Modern trekkers have their pick of clearly-marked, tried-and-tested routes to Uhuru Peak, but on Hans Meyer’s originally journey to the top, there were no trail signs or designated camps.
Though we don’t know the exact route he took (by the time other trekkers attempted the journey, any signs of Meyer’s trek were long gone), we have a good idea of some of the spots he may have visited during his time on the mountain, thanks to his journals and descriptions.
Meyer and Purtscheller (his climbing partner) set out from Marangu village, near where Marangu route trekkers start their journey, but much further down Kili’s slopes than Marangu Gate (the modern departure point). After a few days’ journey, he made it to “Halfway Camp,” a way station he would use as a sort of base camp throughout the journey.
Many of Kili’s early attempters camped at or near this site—one, HH Johnston, even built cabins nearby that Meyer saw during his journey—but today we don’t know where, exactly, it was located. Meyer’s descriptions tell us it’s above the treeline, and the fact that it served as a long-term camp for many of the porters and guides tell us it must have been near water, likely on open ground. Sadly, though, that’s all we know; “Halfway Camp” might still be something certain trekkers see on their trip to the top…or it may be well off today’s beaten track(s).
Leaving behind several porters, who were supposed to resupply the camp via trips down to Marangu, Meyer headed north towards the Saddle. He camped at Abbott’s Camp—a spot he knew had hosted Dr. Abbott, a previous trekker, because of the leftover Irish stew tin and the copy of the paper En Avant Abbott left behind—located somewhere between the two paths on the modern Marangu route that lead to the Saddle.
From here, Meyer’s path—which hewed closely to the modern-day Marangu route up to this point—split off. Setting off directly for the peak, with Kibo on their left, Meyer and Purtscheller climbed laboriously towards the Ratzel Glacier, on the south-eastern rim of Kibo (the glacier still exists today, but has shrunk significantly). Unable to see another route to the top, Meyer and Purtscheller carved a series of steps into this glacier on October 3rd, 1889.
Forced by weather to retreat to Lava Cave Camp, (north-east of Barafu Camp), the men eventually made it to the crater rim via a notch near Lava Cave, which led them very near Stella Point. After several unsuccessful attempts to scale Mawenzi (a much more technically difficult summit), they headed back down the mountain on October 22nd.
So when you walk up Kilimanjaro, you’re walking in Meyer’s footsteps figuratively…but literally-speaking, you’re striking out on your own!