Kilimanjaro Day 8-9: Summit Time Is Glacier Time, Earth Curvature, Journey’s End

The Earth is Curved..6:30am Crater Rim Sunrise With Mawenzi and Clouds Below Us
The Earth is Curved..6:30am Crater Rim Sunrise With Mawenzi and Clouds Below Us

THE ADVENTURE ENDS – DAY 8-9 HIGHLIGHTS

    • We woke up at 11pm, mist overhead obscuring the sky, but the temperature wasn’t bad at all as we put on our many layers. I actually opted out of a rain jacket layer, as I knew fleece would have me sweating hard with a big down jacket on the outside, particularly as we were about to make a 3000 foot vertical ascent straight up to the crater rim. We got our water filled, filled warm water bottles in case our Camelbak hoses froze (they did),  grabbed snacks of chocolate bars and ginger cookies, and said relatively little as we sat in the mess tent, eating our oatmeal porridge and drinking black tea and coffee. I was lucky, as I’d managed to get a solid 4 hrs of uninterrupted sleep since dinner, and I felt pretty good. At last, JT lined up the guides in front of and behind us, with instructions for us not to work too hard – just pole pole up the mountain. We flipped on oiur headlamps and started up through the boulders slowly trudging along in the loose scree…so it began.

 

    • There were waypoints here and there, and the crowd headed for the summit was a zigzag twinkly of fireflies as high as we could see. We mainly listened to the sounds of the guides as they sang and called to each other in Swahili – figuring out if one team should pass another — this was, after all, more or less a single track path upwards.  When we stopped for rest, Said, Viviano, Halid or JT, would open our packs for us and pull out snacks…allowing us to expend as little effort as possible as the air grew thinner.  At length the group split up, with Rhys, Kitt, and Cort going ahead with Said, while the remainder of us moved a little slower.

 

  • The final 200 yards was a vertical boulder scramble that seemed like it took forever, with the crater rim in sight, the sounds of excited voices above. Since it was a slog with a train of people, we finally turned and saw the great orangle globe emerging from the clouds, Mawenzi far below us — looking almost small, and the horizon with a slight curve to it..the earth really is round!
Sunrise Behind Mawenzi, From Gilman's Point
Sunrise Behind Mawenzi, From Gilman’s Point
  • CRATER RIM REACHED! We crawled out of the rocks into the middle of a crowd of jubilant summiteers, all gathered round at Gilman’s Point. My body was exhausted, but had no altitude issues at all – it felt like i was breathing normal. Alex, Caryl, and Paul were in great shape, while Irina was having a tough time getting air. We snapped pictures quickly and then started around the crater rim towards Stella’s Point.
Crater Rim Morning At Gilman's Point, 18, 650 ft
Crater Rim Morning At Gilman’s Point, 18, 650 ft
Boulder Scrambling Up The Final 200 Yards Through Lava Rocks
Busting Up The Final 200 Yards To The Crater RIm Through Lava Rocks
Crater Rim Hike To Stella Point
Crater Rim Hike To Stella Point
Team At Stella Point, Elevation  18, 800 feet.
Team At Stella Point, Elevation 18, 800 feet.
  • We got To Stella’s Point and Irina descended with Viviano to get her oxygen back. She’d made it to the crater rim – no mean feat. I was exhausted, but after talking to JT, he said if all I felt was tired, then we’d go Pole Pole to the summit (Uhuru Peak)…which we did. The crater rim was simply stunning, with cubic glaciers on the outside above the infinite clouds, and the giant bowl on the inside.
On A Clear Summit Day, We Could See Forever
On A Clear Summit Day, We Could See Forever
Kibo Crater and Rim
Kibo Crater and Rim
Cubic Glacier On Kili Summit
Cubic Glacier On Kili Summit
Uhuru Peak Summit - The Roof Of Africa. L to R, Alex, JT, me, Caryl, Paul. Rhys, Cort, and Kitt had summited an hour a head of us.
Uhuru Peak Summit – The Roof Of Africa. L to R, Alex, JT, me, Caryl, Paul. Rhys, Cort, and Kitt had summited an hour a head of us.
  • Once we got to the Uhuru Peak summit (19,341 ft) and grasped what we’d done, I muttered a quick refrain from Toto’s “Africa”, we took our pictures, then I busted it down with Said, so tired I was stumbling, and they watched me closely. We got back to Stella’s point in record time and immediately started down, with Alex, Caryl, Paul not far behind with JT. The descent to Barafu was kind of a blur, as I was pretty out of it, but I managed to make it unscathed, had lunch, then we descended further all the way down to Millenium Camp at 12,500. The 5 hr descent after 8 hr of altitude hiking wasn’t welcome, but not as if we had a choice. Alex and I both jammed our toes, and even as of this writing, my right toenail is black and probably leaving this mortal coil. Fortunately, Millenium Camp was gorgeous. I crawled into my tent and crashed hard after 12 hours of hiking. At dinner later, Rhys, Cort, and Kitt indicated they’d only gotten into camp a half hour ahead of us.
Descending Down To Barafu After Summit
Descending Down To Barafu After Summit
Down From Summit, But Only Halfway Mist Over Crowded Barafu Camp
Down From Summit, But Only Halfway Mist Over Crowded Barafu Camp
Millenium Camp Nestled Below Kili - Elevation 12,590 ft
Millenium Camp Nestled Below Kili – Elevation 12,590 ft
  • We overnighted at Millenium; the next morning was tipping ceremony with our whole summit team, where they sang and danced a Swahili celebration dance for our Kili summit. Afterwards, we headed down through the moorlands and back into the rainforest, where we saw Mt Meru in the distance, Kili framed above us, and more beautiful flowers.
Millenium Camp Sunrise
Millenium Camp Sunrise
Mt Meru On Descent From Millenium Camp
Mt Meru On Descent From Millenium Camp
A Final Glimpse Of Kili From The Rainforest
A Final Glimpse Of Kili From The Rainforest
Impatiens kilmanjari
Impatiens kilmanjari
Impatiens Pseudoviola
Impatiens Pseudoviola
  • At long last, we reached the final gate…did our last team picture together, signed out to get our certificate for climbing the mountain, ate lunch, and sat quietly in the bus on our way back to Arusha. What a grand adventure – a sense of accomplishment that’s hard to describe and relishing our fortune in having an excellent guiding company and a team where we all got along in our many days on the mountain. I felt truly blessed and exhilarated.
Team Celebration At Mweka Gate Finish
Team Celebration At Mweka Gate Finish
Signing Out, Certificate
SIgning Out For Our Summit Certificate

 

Said, JT, Viviano - Final Briefing
Said, JT, Viviano – Final Briefing

Mweka Gate Finish - ByeBye Kili

FAQ:
How did you book this epic journey?
Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.What camera did you use?
The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 7: Upward Bound – The Final Ascent Begins With School Hut

Kilimanjaro Dwarfs Tiny Third Cave Camp
Kilimanjaro Dwarfs Tiny Third Cave Camp

DAY 5 HIGHLIGHTS

    • Our night at Third Cave Camp was pristine, with nary a patter of precipitation or wind. There were rock strata about a 50 yards from the camp, and I popped out of the tent at 5ish, switched on my headlamp and meandered through the shrub to climb the formations, tripod and camera in hand, then snapped away as the sun rose over our near perfect view of the Southeastern side of Kilimanjaro, as the camp slowly woke up over the next couple hours.
Cooking And Mess Tents At Sunrise - Third Cave. You can see the rock formations I climbed for the early AM photos of Kili.
Cooking And Mess Tents At Sunrise – Third Cave. You can see the rock formations I climbed for the early AM photos of Kili.
Sunrise Bands On Kilimanjaro Above Our Sleeping Tents
Sunrise Bands On Kilimanjaro Above Our Sleeping Tents
CLICK TO EXPAND - Pano of Kili and Third Cave Ravine and Camp
CLICK TO EXPAND – Sunrise Pano of Kili and Third Cave Ravine and Camp
    • Third Cave amounted to base camp – our last full night of sleep before we summited the mountain, and the beginning of a LONG period of hiking. In the morning after breakfast, we would ascend from 13,000 feet to Outward Bound School Hut 15,500 feet, have lunch, nap, have dinner, then at 11pm, make the summit attempt. We marched out of camp at 8:27am and into the Kibo saddle that separated multipoint Mawenzi Peak on our left, and Kili Kibo Crater (the summit) on our right. The land quickly transitioned into the surface of the moon, strewn with rocks and virtually no flora to be seen.
To School Hut
To School Hut
The Ascent To School Hut Begins
The Ascent To School Hut Begins
    • After about 1200 feet ascent, we were a little shocked to see the remains of a cape buffalo, eyes wide open staring at the sky. JT explained that around 2012, the buffalo had come up to the high elevation (around 14,200 feet) to lick the sodium ash and gotten its horns stuck in the crag; the folks at nearby Kibo Hut had heard it, but there were no attempts to free it, as the cape buffalo is universally noted as one of the meanest animals in Africa, not afraid to charge vehicles, toss big cats…and people around with its horns. It died after a few days…the corpse had no horns and had obviously been pulled out of where it had died and propped up on the rock. Kinda surreal.
Cape Buffalo Remains On The Ascent To School Hut
Cape Buffalo Remains On The Ascent To School Hut
    • At some point, we crossed 14,500 feet, higher than Mt Whitney, the highest point on the continental US, and officially marking the highest any of us had ever climbed. Everyone was doing great, including Caryl, now fully recovered from her headaches, albeit still fighting her sinuses.
Alex and Irina At Mt Whitney Elevation 14,500 feet
Alex and Irina At Mt Whitney Elevation 14,500 feet
Mawenzi Shrouded In Clouds On Our Way To School Hut
Mawenzi Shrouded In Clouds On Our Way To School Hut
    • We were now climbing loose scree, a sign of what we’d be climbing on our ascent. Again, pole pole pace to the rescue prevented the steps from sapping our energy the way loose gravel can, and at length we spotted School Hut camp above, nestled in the rocks…our base camp for the summit attempt. We came into camp around 11:30am, signed in, had lunch and listened to JT’s briefing. “Get your naps in between lunch and dinner, and after dinner – we’ll be starting the summit climb at 11pm” Though it alternated between sun superheating our tents and drifting snow and mist, we hit the hay and did our best. All the days on the mountain were finally coming to fruition!
Criscrossing Scree To Schoolk Hut In The Distance
Criscrossing Scree To School Hut In The Distance
School Hut Above Us at 15,500 feet
School Hut Above Us at 15,500 feet. It’s Like Moon Up Here!.
Socks Dry Out At School Hut (15,500 feet). It's Almost Summit Time!
Socks Dry Out At School Hut (15,500 feet). It’s Almost Summit Time!

FAQ:
How did you book this epic journey?
Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.

What camera did you use?
The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 6: African Sunrise, Kenyan Plains, Nuclear Bomb Clouds, and Third Cave

African Sunrise On Mt Kilimanjaro
African Sunrise On Mt Kilimanjaro

DAY 5 HIGHLIGHTS

    • Buffalo Camp, situated above the Kenyan Plains, made for the best morning on Kilimanjaro so far, with unobstructed views of Kilimanjaro swathed in snow above us, orange African sunrise to the West, and grand views of the Kenyan landscape below, rolling hills dotted with trees. I spent two hours before everyone was up snapping the changing views as the sun rose.
Kilimanjaro - Buffalo Camp
Kilimanjaro From Buffalo Camp
Sunbeams Pierce The Kenyan Plains Below Buffalo Camp
Sunbeams Pierce The Kenyan Plains Below Buffalo Camp
Kenyan Plains
CLIK TO EXPAND: PANO – Kenyan Plains

BW Kenyan Plains From Buffalo Camp

    • We set out into–what else–a misty undulating traverse to Third Cave Camp at 13,000 feet. However, unlike our other hikes of recent days, the mist cleared out, and we were left with spectacular views above the clouds the whole way – the views hike we’d imagined when we all signed up. Caryl was on day 3 of splitting headache, and at the end of the day, she recalled very little of our best hike segment so far.
Up Through Boulders On The Way To Third Cave
Up Through Boulders On The Way To Third Cave
3rd Cave Hike Was an Up And Downer
Third Cave Hike Was an Up And Downer, And the Views Didn’t Suck
Said and JT, Goofing on The Third Cave Traverse
Said and JT, Goofing on The Third Cave Traverse
Third Cave Traverse Down A Ravine To The Kenyan Plains
Third Cave Traverse Down A Ravine To The Kenyan Plains
    • At some point, we came over a ridge and got our first glimps of Mawenzi, the second of three volcanic cones that make up Kilimanjaro. The first, you may recall from earlier posts, was Shira, of which the Shira Plateau represents the collapsed caldera. Mawenzi, like Shira, is also extinct. It is only climbable via technical gear, but JT indicated that after a fatal attempt in 1989, the Tanzanian park service cut it off from any climbing. Kibo is still active, with gas still emitting from its crater and represent the highest of the volcanic cones. At any rate, the sight of Mawenzi was pretty awe inspiring the way it sat across the mountain from us.
Team Sees Mwenzi, 3rd Cave Traverse
Team Sees Mawenzi, Third Cave Traverse
    • Eventually, we came to gash in the side of the hill that was First Cave. We made our snack/lunch break there. The cloud formations below were pretty amazing, including a big nuclear bomb shaped cloud rising above the rest.
Snacktime At First Cave:  L to R, Paul, Cort,Alex, JT, Rhys,Kitt,Said,Caryl
Snacktime At First Cave: L to R, Paul, Irina, Cort,Rhys, JT, Alex, Viviano, Said,Caryl, Kitt
Viviano and The Nuclear Bomb Cloud, Traverse To Third Cave
Viviano and The Nuclear Bomb Cloud, Traverse To Third Cave
  • At last, across a wide ravine, we saw Third Cave. The camp was situated at such a steep mountain angle, the whole thing looked a little sideways, but it was sunny, and we relished a relaxing afternoon and evening. The real ascent up Kilimanjaro would begin tomorrow. In the meantime, Caryl and JT chatted, and Caryl became team member #4 on Diamox to ease her headaches. We would see the next day.
    Across The Ravine, Third Cave Camp At Last, On A Tilted Mountain Angle
    Across The Ravine, Third Cave Camp At Last, On A Tilted Mountain Angle

    FAQ:
    How did you book this epic journey?
    Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.

What camera did you use?

  • The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 5: Buffalo Buffalo, Plus We Do Ourselves Lent (Hill) Way Before Easter

Kili - Starlit Morning
Kili – Starlit Morning

DAY 5 HIGHLIGHTS

  • I woke up at 0-dark-thirty as usual and waited out the sunrise. The waterfalls cascading down the rocks were the first we’d seen since the Day 1 walks through the rainforest. To my left, there were three cairns perched precariously on a high cliff above the camp, the route we’d be taking out of Moir Hut later that morning.

Water Falls Near Moir Hut

Cairns Above Moir Hut

  • With Moir Hut at 13,632 feet and our target destination Buffalo Camp at 13,600 feet, we assumed we’d be doing a fairly flat traverse around the northern side of the mountain, but the way out of Moir Hut was a super steep switchback with 500 feet of straight elevation gain.Pole Pole pace makes these kinds of ascents not only possible, but fairly straightforward, as long as you’re not suffering any altitude effects. Caryl was in her 2nd day of on again, off again brutal headaches and combating sinuses as well, staving off Diamox for the moment, while the three members of the team on Diamox were back to normal and doing great. The rest of us marched onward to little effect, though I think Irina had mentioned a headache here and there.
Porters Climb The Switchbacks Out Of Moir Hut To Buffalo Camp
Porters Climb The Switchbacks Out Of Moir Hut To Buffalo Camp
  • As we were headed out of Moir, we could also see the porters for the camps taking the Lava Tower route (the same we had done for acclimatization the day before) across the way. Tiny people, a vast and rock strewn landscape.
Porters Head Up To Lava Tower Junction From Moir Hut
Porters Head Up To Lava Tower Junction
  • No surprise, we were once again shrouded in mist, with limited views below. About 45 minutes out of camp, we took a 100 foot boulder scrambling detour up the lowest of three Lent Hills [13,728 feet], where the biggest cairn forest we’d yet seen awaited us.
PANO - Cairn Forest At Lent Hill
CLICK TO EXPAND: PANO – Cairn Forest At Lent Hill
Lent Hill Cairn Trio
Lent Hill Cairn Trio
Looking Off Lent Hill At Traverse To Buffalo Camp
Looking Off Lent Hill At Traverse To Buffalo Camp
    • We relaxed in the mist up there, unable to see much.. “How far is it down there?” we asked Said, pointing down off the cliff into the white mist. “You should move away from that cliff edge and be careful,” he replied. Well, that’s as good an answer as any. We took our requisite team photo, scrambled back down and headed for Buffalo Camp.
Group Photo - Lent Hill
Group Photo – Lent Hill
    • Buffalo Camp was different – it was on a fairly stiff decline on the mountain, and we first saw it across a giant ravine, along with our beloved cafe. I took a picture looking up at still snowbound Kilimanjaro from the camp, shrouded in mist. I should note that we’d gotten used to the mess tent being canted so steeply that those of who sat on the lower side always felt a tip away from rolling backwards and bringing down the tent.But hey, they brought us warm food for our bellies, so we made it work with just the occasional wry comment or two. I felt a little queasy at lunch, ran outside and hurled behind a boulder, slept for a half hour, then all was right with the world. I think it was something I ate, rather than altitude, since it came out of nowhere, and never happened again.
Pea Soup Mist At Buffalo Camp With Kili In The Background
Pea Soup Mist At Buffalo Camp With Snow Covered Kili In The Background. Note the angle of the ground the mess tent (right) is on.
  • The weather never quite cleared up that night, but we had spectacular views of cloud tops, with the plains of Kenya and Tanzania hidden below. We slept like big baby rhinos and although JT had warned of winds and rain, we had a brief patter and then nothing but the asychronous cadence of snores across the campground.
    CLICK TO EXPAND -  Buffalo Camp and The Internet Cafe
    CLICK TO EXPAND: PANO – Buffalo Camp Above The Clouds

    FAQ:
    How did you book this epic journey?

    Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.

What camera did you use?

  • The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.
Image

Kilimanjaro Day 4: Luggage Returned, Kili, Mt. Everest Style, And Up To The Pea Soup Mist At Moir Hut

The Next Morning, Kilimanjaro Covered In Snow, Everest Style
The Next Morning, Kilimanjaro Covered In Snow, Everest Style

DAY 4 HIGHLIGHTS

      • Remember that red mountain with the snow crown last night (yesterday’s post)? I come out of the tent at 5:30am and as the light in the sky brightens, my mouth drops open at the sight of a Kilimanjaro, completely blanketed in snow and more cloud plumes flowing off of it. “Damn,” I yell to our team, still asleep in their tents, “Looks like we’re gonna be making an Everest attempt, not a nice hike up to Kili.” A few of them crawl out and look at the snowed in beast of a mountain before clouds consume it.

 

  • Forgot to mention, late in the evening, a porter walked into camp with my missing bag on his head, having walked 20km and ascended to 13,000 feet in one day to get my gear to me. Hallelujah! My poles, my rain gear…it’s all there. I sleep well, despite pounding rain.

 

Shira Hut Camp In the AM Before We Rolled Out, Outline Of Mt Meru On The Horizon, Right'
Shira Hut Camp (12,350 feet) As We Rolled Out Bound for Moir Hut, Outline Of Mt Meru On The Horizon, Right. Also note the bright blue box that JT jokingly deemed our “Internet Cafe” (mobile toilet)
    • Destination today is Moir Hut, which is an eastern traversal and ascent to 13,750 feet, higher than most all of the mountains we’ve climbed in California except Mt Whitney. The mist and clouds are clinging to the cliffs above us, and the views down to the Shira Plateau and Shira Cathedral are spectacular.
Shira Cathedral In The Distance As We Climb Out Of Shira Hut Camp
Shira Cathedral In The Distance and the Tanzanian Plains Far Below As We Climb Out Of Shira Hut Camp
    • The ascent out of Shira Hut starts on the same fairly steep, meandering route through volcanic stone we used for yesterday’s quick acclimatization hike. It’s about 4 hrs or so, 5 miles, and constantly shrouded in mist.

      Up And Away Into The Mist To Moir Hut Camp
      Up And Away Into The Mist Through Volcanic Stone To Moir Hut
CLICK TO EXPAND: Field of Volcanic Rocks On The Way to Moir Hut
CLICK TO EXPAND: Field of Volcanic Rocks On The Way to Moir Hut
    • At length, we arrive at camp, and it’s pea soup – we can’t even see our camp until we stumble past the bright blue Internet Cafe. Just like clockwork, as soon as we get the gear off and into the mess tent, the rain starts and hammers away while we eat lunch. We groan when JT comes in and says we’re doing an acclimatization hike at 3pm. When we ask him about the rain…he says rain or shine, we go. Just like magic, right at 2:55, the rain stops. Rhys stays down again, choosing to stay warm and confident his acclimatization is going well, but the rest of us gear up, JT leads out this time, marching up the steep switchbacks below the overcast skies. The geology up here is craggy and spectacular, with layers and fault lines clearly visible.

      Geologic History In the Rocks Above Moir Hut. Camp is to the far left of the picture, 300 feet below.
      CLICK TO EXPAND: Geologic History In the Rocks Above Moir Hut. Camp is the tiny cluster of tents to the far left of the picture, 300 feet below.
    • This time we climb to around 14,200 feet to a junction below Lava Tower, only a couple hundred feet lower than the highest mountains any of us have climbed. The air is incredibly crisp, clean, and cool up here, and the winds blow hard. It’s a very stark looking landscape up here, not quite lunar, but boulders strewn carelessly all over by some giant hand. There’s also a little sparrowlike bird called the alpine chat bouncing all over the place, trying to munch our snacks. Couldn’t really nail them down for a pic, fast little buggers. The idea behind acclimatization is to reach the altitude, stay there for 15-30 minutes, then head back down, which after munching our chocolate bars, we do.
      Nowhere to Go But Up
      Nowhere to Go But Up

      Acclimatization Hike To Just Below Lava Tower -14,100 Feet
      Acclimatization Hike To Just Below Lava Tower (the small squarish cluster of rocks peaking above the upper right of the picture)

The second hike of the day took us 3 hrs; we return to Moir Hut in the mist and settle in for the long night; after dinner and into our tents, rain and sleet start up again, but by this time, we’re so used to it, everyone crashes hard. Cort is now our 3rd party member on Diamox, while Alex and Paul have recovered and are going strong as ever. Caryl is dealing with sinus issues and and a headache that seems pressure related, depending on when she is standing, hiking, or sitting, but she’s going to gut it out for now.


    FAQ:
    How did you book this epic journey?
    Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.What camera did you use?
    The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 3: Traversing The Great Steppe To A Cathedral Peak, Burning Rubber To Shira Hut

REMINDER: I strongly encourage you to click on the panos to see the full enchilada images. Seriously, the views on Kili were almost too epic to capture in a straight 4:3 photo frame, even with wide angle lens (See FAQ at post bottom for camera deets).

DAY 3 HIGHLIGHTS

Back Down From Shira Cathedral, The Mist Lifts. It's A Long Way Down.
Mist Reveals The Drop At Shira Cathedral Saddle
    • Rained and hailed nearly all night, but the hard patter on the tent ends up serving as white noise here at 11,000 feet. Not that I’ve ever had issues sleeping, but I manage about 4-6 hrs a night, not withstanding the fact that altitude induces an incessant need to pee… hydrating the full day morning to night means popping outside the tent 3-4 times a night to hit the Internet Cafe…or occasionally nearby rocks, as sleepy laziness overtakes any mountain modesty. Speaking of which, this is not a trip for those who have an aversion to dirt, insects, or need daily creature comforts like baths or showers (we get a pair of washtubs of warm water each morning brought to the tent with the happy proclamation “time for washy washy” but that’s really hands, face, other reachable bits…otherwise, Baby Wipes rule most days.
  • 7am sharp it’s breakfast, and as we look across the camp, we see multiple summiting groups here at Shira One, maybe 20-30 tents…not bad, but they’ll dwindle in coming days as we go higher and higher on the rarely used Northern Circuit route.
    Sunrise At Shira One Camp With Kili Framed
    Sunrise At Shira One Camp With Kili Framed

    The sun is shining brightly, framing the western side of Kilimanjaro. 8am and we’re pole pole once again, marching on the relatively flat Shira Plateau through scrub. The line of porters starts passing us about a half hour later, and while they beeline directly up to The foothills of Kili to the Shira Hut camp, we’re taking a detour to the Shira Cathedral formation about 3-4 miles dead ahead, for our first direct acclimatization effort.

Our Porters March To Shira Hut With Kilimanjaro Chewing Up The Horizon
Our Porters March To Shira Hut With Kilimanjaro Chewing Up The Horizon
  • One striking plant we keep seeing dotting the plains of the steppe resembles a 5 foot giant pineapple in cactuslike form. Our guide today is Said, with Viviano bringing up the rear, and Said tells us this plant is the giant lobelia (officially lobelia deckenii), one of many species of everlasting flowering plants found on Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, we’ve missed its flowering phase by weeks.
Fields of Giant Lobelia on the Shira Plateau
Fields of Giant Lobelia on the Shira Plateau
Said and the Giant Lobelia
Said and the Giant Lobelia
Giant Lobelia Closeup
Giant Lobelia Closeup
    • The steppe starts to angle upwards and the Flora change is almost immediate, walking out of high desert scrub and into higher green spike bushes.
      Pano: Ascent From Shira Plateau to Shira Cathedral
      Pano: Ascent From Shira Plateau to Shira Cathedral

      In about an hour, we climb a hundred feet up to a saddle leading up to Shira Cathedral. JT has magically appeared again, and points up to what looks like a heavy misted Boulder scramble. “Today is your first peak!”

      Saddle Below Shira Cathedral..No Idea How Far Down It Goes Below That Mist
      Saddle Below Shira Cathedral..No Idea How Far Down It Goes Below That Mist

      Lone Flower Above the Mist At Shira Cathedral Saddle
      Lone Flower Above the Mist At Shira Cathedral Saddle
    • It’s starts to rain a little off and on, so I, still without my missing gear, make the assault with an unwieldy and flapping full length rain poncho. It’s a half hour of steep scramble complete with loose scree, handholds on wet rock, and hoisting yourself up on loam dirt and gravel, but we all make it, and it’s pretty damn cool.
      Pano: Atop Shira Cathedral, Unseeable Mist To The Left, Shira Plateau to the Right.
      Pano: Atop Shira Cathedral, Unseeable Mist To The Left, Shira Plateau to the Right.

      Looking to the East we see the miles of plateau we just traversed spread before us, while mist floats so heavy up top, we can’t see just how far and deep the other side of the Cathedral is (all the way down to the plains below, we see later from Shira Hut). First group photo, and we head back down to the saddle.

      Summit Team Atop Shira Cathedral. (L to R) Paul, Caryl, Rhys, Alex, Me, Cort, Kitt, Irina
      Summit Team Atop Shira Cathedral. (L to R) Paul, Caryl, Rhys, Alex, Me, Cort, Kitt, Irina
    • Halid takes over in getting us up to Shira camp, an undulating pathway that ascends to 13,000 feet. The cruel teaser here is that we can see our destination camp two hours before we get there. Here then, is where Halid takes on his “Speedy Gonzales” moniker, pole pole pace becomes haraka haraka (fast), and when Alex announces he’s burned through 3 liters of water, The guides don’t have backup (though Irina has some), and Halid picks up the pace even faster to get us into camp. We tell Halid about Speedy “Riba Riba!” But without the cartoon, the reference may be lost on him a bit. We scramble through the scrub and come into camp just as the rain picks up intensity. We sign in, and hide in our tents. Lunch is another stomach warming soul lifting soup–potato, cucumber, whatever, it’s warm–and we enjoy it to the fullest.
Almost To Shira Hut, Looking Back At Shira Cathedral.
Almost To Shira Hut, Looking Back At Shira Cathedral.
    • After lunch, JT indicates we’re making an afternoon acclimatization run up about 500 feet above the camp. Rhys stays down and keeps warm in his tent, sure it will rain, but the rest of us follow Viviano up – it’s about an hour round trip and not too bad, and the sun is in and out of the clouds the whole way. When we get back down, it’s full sunny before dinner, so I pull out the solar charger and charge up my GPS, JT does the same for his guide’s cellphones..I guess local service is available here and there at points on the mountain. We’re enjoying this respite from rain, and Irina sketches Viviano…with her iPhone battery gone, she draws and sketches the whole way up the mountain when we have the time.
Irina Sketches Viviano At Shira Hut
Irina Sketches Viviano At Shira Hut
  • At sunset, Kili presents herself in all her glory, a red top with a white crown of snow, the way we’d all seen it in photos. Rhys, Paul (who is doing much better on Diamox), Cort, Alex and I are snapping away. Keep this picture in mind, and wait til you see what we wake up to the next morning…..Another fairly epic, active day, and we’re definitely spent. Alex is having the worst of it, being dehydrated, and eventually, in the middle of the night, JT puts him on the Diamox as well. Rain hammers the tents most of the night…at this point, we’ve presumed it will be that way the whole way up, though we dread it. JT, for his part, simply states the obvious: “The mountain is unpredictable.” So it is.
Kilimanjaro Sunset At Shira Hut
Kilimanjaro Sunset At Shira Hut

RANDOM FAQ: I’ll add to this as the blog posts continue…
How did you book this epic journey?
Through Peak Planet, the best reviewed agency we found. Researching the Kili guiding is an exercise is due diligence – but something to consider is the treatment of porters and guides helping you up the mountain. The cheaper operators have a reputation for porters and guides with tattered clothing, substandard shoes, and not getting paid for the many days away from their families. From all testimonials and references, Peak Planet is the opposite of that, working with the African Walking Company to ensure good treatment while keeping the prices reasonable. I have zero stake in Peak Planet, but the blog should speak for itself – the guides and porters were excellent, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. all you could ask for on such a comprehensive undertaking.
What camera did you use?
The Fuji XT-1 mirrorless APS-C with an 18-135mm lens. All of it heavily weather resistant, unstopped by rain, freezing cold, sleet, or altitude. I did bring 4 extra batteries, kept warm in a wool sock…which proved to be good for the whole 9 day mountain journey.

Kilimanjaro Day 2: Thunder, Lightning ,Rain, and Hail – Uh Oh, The Big Dipper Has No North Star

African Blood Lily
African Blood Lily In The Rainforest

NOTE: I’ve got a lot of panoramas posting in coming days to capture the epic grandeur of some of our views, but the blog thumbnails them to look small; to see full size bigger versions, be sure and click on any photo at your leisure while reading the post.

DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS: Big Tree Camp (9700 feet) to Shira One (11,500 feet)

    • Lemosho Forest Camp’s Swahili Name is Mki Mtubwa, literally, “Big Tree”, and we wake around 6:30am to the staccato call and responses of colobus monkeys scampering in the trees, a variety of beautiful tropical birdsongs, the clanking of pots and pans in the cooking tent, with the low singsong Swahili conversation of chef Joseph and his assistant cooks. Breakfast is oatmeal, black tea or coffee, bananas and watermelon, eggs, toast and bacon, all designed to be easily digestible for alpine climbing. After we finish breakfast, we are formally introduced to all the porters. We can’t possibly remember all their names, but we certainly recognize faces we will grow to know over the coming days.
Viviano, Assistant Guide
Viviano, Assistant Guide
    • Viviano is leading the hike segment today, a soft spoken, friendly fellow who lives in Mushi, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. He tells us about the prestige and training Tanzania attaches to its natives who choose to the path to become Kilimanjaro guides. Pole Pole remains the operating word as we climb slowly up and out of the rainforest and into the heather and moorland zone. He indicates he and most of the guides go up Kili 2-3 times a month, time spent away from their young families..they see them maybe a week per month. Hard work, this.
Halid, Assistant Guide
Halid, soon to be “Speedy Gonzales”, Assistant Guide
    • Halid brings up the rear guard, another soft spoken guide whom we will soon rename to Speedy Gonzales, after the legendary US cartoon character…but the story of why is yet to come in the blog. I tease him and ask if needs any help with his giant pack, since he’s the smallest of the guides, but he simply says, politely, he will let me know.
Alpine Sugarbush (Protea Kilimandscharica)
Alpine Sugarbush (Protea Kilimandscharica)
    • As we climb pole pole out of the rainforest, the lush green of the forest melts away to shorter heather, still thick, but our visibility increases. We begin to be overtaken by a stream of porters with the camp on their heads, again headed out in front of us to setup camp by the time we get there. We rotate behind Viviano and pepper him with questions about various striking plants we see along the way indigenous to the region and altitude.
Porters Across The Gully Going Up To Shira One Ridge
A Tiny Stream of Porters Across The Gully Headed Up The Spine Ridge (right upper corner) To Shira One Camp
    • Eventually we climb up over a ridge and see a great ravine/gully and a steep ridge ascending up the spine of the mountain. We look across and see a tiny line of porters traversing up the opposite side and up the ridge. This is our major ascent for the day climbing into an unseeable mist high above us. After resting at the base for 10 minutes for water and bathroom stop, we begin the ascent ourselves.
Looking Down From Shira Ridge
Looking Down From Shira Ridge
Lunch On The Ridge To Shira One Camp
Lunch On The Ridge To Shira One Camp. Left of the ridge is the view down to the Tanzanian plains, while on the right, the edge of the Shira Plateau. Note the looming storm clouds that would soon make themselves known.
      • After an hour of steep climbing, we’re about halfway up the ridge, and we stop for lunch. We’re around 10,500 feet, and visible from here are the plains far below, with looming clouds all around and the thick mist above us. Also visible is the edge of the Shira Plateau, a giant steppe on Kilimanjaro and the holder of Shira One camp, our target destination. In the middle of our lunch, we hear booming thunderclaps above us just around the corner of the mountain, accompanied by the occasional flash of lightning. JT has caught up with us and we nervously ask about the lightning and thunder. “No Worries,” he says, “Only one climber hit by lightning in past 10 years.” We note that in the US, this condition would have park rangers clearing off the mountain STAT. Instead, we finish our lunch, and JT and Viviano point us upward into the clouds where we can still see porters moving 500 feet above..away from the seeming source area of the lightning and thunder. We climb a bit quicker, maybe not quite pole pole.
    • As we hit the ridge top at 11,500 feet, it starts to rain. At first we balk putting on rain gear, which traps in heat during our climb, but then it starts coming down hard and we throw on the ponchos, rain pants, and pack covers and move out. At least we’re now in a lateral and slightly downward traverse, but as Viviano steps up the pace, the rain starts pounding the path into mud puddles. As we descend the final quarter mile into camp, the rain turns to a mix of hail, sleet, and rain, hammering pellets off of us. We get into camp, and huddle under the sign in hut, watching the porters try and setup our tents. Unfortunately, just as we make a beeline for the tents and get in, the rain is washing under some of the tents, causing them to float. While we hide in the mess tent, the porters move all the gear out and move the tents to better ground, frantically digging shallow shovel ditches around each tent to channel the water. An hour later, the rain finally stops. Cort, Caryl and I go 200 paces back up the trail to see a cairn forest we’d run past while inbound.
The Cairn Forest Near Shira One Camp
The Cairn Forest Near Shira One Camp
  • At dinner, our companion Paul looks pale, and JT checks on him (as he does with all of us before and after each hike). Paul’s been fighting stomach troubles during this hiking segment, and now he indicates he’s having breathing issues. JT puts him on Diamox, the miracle alpine medicine that tricks the body into forcing deeper and faster breathing, and ultimately more oxygen in the blood, relieving Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms. After dinner, JT says we have a big day ahead tomorrow, so we hit it early. The rain pounds the tent on and off, and we go to sleep with it pattering on our tents, but not before the skies clear on the open plateau, revealing a cloud plume drifting off the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, our first clear view of our destination. We again go to sleep to stars across the night sky, the band of the Milky Way clear and noting to our surprise that in this hemisphere of the globe, the Big Dipper has no North Star. Is this a foreboding sign? None of us knows, but stubborn determination tends to dismiss such nonsense, and we crash hard after a long day.
Kilimanjaro, From Shira One Camp
Cloud Plumes Blow Off Kilimanjaro An Hour Before Sunset, From Shira One Camp