Monday, January 23, 2006

Yes, but which way up?

(Kili climbing routes taken from EWP website)
Choices, choices, choices - not always a good thing, eh? After I'd got hooked by the idea of trying to climb Kilimanjaro and started doing some research, I was soon a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of options for different aspects of the adventure. And that was just the initial decisions, well over a year before the trip

Which outfitter (trekking company) to go with? Local in Tanzania? UK based? Savile Row?

What time of year? Avoid the rainy seasons, obviously, but the autumn climbing window...or the winter one?

Do a commando-like raid, straight in and out (and hopefully up and down) - but that's against all the advice, or do a warm up acclimatisation climb of Mount Meru or Mount Kenya first?

Just target the Kilimanjaro assault...or get distracted by add-ons like exotic Zanzibar or a thrilling safari?

I'll come back to some of these haunting dilemmas later but the most intriguing choice seemed to be....which route to take? As the wobbly stick insect diagram shows, there are quite a few trail options. And each one seems to have its pros and cons, its supporters and detractors, its risks and rewards

Many thanks to Henry Stedman, author of Trailblazer's excellent Kilimanjaro guide, for his great summary of the trails (briefly described below), both in the book and in person at the recent Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show (the photo is a bit fuzzy but Henry's not)

THE MARANGU ROUTE - also known a little scathingly as The Coca Cola Route, this sounded like the softest option. Unlike the others it's hut-based, rather than camping out under the African sky. But it's usually done without the benefit of an extra acclimatisation day so the chances of summitting successfully are apparently reduced a little. No thanks

THE RONGAI ROUTE - the only trail approaching the Kibo summit from the north, via Kenya. Nice and quiet, with a drier climate and away from the crowds until the final summit session. But I was a little bit unsettled by Henry's comment: because of its proximity to to Kenya this route is also prone to the occasional foray by opportunist bandits from the Kenyan side who indulge in a little light larceny, before escaping Tanzanian jurisdiction by hot-footing it back to their homeland again. Hmm...easy to see why it's not quite so popular

THE UMBWE ROUTE - sounded like very tough going: the hardest trail, a tough vertical slog through the jungle with again reduced opportunity to acclimatise properly. But quiet and offering some spectacular views, not seen on some of the more popular trails. Tempting, but probably a bit demanding for someone half of my advancing years

THE (ALAN) SHIRA PLATEAU & LEMOSHO ROUTES - the approach from the western side of the mountain, perhaps the least popular trails, mainly because of the difficulty involved in getting to the start of the them. And I read a few scary tales of the need to cross glaciers at some stage that sounded just a tad more stretching than the gentle stroll I had envisaged. And I think it was from this approach that just a few weeks ago 3 American climbers died after a major rockfall. Probably not, thanks

THE MACHAME ROUTE - a popular trail, considered one of the most enjoyable, tougher than the Marangu Route but offering better acclimatisation chances, if only because of the longer distance. Beautiful scenic paths and returning down the Mweka Route, giving you different views to savour as you hurtle back down, euphoric or deflated. Hopefully alive to experience an appropriate emotion anyway

On balance we've gone for Machame, thinking it would be quieter as it's a little longer and tougher, and the variety sounds entrancing. It was a little disappointing when Henry said last week that this is now the most popular trail, but he did confirm its beauty and reckoned that the volume of climbers soon dissipates, a bit like the fall-out from a marathon in a greenhouse. That's comforting then

A separate article will follow on the different climatic zones encountered during the climb, as well as which Outfitter we're going with and an outline of each day's trek. I'll also post some more information on sponsorship options and details of where I'm hoping that any funds raised will go to in Tanzania, thanks to World Vision

When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before

(Mae West)


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