Africa's Other Mountains
The ascent of Meru's lower slopes is direct enough. This is a mountain that doesn't waste time with pleasantries: no gentle switchbacks to lull you into complacency. The trail is fairly steep and sometimes slippery, with one constant: The towering caldera cliff comes into view whenever the forest opens up, each time looming ever closer and bigger.
There are two bunkhouse-style lodgings on the mountain. From Momela Gate, you reach Miriakamba Hut after about three hours of walking. From there, it's another three hours to Saddle Hut. You could combine the two hikes into a tough one-day march, but you'd be putting yourself at risk of altitude sickness. A climb of Mount Meru is typically a three-day affair, although even that leaves most people completely exhausted and sick from the altitude. We elected to take twice as long-five nights and six days-in order to explore the mountain and acclimate for Kilimanjaro.
Saddle Hut sits in the cleft between Mount Meru and Little Meru Peak. On a slower schedule, and with plenty of bounce left in our legs, our party of four, assisted by Michael and "snow pea," took the short jaunt up Little Meru, 12,530 feet.
But the real climb started from Saddle Hut the next morning when Michael woke us at two o'clock. While not strictly necessary, an alpine start increased our chance of good weather and promised superb sunrise views.
Small problem: We hadn't been warned about the early start, so we only had tiny little Mag lights to show the way. In daylight, we probably wouldn't even have noticed the slight rock scrambling on the route-hardly any of it would even qualify as Class 2. Interestingly, Dan and Roxanne, who are not usually afraid of heights, found the rock-work unnerving in the dark. Roxanne's husband, Trapper, who had just joined us, had no problem with it, which didn't surprise me. I had no problem, either, which did surprise me and everyone else, because I'm usually afraid of heightsexcept, I guess, when I can't see where I'm going!
But soon enough dawn lit the way. The looming mass of Meru's great volcanic bulk was underfoot now, the summit reachable. Across the plains the sun was rising over Africa and the shape of Kilimanjaro emerged across the plains through the dark, more than 4,000 feet above us, snow-clad, inviting, challenging us to go still higher.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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