Chronicles of the Kilimanjaro Adventure: #2

This is the second episode of my narration concerning my trip last year (August 2016) to Tanzania to conquer Kilimanjaro Mountain. At least that is how it was put in one of the local papers upon my return. In the last post, we stopped where the date for the hike had been set, and I was left to prepare for the hike with less than a year.

It is one thing to have a dream and another to see it come true. In fact, the only difference between a dream and delusion is that the former does come true while the latter might land you in a mental care institution. I therefore, committed my dream to God and immediately took stock of my strengths and weaknesses, and then came up with a plan to get myself in shape.

I sent an invitation to friends via social media and decided to build a strong support system. I became active by joining various groups, and then got my nose to the grind. I decided to expand my portfolio of local mountains that I had been to. Luckily, I had just returned from my second visit to Mulanje Mountain, and was happy with my hiking performance. This time around, I did not bonk anywhere during the trip. On the contrary, I was able to assist and encourage a rookie that was making a maiden hike on this beautiful mountain.

Eye Candy on Michiru Mountain in Blantyre, Malawi
Eye Candy on Michiru Mountain in Blantyre, Malawi

I hate routine and consistency has been my nemesis from as back as I can remember. Each effort to embrace these two pillars of performance has ended up in smoke. Andy, my current boss sums it up as lack of organization. Anyway, this time I gave it my best shot. I embarked on a maximum interval training programme, which I had nearly completed the previous year. And I committed to weekly hiking sessions. And each time I travelled to Blantyre, the commercial city of Malawi, I would make it a point to find time to visit either Soche or Michiru mountains. At this point, I was very familiar with Soche, but I had never been up Michiru before. I did not even know how to get there, in the first place. So I asked around for directions. I got in touch with a previous workmate who I recalled would go for long walks on the many trails on Michiru.

One day on my way back from Blantyre to Lilongwe, the Capital City, and my place of residence, I stopped in Dedza, home to the beautiful Dedza Mountain. The mountain sits like a loaf of bread at the back of Dedza Town, with its face overlooking the town and sort of hiding its tail, which is best seen if you are approaching from Bembeke, the home of fresh vegetables and only 12 km away on the main road that connects Dedza to the rest of the country.  I was looking for the main Police Station or the Forestry office. These are my favourites when searching to find a host in a new area before venturing into the wild. I believe traceability is key to survival in the wild. If someone at all times has an idea of where you have gone, and someone local knows the route you wish to take, it makes it easier for the search party if something goes wrong and there is need to be rescued. Soon I settled for the Forestry Office, which happens to have a steep and super yummy trail – just exactly what I was looking for.

Dedza Mountain
Dedza Mountain, more like a roll than a loaf of bread.

Dedza mountain would soon become my backyard. It has two main trails, and at that time, both approaches were surrounded by indigenous and pine trees. The trail from the Forestry Office was through giant trees offering shade throughout the year. At the writing of this article, unfortunately, the trees have been harvested for timber, laying bare the once gloriously decked mountain. Fortunately, the indigenous trees have been preserved, at least for now. To say my heart is sank would be an understatement. Anyway, back to the story. Soon I was able to go all the way to the plateau on my own, and get to the peak and back without an escort. This was important for me to establish my bearings and get comfortable with hiking. However, on such excursions, I would always alert the authorities of my intentions and arrange for a rescue team if I would not return to the base at a specific time in the afternoon. I then went one step further and started inviting others to join me and the first to come was my wife, Cathy. We were joined by my cousin, Takondwa, and my two friends Joy and Joshua. At the end of the hike, it dawned on me that I had set the ball rolling. Kilimanjaro was just a few months away, and I was inching towards it with a flint stone expression on my face.

I soon added to my portfolio Ngala Ya Pakamwa. This is a rock dome just outside Lilongwe City. It has a yawning cave on its face, hence the name, which means a big rock with a mouth. Ngala boasts of very steep slopes, and it has a perfect face for rock climbing, which is on my Bucket List. A weekend at Ngala will definitely help you discover hidden muscles in you. It is that tough. And as always, when you get to the top, the feeling is so rewarding.

First time on Nkhoma Hill in Lilongwe, Malawi.
First time on Nkhoma Hill in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Along the way, I discovered Nkhoma hill, which is further from Ngala but within Lilongwe. It is home to the famous Nkhoma Mission, the home base of the Presbyterian Church. It has a mission hospital, and a college. And when viewed from a distance, it looks like cat’s ears, with the ear on its northern side being slightly higher and therefore, being the peak. Of all the places I have been to in Lilongwe, this is my most favourite spot. It has a gentle trail, until just before the last approach to the peak. The last 15 minutes will always leave you drenching in sweat. It is too awesome it should be criminal.  And Nkhoma comes with a bonus. Apart from an amazing view from the top, I find this hill very easy to pray from. If you want a time alone with the Lord, Nkhoma comes highly recommended.

There is a popular hill in Lilongwe, which is flat by the way. I mean Lilongwe is flat and not the hill. Lilongwe is part of the Central Region plains, and is a major contrast to Blantyre, which is surrounded by hills. Bunda hill offers the only place of retreat within the city for those that like having a bigger picture view. The rest are much smaller to consider for hiking. Bunda hill is very busy throughout the year with people from all walks of life, who go there to pray. Some stay on the hill for days, a few extending to weeks, and some indeed, remaining there for months. It is a bare rock, and has a wide trail. On it, you are often greeted by goats that come from the surrounding villages to graze and stay away from maize fields during the planting season, giving it a new meaning to the phrase, “do not lead me into temptation”. On this hill, I did my experiments on physical endurance and breathing exercises. It may be small but Bunda helped putting me in the form I was seeking.

Exploring Dedza Mountain
Exploring Dedza Mountain: Cathy (left), Rodgers (2nd left), Joy (centre), Takondwa (right), Josephat (2nd right)

Towards the end of July, I joined The Tangerines on my first hike on Zomba Mountain. Zomba Mountain at around 2,000 metres is probably the next popular mountain in the country after Mulanje Mountain. It is a plateau with breathtaking beauty. It has Ku Chawe Inn, the only big hotel in the country perching on a mountain. It also has horse stables, a trout farm and is home to Mulunguzi Dam, with its exquisite greenery. In addition, for adventurers, it has the mysterious Chingwe’s hole famous for killing those that venture into it. Needless, to say it is also on my Bucket List, and I intend to come back alive so that I can blog about it later. Hahaha! Now, the Tangerines are a fitness outfit composed of the intellectuals from Chancellor College, military officials, hiking enthusiasts, and has the most rigorous routines across the country. The president for the group that year was Tiffany, who not only guided us to Chingwe’s hole but processed to lead in aerobics right on the plateau. This was the only time I had enjoyed a session of aerobics from the top of any mountain. The Tangerines raised the bar, which I am yet to reach. They challenged my body with their fast pace and grilling trail.

When I returned from Zomba, I did a three hill combo. I went up Nkhoma, Ngala and Bunda in one day. Within this month, I sent a message to Ulomi, the managing director of Professional Kilimanjaro Adventure, the tour company I had chosen for my hike, “I’m ready for Kili!”

The story continues in the next post. Please, come along.

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