Hiking to the top of the 4th highest peak in Africa
As we have already reached the top of number 1 (Kilimanjaro), number 2 (Mt Kenya), and number 3 (Mount Stanley) highest mountains in Africa, it was time to attempt summit number 4. Living in East Africa makes it relatively easy as the top 4 are all here. And number 5 is only in the next country (Ethiopia). Who knows, that might be a next trip at some point?
Number 4, Mt Meru, is conveniently located in Tanzania. Like its big sister Kilimanjaro, it can be found in the north, not far from Arusha (but more importantly not far from Kilimanjaro airport).
We booked a lodge only 1km away from the entrance gate to Arusha National Park, and Friday night after work we flew to Kili airport and were tucked in bed not long after 10pm.
The next morning Marly, our lovely hostess, dropped us off at the Ngongongare gate where we met our guide Kalulu. Before we could even drive to the park’s headquarters (from where we would start the walk), lots of paperwork and payments had to be done.
An hour later we were finally in the car, spotting our first exciting species on the way to HQ. We spotted colobus monkeys (although we have seen them many times in Kenya, we hadn’t seen these awesome flying black and white, longhaired creatures yet in Tanzania). But more excitingly, as we got out of the car to have a closer look at them, our guide spotted a turaco. And as we were looking at the turaco, he noticed a trogon sitting high up in the canopy! Our very first trogon, and we hadn’t even started the walk yet!
More paperwork and more waiting at headquarters of course. Just as we decided to tuck into our sandwiches for an early lunch, the rest of the group headed out… We were supposed to hike through the forested areas on Mt Meru with a ranger due to the presence of buffalos, but we had managed to make a deal with the ranger and were allowed to trail behind the rest of the group as we wanted to take our time heading up to look for animals.
We nearly lost our lunch to a very cheeky Sykes monkey, who did manage to steal other people’s chapatis. Very naughty.
The first day of the hike was easy and short, even though the vertical gain is 1,000m. Most of it is through beautiful forest, ranging from the drier forested areas on the lower slopes to more of a rainforest with huge trees once you get higher up.
We stopped at a waterfall for a little break and enjoyed spotting birds, and other forest animals. We were even lucky enough to find another trogon, and he was quite close to the ground too! It wasn’t until we were home and looking more closely at the pictures of both trogons that we realised we had seen two different types of trogon! How incredibly lucky.
We reached Miriakamba camp just before 6pm. We had strolled the 15km (the longer, southern route) in less than 6 hours, with plenty of stops along the way.
As we had decided not to use any porters, we were lugging our own packs up the mountain. A rarity it seemed as we had lots of porters very interested in our little dual-fuel Coleman stove.
Mt Meru is set up with two camps on its slopes with several 4-person rooms in each of the large sleeping huts. Miriakamba (meaning tree with old men’s beard in the local language) has three of these huts as people usually spend a night here on the way up as well as on the way down. Saddle Camp, which is located closest to the summit, had two huts.
Miriakamba also had two kitchens, two viewing platforms, a ranger station, bathrooms, a huge dining hall, and more sleeping quarters for the porters and guides. It is huge and not at all what we were expecting, but we did enjoy having our own private room with bunk beds (they even provide mattresses).
After preparing (and eating) dinner, we walked around camp in the dark for a bit, hoping to see some elephant shrews, but no luck this time. Soon we were in bed for a good night’s rest.
The next day we had to start with the group and our shared (armed) ranger. They walked so slowly that we quickly decided to have a short break to let them get ahead a bit and then we would try to find some more birds again. We stopped often to try and get pictures of the sunbirds, but still managed to get to Saddle Camp ahead of the rest of the group. It had been a short walk (only 7,5km), but we had again ascended 1,000m. We were now at 3,500m above sea level. A rather quick ascent for us as we were literally coming from sea level in Dar es Salaam (don’t think living on the third floor of our apartment helps much…).
We enjoyed lunch and some cups of tea in the sunshine, looking out over to Kilimanjaro who was kind enough to make an appearance through the clouds. Stunning views.
We needed to go a little higher today, and come back down to sleep to acclimatise, so we ambled to the top of Little Meru and spent some time relaxing and enjoying the views at the top.
On summit day, we had decided not to start the hike to the top of Mt Meru in the middle of the night as we are not too fussed about getting to the top before sunrise. Instead we left at 6.15am as it was just beginning to get light. Half way up to Rhino Point we stopped and watched sunrise over Kilimanjaro, majestically rising above us to the east.
We didn’t really stop at Rhino Point, but did enjoy the view of Mt Meru, the ash cone, and the klipspringers before powering on. Rhino Point is the first point you reach on the rim of the volcno, and from there your walk right around the Eastern side of the rim until you reach the highest point.
A short technical section followed which can be tricky when covered in snow and ice maybe, but as it was sunny and dry we cruised through the chained section. From there you follow the rim up and it was very easy walking until you get closer to the top. There you have to skirt around several rocky outcrops which slowed us down a little. But, considering we are not very fit at the moment, we did reach the top 3 hrs and 45 minutes after leaving Saddle Camp. It was still sunny at the top, and although the clouds started rolling in we did get some clear views of our surroundings and of course Kilimanjaro whilst enjoying a second breakfast in the sunshine.
Nearly an hour later we started our descent, arriving back at Saddle Camp for a well-deserved lunch at 1pm. But we weren’t done for the day yet. As we had planned a game drive on our final day in Arusha NP in the afternoon, we had to descent back to Miriakamba today.
So with disco legs from that morning’s adventure to the top of Mt Meru and back, we started our next leg through the forest. We were lucky to see some more birds, as well as lots of bushbucks.
We made it safely back to camp, and made dinner straight away, keen for an early night. Some tour company took pity on us that night (did we look that hungry?) and gave us soup, salad and even some fruit for dessert! We weren’t saying no to that 🙂
We did go to bed early and were very happy with a good night’s sleep. Some people return all the way to head quarters in one day on their summit day, meaning there is no time for taking photos and enjoying the scenery. And we certainly didn’t feel fit enough for that, although we did hear later that most who do that, use the rescue car (they pay for it) from Miriakamba…
Another stroll further down the mountain the next day with more birds again, as well as bush bucks, but also a large herd of buffalo – exactly the animals you don’t want to see on the mountain! We briefly paused at the Tululusia waterfall before finishing our hike at head quarters.
We received our obligatory certificates for summiting and said goodbye to Kalulu. We then hopped into our Land Rover with Deo to explore Arusha NP. It is a lovely little national park and we enjoyed seeing all of it (!) in half a day before returning to Marly at the Meru Simba lodge for dinner.
This time we arrived at Kili airport when check-in was already open and with a full tummy, a little different from our usual routine. The flight left a little early, as always seemed to be the case with this last Precision flight from Kili to Dar, no doubt the pilots were as keen as we were to get home.
We have now summited 4 out of the top 5 highest mountains in Africa, who wants to join us for number 5?
Recommendations for Mt Meru
Meru Simba Lodge – Marly (the manager) was incredibly helpful before and during our stay
Kalulu is a great guide who has a lot of knowledge of animals, including birds. He runs his own company called Rhymes of Wilderness. He is your man if you want to hike to the top of Mt Meru (he can also organise other safaris, including hiking Mt Kilimanjaro).
Our itinerary hiking Mt Meru
Friday evening after work – fly to Kilimanjaro International Airport. Pick up by Meru Simba Lodge (less than 1km from Arusha NP gate) and drive straight there.
Saturday – breakfast at the lodge and 9am drop off at Ngongongare gate. Meeting guide, paying entry fees and drive to park head quarters (hike starts from head quarters at Momella gate which is at 1,500m). Start hike around lunchtime, the long route to Miriakamba Camp at 2,500m. We hiked for 5.5 hours, including a break at a waterfall and many, many stops for bird watching along the way. We were carrying full packs, including cooking equipment and food, but without tent.
Sunday – start hike from Miriakamba Camp to Saddle Hut (3,500m) at 8am. We took 4.5 hours, again taking our time with many, many stops for photos of birds and scenery. In the afternoon we hiked to Little Meru (3,800m). Half an hour to the top, one and half hour relaxing at the top and another half hour to get back down.
Monday – start hiking at 6.15am, we reached the top at 9.45am and enjoyed 45 minutes at the top before returning the way we came. We took less than 3 hours to get back down to Saddle Camp and another 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach Miriakamba (with quite a lot of stops again taking photos of birds as well as the scenery).
Tuesday – another leisurely start at 8am, we reached head quarters at 11.30. This was another relaxed walk down involving many stops. We had booked a car at 11.30am and spent the rest of the afternoon in the park on a game drive. As we had lunch first and did the necessary paperwork at head quarters, we didn’t head out on the game drive until 12. But we were one of the last out the gate at 6.30pm. Back to the Meru Simba Lodge where we re-packed our gear and had a 3-course dinner. At 8.15pm we were driven back to Kilimanjaro National Airport (only 30 minutes drive from the lodge), where we checked in for the 21.55 flight to Dar es Salaam.
Recommended spots to visit in Arusha NP
Ngurdoto Crater – it is a shorter drive to rhino viewpoint, but the view from the highest point, Leitong viewpoint, is more spectacular and worth the longer drive and short hike up
Momalla Lakes – both lakes, lesser and greater, are worth checking out for the scenery and birdlife
Viewpoints – Arusha NP has several viewpoints scattered around offering pretty vistas all around the park, most with picnic tables
Little Serengeti – a small open savanna area where you will find plenty of plains animals