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From the Print Edition, October 2003
 
They Really Do Say Hakuna Matata
No worries on sublime Mount Kilimanjaro, where even average trekkers can bag a 19,000-foot (5,791-meter) classic. By Jerry Beilinson

My new best friend, who insists his name is Tarzan, talks smack about the other street vendors as he strides along next to me. He grins with brown-tinged teeth and assures me that the batiks tucked under his arm are the best to be found anywhere in Arusha, Tanzania, and the cheapest, too. To Tarzan's chagrin, I haven't bought a single print yet. I won't even promise to buy one when I get back from the mountain.

Tarzan, the batiks, and I turn a corner, and I stop mid-stride. Looming above the town, many miles distant but still so high that it dominates the view, is a peak swept by clouds. I arrived in Arusha only a few hours ago, and this is my first glimpse of it. I can't climb that, I think. It's too high. "Tarzan, is that Kilimanjaro?"

"No, my friend. That is only Meru. That is Kilimanjaro's little brother."


FAIR MEANS? UH, NO.

At 19,340 feet (5,895 meters), the tallest mountain in Africa is formidable in terms of reputation and altitude, but it's a cakewalk in every other respect. Trekkers don't face crevasses, sheer rock walls, or even much in the way of brutal weather. You can attempt Kili during the austral winter, as I did, as readily as during the summer. And the fact that Kilimanjaro is among the easiest of the Seven Summits makes it a place where trekkers with fantasies of Annapurna or K2 come to savor a taste of the world occupied by high-altitude mountaineers. While its thin air turns back many attempts—I sort of expected mine to be among them—Kilimanjaro has been scaled by 60-year-olds and children and, as Hemingway pointed out, at least one leopard.

The mountain, a long-dormant volcano, is also exceptionally beautiful. It rises from dry plains through cloud forest and alpine gardens. At the very top, as much a relic of history as the coelacanth or Dick Clark, are the famous—and rapidly melting—glaciers.

Riding in a van to the trailhead, I never spy the summit, which disappears above a ceiling of clouds. Sitting next to me is Søren Egeberg, a muscled and unnaturally blond Danish photographer. He and Boris Gnielka, who is German, are talking about some guy's trip to Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan—it's hard to keep track, but I'm sure it's a 'Stan—by foot and musk ox and, um, unicycle. It took three years, and the guy ate only uncooked basmati rice. Something like that. Such self-supported journeys are called fair-means expeditions, and the men are excited because our guiding team includes the smiling, oversize poster boy of fair-means expeditions, Göran Kropp. You know the story: He's the one who rode his bike from his home in Sweden to Nepal, climbed Everest alone, and then rode back. The brains and clipboard of our expedition is Renata Chlumska, Göran's fiancé and the first Swedish woman to scale Everest.

Renata, it will turn out, is a saint. For now, she is stressed out by the task of organizing 14 clients, 40 porters, 3 cooks, 4 local guides, and Göran for the trail. On Kilimanjaro, all trekkers are required to employ at least one local guide, and porters are customary—but we're pushing the envelope on job creation. Forget fair means: This is more like an old-time British colonial safari, where the clients saunter uphill carrying only walking sticks. We set out on a muddy track and soon find ourselves surrounded by gleaming wet vines, six-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) translucent leaves, and some of those porters, who struggle past carrying huge loads. Göran, who is a burly six foot four, could climb Kili with one of these men tucked under each arm. But as they pass he flashes a double thumbs-up and a huge grin and calls out, "So strong, so strong!" In response they murmur, "Polepole," which means "slowly." This is the motto on Kilimanjaro, but it doesn't apply to porters. They smile, then stagger on at full speed, panting and pouring sweat.

We break out of the forest at 9,800 feet (2,987 meters), having climbed 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) from the trailhead. A cluster of porters is setting up a big base-camp tent to be used for group meals. Rising above the yellow dome is the steep headwall that we'll trek up tomorrow, and beyond that, fiery in the late afternoon sun, I finally see it: the distant, flat, gleaming summit of Kilimanjaro, still nearly 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above us.

Get the full story in the October 2003 issue of Adventure.

Online Extras
Q&A: Many trekkers have checked Kilimanjaro off their life list with the help of Tanzanian porters. Last year, three porters died from exposure on the mountain during a brutal storm. Scott Dimetrosky of the Himalayan Explorers Connection, which recently opened a Tanzania office, talks about what's being done for porters on a deceptively dangerous mountain. Read story here >>

Exclusive: As soon as Vincent Keipper turned his back on Kilimanjaro's Furtwängler Glacier earlier this year, he heard the block of ice begin to stir. "A crackling sound brought our group to a stop," the North Carolina resident says. "We turned to see the ice mass collapse with a roar." Read an equatorial glacier update in our online exclusive >>

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How to Track a Siberian Tiger: Dress Warmly. Bring Plenty of Vodka. And Hope You Don't Find One.
DAVID QUAMMEN joins a maverick Russian biologist to tour one of the Far East's farthest corners. Here, a tribe of some 800 indigenous hunters shares an uneasy coexistence with Panthera Tigris Altaica, the greatest of the last great cats.


Dangerous predators are a precious rarity on this mangled and threadbare little planet. Their populations, never hugely numerous, have been reduced, marginalized, isolated, endangered—in some cases, exterminated altogether—by remorseless cycles of ecological change and 10,000 years of human ascendancy. Where they do survive, such menacing beasts are now generally consigned to some form of sequestration. That is, they live separated from people—in national parks, wildlife reserves, zoos. To find flesh-hungry predators still sharing landscape with human beings, in some precarious balance of tensions, you've got to travel far and search hard. One place to look is in the Sikhote-Alin mountains of the Russian Far East, along a small river called the Bikin, where an indigenous tribe known as the Udege cherish an intimate relationship with the greatest of the last great cats.

The Udege are an ancient lineage of hunters and trappers. Their partner in uneasy coexistence is Panthera tigris altaica, loosely known as the Siberian tiger. Because the Amur River drainage, in southeastern Russia and northeastern China, encompasses much of the historical range of P.t. altaica, this subspecies is more accurately labeled the Amur tiger. Among traditional Udege, it's called Amba, a respectful name for an almost deified character about whom their attitudes are complicated and in flux. The culture of the Udege has endured, and the tiger has endured alongside it, for one reason: because the valley of the Bikin River, a minor tributary of the Amur, is a very remote place.

To get there you fly the Pacific and land in Vladivostok, the old Soviet naval port on the Sea of Japan. Escaping the city, you drive north on an icy highway for ten or twelve hours, then turn east onto a gravel road that ascends the Bikin. Within a few miles the road becomes a snow-packed track, which receives just enough traffic to keep it polished slick as the pate on an alabaster bust of Lenin. You follow this ribbon of white into darkness, winding upward toward a village called Krasniy Yar, the main settlement of Udege along the middle Bikin. If your tires are good and you have left Vladivostok early, you arrive in time for a mid-evening dinner of vodka and fish soup and potatoes. If your tires are as smooth as curling stones, like the ones on an old Toyota belonging to a Russian biologist named Dmitri Pikunov, your passengers will walk the hills, throwing their shoulders against the back fenders whenever your wheels begin spinning futilely. If luck holds, you'll top the last rise without having slid the Toyota into a ditch. In that case you may still reach the village, as Pikunov himself does on a certain cold February evening, and I with him, in time for a late but triumphant dinner of vodka and fish soup and vodka.

Dima Pikunov is a burly, impetuous man of vehement moods and quiet charms, now in his early 60s but still fit enough and stubborn enough to track tigers through snowy mountains. His eyes are pale blue, his hair is sandy and thinning, his chest swells high above an ample belly. Excitable, obdurate, and brusque, he's also generous and impassioned, a rowdy, one-of-a-kind fellow who will alternately amuse you and bully you, like a cross between Mel Brooks and Nikita Khrushchev. He first visited the Bikin back in the late 1960s, assigned under a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to assess the valley's populations of large mammals, some of which were economically important for their meat and their furs. In 1977 he began what became his life's major work, a long-term field study of the Amur tiger. For the past 25 years he has spent part of nearly every winter in the Bikin, learning the landscape and absorbing a sense of how tigers live in it.

Part of the answer to how they live is by tolerating severely cold temperatures such as no tiger in the steamy forests of India or Vietnam would ever face. To that end, the extraordinary body size of the Amur subspecies offers one adaptive advantage, since a large tiger conserves metabolic heat better than a smaller one. One authoritative source reports that males of the Amur subspecies may top out at around 670 pounds (259 kilograms), compared with 560 pounds (254 kilograms) for the Bengal subspecies in India and still less for all others. Another source, a Russian researcher named Igor Nikolaev (as cited by Peter Matthiessen in his excellent book Tigers in the Snow), is more conservative. Nikolaev testifies that he has never seen or heard of a wild Amur tiger above 650 pounds (295 kilograms). That's still a very sizable pussycat. Other characteristics well suited to cold-climate survival include their thick, pale winter pelage (it's not white—white tigers are a mutant phenomenon known mainly from India) and the huge paws that leave prints as large as salad plates in the snow.

Get the full story in the October 2003 issue of Adventure.

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The Second Act of Krakatoa
The eruption of Krakatoa nearly a century ago literally blew the volcano to bits. Now, off Indonesia's premier national park, a new peak grows in its place. A curious lava lover wanted to investigate the rumblings. So he walked there. By Jamie James

Volcanoes make pagans of us all: No display of Earth's power inspires deeper awe than the spectacle of a mountain belching fire, pouring out rivers of molten rock that consume the works of man with a sizzle of steam. I've been fascinated by volcanoes all my life; when most kids my age were reading about dinosaurs or astronauts, my favorite read was a picture book about Pompeii. Last year, I finally made the pilgrimage there, and as much as I enjoyed the beautiful mosaics and murals of the old Roman city, what captivated me the most were the plaster casts of the victims of Vesuvius's eruption, ordinary people buried alive in burning ash as they crouched for cover or rushed to get home. About once every decade, it seems, a volcanic megablast comes along: In 1980 Mount St. Helens blew its top and turned miles of Washington State into a boiling mud bath; in 1997 an eruption on Montserrat, in the eastern Caribbean, made most of the island uninhabitable and left thousands of people homeless. Yet Mount St. Helens and Montserrat, even Vesuvius, were baby burps compared with the eruption on August 27, 1883, of Krakatoa (the more widely used spelling of the Indonesian name, "Krakatau"), a marine volcano in the Sunda Strait, between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. It was by any measure one of the most cataclysmic geologic events in human history, blasting nearly eleven cubic miles of ash and rock miles into the air. Imagine the Great Pyramid of Cheops pulverized and raining down from the sky 18,000 times. The shock waves stopped clocks in Batavia, the old name for the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, a hundred miles away. Tsunamis 120 feet (37 meters) high swept six miles (9.7 kilometers) inland, destroying whole villages and stranding gunships in treetops. More than 36,000 people died. Masses of pumice, created when lava made contact with the sea, coalesced into rafts thick enough to halt ships; these bore blanched human skeletons across the Indian Ocean and washed up on the African beaches of Zanzibar. The eruption was so violent that it blew the mountain apart, leaving only rocky remnants sticking up from the sea. This was an Earth-shattering event.

Now I live in Java. I came here five years ago, solving the complex problems of life in Manhattan by running away from them in pursuit of love, work, and affordable housing. As it turned out, I simply swapped one set of problems for another, for Indonesia is a turbulent place. Aceh rebels are fighting the military in the north, and last year terrorists detonated bombs in two crowded nightclubs at a beach resort in Bali, killing more than 200 people and blackening Indonesia's reputation as a peaceful, hospitable nation. In August, a car bomb outside a Jakarta hotel killed 16 people. Is it safe? Remote places like the area near Krakatoa are as safe as anywhere else in the world nowadays; Indonesia's urban centers and resorts are not.

There's no doubt that Indonesia is geologically turbulent: The island nation is dotted with more than a hundred active volcanoes. Living here gives you the sense of being aboard an earthen lifeboat, uneasily floating on a sea of fire. Since coming here to live, I've seen and climbed some of the nation's most famous active volcanoes, but I have never made my way out to see the most famous one of all.

Then my friend Martin Westlake told me about his trip to Krakatoa. A British photographer with a master's degree in maritime geography, he came to Indonesia for the first time 15 years ago for work; on his first free weekend, he said, he headed out to West Java to pay homage to the fire god. He told me that 76 years ago, after a series of new eruptions, a second volcano, which the Indonesians call Anak Krakatau, or "Krakatoa's baby," began rising from the sea amid the three craggy islet remnants left by the 1883 eruption. He said he had always wanted to go back.

A week later, we were in a minivan loaded with outsize camera gear, headed west.

Krakatoa is part of Ujung Kulon, Indonesia's premier national park. It's possible to see the volcano in a hurry, to hire a boat for a day and cruise there and back, but most travelers take in the whole park, which occupies the western tip of Java, to experience the wilderness that flourished throughout the archipelago at the time of the eruption.

Ujung Kulon is an isolated rain forest ecosystem, the last refuge of the Javan rhinoceros and one of the last places that anyone sighted a Javan tiger, 50 years ago; hundreds of spotted leopards survive there. You can't get to the park overland, and when you arrive by boat there's no place to stay. (There are a couple of run-down lodges on two islands within the park, though not on Anak Krakatau.) Indonesia's government is notoriously corrupt and ineffectual, and it's true that the country lacks much in the way of infrastructure. But in the case of the national park system, neglect turns out to be a good thing. The Indonesians do almost nothing to encourage people to visit the parks, and provide visitors with almost nothing when they get there. Yet when it comes to wilderness, nothing is often best.

It took the better part of a day to get to the staging point: a 75-mile (121-kilometer) drive from Jakarta to the town of Carita, on Java's west coast, followed by an afternoon cruise aboard a diesel fishing boat to Welcome Bay, where the wilderness begins. There we spent the night at a ranger's station, where we were shown an impressive rhino skeleton that had been discovered nearby in 2000. We set out at first light.

Get the full story in the October 2003 issue of Adventure.

Online Extra
Photo Gallery: Fifteen years had passed since Jakarta-based photographer Martin Westlake first climbed Krakatoa. Last year, Westlake returned to Ujung Kulon National Park to pay homage to the fire god once again. Even before ascending the new volcano, Anak Krakatau or "Baby Krakatoa," one thing was clear: It's growing. See outtakes from Westlake's spectacular journey though the jungle, across the Sunda Strait and straight up the cone. Enter gallery >>

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October 2003



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