A celebration of Northern Tanzania

February 2008

An 18 day safari celebration of Northern Tanzania and its uniqueness (Part 1 of 3)

In 1983 when I first toured Northern Tanzania I was awestruck by not only the splendour of the landscape but by the terrain’s diversity as well. From the glaziers of Kilimanjaro to the shores of Lake Victoria, these few hundred miles seemed a celebration of altitudinal habitats, all bursting at the seams with natural history variety.

This safari with four returning guests and four new comers was designed by me, Jo Anderson and two of my regular guests. We were determined to make the safari as spectacular as possible by experiencing the varied landscape decked with wildlife, but also by experiencing different camping styles.

The first focus was the Mountain, as five of the group, along with Jo, would be attempting to reach the summit. One member of this group was turning 65 the day Jo had planned to get to the top. The others were no spring chickens either! All close to, or over, retirement age. Brits - they wanted a climbing challenge before going on to the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.

As one guest would be joining us later, the five climbers, two non climbers and Jo and I enjoyed Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge for two days preparation. Jo had planned an eight day experience on Kili and was very aware of his responsibilities when setting off with five older but fit guests. Jo’s job, as he quite rightly stated in his detailed briefing, is to get the group off the mountain and not to the top at any cost. At over 19,000 feet Kilimanjaro is not to be taken lightly. Many climbers that attempt Kili fail due to a lack of preparation, average food on the mountain, and a whole host of other things, but mainly the altitude takes its toll and a lack of preparation with controlled and experimental exposure to heights of over 16,000ft is the best way to assess the individuals before heading to the summit.

The shorter climbs of 5-6 days cannot adequately prepare or assess climbers for the push to the summit. We planned a night on Shira as a group before Jo led the five climbers on, so driving up to over 11,000ft and then hiking the few hours to Shira One camp at nearly 12,000ft was our start. Beautiful landscapes with a little rain then clear sunshine started our hike after lunch, and, decked out in flowers, the Shira seemed other worldly with its caldera sides coming in and out of cloud.

Approaching the Shira one camp Approaching the Shira one camp

A view over Shira PlateauA view over Shira Plateau

Trail rock detailTrail rock detail

The bird life on Kili over 12,000ft is reduced to only a few species and, as the trail gets regular visitors, these birds were tame. I set about trying to photograph them.

A streaky seed eater A streaky seed eater

An Alpine ChatAn Alpine Chat

A Stone ChatA Stone Chat

Our night was cold and we awoke with ice on the tents and around the sleeping bags where our breath had frozen. Slight headaches were the only complaint.

Jo said – …"that’s just your body getting used to the altitude; it will go, but tell me if it doesn’t, and I will ask!"

That first evening’s meals That first evening’s meals

A brisk morning washA brisk morning wash

A loo tent on KiliA loo tent on Kili

That morning the sight of the peak, Kibo, seemed daunting for the climbers but the good cheer of all the porters, guides and staff, including a very important man, the cook, soon had everyone laughing. They were all cracking jokes and enjoying the morning. An important element to the expedition? You bet! Four climbers were men, with one woman, so the slogan “Four men, one woman, one mission” soon took hold. The porters seemed indestructible and so happy.

As two of the party and I were heading back down that day, we joined them all on the upward trail for a few hours before cutting back to descend. One day at a time; Enjoy the day; see the details; EAT, EAT, EAT AND DRINK, DRINK, DRINK! A Buddhist type philosophy takes over, but as our group split – a slight worry set in. "Good luck- you can do it - update us every day! We will be worried about you".

As we parted all eyes were on the peak. Hey, back to Buddhism, right! Enjoy the moment.

A Group photo before we split A Group photo before we split

I’ll bet there’s a Yeti out there some where I’ll bet there’s a Yeti out there some where

We non climbers headed back down, and were lucky enough to see a black serval cat run across the trail right in front of us. Good luck - right? We stayed that night at Ngare Sero before heading out to Tarangire for 4 nights, to Plantation lodge for 2 nights and then the plan was for us all to meet up on the Serengeti Plains at Piaya! One other member of the group had planned to fly out from the UK and join the climbers at Ngare Sero the night they came off Kili. All eight of them, and Jo and I, would see each other again on that vast Serengeti landscape- no doubt with many stories to tell.

Part two of this newsletter describes the Tarangire, Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater Sections of this wonderful safari.