A few days ago, I discussed with our medic Claire about climbing Mt. Meru when we arrived in Arusha for three days of rest. The plan was canceled due to some logistics problems, but the day before we arrived in Arusha, Mt. Meru loomed on the horizon and Claire and I just kept looking at each other with stupid grins on our faces. By lunchtime, the hike was back on and we switched into planning mode on the ride from the lunchstop (where we were working) to Arusha. At dinner that night we convinced Joerg, a fellow rider, to join us and a phone text to Kari convinced her as well. In three hours, we got local currency, bought food, scraped together gear. arranged transport, and had the route figured out. It was so much fun to plan an adventure again! We checked into the tree huts of the Karama Lodge for a good night’s rest and filling breakfast.
The next morning we set off in our hired taxi to the Ngongongare Gate of the Arusha National Park. After paying high entrance fees, required rescue and ranger fees, we headed down the dirt road to the trailhead at Momela Gate. 2km into the drive we saw giraffe, zebra, monkeys, and warthogs all intermixed. At Momela Gate I understood that this hike was unlike any I have ever done. First, an armed ranger is required to escort us the entire way (totally unnecessary after the first 10km) and they are required to take three days to do a hike that can be done in 30 hours (supposedly because they get overtired). Also, hiking in the lower section is restricted from 0900 to 1500 because of animal movements (maybe believable?). So, it took a lot of negotiations and patience before we had the ranger secured and we started to hike. The total trip was to be about 19km and 3000m of elevation, and on Day 1 we hiked14km and 2000m from Momela Gate up to Saddle Hut. It felt so great to be hiking again and in the mountains. The vegetation was lush and diverse as we rose through the various zones and the animals were plentiful (colobus monkeys, giraffes, buffalo, zebra, bucks, warthogs). It took a bit of convincing to get our young ranger to go past the normal first stop at Mariakamba Hut and continue on, but with promises of a good tip, he continued. We passed four people coming down, but after those hikers, we were the only ones on the mountain – it is the low season.
We understood why it is the low season when the rains set in on the second half of the hike as we passed the overlook of the ash cone of Mt. Meru. We were cold and wet when we arrived at the hut, so we quickly changed into dry clothes and devoured our dinner of canned tuna, cheese, and gingersnaps. Fortunately, we are used to going to bed at 7:30, and tonight was no different as we had an early wake up call to go to the summit. Kari cozied up under the window curtains because her sleeping bag was in her locker at camp (the down side to last minute trips). When the alarm went off, we were in the middle of a lightening storm and torrential downpour. It was one of those mornings where we woke at 2:45, discussed, went back to bed to 4:15, discussed, and waited out the lightening until 5:15. By then, we were time limited and couldn’t do the summit and get back before they closed off the lower section to hikers. So, we settled on hiking to the summit of Little Meru and arrived for a socked-in-cloudy sunrise. Kilamanjaro peaked out on the descent and the sun shone down on the crater wall of Meru. While we didn’t go up Meru, we made the wise choice and had a beautiful hike. After a second breakfast back at Saddle Hut, we started a slow, wet descent back to Momela Gate. We saw so many more animals and plants on the way down – many times I looked up and said “wow – we are hiking in Africa!”.
Four tired hikers returned to the lodge, ready for real food, a glass of wine, and warm showers. We have one more rest day here in Arusha before we set out on eight days of muddy dirt riding. The hike was a fantabulous trip at the halfway point. March 16 – Hiking Meru.jpg March 17 – Summit Little Meru1.jpg