At 6am we were woken with a hot drink, “tea or coffee?” I opted for coffee, we had passed coffee plantations on our drive to the gate and I figured that all coffee in Tanzania must be good. I was wrong. However, it was hot and it was a lovely gesture from the porters to bring us a drink in bed. We ate a hearty breakfast of sausages, eggs and toast with peanut butter. We delivered our empty water bottles to the porters for refilling, today was the last of the mineral water, from here on we would be drinking treated water from the streams.
There’s a certain skill to camping on the mountain, one has to be extremely tidy and organised. On our first morning we were neither and spent half an hour packing and sorting the correct gear into our day packs. Eventually we got ourselves sorted out and set off up the track. The terrain had change notably, the tall deciduous trees of the woodland had given way to the much shorter pine trees of the mountain scrub, and the air was filled with a wonderfully fresh pine smell.
The track was notably steeper than the previous day and without the protection of the woodland canopy we were much more exposed to the sun. The sun is just one factor, like altitude, exhaustion or dehydration that is conspiring to prevent you reaching the summit. Forget the factor 20 Piz Buin you need to cover all exposed skin with thick smeary factor 50. Long-sleeved base layers are great, I wish I’d taken more of these in preference to the short-sleeved variety.
As we followed the steep track up the mountain we were passed by numerous porters. After we left camp it seemed like it took our crew less than 5 minutes to pack our tents and load up and they were soon overtaking us with cheerful greetings of “Jambo” as they race to the next camp. As we climb higher, the scrub seems to get lower and we’re treated to some great views of Kibo.
We pass many groups on the narrow trail, including some that are finding the climb notably hard. One lady is close to tears as she leans heavily on her trekking poles, a reminder that Kilimanjaro is an inclusive mountain, available for climbers of all abilities. As we pass others struggling with the gradient, it’s inevitable that one wonders who will make it to the top and who will need to turn back? Will our group make it?
Looking back down the track we have some great views of Mount Meru, a classic stratovolcano. Meru is a perfect conical volcano looking much like those sketched by GCSE geography students, Meru is classed as active having erupted as recently as 1910. At 4,585m the summit of Meru is still a great deal higher than we are.
We reach Shira camp in time for lunch and are rewarded with some fantastic views of the Shira plateau. Kilimanjaro is formed of three volcanoes, the oldest, Shira is located on the western side of the mountain and the top of this ancient volcano has long since collapsed to form a caldera. The next oldest volcano, Mawenzi, is located to the east and still retains a classic volcano shape. Both Shira and Mawenzi are classed as extinct, but the youngest (200 million years old) and highest volcano, Kibo is classed as dormant and could erupt again.
At Shira camp I start to develop an altitude headache, a feeling that will become quite familiar over the coming days. I feel somewhat disappointed that I’m the only one of the group to have succumbed to the effects of altitude so early. In my mind I question the money spent with the London Altitude centre who issued me a glossy report assuring me that according to their measurements I should be slightly better than average at adapting to altitude. After two Nurofen Express I’m feeling much better. We take a short walk out to admire a lava cave and attempt to snatch a rare moment of mobile phone coverage. From the elevation of our short acclimatisation walk we can see the Lemosho route winding up the Shira plateau and a second camp site (Shira II). We reflect on the fact that the next day the Lemosho and Machame trails would merge and the trail would be even more crowded.
Whilst we took great care and effort with our packing it’s inevitable that one will eventually realise that they have omitted something vital, that evening it became obvious that wet wipes were not as good as tissues for blowing ones nose. With all the dust on the mountain you will want to be blowing your nose a great deal. One of our team kindly gave me a pack of tissues and I emptied what seemed like half the Shira plateau from my nasal cavities.
After dinner that evening our guide came and asked us the usual questions. How were we feeling? How many litres of water had we drank? Who had a headache? The plan for the next day was to climb up to a lava tower at 4,700 metres before losing almost all the precious height to camp at Baranco camp, just 100m higher than our current camp. Our guide politely pointed out that we had wasted precious time that morning, fairly chastised we knew that we could be more efficient in our packing.
As the sun descended over the plateau to the west, we were treated to a beautiful sun-set with deep oranges and reds descending over the rim of the caldera, moments later it was pitch black and we climbed into our sleeping bags to listen to the chatter of the camp.