Being in Tanzania, everyone’s dream is to do the Kili, fitness buffs or even those who aspire to skyrockett their fitness. I have not done the Kili, nor inclined to do so due to long years of fitness left in a box. But having done enough of the hills, mountains and base camps of the Himalayas in my early 20s, I believe I have achieved enough to last a lifetime. Of course, this is only to hide my inactivity, as any mountain trekker and lover knows that once the bug bites, it last for ever.
With a bit of research, I have put together a bit of a comparison of the experience on each. This comparison looks specifically at the Kilimanjaro’s Marangu Route which is the quickest and also one of the most popular summit approaches. The other routes to Kilimanjaro’s summit take more time and give trekkers a better chance to acclimatize.
The Everest Base Camp trek is 122km (76 miles) round trip and one gains a total elevation of 4200m/13900feet accounting for ups and downs on the trail. In comparison, Kilimanjaro’s Marangu Route is 70km (42 miles) and requires an elevation gain of 4000m / 13100ft.
My experience has been mainly through the Northern ridge, across Tibet. Although, having tried Kathmandu for the South ridge, I found the distraction of the Sherpa village huts along the road too much. One needs to focus on walking and the more you can do in a day, the better. Too frequent stops ruins any predictable positive thinking of success. However, a good thing is the aclimatisation. It is slower, and does good to the brain. Good steady blood irrigation is good news to the leg muscles, just when you think you can’t bear the searing burning feeling. Hence, to my understanding, the quicker climbing altitude of the Kili is not good. No wonder, so many troubles happen to trekkers, who follow guides, quite often marathoning to get the maximum of trekkers’ on the mountain for a good cash yield.
The North Base Camp of the Everest has vehicle access (at least in the summer months). Climbers typically rest at base camp for several days for acclimatization to reduce the risks and severity of altitude sickness. The 100 km road branching to the South from the Friendship highway, ( not called like that when I was there last). The “tourist Base Camp” is located about half-way between the first monastery, but the actual clims starts from Rongbuk’s Glacier. My wonder for seeing a Glacier for the first time, was breathtaking for a small islander like me. The first on the road was Pindari Glacier on the upper reaches of the Kumaon Himalayas, to the southeast of Nanda Devi parbat. It offers a 90 km trekk which can be easily done within 5-7 days.
Kilimanjaro and Everest both offer vastly different trekking experiences. The scenery on the Everest Base trek is incredible once you pass Namche Bazaar on the third day the views of the peaks are spectacular. Relating more to the Northern Ridge, I cannot but marvel in memory and say that nothing prepared me for the mind blowing scenery. I lost my heart already when I saw the Spiti valley covered with flowers amidst the harsh rocky mass converging to endless snow covered peaks. The air felt cool and dry. A constant wind sings all the time. By some magic, the urban world one has left behind seems inexistent. The vastness of the still supreme mountains having engulfed them. All that mattered is where you lay your foot next, which ridge seems getting closer, and that transfixation you eyes get into the elusive peak, your mind, body and soul seem to be in conjunction to attain. Saying it is a unique experience to be tried onece in a life time is an understatement. As each one of us can get bowled over by any other experience to feel passionate for the rest of one’s life.
Kilimanjaro is a free standing peak and can’t offer the same mountain scenery but still provides an interesting experience as you traverse through the different eco-zones. The trek to Kilimanjaro starts off in the lowland rainforests at the base of the mountain which gradually thin and transition to cloud forest (heath zone) where bearded mosses and lichens covers the short stubby trees in the moist and often misty air. Kilimanjaro is getting to the summit and seeing the rising sun on the ice fields. As the rest remains a monotonous cacophony of arid and woodlands only Africa’s greenest spots have. Doing a Himalayan base camp is encompassing the need to try the next peak next time. It leaves you with a haunt that cannot get dissipated pnce you have tried them ….almost half, as it is so vast to accomplish it all.
As a student on the Commonwealth Scholarship, I first tasted my first mountain experience when the ICCR took foreign students on a fully funded camp. Like most of my travels in India, I should thank my good stars, and scholarship for giving me full enveloppes for R&R apart from stipends more than a student would require. Besides, travelling in the mountains, the local people are notoriously known for their generous hospitality, even more so when the lady of the house catches a female traveller. I was dotted with laddles of thick hot milk, thick pharatas, steaming momos, and best of all the simple sweets made of freshly pounded wheat, ghee and sugar. A power snack during trekks. The chocolate bars found a second pocket to hide when the Pahari sweets appeared!.
We touched till beyond Rohtang’s pass. Rohtang literally meaning a pile of corpses, due to people dying in bad weather trying to cross the pass, for an elevation of 3,978 m (13,050 ft). It is a high pass on the eastern Pir Panjal of the Himalayas around 51 km (32 m) from Manali. It connects the gorgeous Kullu with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh. The pass is open for only 3 months of the year due to treacherous snowfall and violent blizzards, which blocks the only road which passes through Rohtang with a snow wall as high as 15 m.
At an altitude of 4,551 m; 14,931 ft is the entrance pass to the Spiti valley from Lahaul. To the south, Spiti ends 24 km from where the road enters Kinnaur. Spiti is more barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of the valley floor of 4,270 m (14,009 ft). It is enclosed between lofty ranges, with the Spiti river rushing out of a gorge in the southeast to meet the Sutlej River. As much as Beas river meanders in Manali, offering delightful spots to white rafting. Sutlej spells a different story. The harsh conditions of Lahaul permit only scattered tufts of hardy grasses and shrubs to grow, even below 4,000 metres. Glacier lines are usually found at 5,000 metres. My luck struck when one night I saw a black feline like silhouette over a rock under the full moon’s light clouded just at that time. It has always remained a mystery as to what animal I saw. Yaks roam across the wild Lingti plains. However, over-hunting and a decrease in food supplies has led to a large decrease in the population of the antelopes, musk deers and snow leopards in these regions, reducing them to the status of endangered species. However, in the Lahaul valley, one can see the twisted horned ibex on the steep escarpments of the mountains slopes; brown bears and foxes abound, but I never got to see any. Apart from the exotic wildlife, the Valley of Spiti is also known for its amazing wealth of flora and the profusion of wild flowers. I never stopped painting the images I kept in my mind of the places, years later.
The less crowded camps in the late 90s were attractive. I remember the sense of being on our own on a vast land, smooth loosely rock climbs, an ever harsher wind which deafens, but allows a more slower climb to enjoy the exhiliration of such trekks. The north side started to attract more climbers in the mid 1990s and today is almost as popular as the South side when the Chinese allow permits. In 2008 and 2009, obtaining a permit was difficult thus preventing many expeditions from attempting any route from Tibet.
( to be continued )