On the second day of our Mt. Meru ascent, we were set to continue our climb through the rainforest from Miriakamba Hut (8250 feet) to Saddle Hut (11712 feet). Other than the fact that I was probably not drinking enough water and had the teensiest, tiniest headache, I was feeling awfully good.
We started with a group photo with our amazing support staff from Maasai Wanderings. All of that group there was to support just the three of us getting up the mountain in one piece, guides, porters, cooks. You are allowed to climb this particular mountain without climb staff support, but I wouldn’t want to do it. The guy with the rifle and the beret was Shake the awesome ranger, and right next to him, the tall, spindly figure of Julius the super tall head guide.
The route from Miriakamba to Saddle Hut involved an increase in our angle of ascent, as in, lots and lots and lotsandlots of steps cut into the side of the mountain.
Before the steps were put in there, you just had to slip and slide up and down the mud and hope that if you fell, it wasn’t into a pile of fire ants.
It was nuts to me that even up here, you could run into cape buffalo. Our ranger Shake had his rifle at the ready all the way up to Saddle Hut, the upper limit of buffalo range. We didn’t see any buffalo but we did see lots of bushbuck, and a few colobus monkeys frolicking in the trees.
Did I mention there were a lot of steps?
Steep but gorgeous, with massive strangler figs straddling the edge of the trail as we snaked our way up the lower slopes.
Our guide Julius was in a good mood, as always. Note: You can see how far he had to swing his legs to get his feet off the ground here. I couldn’t catch that branch if I jumped. That man is TALL.
Right around lunchtime, we popped out of the lush rainforest into the semi-alpine heath zone. We were about an hour from the saddle at this point, at a place called Mgongo Wa Tembo (Elephant’s Back), an arch of exposed hump of mountain spine linking the lower slopes to the main mountain saddle. Even here, we were starting to feel the altitude above the cloud cover.
And as we passed over the elephant’s back, we could start to see the saddle itself, in a protected depression between the main volcanic crater of Meru and the smaller, creatively named “Little Meru.” There in that little saddle was Saddle Hut, our next stop.
This is where things really started to feel Lord of the Rings, with us scrabbling over the rocks between strange low brush, eyeing the towering peaks above us.
Those two massive green things you see are the backpacks of the couple from Vancouver who were travelling the world. They carried all their own stuff up Meru and were majorly hardcore, and I really didn’t envy them that climb with those packs.
We were even more jazzed when we realized the clouds had parted enough for us to get a glimpse of Kilimanjaro 50 miles east, our first view of the trip.
After lunch, we were given the option of staying at Saddle Hut or taking an additional hour and a half hike up another 1000 feet to the summit of Little Meru. Half of use decided to take the trip in the hope of ekeing out the additional bit of acclimatization, and the other half decided to rest in advance of our midnight wake up call for the summit push.
I decided to go up Little Meru.
From halfway up we had a great view of Saddle Hut with a glimpse of Big Meru in the background.
At the summit of Little Meru, we had a gorgeous 360 view of what it’s like to be above the clouds.
I felt like Gandalf looking for an eagle to come and pluck me off the peak.
Charged and a little nervous about the summit push that night, I was ambivalent about eating at dinner. I guess when you are at altitude that’s not an uncommon thing, but when you have an eleven hour hike ahead of you, it’s not the time to count calories. I wasn’t thinking straight anyway. Julian, after over a decade leading people up Kilimanjaro and Meru, made it a point to eye our plates and pile on more food if he felt we were being too dainty.
He piled some potatoes on my plate.
“I’m full,” I said.
“You should eat more,” he said.
“I’m fine,” I assured him.
“Ai,” he said, pouring more food in turn onto everyone’s plate. “I have tension.”
Teri cackled. “Are we stressing you out, Julius?”
So we ate a little more, then tried with varying degrees of success to fall asleep early. At midnight, our guides would come and wake us up, and we’d have an hour to drink tea, choke down a cookie, shrug into our mountain gear, and tackle the summit I’ve been planning for and dreaming of for months.