Kilimanjaro may have become the byword for celeb charity treks after the likes of Cheryl Cole and Chris Moyles tackled its slopes, yet there’s nothing glamorous about it. What people don’t know is that many groups start by first climbing Mount Meru.
This is because ‘Kili’ towers above the barren landscapes and mist-shrouded slopes of Tanzania – Africa’s highest mountain reaches a heart-thumping 5,895m and is no walk in the park so preparation is vital.
You’ll battle extremes in altitude, unpredictable weather and aching limbs. And while you can spend every Sunday trekking up and around the UK’s slopes, on top of evenings working up a sweat in the gym, the best way to get ready is by climbing the neighbouring Mount Meru at 4,565m.
About Mount Meru
Crowning Arusha National Park, little-known Meru rises auspiciously above the terra firma, surrounded by iridescent streams, montane forest and the fragrant scent of heather.
A spectacular volcano, its height once succeeded that of Kilimanjaro, but after an aggressive eruption obliterated the tips of its eastern slope, around 8,000 years ago, Meru’s crest was downgraded somewhat.
That doesn’t make a hike up its arduous slopes any less thrilling though. Densely forested around its base, the mountain’s vegetation soon turns to barren volcanic rock, exposing far reaching views across Tanzania, from wild forest to intriguing bunches of clouds, with the breathtaking crown of Kili’ beyond.
The fact the risk of altitude sickness is much slimmer on Meru than its daunting counterpart, meanwhile, makes it the ideal high-altitude acclimatisation warm-up climb for the behemoth herself. Don’t be fooled though by the notion of a ‘warm-up’.
The ascent up this geological beast is steep and challengers should be reasonably fit for the four-day trek, having put in several month’s of training beforehand. Yet tackling the mountain doesn’t require any technical ability, making it a popular choice for amateur trekkers, and staying in a rudimentary mountain huts after watching the crimson sun melt into the horizon, is the stuff of travel legend.
Your best bet is to head here between October and February, to avoid the torrential rainy season, although June to October is also a decent time to climb. And again, like Kili’, always ascend with a guide, if not for their guidance, then for their intriguing tales of life on the mountain. All that’s left is to ensure you have the right equipment. Don’t skimp on clothes, boots and camping gear — this should all be in tip-top condition.
Day one, and you’ll (hopefully) be full of vigour and excitement as you arrive at the trek’s starting point. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of herds of buffalo, lazily grazing on verdant patches, and the odd warthog, their tails sitting staunchly upright. This land of natural wonder and geological weirdness is also home to the elusive leopard, however spotting one is as ever, a mighty challenge.
From here, the ground gradually slopes and your legs may begin to feel the increasing gradient as you climb through montane forest, harbouring hidden birds and black and white colobus monkeys.
Day two and you’ll continue to slowly ascend among lush vegetation in the shadow of the summit ridge. And for the energetic, there’s the chance to burn buns of steel with a climb up Little Meru at 3,820m. Sleep is interrupted at 2am on day three when your guide will rouse you to negotiate Rhino Point, before tackling an undulating ridge of ash and rock to reach Cobra Point (4,350m) and the summit at Socialist Peak (4,566m) as the sun rises. From here it’s all downhill, literally, surrounded by the drama and sheer beauty of Tanzania in the early morning mist.
It won’t be long until you’re back at your base, bedding down for the real thing — the climb up Kilimanjaro. And as long as you’ve the determination and the drive, there’s no reason why you won’t summit the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
How to do it
Once you’ve prepared for your Kilimanjaro trek, always use expert providers. You should never just go with the cheapest option as it’s imperative your guides are well trained and knowledgable, with the best available equipment and healthy and safety procedures in place. Also, if time allows, choose one of the longer trips up Kili’ — the longer the trip, the more time you have to acclimatise.
Explore offers a 10-day Kilimanjaro Lemosho trek from £2,204. Price includes flights, accommodation, camping equipment, porters and guides, plus the $600 (£379) Kilimanjaro park fees. And with a summit success rate of more than 96%, it’s worth every penny. www.explore.co.uk
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