African Adventure (Part 2)

By Chuck Singer


At this point in the trip, Judi had to return home, but I still had 5 weeks left, so I headed off to Moshi, Tanzania. The trip to Moshi was uneventful except for the horrific bus crash we saw the aftermath of. The bus, identical to the one I was in, went off the road and hit a tree head on. I don't know the extent of the injuries, but it looked bad.


I was grabbed by a local tout as I got off the bus. His name was Job and many people here have Biblical names as it was Christian rather than Muslim area as in Zanzibar. He told me he had a trip up Kili with one 38 year old guy from NYC. I could keep up with him! The expedition started on Sunday and cost $650. In reality the one American male turned out to be two 27 year old French women teaching in South Africa. Both were very fit and one competed in 100km races. Needless to say, they were always ahead of me.


Mount Kilimanjaro has always been a symbol of Africa since Hemingway and many movies and it's what tourists do on Tanzania's Northern circuit (visit Zanzibar, climb Kili, safari in the Serengeti). I'm not sure why I tried but it seemed like a good challenge. About 60-70% of those trying make it and I was glad to be one of them. Here is an approximate overview of my climb.

Day 1 Walked up 7 hrs Gained 5200ft elevation

Day 2 Walked up 3 hrs Gained 2800ft elevation

Day 3 Walked up 7 hrs Gained 2200ft elevation

Day 4 Walked up 7 hrs Gained 1700ft elevation

Day 5 Walked up 11 hrs Gained 4500ft elevation; Walked down 4 hrs Lost 9000ft elevation

Day 6 Walked down 3 hrs Lost 3500ft elevation


There were about 100 people climbing the Machame trail with 250 porters. The rich people had 3 porters/person and we had 5 for the 3 of us plus one guide. The rich had chairs and tables & personal pit toilets while we sat on rocks and went into the most disgusting toilets I've seen in a while. They were open 3 sided boxes with a 6X8" hole cut in the floor and a lot of people missed! The porters carried everything on their heads as well as a small backpack, for $25/trip and tips ($35 for us) $60 for 6 days. The food was good and sufficient so I was never hungry, just exhausted. Typically we would breakfast at 7:30am and be walking by 8:15. We would eat lunch at Noon or where ever since we were carrying it, then continued to camp that had been set up by the porters. The first three days it rained and spit snow by 1:30pm and got into the 40's at night.


Each day as I crawled into camp, I wasn't sure I could finish the climb but I didn't want to quit. This was physically the hardest thing I have ever tried. Some of the trail was good and some steep and rocky similar to Nankoweep on the GC. Day 4 was a heartbreaker because it was up and down all day and you HATE to give up elevation. Day 5 started at midnight with no sleep as I was nervous and we were camped at 15,295ft. The first part was steep and bad and then it just stayed bad. The air was crystal clear and the stars were intense. Moshi was a bright blob far below. My steps now were now a slow one at a time with a 12" stride if I was lucky. I looked up occasionally and saw other headlamps far above me high into the Stygian (I always wanted to use that word!) darkness finally merging with the stars. When will it ever end? I had been walking for 5 days now on the fine edge of Pukesville and I was too close to quit but my body was ready to hang it up. At 6:00am, I reached the edge of the summit and watched the sunrise turn Eagle glacier from black to pink to red to blue and then I crept over to the true summit, Uhuru at 7:00am. Many people were still climbing up as I headed down at 7:30am. The trail down was volcanic ash that you walked/skied down but it was exhausting on your quadriceps.


After an hour of that, I was exhausted and thirsty since I had had nothing to eat and only 1 liter of water during the climb and descent. I toppled over to some shade and was eating some snow when group of American MD's came down with extra water and glucose concentrate. That was enough of a jolt to get me the 4 miles back to camp. I drank some water but couldn't eat as I was nauseous. I laid in my tent for two hours and then started wet coughing (AMS pulmonary edema) We then descended from 15,000 to 9000ft and I was better. My quads were so bad I used both hiking sticks as canes down the rocky steps, only falling a few times. The final day was more of the same.


I consequently lost my right big toe nail as I forgot to trim it before the descent and I also acquired a couple of small blisters, but my quads suffered the most. I stayed in Moshi for a few days to recover. I had taken some of my dog, Anna's ashes to the top of Kili but when I got there, I decided she didn't want to be any more volcanic ash, so I when I returned to the Serengeti I let her stay there. She will become part of the grass, then a wildebeest, then maybe a lion.


While I recovering from Kili in Moshi, I went out with a local kid to visit a village north of town. It was supposed to be scenic so why not! We took a dalla-dalla which is a minivan that holds more people than a clown car! Once there were 23 people in it and it was CROWDED. As the honored guest, I was allowed to be one of the 4 people in the front seat. We drove for 45 minutes on a good road and then started walking to a nice little waterfall of 50ft or so. Climbing up and down showed me I was not completely healed yet. We then walked to the "cave" which was a hole dug in the ground with a homemade ladder descending. At the bottom you crawled thru 100ft of 4ft diameter tunnel trying not to breathe in the flies or kneel on too many ants.


From there, we ate lunch which was very good but unidentifiable in parts. My favorite was a tennis ball like pastry that contained a whole hard boiled egg. We then went to his parent’s house where I met his Grandmother and sister. I asked why she wasn't in school and was told it was too expensive for them. Well, me and Bill Gates know the value of education so I underwrote the entire cost of her 6th grade tuition ($3). They wanted to feed me but there wasn't much food there except for bananas. It was a banana plantation. We then went for another hike up a big hill that had a Catholic shrine on the top. It was weird to see the stations of the cross in Swahili.


Returning to Moshi, I had supper at my new favorite place that serves barbequed goat (1# and 2 cokes $2). This place had 15 cats hanging around waiting for scraps. It also had two bad pool tables and one white face (if there were a mirror handy). But don't knock it if you haven't tried it.


At this point I was feeling cocky again, so I was ready for the bus ride to Uganda through Kenya. It was long, hard, and tiring since the roads were so bad and I couldn’t sleep. The worst event that almost broke my spirit happened after crossing the Kenya- Uganda border enroute to Jinja where I was destined. They wouldn’t let me off there and insisted I go another 2 hours to Kampala to clear customs, wait there for another 2 hours, then yet another 2 hours back to Jinja!


Jinja was a laid back place and I hooked up with the Nile River Explorers for a raft trip on the White Nile. It's the same Nile that flows thru Egypt but this part had BIG rapids. The flow is dam controlled and was 20,000 cfs and maybe 40 feet/mile gradient. We were in 14 foot self bailers with really heavy paddles. The life jackets and helmets were fine though. They have a standard talk up and safety but they make you swim thru the first rapid and then they flip the boat and have the guests try to get back in. The water is 80F and no crocs at this point. I wondered about all the safety until I saw the first rapid. There were a lot of flips (my raft flipped twice) and I had an almost epic swim as I got eddy-lined for a few seconds. The company does a lot of squat in the bottom of the raft and hold on to the safety line. I don't like doing that but after the first swim, I made sure I could reach the line as the boat went over. There were safety kayaks along as well as an oar rig to fish people out. The rapids were like the Maui wave on the Gauley but bigger and two or three in a row. There were also lots of stopper holes and a few pour-overs. The Page 6 last rapid was called " A bad place" and most people walked it. I ran it with three nurses from Indiana and the guide and we made it but just barely. We had stalled out and were drifting back in when I did my best to pull us down river and we got lucky. Think of punching Big Nasty at 5 feet.


The company picked you up at your hotel, fed you breakfast, lunch on the river and a really good supper at their camp. And there was beer or pop on the bus. Camping was free for that day, too. All this for $85. Back in Jinja, Uganda I caught a plane ride back to Dar. The bus ride was too long and bad. I guess I'm getting soft