Kilimanjaro Day Four: Mazwenzi to Third Caves


6 minute read

August 28, 2010

First thing’s first – Lynn, we’re fine, I promise! 🙂

My Dad has asked me several times to “tone down” any of the heavy stuff because he’s worried that my step-mom will freak out.

He also told me that it might not be fair to write about this because it will scare our loved ones back home.

But a story like this has got to be told…

There’s nothing “easy” about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

My Dad keeps saying, “Dave, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

But Day Four was supposed to be the “easiest” of them all.

Today was a nightmare, plain and simple.

It was our worst fears realized, but in the end since I’m sitting here writing this, you can tell that we’re okay.

The plan for today was to hike a modest 7.0 KM from Mawenzi (the peak pictured above) to Third Caves.  The terrain was said to be exceptional – very flat and mostly dirt trails.

The first hour went off without a hitch.  It truly was “easy.”

I was quizzing my Dad about the 41 players in the NHL to score 500 goals in order to pass the time, and we were humming right along.

Then we reached a fork in the road where hikers (via their guides) would take one route or the other.

We were staring right at Mount Kilimanjaro without a cloud in the sky.  I could actually see Kibo Huts in the distance on the side of the mountain which was 5.2 KM away.  The trail to Kibo Huts was nothing but dirt and you could see it for all 5 KM with all the hikers looking like little specs in the distance.

But we weren’t going to Kibo Huts.  We were going to Second Caves.

They are simply two different routes from which to attack the summit, and for whatever reason, we were going to Second Caves.

We veered off from the rest of the hikers who were heading to Kibo Huts, and we turned right over a slightly different path.

The terrain wasn’t quite as advertised, but it wasn’t bad.  There were a lot of shrubs and rocks and it was up and down.

But then the terrain got awfuly difficult – just like the morning of Day Three.  We were suddenly hiking over nothing but rock face, and it didn’t seem anywhere close to “easy.”

I don’t know when I knew something was wrong.  I honestly don’t think I ever questioned it.  I just assume that our guides lead us and we follow.  We’ve done every single thing they’ve said – we drink water when they say, we stop when we’re told, we put on a hat if they tell us to put on a hat!

But after three hours of climbing nothing but jagged rock face with two-foot crevaces, we started to talk about how tough this was and how it was supposed to be easy!

The 7.0 KM trek was supposed to take roughly 4 1/2 hours and it was apparently a breeze.

After four hours, my body ached like never before.  This was by far the toughest day and the toughest terrain.

But, I figured that we were a half hour away, so I just kept on going.

The fog had moved right in and we couldn’t see much more than twenty feet in front of us.

Then my Dad said “Hey, I hear a voice!”

In the distance we could hear someone yelling, and Jonas and Jackson started yelling back.

We asked Jackson what the deal was and he said “A porter is lost.”

Oh man!  Imagine being lost on a mountain?  In this fog??

Jonas pulled out his emergency whistle and started blowing like crazy, and the other guys started yelling back.

We began to hike towards the voices, and after twenty minutes, we found them.

We still didn’t know anything was wrong…

The two porters weren’t carrying anything, however, and they both had hiking poles.  Looking back on it, I’d say they looked more like guides.

It never occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any footprints in hours, nor did I really think about the difference between “easy, sandy terrain,” and “jagged, steep rock face.”

The two “porters” took off, and Jonas began to fiddle with his GPS.

My Dad asked, “Jonas, are those two guys lost?”

Jonas replied, “No.  We are.”

Now it all made sense.

The tough terrain, the extra hour of hiking – we were friggin’ LOST!

Those two guys weren’t porters, they were guides from another group who had set out to find us….and all the other lost people.

Everybody was lost!

The fog was so thick that we had no clue what was ahead.  A stark contrast, I might say, from the clear skies only hours earlier as we watched all the other hikers take the other trail up to Kibo Huts.

We had been hiking for five hours – about a half hour more than we were told, and now we were lost.

We had no food, and very little water.

But Jonas told us not to worry.  He said he knew where we were going – 2 KM thattaway.

Looking back, my Dad says that after 35 years in criminal law, he has a good idea when somebody is lying.

Jonas had ZERO idea where we were.

We usually only hike for 3 1/2 to 4 hours before stopping for lunch, but since today was supposed to be an “easy” 4 1/2 hour trek, we were scheduled to keep on trucking, and eat at Third Caves.

So after 5 1/2 hours of hiking on the most difficult terrain yet, and not eating, we were in very poor shape.  The physical demands of the entire trek had caught up with us, and now it was mildly raining to boot.

By this point, my Dad was less than polite with Jonas.  It was obvious that Jackson had led us in the wrong direction (about 1.5 KM from which we’d have to double-back) and Jonas had no clue where we were.

What worried me the most was that Jonas was walking about 100 feet ahead of us and holding his GPS in his hand.  Every other day, Jonas trailed us, and now he was walking ahead!

I was the walking dead at this point.  I hadn’t eaten in over six hours and I was too naseous to drink water or to consume those stupid Power Bar “gels.”

My Dad kept yelling at Jonas and asking him where the hell we were.  Jonas said, “Camp is 1.5 KM this way.”

My Dad screamed at Jonas, “You told us it was 2 KM an hour ago!  What’s going on?”

Jonas said, “Mista Jim, please, trust we are going thattaway.”

I was running on empty.

This time it was my Dad that was doing all the complaining and me that was saying nothing!

I had no energy.

With the massive detour, we had probably hiked about 9.5 KM, and all but an hour of that over brutal terrain.

Looking back, I was never scared.  I was scared when I got back to the camp because it set in like, “What just happened?”

But I was never scared, and this surprises me.  Part of the reason why I wanted to come on this trek was to strengthen my will and conquer some of my fears.  Now here I was, completely lost in the rain clouds of Tanzania with a guide who despite his 150 successful treks to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, had no clue where we were.

Jonas said, “We are 0.8 KM from camp, and my Dad shot back, “The hell we are!  You’re lying!  Tell us where we are!”

I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I was too tired to even think.  Looking back, I have no idea what was in my mind.

We were now trekking over land that had never been walked on, ever.  We were miles from an actual trail, and I felt like we needed a machete as we were whacking our hiking poles through thick brush.

Jonas said, “We are 0.5 KM away now,” and I guess I just trusted him.

About ten minutes later, we heard the most beautiful sound in the world – the screaming voices of Africans who had to be yelling gibberish, unless “Ayyyy-yaaay-yaaaay-yaaaay” is a word in Swahili.

They were slightly south of our position, even though Jonas still had us trekking straight ahead.

We saw an orange shirt in the distance, and it was one of the porters from our group.

Behind him about 200 meters was another porter, and to his left, right, and behind him as well, there were three other porters, all screaming in gibberish.

This was the search party.

They stationed themselves about 200 meters apart in all directions and just kept yelling and yelling.

This is how they set out to find us.

It took another twenty minutes until we got to camp, but it was a sweet, sweet sight.

All in all, our “easy” 7.0 KM trek that was supposed to take 4 1/2 hours turned into a will-crushing, body-aching hike of 11.5 KM over seven hours with no food.

I collapsed into our tent.  I had no physical energy left so I began to run on my backup energy tank: my emotional energy.

I thought of my brother and his baby girl and I immediately started to cry.  Every time I see a photo from our trek thus far, it looks incomplete because Neil isn’t in it.

It just so happened that in a moment of weakness, I happened to think about my one biggest emotional trigger: my brother.  I sat in our tent and cried for a couple minutes before it passed.

In the end, I think this trek was actually tougher than our attack on the summit will prove to be, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. Now we know we can do it physically, and we won’t have the mental anguish of being lost and not knowing when we’re going to reach camp!

On Day Five, we will hike a short distance to School Huts and then sleep at 5PM so we may awake at midnight to attack the summit on what will be Day Six.

Days Five and Six blend together in what will be the toughest 36 hours of my life.

We’re almost there.

We’re so close, I can taste it.

And when we reach the summit, it will be the single sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted…

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

Find Out More About David Read More Posts

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  1. calico cate

    at 7:36 pm

    Glad to hear that you’re okay. I’m sure your readers, like myself, were on the edges of our seats waiting for the next post.

    Stay safe, David.

  2. Krupo

    at 10:56 pm

    Glad the server is up and running – read through five days of adventure in one sitting – keep at it!

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