Expedition to Mount Meru

I have been looking forward to climbing one of the East African mountains for a long time. The choice for Mt. Meru and against Kilimanjaro fells very quickly: On the one hand, Mt. Meru offers a much more scenic ascent and descent. On the other hand, you can see many wild animals, at least in the lower area, because Mt. Meru is located in Arusha N.P. – however on the Kili you can only see a few monkeys. In addition, the most spectacular thing about Kili is the view on this snow-capped peak. This is best seen from Mt. Meru, about 50 km away and not from Kili itself. Last but not least, I didn’t want to leave Karin alone for too long. She was worried that she would have problems with her knee again on the descent of almost 3,000 meters and with a heavy heart decided against this mountain expedition. So, I set out on my own.

After I packed all my equipment the day before, we drove to Arusha N.P. in the morning and a bit later the whole entourage sets off towards Mt. Meru. Next to me are:

  • Joseph: Park ranger and guide in one person. This is rather unusual but is due to my wish for an absolutely individual tour without “ranger sharing” with other groups. Since Mt. Meru is located in Arusha N.P. with wild animals, there is no way around having an armed ranger with you.
  • Oscar: the cook
  • As well as three porters for my luggage and all the food items including gas bottles, dishes, tablecloths, etc. The latter could of course could also be deposited in the huts and then rented out to the individual groups, but that is part of the Tanzanian employment policy: secure jobs – at least in non-Corona times – for the local population.

Joseph and I go a different, somewhat longer, climb than the supply train to the Miriakamba hut. We climb a good 1,200 meters through beautiful mountain rainforests with lush vegetation and huge trees draped with “beards”. After almost 3.5 hours we arrive at the hut. Our entourage is not there yet, despite the shorter way, but of course a lot more luggage. The large hut, which is located at 2,500 meters and offers almost 100 beds, is reasonably furnished with 4-person rooms and even has a shower. Since I am – like tomorrow – completely alone on the whole mountain I can of course choose my room (what a luxury and thanks to Corona!).

The food is good and always consists of 3 courses. The table is lovingly set with artificial flowers and tablecloth in the otherwise rather barren dining room just for me. Joseph always eats with me … so that I’m not so alone 😉 and we have good conversations. One of the porters is my personal steward and not only serves me when I eat, but also takes care of my personal well-being (makes warm water for washing, etc.). The weather is good, and I have a great evening view of Kilimanjaro, which is exactly opposite the valley.

On the second day we are within three hours at the second hut, the Saddle Hut at 3,500 meters. From there we briefly climb up and down the 3,800 meter high Little Meru for better acclimatization and there I do not only have a great view of Kili and the surrounding area, but also of what awaits me next night: the ascent to Mount Meru via Rhino Peak. It looks much steeper from close up than from a distance. The weather is great again and it is exciting to see how the vegetation and the climate change during the ascent. The mountain rainforest slowly turns into mountain bushes and above the tree line, which runs here at around 3,300 meters, it becomes quite barren.

Today is the day of the day … and after a short cup of coffee, we start climbing the summit at 1:30 a.m. … in order to be on the summit before sunrise at 6:00 a.m. – the most beautiful time with Regards to the play of colors. I have hardly slept. We start with Christal clear stars: the first hurdle is taken as having clouds or even snowfall now would be the worst case. Hiking with a headlamp is a new experience to me, as is hiking above 3,500 meters. Up to 4,000 meters I am still in good shape, although the terrain is difficult: the path ends and we scramble along quite smooth rock slabs towards the summit, there are sometimes safety ropes. To the right below me it is a black pitch… an abyss 500 meters deep. Mistakes are absolutely fatal here … but I’m happy to finally have my “kick”.

Above 4,000 meters, the altitude turns out to be extremely difficult for me. My breath becomes difficult, like a drunk I stagger with every step from left to right and have to be careful not to lose my balance. I keep climbing on all fours because I have more control. If the terrain isn’t rocky, it’s not much better: we walk over extremely fine ash sand, on which you slide back almost as far as you have advanced (the last eruption of Mt. Meru took place in 1896). The worst thing is that the darkness makes orientation and distance estimation extremely difficult. Except for the starry sky and a few falling stars above me, I have no indication. I also have no idea how far we are away from the summit. It feels like an eternity, as I now have to take a short break after a maximum of ten steps. A look at the clock shows that we have already been on the climb for three hours and the first reddening of the horizon should be visible in an hour. I don’t dare to ask Joseph how much altitude there is still to the summit … for fear of frustration.

After I was thinking again about the option of giving up, I see a sign about 20 meters in front of me in the light of my headlamp. I concentrate and recognize the Tanzanian flag. Now I ask Joseph … and he confirms that we have reached the summit. Shortly afterwards the dawn sets in, it is bitterly cold, but fortunately not very windy. We have managed to climb the summit in almost exactly four hours – later Joseph tells me that I am in the top 10% with this time. This is of course good for me and my ego. The next 30 minutes until sunrise right next to the Kili are indescribably beautiful: the discoloration of the sky, the fading of the stars, the first lights in the surrounding plain.

The descent back to Saddle Hut is much easier and it is very exciting to see where we climbed along in the dark a few hours earlier. Because of numerous photo stops, we need three hours back to the hut. After a short break there is a big brunch and I feel pretty fit again. Then we set off on the almost two-hour descent to Miriakamba Hut, where we already spent the night on the ascent the day before yesterday. It quickly becomes warmer again, the lush vegetation begins and – although still lying at 2,500 meters – we are back in a different, tropical world. The shower is good and since we are there already at 1.30 p.m. I use the rest of the day for regeneration. After all, we have already climbed over 1,200 meters and descended 2,200 meters today. At the final dinner there is even a bottle of red wine as a reward and at this altitude I sleep well again.

Well rested, the next morning it is another 1,000 meters down to the starting point, the Momella Gate of Arusha N.P. On the way we meet numerous buffalos, giraffes and zebras. To my great surprise, Karin is waiting for me there: she drove with the lodge jeep and, since she has already paid the not cheap national park entrance fee, we have an extensive game drive in the park to round off this great mountain tour. The deep green landscapes, embedded between Kili in the east and Mt. Meru in the west, give this park a very special touch.

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