Cobra Point which from the bottom looks like the summit), before you reach the true summit of Socialist peak at 4565m. We all did fine with the altitude; I only suffered minor headaches and feeling a bit out of breath. (I also don’t recommend blowing your nose too hard above 4000m if you don’t want a nose bleed – no matter how much volcanic dust is up there).

In the UK the scramble is comparable to Crib Goch or Tryfan, but with the added issue of the altitude and longevity of the route. DSCF5253

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DSCF5271After photos and a sugary cup of tea we picked our way back down through the rocks back to Saddle huts. Surprisingly the descent was slow due to the terrain and the very strong wind making it difficult to breath and see.

After a hot lunch and a short sleep we packed up and spent the afternoon descending back to Miriakamba huts. We were all grateful for sleep that night after a very long day walking.

The following day’s descent back to Momella gate was great as we took the shorter more direct route which the porters use to ascend. This meant that we also got to see the Tululisia waterfall and plenty of giraffes and buffalo. We arrived back at the Momella gate for lunch time. DSCF5316

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Why do one peak when you can climb two?

Back in March when I booked the trip of a lifetime to climb Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro it was on the basis that I couldn’t see the point of flying all the way to Tanzania and spending all that money, and only climbing one mountain. After all squillions of people have climbed Kilimanjaro (ok probably not that many but millions I bet), and its not hard to find lots of blog about people’s trips. So why not push myself a bit further and climb neighbouring Meru too?

Friends who had done the trip a decade ago said it was highly recommended and that Meru is even a nicer walk and a great way to acclimatize to the altitude. And after all a load of celebrities climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009, (and loads more since) so it can’t be that hard since they’re not exactly hikers.

And I might not be superfit but happily cover 20+miles for a walk and managed to get a few of those in this year. So I must be fit enough, right?

The difference in my friends and colleagues reaction to my trip is startling. A small bunch are excited for me, and find it amazing and think I’m nuts. My friends who’ve done it before offered loads of advice. But surprisingly most people are really indifferent.

As I sit here, in my pj’s watching tv, staring at the amount of kit I have packed and all the stuff I haven’t yet squished in (there’s not a great deal I’m leaving behind, just the kitchen sink) I’m questioning my decision making process.

I might have wanted to climb Kilimanjaro since I discovered it was the highest peak in Africa and I didn’t need to be a climber, but Meru?  I think I booked the two peak version of the trip as I didn’t want to seem a wimp to my fellow mountain rescue colleagues who had no problem on their trip. Nevermind that they’ve climbed loads of peaks at altitude and this will be my first. But then I am a bit of a tick list person, so why climb just one mountain?

Things that makes me worried/ irrational:

1.- altitude – no base line from which to judge this. Walking the Tour de Mount Blanc last year and making it to 2500m does not qualify me to know how I will react. I am really bothered that this will floor me and I will not make it. Sleeping at that altitude did give me weird dreams so who knows what I’ll be like this time at more than twice that height.

2.- malaria – this bothers me in two respects. I am worried that I will have a reaction to the tablets, which i don’t start taking till two days before I travel (and so it’ll be too late to do anything about it). I’m also worried about giant mosquitoes that will eat me alive.

3.- not seeing anything from the summit (and on two summits!) – this happens to me everywhere I go, be it Scotland, Wales, the Lake District. The Alps last year was the first trip I had wall to wall sunshine.  It might be hot but it is currently raining in Tanzania.

4.-  Not having enough kit (that one can’t possibly happen)

5.- losing my kit via Heathrow to Nairobi – almost certain to happen. So I’ve packed one lot of everything in my carry on bag. *smug*

6.- a long list of other health complaints – massive first aid kit to solve this.

7.- massive first aid kit will make customs suspicious – see point 5

So, with my anxiety packed along with my entire kit store, I am still really looking forward to fulfilling a dream I’ve had for the last 15 years, I just hope I make it. I will have my fingers crossed all the way. I have determination by the bucket load, roughing it is second nature, and whatever happens I know I’ll have an amazing time.

Wish me luck! And if you’re from England, give a thought for the Holme Valley Mountain Rescue team who I’ve decided to raise money for. I had the trip booked anyway and thought it would make a good excuse to raise money for their Headquarters appeal. Check out my justgiving link – here.

Don’t worry I will kill you all with photos on my return!

….(Now for a week of anxiety and packing)….