Ascent of Mount Meru on 2016-01-15

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Rob Woodall -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Duane Gilliland
Pete Ellis
Ayumwi L. (Guide)
Geoffrey M. (Guide)
Date:Friday, January 15, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Bus
Peak:Mount Meru
    Elevation:14977 ft / 4564 m

Ascent Trip Report

Introduction: In many ways, I found Mont Meru to be a more interesting and fun climb than my trek up nearby Kilimanjaro. Meru has a nice forest approach with more wildlife sighting opportunities, just as much vertical gain as many routes on Kili, dramatic eroded cliffy scenery, far fewer people than its more famous neighbor, and a pair of very pleasant and clean huts for accommodation.

The standard itinerary on Meru is a four-day, three-night trek. Our party had a tight schedule and were pre-acclimatized from recent climbs of Kili and/or other high peaks, so we were able to successfully do a three-day, two-night trek, which I do not recommend for most groups. We needed to get to the airport in the evening of our last day, so to make sure we made our flights we arranged for a Land Cruiser to pick us up on the rough road as we came out.

We also opted out of the standard fully-catered trip like those commonly done on Kili, Mount Kenya, and other peaks during our vacation. We were required to have a guide, but we brought our own stoves and food and therefore did not require a cook or porters. At the last minute, though, Duane decided to hire a porter, since he was not feeling super strong, and I agreed to chip in on the cost and at least get my bulky sleeping bag out of my small pack. I also had picked up a bad cold and was worried about my fitness for the climb.

Meru was a “vendetta peak” for Pete, who had turned back on it 18 years before, and he was anxious to settle his score.

January 14: Our tour agency, Trekili, arranged a minibus to take us from our hotel in Arusha, the Ilboru Safari Lodge, to the Momella Gate area, where the Arusha National Park headquarters is located. Our assigned Trekili guide was Ayumwi, who was our head guide on Kili a week before, and our porter was Geoffrey, our cook from our Kili and Ngornongorno trips. The road from the highway at Usa River to the park was a good dirt road. We found that the red tape and bureaucracy for this park is pretty bad, since we had to wait an hour or more to get our permits arranged—part of the reason is likely that all parties are supposed to be accompanied by an armed ranger in case a buffalo or leopard attacks.

We finally set hiking off at noon as part of a group led by Frederick the ranger and his bolt-action rifle, used mainly to scare approaching animals. It included our group of four, our guide Ayumwi, a lone German hiker, and a big Austro-German group of 7 with their guides. However, the group of seven was excruciatingly slow (perhaps the term is pole-pole-pole-pole), and after a few rest stops where the remainder of us had to wait for half an hour or more for them to catch up, Frederick left them in the care of their guides and he took the rest of us up to the Miriakamba hut at the standard pole-pole pace. I chatted a bit with the lone German, a novice hiker, but at least he was fit.

We took nice breaks at the famous Fig Tree Arch in the forest, and at a nice waterfall with a pleasant meadow. The last part of the hike got a bit wearying—I was disappointed we hiked up the “southern route”, which is basically a road that takes a very convoluted and inefficient route with a fair amount of elevation loss. We planned to hike out this way, with a vehicle meeting us, so I was hoping to hike in on the “northern route”, a more direct trail that supposedly has better wildlife viewing.

The trail passed a construction site where workers were pouring narrow concrete strips to make the road more usable in the mud, and we realized that our Land Cruiser pick-up in two days could only make it to the base of this area. Once past that, the path finally leveled out in the spectacular crater floor of Meru, and the scenery reminded me of Hawaii with steep, thickly vegetated walls and clouds above on the heights. We started losing elevation as it started raining, and fortunately we reached the Miriakama Hut complex just as the heavens opened with a severe downpour. Geoffrey was already there, having taken the shorter northern route.

The Miriakama Hut was quite luxurious—there were not many guests so we used two four-person bunkrooms (Duane and I grabbed one for ourselves) that have electricity, and the mess hall and bathrooms were excellent for an African mountain hut. Duane and Rob fired up their stoves to make hot drinks and cook dinner in the mess hall (with padded teak chairs!) while I made due with cold food—the only real issue was getting water to boil or purify, and Geoffrey helped us out with this by vouching for us with the other crew in the main kitchen area.

I still had a bad head cold--although it clogged up my sinuses and made me generally miserable, it had not affected my lungs or legs, so I could still hike OK. But I did have trouble sleeping so was tired for most of this climb.

January 15: Our party today was seven people: Frederick the ranger, Ayumwi the guide, Geoffrey the porter, and us 4 clients. We hiked the very steep but well-maintained path from the Miriakamba Hut to the Saddle Hut from 8:30 to 11:30 AM, gaining 1075m/3520 ft in 3 hours. The lower part of the path is mostly steeply sloping rough concrete, and, past the picnic tables marking the halfway point, the top part is endless easy switchbacks in an area of low trees that suffered a recent forest fire. The Saddle Hut complex was similar to the Miriakamba Hut, with small 4-person bunkrooms, a mess hall, and good bathrooms—just a little bit less luxurious.

Our schedule was such that we really wanted to get the summit this afternoon, rather than the typical early morning climb, and Frederick agreed that was OK, as long as Ayumwi and Geoffrey accompany us. So we set off for the top at 12:30 PM, following the good path uphill to the bump of Rhino Point. After this the path descended and traversed some sloping rock ledges that have chains installed to help unsteady hikers, but we have no trouble with this section. After this, though, it started raining intermittently, as the trail climbed along a spectacular crater rim, with occasional great views down to the Ash Cone far below. Many subsidiary crags and pinnacles were crossed, but the path did a good job of avoiding elevation loss. As we neared the summit, the rain turned very steady, and we were a bit discouraged by the white-out and the endless nature of the hiking—the summit never seemed to get any closer.

We finally reached the top at 5:30 PM, and had a muted celebration at the summit sign while wet and cold. We ate our snacks but didn’t tarry, since it was late and we had a long descent ahead of us. Not long after leaving the top, though, the rain stopped and the clouds started clearing. The next two hours were very pleasant and fun—we dried out nicely, we were going downhill, we had the mountain to ourselves, the views and terrain were spectacular, and the sunset light and clouds added very artistic elements to the scene.

We made it past the chains and up to Rhino point just before dark, and most of our descent on the trail back to the Saddle Hut was by headlamp. We arrived at 8 PM, tried to be quiet for the benefit of the other hut guests, and cooked our dinner in the mess hall—Duane skipped the meal, crashing out instead, and I ate some cold food with Pete and Rob before retiring.

January 16: Rob got up early to do a short climb of Little Meru with Ayumwi—Pete had already done it, Duane was spent after yesterday’s effort, and I was still nursing my head cold. So the three of us awoke, waited for Rob, ate breakfast, and then got packed up to head down at 8:30 AM. We are once again a crew of 7, including Frederick, Ayumwi, and Geoffrey, and we made excellent time down to the Miriakamba Hut, losing over 3500 feet in 1 hour and 35 minutes. We had a Land Cruiser that was supposed to meet us at noon at the base of the construction site on the Fig Tree road, and we didn’t want to be early, so we lazed about the empty hut complex for an hour or more. We didn’t really need the ride down since we summited yesterday, but we already paid for it and it would have been hard to cancel.

We left the Miriakamba Hut at 11 AM and easily hiked the first part of the trail/road that included some elevation gain. As we headed downhill through the forest, though, it started raining, with loud thunder. I thought it would pass quickly, so I didn’t bother with putting on my raincoat. But the rain only got stronger, and turned into an hour-long drenching with continuous peals of thunder. Not an afternoon to be on the summit! It was so wet I might as well have been swimming in a lake. Above the construction site we bid farewell to Frederick, who had to return up to the hut, and a little past noon we reached the base of the construction and saw a waiting Land Cruiser--but it was sadly not ours! We had to hike for almost another hour, down a very muddy road in hard rain, until Joseph and our vehicle arrived to pick us up. We were happy to clamber in, unfortunately making a mess of the interior with our dripping wet clothes and packs. Our pickup point was not too far above the Fig Tree Arch.

The Land Cruiser took us to the park headquarters, where we did the usual sign-out paperwork and started the drying out process, and then directly to the Kilimanjaro International Airport, where the four of us rented a nearby hotel room for a few hours so we could shower, dry out our clothes, and get organized for our long flights home that evening. We bid farewell to Joseph, Ayumwi, and Geoffrey, our African adventures at an end.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:10515 ft / 3204 m
    Total Elevation Loss:8858 ft / 2699 m
    Round-Trip Distance:27.4 mi / 44.1 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2+
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Mud/Swamp, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Guide, Porters, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:10154 ft / 3094 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 9793 ft / 2984 m; Extra: 361 ft / 110m
    Loss on way in:361 ft / 110 m
    Distance:15.7 mi / 25.3 km
    Route:Southern Route/Momela
    Start Trailhead:Momela Gate  5184 ft / 1580 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:8497 ft / 2589 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 8136 ft / 2479 m; Extra: 361 ft / 110m
    Gain on way out:361 ft / 110 m
    Distance:11.7 mi / 18.8 km
    Route:Southern Route/Momela
    End Trailhead:Above Fig Tree  6841 ft / 2085 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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