The Roof of Africa
By: Michael Blakey
I have left my cell phone behind. The most advanced technology I have is a flashlight. The language is Swahili. The continent is Africa. The country is Tanzania, and the mission is simple; climb to the top. Six days up, 2 days down. The first known person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro was Hans Meyer in 1889. My name is Michael Blakey. The year is 2018.
As I leave Londrosi Trailhead (Elevation 2369 meters), my senses are invaded, and I welcome the intruders with pleasure. The sounds of mother nature bring my soul to life. The alpine chads chirp, the sun peaks through the trees, and the blue monkeys bounce from limb to limb as I walk “pole pole” (slowly slowly) towards Mti Kubwa “Big Tree” (Elevation 2895 meters). The Impatiens kilimanjarii, mountain gladious, and ever lasting flower bloom with excitement providing the already luscious green landscape an accompaniment of beautiful colors.
Suddenly, the tree line was suddenly at eye level, and the rain forest became a thing of the past. The vegetation zone I have entered is called Moorland. As I make my way to Shira Camp 1 (Elevation 3505 meters), I feel like I am in a completely different universe than yesterday. The green rainforest slowly dissipated while vast open plains and rolling hills came to life. All of this happening so quickly, I worry if I close my eyes for too long I would miss something beautiful. The blue monkeys and impatiens kilimanjari are no longer present at this elevation as I venture towards Shira Camp 2 (Elevation 3850 meters). My friends in mother nature are now the quick moving two horned chameleons and the prickly, but pretty protea flower. The protea flower is also the national flower for South Africa.
The wind blows strongly in this massive plain where two volcanoes once stood . I see what looks to be a massive pineapple in the distance. This alien looking cactus tree is the Dendrosenecio kilimanjari (giant groundsel). These “trees” can only be found on Kili at 4000 meters. They are very prevalent in Baranca Camp (Elevation 3976 meters). The green luscious landscapes from the rainforest returns, but in a slightly different form. The giant groundsels pop up like ground hogs in spring and are as visible as far as the eye can see. The sounds of a flowing stream peacefully enters my ears. I have entered yet another new world.
Twenty four hours later, and I am sitting on what feels like the edge of the world. For the first time during this journey, the clouds are looking up at me. I am currently at Karanga Valley Camp (Elevation 3995 meters). The endless cactus patch is now a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds that continues forever. Kili sleeps silently behind me as I stare into the unknown without a care in the world. The journey to Barafu Base Camp (Elevation 4976 meters) was an eery but welcoming experience. My footsteps echo for miles with each step sounding like pottery shattering in a library. I feel as if I am walking through the badlands in the Lion King
The clouds have disguised my final destination. She may not be within my sight, but she is definitely within my grasp as I stand at the base dreaming of Uhuru Peak (Elevation 5895 meters). A journey through the night under the stars. Pole pole I continue up the mountain. The night is so black, I only see where I walk. The stars are so close, I feel like I can touch them. The sunrise at this elevation brings a tear to my eye. Five hours in the dark and three hours with the sun; I have finally reached the roof of Africa. One must view life in the way Kilimanjaro is approached; slowly, patiently, and with an open heart and mind.