19 September 2017 By the third morning we’re starting to get the hang of things. The routines are dealt with almost automatically. Wake up, yellow tent, coffee, bags, breakfast. The team is in good spirits, the site of Kili covered in a thin layer of snow seems to energize all of us. There’s even time for a second cup of coffee and a few pictures before we head out.
We’re on our way to Shira 2 at an elevation of 3 850 m (12 631 ft) and planning to cover a distance of approximately 10 km (6.2 miles). On our way to Shira 2 we’ll ascend Cathedral Point (3 872 m or 12 703 ft) to give our bodies another opportunity to acclimatize. Apart from the acclimatization climb it’s a relatively flat and easy days’ hike. We’re traversing the Shira Plateau, a truly scenic part of the ascent. Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi (5 149 m / 16 893 ft) and Shira. Kibo being the highest and Shira the lowest. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct while Kibo is only dormant and could erupt again. Uhuru Peak, the ultimate goal, is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim.
After 2 hours of hiking the trail splits and so does the group. Matt and Jedd decides to skip Cathedral Point and head straight for camp. Matt is preserving his energy while Jedd complained about an upset stomach. The vinegar porridge concoction of the previous morning probably had something to do with that… The flat terrain affords an opportunity for the team to mingle and chat. Fanie and Simon discusses rugby (poor Fanie being from South Africa does not have much to chat about except for debating the pros and cons of the quota system…). Richard and I are philosophizing about parenthood and the inherent dangers posed by cars, booze and women (no particular order) to young men growing up.
Cathedral Point sits on the rim of the Shira Plateau and provides spectacular views over the plateau towards Uhuru and down to the valleys below. To our left the terrain drops away sharply exposing a world below looking like something out of an Avatar movie. What looks like dead trees reaching up into sky covered with grayish, fern-like vegetation dominates the landscape. According to the local guides it is called “Old Man’s Beard”. With everybody taking pictures at the summit it gives the rest of us a chance to tuck into some snacks and replenish fluids. We descend back onto the plateau in silence. Either lost for words because of the sheer beauty of the place or just simply exhausted by the short ascent to Cathedral Point. Whatever the reason, in that silence I shoot up a prayer, grateful for being healthy, grateful for being where I am now, climbing Kilimanjaro with my wife and my best friend, asking for a successful summit attempt and praying for the missing bags to arrive. Like the previous couple of days we arrive at camp relatively early. There’s ample time to explore the surroundings, get your gear sorted out and if you’re brave enough to wash. I blame the cold for not going for a wash. Just before going to bed we get the good news that the three missing bags arrived in camp on the shoulders of 2 local porters. Nobody’s more relieved than Mark.
Note on day 4 Don’t miss out on the chance to climb Cathedral Point, apart from it being a valuable opportunity to acclimatize, it is also one of the most scenic sections of the climb.
20 September 2017 It was a very chilly night and by far the coldest morning of the climb thus far. The tent is covered in ice and the ground is frozen hard making it slippery underfoot. Again it was difficult to sleep. The tent pitched at an angle and the cold making it hard to get comfortable. The watery porridge does nothing to lift my mood. Again its not only me struggling to stomach the porridge, the pot is send back to kitchen and hopefully the chef gets the message to either adjust the recipe and not serve it again at all.
Mark briefs us about the trail for the day. An exciting day awaits. We’re aiming for the Lava Tower and with an altitude of 4 610 m (15 125 ft) the idea is to once again trigger our bodies to produce more red blood cells in order to carry more oxygen. All in the hope of avoiding, or at least mitigating the dreaded symptoms of AMS. Our destination being Barranco Camp. A steady climb out of camp ups the heart rate immediately. Not long after leaving camp, an ice cold wind hits us straight in the face. The wind is accompanied by rain and small pellets of hail. You do not want to get wet on Kilimanjaro. At altitude clothes and gloves take forever to dry out if at all. I fumble my bag onto the ground, pull out my waterproofs and cover my backpack with its waterproof cover. Then its head down into the wind and up the slope towards the Lava Tour. Nobody is saying a word. The wind, the wet and the cold puts an end to the chatting. For the umpteenth time I’m in awe of the work being done by the porters. The sheer weight of the load they’re carrying will simply snap most ordinary folk in half. They’re carrying their own kit, added to that is ‘n big “client bag” weighing roughly 12kg. On top of that they’re also carrying “communal kit”, which can be anything from tents, buckets, food, water or the porta potty. They’re carrying it wearing jeans, tekkies and a smile. Truly amazing. At the Lava Tour the weather is most foul but I manage to convince Leonie to pose for a photo at the sign congratulating you for reaching the tower.
The descent to Barranco Camp is never-ending. It’s still raining, the slopes are covered with slippery rocks and the trail turns into a small stream. Leonie complains about the pace of the descent. I also feel we could be moving a bit slower. Turning over an ankle is a real possibility. At 15h00 we walk into camp. It’s colder than ever and we head straight for the tents. Everything’s wet and the tent’s leaking. It takes some convincing to get up and out of the tent when the call for dinner comes. Pasta and vegetable sauce. I should have stayed in my sleeping bag. Really craving a big piece of red meat. And a beer.
We’re sleeping at 3 950 m (12 960 ft), spend 6 hours on the trail and covered 10km.
Notes on Day 5 Day 5 was a tough day made all the more difficult by the weather. Don’t get wet on Kilimanjaro. Always have your waterproofs with you in your day pack. Barranco Camp is set in a beautiful location, something we did not appreciate until the next morning, simply because we were wet and miserable. Situated right underneath the daunting Barranco Wall (a 300 m high, near vertical rock wall) with a spectacular view in the direction of Uhuru Peak. You’re getting close, you can hear the summit calling.