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Early morning at the Springlands with Kili
The directive from Chombo was to be ready to go the next morning at 8am, all bags packed, stay-behind gear stowed away. After a tasty breakfast full of healthy fare (although I can't for the life of me figure out why everything is buffet style EXCEPT the eggs), a quick update on the internet to my web page, and a final bit of packing, all is ready.
Springlands Hotel Breakfast Area
8am comes -- and no sign of Chombo. Other climbing guests are busily being bussed away to the start of their climb, and the narrow driveway of the hotel is filled with the comings and goings of Toyota minibuses, all crammed to the gills with climbers, porters, and gear. 8:30... then 9:00am. Hmm... something's up. At the front desk, my inquiries are answered with various flavours of don't worry and something about how we are going up the Umbwe route and therefore we start later. Not what Combo told us!
Kilimanjaro summit in the morning
9:30am.... Then 10:00am.... Two hours I've been waiting around, and now I'm starting to get concerned now that our entire day will be put into jeopardy. A bright-looking guy in Zara clothes introduces himself as Luckas (pronounced like 'lukus'). He apparently is our assistant guide, and has been sent to say that Chombo is running late. But doesn't really clearly explain why. I am not particularly amused by this sloppy running of things. It is, I guess, my first introduction to the African way of doing things.
Waiting Around
10:30am... Finally a beat-up minibus pulls in, and I spot Chombo. Fin-al-ly! I tell Chombo and the Zara front desk that if in fact this was the proper pickup time, then someone should not have told us to be ready at 8am! We are assured that we still have enough time to complete the first day's hike, and I'm in no particular position to argue, so our stuff is packed up and off we go.

(our entire hike itinerary was worked out in advance and can be seen on our planning page here)
Getting a ride to the Umbwe Gate
Winding through the streets of Moshi, we stopped by at a pharmacy to pick up some cough syrup for Pu. Apparently he was, for the first time in his life, developing a cold (no colds ever in his life? Is he human?). He was pretty worried about the effect it will have on his climb. The minibus then headed up towards the Umbwe gate, gradually climbing over a horribly uneven gravel road. Along the sides of the road were people living what seemed to be mostly a subsistence farming lifestyle. Kids and adults alike would smile and wave at us; sometimes, kids would try and chase the van for a while. Very lush, very dense vegetation, with coffee, bananas, and other tropical fruits being grown. The earth had an ochre hue, and a clay-like quality to it.
The Umbwe Gate
Markus seemed to think that things looked dumpier and poorer the farther away from town we got. I got the impression of just the opposite. To me, it seemed that conditions, although obviously poor, were somehow 'cleaner' out here in the country. A kind of 'simple' cleanliness, if I can put it that way.

After an interminable bumpy ride, the Umbwe gate was reached. Elevation: 5300 feet. Each of us had to sign in with a park official at the start of the climb. Around us, our 'staff' got everything ready, and I was given a 'box' lunch (all major meals on the climb were provided for us). For the six of us, we had 12 porters, 1 cook, 1 assistant guide, and 1 guide. Nearby, a group of locals, mostly composed of kids, stood around and watched us. Based on some interactions the kids had with some in our group, I think the reason for this was to see if they could get any handouts from us.
Video: A Late Start
This video clip covers our tardy morning departure from the Springlands Hotel, and the bumpy ride to Umbwe Gate. (1 minute, 12 seconds)
Porters organizing expedition
Signing In
Pu arranges some local kids
Kids looking for stuff
Another view of local kids
Chombo assigned a young porter to be with us for our hike up to the first day's stop. I learned that his name was Chebe (pronounced 'sheb-eh'). He reminded me somewhat in mannerisms and presence to my good friend Luc. Wearing a hallowe'en t-shirt, cut off jean shorts, and somewhat worn sneakers, he shouldered a duffel bag up onto his head and started leading us up the mountain on a wide track.
courtesy PChen
The forest was lush and thick. Indeed, it qualifies at the very least as a temperate rainforest, with an annual rainfall in excessive of 2000mm, and lush, continuous vegetation cover. Mosses and ferns were everywhere. I wouldn't want to have to try and bushwack through this stuff!
Starting out on the climb
The hiking started just before 1pm; No one could tell me precisely how far it was, and my Kilimanjaro topo map was notoriously inaccurate. I was pretty sure that the first camp's elevation was near 10,000 feet, which meant that we had a reasonably stiff 4,000+ foot climb to that point. Up at this elevation (trailhead 5400'), the day was definitely cooler than down in Moshi. Bits of sun managed to poke in between the occasional holes in the foliage.
Lush forest
Chebe made sure that our group moved at a pretty slow pace. One thing you hear over and over again about Kilimanjaro is about how the guides control your speed with the Kiswahili word Pole-pole, which means slowly-slowly. And, true to form, Chebe said that to us within minutes of starting off.

The trail (at this point it is simply an infrequently used road) angled straight up Kili's slope. Down at these lower elevations, the grade of the mountain was quite slight, so switchbacking wasn't really needed.
Huge tree on the Umbwe route
About mid-afternoon Chebe stopped us for lunch, and I had a look at the box lunch that was provided to me. I was quite impressed - it was quite a healthy, tasty, and diverse lunch. Among other things, there was an orange, a banana, a hard-boiled egg, some cooked chicken, a tasty bread-roll of some sort, a bottle of some tropical fruit juice, and some sort of meatball-ish kind of thing. It was all quite tasty, and in many ways quite a bit better than a lunch I might pack for myself back home!
Tropical Rainforest?
A bit of warm lazy-afternoon lounging was soon over, and I was up and on my way. It was getting to be later in the afternoon (past 2:30pm), and we were only at 6,100 feet, and, with a sunset at about 6:30pm, it was looking dicey as to whether or not we were going to get to our campsite before sundown. I was hoping for a slightly faster pace to help achieve that, since currently we were going _really_ slowly. All of this, of course, was a result of our tardy departure, which I'd been told was to do with some beaureaucratic permit foul-up.
A delicate red flower
All along our hike, porters and more porters passed us, most carrying big loads on their heads, and most wearing what we back home would consider pretty inadequate hiking gear. Impressive. Soon our forest road-track turned off onto an actual hiking trail. Huge moss-draped trees, gnarled and twisted, arched around and over us. Lushness everywhere. Amazingly, too... no bugs. A very pleasant surprise!

The trail then got a little steeper, and distinctly Adirondack-like, of all things, with steep, rooty footings. Just like back home! And, as we got to around 9000 feet, the terrain became such that I could tell we were climbing a narrowing and steepening ridge. Off to my right I could see that the land dropped away sharply, and less so to the left. We came to a partial lookout, and bam... there it was: the summit of Kili, now MUCH closer, looking particularly grand. After a whole day of forest hiking, it was nice to see out to something far away. Accompanying this was a surge of excitement as I realize that yes, I'm REALLY here.

It is now become a race against the clock as our destination elevation approaches and the sun sank lower and lower. Frustrated a bit with the slow pace, I do not slow down when I look back and see Chebe and others a ways back. I'm quite close now, as my altimeter is reading above 9500 feet. It isn't long before I see tents in the growing dusk - I've arrived just before nightfall.

The lower Umbwe Caves campground (which is where we are to be camped for the night) is located at about 9,700 feet on the umbwe Ridge. The Caves themselves are actually a set of low overhangs in lava rock. These used to be used for porters to sleep in/under, but I noticed a park directive saying that camping there is not allowed anymore, and instead camping must take place just above the caves in the forest itself. Campsites are on small, flat-ish areas cleared out between trees, often with enough space only for one tent. Envision, if you will, a steep slope covered in a dense forest, with tents scattered here and there among the trees. 3 or 4 outhouses are scattered about, and you have to wander around a bit to find them. It is not a particularly organized spot.
Lower Umbwe Caves Campsite
Twenty or thirty minutes later, Chebe shows up. Markus has already chosen a relatively flat spot for our tent, but when Luckas (our assistant guide) comes by, he has us all move to a new spot higher up, but with more space for all of us to tent together. Unfortunately the site is not as flat, and lengthy fretting takes place, culminating in Chombo relenting and allowing the tent to be relocated back down to the more flat spot. Because of our late start, Chombo told us that we cannot be provided with warm washing water and pre-dinner snacks, and apologizes many times. I, personally, am happy to be on my way up the mountain, and am glad that we made it here, our planned stop point for the first day. I feel pretty good about my performance on the first day's climb. So far, it has seemed like a moderate Adirondack climb with a regularly-sized daypack. Of course, we haven't hit any major altitude yet, and that will be the real test.
Video: The First Climb
This video clip covers the time period from our arrival at the Umbwe Gate to our campsite at Umbwe Caves on the first day of the climb. (2 minutes, 42 seconds)
Dinner is provided about an hour later. It is served to us in a large 7-person tent. A table is set up inside, and it is quite a nice meal. In general, we are served a couple of courses; something light at first, such as popcorn and tea, or biscuits, or toast; then something more substantial, like a hearty vegetable or meat stew over a bed of rice. Typically there is also fresh fruit served with each of the meals. Typically the fruit consisted of Oranges (a strange green type of Orange, but tasty), Pineapples, Watermelon, Bananas, Mangos, and quite a few others. Pretty amazing that the porters have carried all of this heavy food up the mountain.

After dinner, Chombo presented himself and briefed us about the next day. This was the usual arrangement of things; we would have dinner, and then Chombo would show up and discuss the next day. In this case, he outlined how we would be proceeding up from this camp to the Barranco camp. This was a hike of about 4.5 kilometres, with an elevation gain of about 3,500 feet (from 9,700 to 13,000 feet). This would be the day where altitude would start to make its presence felt.
Analysis, Day 1 : Umbwe Gate to [Lower] Umbwe Caves
  Start End Delta
Time 12:51 PM 6:56 PM 6h 5m
Altitude 5,300 feet 9,700 feet +4,400 feet
Distance 0 km 9.6 km +9.6 km

Average Speed (including all stops) 1.6 km/hr
Day 1 - Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves
Elevation Profile over Distance
Day 1 - Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves
Elevation Profile over Time
Day 1 - Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves Map
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Day 1 - Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves - click map to view
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