Africa's Other Mountains

Mount Meru

By the time we climbed Tanzania's Mount Meru, I had been in Africa long enough that being escorted around by rangers armed with ancient weapons was old hat. But Michael was different. Strapped to his pack near his old M-1 rifle was a small, stuffed, pink toy he referred to as "snow pea." It was only after Michael explained—and spelled—the name that we realized he meant Snoopy.

Michael had been assigned to us to protect us from cape buffalo. And, he said, lions, although our guidebook assured us there were none in the park. We saw the remains of one—killed, according to Michael, by another—as soon as we set out across a huge open plain. In clear sight, across the valley to our left, were herds of buffalo and antelope, families of warthogs, and a handful of giraffes gracefully grazing on acacia trees. I love watching giraffes in the wild, the way their legs cover huge distances over the plains seemingly in slow motion. Later, about a hundred yards away, we saw, quite literally, the trees shake as a nearby elephant, hidden from our view by the thick vegetation, lumbered through the forest.

In front of us loomed the sheer wall of Mount Meru, a 14,944-foot volcano that from the looks of things blew itself up very much like America's Mount St. Helens. A towering 5,000-foot caldera cliff-one of the highest in the world-is all that is left of the original crater walls. Beneath it is a giant cinder cone. This is a raw, exploded landscape of sheer and stark beauty, the angriest of East Africa's volcanoes. Rising steep-walled over the plains, this is the mountain that challenges the climber head-on, as if to say, "You really think you're coming up here?"


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