Mt Meru, Tanzania
I didn’t know anything about Mt Meru until I climbed it. Kilimanjaro always steals the limelight, but although height disadvantaged, this active stratovolcano is actually steeper and more physically demanding.
Fig Tree Arch
After the double triplicate paperwork at Momella gate (at 1514m already higher than Ben Nevis), the 5-hour hike to Miriakamba Hut is a colourful affair. Zebras and giraffes munch and laze, while baboons dash through the canopy. For a moment I’m David Attenborough.
It’s easy going to the famous Fig Tree Arch on a wide track through monkey territory. Look for white swishing tales of the Colobus as they squabble half hidden in the foliage. There are waterfalls to lunch by and clearings offering great vistas of Arusha.
On leaving the forest, low scrub dots the vast rubble strewn crater of Mt Meru, its grey walls looming over. The top is shrouded in mist and looks so very far away. Sanctuary is Miriakamba hut (2500m), with its comfortable dormitories, showers, toilets and canteen.
Rested and sated after breakfast, the low cloud turns the forest into a giant steamer as we climb ever higher. Old Man’s Beard hangs feet long from moss encrusted branches. Looking down, there is an array of weird and wonderful flora, a plethora of shapes and sizes, every botanists dream.
It seems strange to have zones on a mountain. After a couple of hours we left the cool forest zone and wandered into the alpine zone, where lacking shade, it got hot, very hot. After 5-hours of traversing our way up, we eventually filed into Saddle hut (3570m), sweaty and dusty, looking for refuge. More basic than Miriakamba but functional, Saddle hut is blessed with amazing views of Kilimanjaro.
For those fit enough, a short jaunt up Little Meru (3820m) helps acclimatize to the thinning air. But for me, it’s sustenance, wash and off to bed. It’s going to be an early start, not easy for a sloth like me.
It’s not natural to get up at 11pm. We had a crap breakfast, coffee and biscuits. We’re told it will help with nausea. I’m not so sure, I have a engine and it needs fuel. Everyone else is tucking into porridge, toast, fruit. I’m jealous.
We’re told we won’t need gloves, another mistake. It’s bloody freezing especially with walking poles. I don’t like hiking in the dark, especially on high ridges. The only illumination is your headtorch, which spends hours lighting the dust two feet in front.
With no horizon you can’t judge distances, set a goal. Nearer the summit frost develops on anything slow enough, basically me. After several freezing, breathless hours, I look up and I’m there. It’s crowded on the small Socialist Peak (Mt Meru 4566m), so a few photos later our party is off again. Now I can see the panoramas and vistas hidden before.
On the way down, I make a mental note that after Kilimanjaro, no more hiking at night. I don’t enjoy it and I’ve seen sunrises before.
Off to Kilimanjaro
The descent is uneventful and slow. Slow is down to me, I'm in awe of my surroundings and want to linger. Tomorrow will seem like I was never here.
After popcorn and warm peanuts at Saddle hut, it’s off again to Miriakamba hut for the night. It’s a joyful place with stories of success and failure regaled over dinner and cups of tea. A ranger does his rounds to make sure we’re all present and correct.
The early morning heralds a 3-hour walk to the park gate. After a skirmish with a buffalo, which looked more bored than anything, we cross the plain alive with warthogs, deer and zebra.
After some more paper work and a certificate of success, it’s off to Kilimanjaro. It was explained to me later that the Tanzanian Government literally list and put a stamp on everything – including trekkers.
Mt Meru – the trek
I enjoyed bagging this peak immensely. It’s overlooked but demanding in its own right. My second trek in Africa, you cannot compare it to Asia or Europe.
The place is different, the people are different. Sometimes it's better to go with what you know, and not the opinions of those who guide you, regardless of their feelings.