|Tanzania||Mt. Meru||2001.02.17 - 02.21|
Climbing Mt. Meru (14,980 ft / 4,566 M)
Mt. Meru in Arusha National Park is the 2nd highest peak in Tanzania. Because it's only about 60km away from Mt. Kilimanjero, many people climb Mt. Meru to prepare for their Mt. Kilimanjero climb immediately afterwards. We did the same.
We reached Momella Gate, the main gate in Arusha National Park, directly from Nairobi, thanks to our Lonely Planet guides on Kenya and Tanzania. Without the guidebooks, the touts in Kenya and Tanzania would have led us astray! Step 1 is getting from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania. Step 2 is getting from Arusha to the turn off onto a rugged dirt road leading into Arusha National Park. The final step is reaching the park gate 24km uphill where 4-wheel drive is absolutely necessary.
Step 1: Three companies run 08:00 and 14:00 shuttle services from Nairobi to Arusha: Riverside Shuttle, Davanu Shuttle, and Arusha Express. Riverside and Davanu continue onwards to Moshi where most people finalize preparations to climb Mt. Kilimanjero. The Lonely Planet Kenya guide warns that although the price should be 1000 KSh (about US$14), these bus companies will always try to overcharge their passengers. Our experience proved it. In Nairobi, we walked to Norfolk Hotel, the departure point of Riverside Shuttle. The bell captain wanted to sell us the shuttle ticket for US$30. We showed him the Lonely Planet price. He immediately dropped to US$25. When we continued to insist that the price is 1000 KSh, he called "his friend" at the competing Davanu Shuttle. Over the phone Davanu quoted US$20. "1000 KSh is last years price and your guidebook hasn't been updated," they said. Again, we refused and told Davanu that we were only going to pay 1000 KSh, which we're sure Arusha Express would offer. The conversation ended without a deal. Having exited Norfolk Hotel and walked 200 meters down the road, the bell captain came chasing after us saying, "Davanu says 1000 KSh is OK. I'll show you their office."
Step 2: The Lonely Planet Tanzania guide says the cheapest way to reach Momella Gate in Arusha National Park is to take a local bus from Arusha towards Moshi and be let off at the park junction, 1km east of a village called Usa River (1000 TSh, about US$1.25). Then hop in back of a local truck carrying goods and passengers through the park to the village of Ngare Nanyuki, 10km beyond Momella Gate (2000 TSh). With this information in hand, we asked the Davanu bus driver if he'd drop us off at the park junction instead of Arusha. No problem and no extra fee. But it wasn't quite as smooth as that. Davanu changed buses in Arusha. Everyone continuing to Moshi had to get off and wait an hour for the connecting bus. The touts selling safari tours, treks, and vehicle hires swarmed the new arrivals. "There's no truck from the main road to Momella Gate!" "You can't walk into Arusha National Park. The animals will eat you!" "I have a Land Rover. For only US$50, I'll drive you!" As we refused and refused, the Land Rover fee steadily decreased from US$50 to US$40 to US$30. The final persuasion was by the man on the 2nd Davanu bus who checked the tickets and seating. "Maybe you should hire a transport to Momella Gate. It might be safer for you," he suggested. Luckily Masami held firm. "I'm here for adventure. Just take us to the park junction." Finally, we made it to the park junction for no additional cost from Arusha.
Step 3: About 6 people were waiting by the roadside at the park junction. One well dressed man who works for a tour company was surprised to see us. "Most tourists hire a Land Rover into the park. Why didn't you?," he wanted to know. We told him we wanted to travel the same way as he. Hm. Question answered. Nobody knew when the next truck would pass by so we lowered our backpacks and casually chatted with the others. A few minutes later, a Land Rover with a family passed. We tried to hitch but the car was full of kids. Soon after, another Land Rover passed with a local driver and one tourist. They didn't stop either. 10 minutes into our wait, a 3rd Land Rover, driven by a German living in Tanzania, turned onto the dirt road and offered us a lift to Momella Gate. In fact, he took us all the way to Momella Wildlife Lodge where we wanted to stay the night! And he wouldn't accept any money to help with petrol.
Momella Wildlife Lodge was beautiful with flower gardens, individual guest huts, and a swimming pool. Driving up to the lodge, we saw zebra, giraffe, and buffalo. Around the lodge were leisurely moving giraffe munching on their afternoon snack. The walk to Momella Gate, where we had to arrange a park ranger for our Mt. Meru hike, was a fast-paced 30 minutes away.
Mt. Meru is normally a 4-day hike with 2 altitude acclimatization points. Being the highest mountain either of us had ever attempted, we were concerned about altitude sickness and the intensity of the sun. Neither were serious problems but we struggled a bit on summit day.
The morning of the hike, we reach Momella Gate at 10:00 as arranged the night before. Another hiker, Jergen, was also at the gate. Jergen (from Germany but lives in Dar es Salaam for 6 months of the year) asked if we could hike together and split the mandatory park ranger fee. Of course!
Jergen was excellent company. Easy-going and in IT Consulting, we could talk tech and pool our food to make some delicious soups.
Facts for the Visitor
A National Park Permit (paid in US$), armed park ranger, and hiking gear are required to climb Mt. Meru. All food, cook wear, and gear must be prepared before reaching Arusha National Park. The mandatory park ranger and optional porter(s) are hired at Momella Gate.
The critical considerations on the mountain are keeping warm (preventing hypothermia), shielding yourself from sun exposure (UV radiation is 30% stronger every additional 1000 feet of elevation), sufficient water supply (preventing dehydration) and altitude sickness (pulmonary edema and cerebral edema). Do not wear cotton clothing. Cotton absorbs sweat that chills the body. This is the primary cause of hypothermia.
Mountain huts on Mt. Meru have padded bunk beds, picnic tables, toilets, and a water supply. There is no cooking area or shower. Temperatures at higher elevations range from hot during the day to below freezing at night.
Mt. Meru is a standard 4-day hike, although some people manage to do it in 3. Day 1 is a 14km track that ascends 1014 meters from Momella Gate (elevation 1500 meters / 4921 ft) to Miriakamba Hut (elevation 2514 meters / 8248 ft). Sometimes giraffe, buffalo, elephant, and warthog can be seen along this section. Day 2 is a short but steep 4km trail that reaches Saddle Hut (elevation 3570 meters / 11,713 ft). 40 minutes up from Saddle Hut is Little Meru peak, a good point to attempt in the afternoon of day 2 to help with altitude acclimatization. Day 3 is a long 5 hour ascent to Mt. Meru summit (4566 meters / 14,980 ft) and return to Saddle Hut or Miriakamba Hut. The park ranger insists on a 02:00 departure from Saddle Hut if attempting the summit. Returning from the summit, we chose to stay at the higher Saddle Hut on the evening of Day 3 to help acclimatize for Mt. Kilimanjaro. Day 4 is a half day walk down to Momella Gate.
Getting to Moshi
Finding transportation from Momella Gate in Arusha National Park to the town of Moshi wasn't as difficult as getting from the town of Arusha to Momella Gate. The difference was fewer hustlers trying to charge us ridiculous prices while feeding us false information.
From Saddle Hut, we reached Momella Gate at 12:30. At 13:50, a truck carrying tomatoes came rolling by. For TSh 1500 (US$1.80) each, the driver agreed to let us hop in the back and ride down to the paved highway connecting Arusha and Moshi. From the junction, buses running between the 2 towns pass by regularly, the park ranger assured us. Once we reached the junction, the bus stop was easy to find. Nonetheless, Wes stuck his thumb up at every passing vehicle. 10 minutes later, a Land Rover pulled over to give us a lift. The driver wanted TSh 1000 (US$1.25) each for a ride to Moshi, the same price as bus fare. We agreed and rode at high speed in absolute luxury, reaching Moshi 50km away in record time.
What We Learned on Mt. Meru
|Expense||Quantity / Method||
|Transport from Arusha to Momella Wildlife Lodge||Nairobi shuttle bus to Arusha National Park junction and hitch hike to Momella.||
|Momella Wildlife Lodge||Double room with dinner and breakfast for 2.||
|Momella Wildlife Lodge tips||
|Arusha National Park entrance fee||US$25 * 4 days * 2 people.||
|Arusha National Park rescue fee||US$20 * 2 people.||
|Arusha National Park hut fee||US$20 * 3 nights * 2 people.||
|Park Ranger fee||US$15 * 4 days, split between 3 clients - US$20 each.||
|Park Ranger tip||
|Transport from Momella Gate to the road junction in a tomato truck||TSh 1500 * 2 people.||
|Bus from road junction to Moshi||TSh 1000 * 2 people.||
|Total||(exchange rate: US$1 = TSh 808)||
||A fig tree arches over the southern trail from Momella Gate to Miriakamba Hut. Wes stands in the arch with arms spread high.|
||The first overnight is at Miriakamba Hut. The sunrise illuminates the Mt. Meru summit 2000 meters above.|
||On our second morning, we had a few visitors at Miriakamba Hut. The giraffes watched us as we watched them. They eventually lost interest and leisurely munched on the surrounding shrubs.|
||Masami, Jurgen, and our park ranger Samuel relax on our way up to Saddle Hut. Samuel says when he rarely uses his rifle, it's just to scare the animals from approaching the tourists.|
||Every morning we watched the sun rise as we faced Mt. Kilimanjaro (the protrusion to the left above the clouds).|
||On the morning of Day 3, we reached the Mt. Meru summit (4566 meters). A metal Tanzanian flag marks the peak.|
||The team. From left to right: Samuel the park ranger, Wes, Jurgen, Jurgen's porter Remmy, and Masami.|
Copyright © 2000-2002 Wes and Masami Heiser. All rights reserved.