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Kristen Fuller | 02.27.2019

Day I | Day II | Day III

 

After constantly shooting photos on the trail on Day 1 of my Meru trek, my guides understood this was my jam.

My guide, Demi, told me that I could potentially shoot a beautiful sunrise at Mirikamba Hut before breakfast, so I was pretty excited. I awoke at 6 a.m., packed my daypack, and grabbed my camera. Since I accidentally planned this hike on a full moon and couldn’t shoot the night sky, I was determined to shoot an incredible sunrise overlooking Tanzania.

My wish came true. I climbed the stairs above the dining hall, and I was in awe. I watched the sky turn from black to red to orange to pink, and I could see the sun come up over the endless horizon and shimmering lakes.

African sunrises and sunsets are a miracle from God.

The sun was bright and hot by 6:50 a.m., and I wandered back into my hut to pack the rest of my belongings into my African straw basket to give to my porters. I gave myself a baby-wipe bath, washed my face and brushed my teeth, and then wandered into the dining hall to join Demi for a huge breakfast, prepared by chef Nicholas.

Today was going to be difficult. The plan was to arrive at Saddle Hut around 3 p.m., eat lunch, relax, and do a quick acclimation hike to Little Meru Peak for sunset. We would then eat dinner, take a short nap, and awaken just before midnight to set off for the summit around 1 a.m.—basically Kilimanjaro, round two, without the altitude.

 

The porters have the toughest job on the mountain. Kristen Fuller.

Mirikamba Hut (2,500 m) to Saddle Hut (3,550 m)

Kilimanjaro was showing off as we left Mirikamaba Hut around 8 a.m. Although she was beautiful, it was a bit too hazy to take her photograph, so I stayed in the present moment, hiked on the trail, took in the views, and listened to music.

We started to ascend quickly through a lush green forest that overlooked all of Arusha. The forest quickly changed to beautiful, moss-covered trees. I have never seen so much moss in my life, and I was intrigued. I couldn’t take my finger off my shutter button. Pops of yellow, white, and purple flowers kept grabbing my attention, and I am pretty sure I was the only one to notice, as the rest of the group was so far ahead of me. I gladly hung back with the guides to admire the wildflowers among the bright green background.

The guides probably thought I was crazy, because there I was, my face up against the flowers, trying to get the perfect aperture shot. But then again I was only being my true self: a solo female hiker, who spoke a hodgepodge of English and Swahili, who brought an African basket packed full of clothes, headphones stuck in her ears, listening to country music on the trail.

This trail was for me, and this was part of my healing process after surviving a brutally abusive relationship with a corrupt and dangerous Tanzanian man.

We arrived at our lunch spot, where I ate a couple pieces of mandazi, a kind of Swahili donut, and drank some juice before we were off again. I could tell we were climbing because the moss-covered trees began to disappear, and these dark, bare-bark trees appeared. I have never seen anything like it; it almost resembled lifeless burned trees after a fire rampaged through the area. They were eerie and beautiful, with tall cacti dispersed on the ground between them.

Other groups of porters ran down the mountain carrying gear on their heads, chest, and back. As we crossed paths, we exchanged simple Swahili greetings, and I tried to capture these images on my camera the best I could.

I was taken aback when I saw a female porter running down the mountain. I have been told female porters are becoming more common in the Tanzanian trekking industry, particularly on Kilimanjaro, but I was surprised and happy to see her. She was the definition of a badass, carrying just as much gear as the male porters with a smile on her face.

After about 6 hours of hiking we arrived at Saddle Hut and Authman, my porter, prepared a large bucket of warm water for me to clean myself. I settled into my hut, took a quick bucket bath, and met Demi in the dining hall for lunch. After lunch we had a few hours of downtime, so I decided to edit some photos, calculate and organize my tips for each crew member, and read a few pages of Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

 

Splashes of color dot the trail on the ascent of Mount Meru. Kristen Fuller.

Let’s Acclimate: Saddle Hut (3,550 m) to Little Meru Peak (3,820 m)

My guide, Demi, and I planned to set off to Little Meru Peak about an hour before sunset. We were determined to watch the sunset over the valley while capturing the beauty of Kilimanjaro.

Unfortunately, just like most days, Kilimanjaro hid among the clouds. We were completely surrounded by so many clouds, sadly, that there would be no sunset. I made the best of it.

Only after a few hundred meters of hiking up the trail from Saddle Hut, I noticed I forgot my hiking boots and was walking in my Mary Jane crocs.

“Shit, Demi, should I go back and grab my hiking boots?” I asked.

“No, you won’t need them," he said.

I allowed his comment to roll off my shoulders. I knew I was going to have to watch my footing all the way up to the “little” peak.

On our way up the trail, I was mesmerized. Even though the cloud cover was thick enough to cover Mount Kilimanjaro and the valley, we still had a spectacular view of the horizon, covered by lush green forests and mountains.

This view was akin to those found on the hiking trails in South America. After being on the trail for a couple of days, I was finally awestruck.

I slowly began to realize this acclimation hike was kicking my ass, and I was ready to be at the top. I should know by now that I need to stop asking, “How much farther?" The answer is the same, whether it’s 10 kilometers or 1 kilometer.

It is always "kidogo." A little farther.

We arrived at the summit of Little Meru just before sunset, and the views were spectacular. We took a moment to relax and take it all in, I captured some gorgeous photos. I knew this would be my favorite part of the trek, so I took it all in.

 

The spectacular sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro was one I'll never forget. Kristen Fuller.

Lala Salama, “Goodnight”

Since we did not have headlamps with us, and I was in crocs, we had to make it down before dark. We arrived at Saddle Hut minutes before darkness fell upon us and just in time for dinner.

Chef Nicholas came through again with amazing food, cooked over 12,000 feet above sea level. Although my heart and mind were still very unsettled from my personal battles, my tummy was full. I kept telling myself, “mountains cure everything, including a broken heart." I knew in a few hours I would wake up to conquer the second tallest mountain in Tanzania and the fifth tallest mountain in Africa in hopes to get back only a sliver of my happiness.

Until then it was time to sleep.

 

Day I | Day II | Day III

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