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 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.