Running for 8 days and 260km in a very remote part of Eastern Africa, with the nearest hospital probably more than 24 hours away, required some preparation and my challenge was enhanced by adding an extra 6 days climbing to the top of the highest single standing mountain on the planet.
And with only 23 kg luggage allowance something had to give….but I have to admit finding myself half way up Kilimanjaro with only one pair of underwear was a bit of a surprise….I enjoyed however the luxury of changing into a new set of running gear every morning of the run very much!
After a comfortable flight (got three seats to stretch to Abu Dhabi) I arrived in what looked like a very provincial airport, in Dar es Salaam, or DAR as the local say. I was pleased that I had my visa organised beforehand as the queue for visa was endless and I would have surly missed my domestic connection. To connect domestically one needs to actually get out of the building (Exit) only to turn right and enter the departure area next door to re-screen everything and check-in. All went rather smoothly for me, unlike my French running buddy whose bag ended up in Nairobi (Kenya) for a day before catching up with him again in Moshi. Apparently he did not tip the bag carrier…..
First two days were relaxing and final preparation at Simon’s great accommodation near Mbahe Village close to Marangu Gate (Park Entry for Kilimanjaro Climb), the five of us (Hannah (UK), Marco (France), Chris (USA), Helmut (Austria) and myself) plus our four guides headed off into the wilderness of Kilimanjaro National Park. We literally ran the whole 260km length of the border line of the NP.
Before we head off Simon asked us all to help plant a tree each on his farm land to help re-forest the area and leave a small legacy from our visit. Just looking at the profile map freaked me out – at 1,800m altitude, with a very hot and humid sun burning down on us, we know we are in for a hell of a day. And we were not wrong, spending almost nine long hours on our feet to cover the first 32 km. We crossed dozens of streams and rivers, many with deep and steep gorges to descend and ascend, while keeping Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second peak, on our left and Kenya’s Tsavo National Park to our right. I was completely spent and exhausted at the end of this very difficult first day.
We approach Kilimanjaro’s drier northeast flank, the number and depth of the gorges lessen, as did the number of settlements. We encounter quite a few noisy colobus and blue monkeys in the forests. And for a few kilometers we ran along the border to Kenya keeping its Tsavo National Park to our right. This was a much better day even so the sun was still out there and hot. Our camp was set-up after about 25km run so we dropped or bags at the tent and made up for the missing 6 km running a loop through a very cool and pleasant pine forest.
After 6 hours of running we could enjoy the luxury of a hot shower using the bathroom in one of the huts next to our camp and I found a place which sold some luck warm Kilimanjaro Beer. Helmut and I (being the slowest two in the group) needed some encouraging.
The forest thins and with it the sun burned even more on us, as we run through a dry and rocky landscape, passing Maasai settlements and with the chance to see wildlife migrating from the plains below to mountainside above. Marco, our French chef from Paris, being always the fastest in the front, ran almost into a Giraffe! Our campsite after 6 hours of running was at a primary school overlooks Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where the only light comes from the stars above and the few safari lodges within the park. Stunning scenery with Kilimanjaro sticking its head out through the clouds and watching the sun go down over the plains of Africa!
Exiting the sparse landscape, we skirt Legumishera Hill, which contains a small lake at the summit and is the source of much local superstition. Most of the day we were engulfed in thick, wet fog, which gave us the feeling of running through Jurassic Park. We run several hilly kilometers along the forest edge between Kilimanjaro National Park and cultivated land, coming across fresh Elephant and Buffalo droppings together with regular encounters of big groups of Baboons, enticed our guides to drive us on a bit faster to avoid any unfriendly encounters with local wildlife. We planned to finish the day at Simba Farm, one of the original European farms in Tanganyika Territory, however they were fully booked so we had to run a bit further trying to catch up with our support vehicle. So we had a 45km/11hrs day in the end. In the confusion our jeep with the bags ended up in the wrong valley and our stage got longer and longer. Never mind, this is Africa and after an extra 15km drive we ended up staying in a very nice hotel for the night – most comfortable bed and hot shower plus great dinner and cold beer! Woo Hoo!
Since we did our long stage yesterday today’s day was 10km shorter then anticipated. We exited to a hot and dry lowland stretch, and return to the verdant southern slopes of Kilimanjaro with many steep up and downs for the last part of the stage. This time Helmut and I stuck together at a slower pace and with using the poles, our ‘pole – pole’ (slowly, slowly) approach paid off and we did not end up at camp completely exhausted again. We camped near a school and quick became the attraction of the year for the 200+ kids. Chris lost his mobile phone on the down hill run but luckily for him some local investigating and baksheesh helped to get it back in one piece.
Forgot to tell you that Helmut and I started yesterday a deal with our support crew giving them money every morning to organise a couple of cold cokes and a bottle of beer each for dinner – this worked a treat and made life so much more pleasant! Tomorrow is a big day – profile map looks like Day 1 on steroids…
Today we encounter our steepest valleys and ridges above a densely settled area of smallholder Arabica coffee farms that use centuries-old irrigation canals dug along the mountainside. Passing many village with each having its own primary school, meeting many kids showing of their unique and distinctive uniform colour. Helmut became my pacemaker and with the help of a NoDoz we managed to finish a very long 11 hours day! Tonight we camped at Simon’s farm and we had our first night of rain (ended up witha wet mat in the tent!)
The distance get a bit shorter but the route is still brutal with its steep climbs and drops.
We saw and crossed many spectacular waterfalls and rivers and sometimes we even had to cut our way through thick jungle plus with the rain from last night the trail got muddy and slippery – all in all a very tiering day with all of us at least falling or slipping once
Kidia was the site of the first European settlement in the Kilimanjaro region. The original church and mission station are still intact. Each mountain ridge in this area is either predominantly Lutheran or Catholic, depending on the original missionary group operating there. Another day of extreme elevation changes lasting almost 9 hours!
Running high above the villages and just outside the national park boundary, our final day brings even more spectacular views and a joyous return to Mbahe Village, where we started 7 days ago. Comfortable 5 hours run in cool weather – we did it! Running 8 days around the roof of Africa. The beer tonight tasted soooooo good!
The Kilimanjaro Stage Run is probably more a hard-core trek as 80% of the route is too steep to run for a normal person….keep in mind Simon bloody ran up to the top of Kili a few years ago in less then 10 hours!! So it is all relative, right.
The whole event is top class – excellent service through out, with comfy and big tents or luxury accommodation. We had access to hot water to wash every night and morning, great and plenty of food and if one get’s organised a cold coke and beer is possible every day too!
8 days / 260km / Elevation +11’088m / – 10’341m
Guess I am ready to add a short 70km and +4’000m climb to the top of Kibo now!
Thanks to Chris and Marco for sharing their photos