Climbing Kilimanjaro – Day Two
The team woke in good spirits today to a blue sky! We were at Big Tree Camp (8995 ft) inside the beautiful rainforests on the lower western slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our climbing team of six were ready to hit the trail early. It was only 5:30am but they were all up and excited to see their first glimpse of the massive volcano that we would hopefully be standing on the summit of in less than a week. The camp cook had eggs, toast and porridge ready for us as we knew it would be a six to seven hour climbing day.
Our goal today was Shira I camp at 11,445 ft . When climbing the Lemosho trail, you first climb up to a gorgeous plateau called Shira to reach an elevation of over 11,000 feet. From there you hike across the plateau and up to a high point at about 15,000 feet called Lava Tower and then back down again and around to the north side of the mountain before making the ascent to the top. The route is much longer than the others, approximately 42 miles but allows for better acclimatizing to the elevation which is what kills most summit attempts as people suffer the effects of altitude illness.
We set off this morning again through the forest for the first two hours, up and down the rolling hills to reach a small oasis point under moss laden trees where we rested. Jerry, whom we nicknamed Mr. Water due to the prodigious amounts of fluids he takes in when he climbs was getting a good workout up and down the hills. When we measure altitude gain for the day we give an overall beginning and ending elevation but that doesn’t take into account all the up and down in between and this was beginning to dawn on everyone. For example, an average elevation gain day of 2200’ might actually be over 3000’ when taking the hills into account.
After reaching the top of a particularly steep ridge, we came to a resting point, only to find that our incredible guide team had set up a fantastic lunch at the top, complete with table and chairs! We all tucked in heavily to baked chicken, salad, chips and mango juice to refuel for the final push to the plateau.
Follow the line of porters to see the trail up and down and up and down
As we finished eating we could see our bluebird day deteriorating before our eyes as the clouds came roaring up from the valley chasing us from our lunch table. Some of us, like me, threw on an extra layer, while Pete practically laughed at me and continued on up in his shorts and polo shirt! Pete, our oldest climber at 65 is from Canada and anything short of a blizzard finds him in shorts. His ability to keep his polo shirts clean and tucked in with his leather belt and Tilley hat won him the nickname, Mr. GQ.
We climbed up and up the ridgeline for the next several hours as the clouds swirled around us. It became colder and wetter with mist, the temperatures dropping probably into the lower 50’s. Finally we reached the high point for the day, the Shira Plateau where on any other day we would have had a perfect view of the mountain but today all we saw was fog. As we stopped for one last rest before pushing on to camp, I found myself pulling out yet another extra layer plus a coat and hat. Resuscitation by Snickers bars gave us the extra energy to head across the plateau and into camp for the evening by about 4:00pm.
Each afternoon after arriving at camp, we hit the mess tent for tea, coffee or Milo. Ian, our smiling guide with a head full of dreadlocks tucked up into his hat assured us that sometime between 5:00 and 6:00pm the clouds would lift to reveal the mountain. Ian, has been to the summit of Kili over 125 times and until recently has lead mainly ice climbing teams to the glacier. However with the melting glacial ice, he says there is very little left to climb on anymore. So we held Ian to his prediction and while the mountain didn’t completely clear until after dark, we did get some incredible glimpses of what was in store.
It was a big hiking day today and everyone did great. Pete lasted until the very end of the day when he took a backwards tumble over a rock while taking a picture. He said something about being attacked by a monster lizard. However, as we investigated further all we could find was a 4 inch salamander. Pete stands by his story!
Late tonight, Ridlon crept out of the tent to find a clear sky and perfect view of the mountain. He quickly grabbed camera and tripod and took some amazing night time exposure photos.
So far so good. At the completion of Day Two the team are all doing well and feeling good. No blisters, injuries, frostbite, wild animal attacks (except for Pete’s salamander!) or rock slides have deterred us. Our acclimitizing is good as we are now over 11,000 feet with no symptoms of altitude sickness. Carry on team!