Monday, December 21, 2015

Kilimanjaro - Machame Camp to Shira Camp

Today was considered a very steep but short day of climbing up from Machame Camp to Shira Caves Camp.  Emily and I have had weird sleep patterns since we arrived in Tanzania, often waking up super early at 5am and not being able to get back to sleep.  Oddly, we've also been dead-tired at around 8 or 9pm every night so we are sleeping ok but our schedule hasn't adjusted yet.  

At 6:30am we were awoken by Humphrey bringing each tent a big thermos of hot water with all the coffee and tea supplies.  What a wonderful way to wake up after a very comfortable night of sleep on their sleeping pads as well.  I poked my head out and saw blue skies so I took my mug and hustled out of the tent with my camera to get some great shots of Mt. Meru in the distance and even the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro before clouds moved in later in the morning to obscure them again.  

By 7:30am we again found ourselves in the mess tent with Humphrey serving us an amazing breakfast of oatmeal flavored like ginger and honey.  Then, yet again we were surprised by a 2nd round of breakfast - eggs, sausages, and fresh mango.  Again, it felt really weird for me to be catered to like this as I prefer my mountaineering to be me vs. the mountain but damnit if I wasn't slowly getting used to it.... That and I know that our payment for the trip provided a good salary and tips for the 18 Tanzanians accompanying us.  Every extra extravagant thing that we are experiencing is providing someone with a good salary for their families.  This is truly luxury mountaineering!

After breakfast we packed up pretty quickly, had our camelbaks filled and hit the steep trail up towards Shira Camp following Mike while Emanuelle got the other porters organized.  Before we left camp though we were given lunches to carry and were also introduced to each porter and got a group photo of us all with them.  Today's hiking was definitely Pole Pole and we took our time heading up the steep trail.  Machame Camp marked the entrance into the "Heather Zone" of the mountain which we continued through all today.  

Today was definitely more rainy.  We made it about 3 hours before it became pretty mandatory to put rain gear on and put rain covers on our packs.  We hiked along to the sound of distant thunder up a steep ridge through some of the most exotic looking plant life I'd ever seen mountaineering.  Just as yesterday every porter we passed was cheerful and said "Jambo Jambo" as we passed.  We even caught up to people we had met at gate the day before.  At one point we caught up with the couple from Holland and one of their porters had taken a nasty fall onto his head.  It sounded like our guides checked on him to make sure he was ok before we moved on.  

We stopped for lunch at a plateau and saw our first real wildlife besides the chirping of distant birds.  There was a big white-necked black Raven who was clearly interested in what we were eating for lunch.  It was clearly used to being fed so I didn't have a problem giving it a bit of muffin to snack on so I could get it close for some photos.  It wouldn’t be the first last time we saw these abundant Kilimanjaro Ravens.  In the mountains it is often said that Ravens represent all the souls of the climbers who have died there.  There were a lot of Ravens.

After lunch the rain picked up again and we al put on our rain gear.  The trail was absolutely beautiful in the mist.  The giant groundsel trees (look very tropical) was a stark contrast to the typical mountain vegetation we see in the Pacific Northwest at 9,000 feet.  The climbing remained pretty steep and we found ourselves scrambling up sections at times.  We also past the one and only small waterfall we would see on the entire climb.  Just past the waterfall we caught up with Anna and Hobbie from the Netherlands who said one of their porters had fallen nearly 10 feet off some rocks into a small stream HEAD FIRST!.  This was concerning but the porter didn’t seem to be around and he wasn’t part of our team so there wasn’t much we could do.  

We made great time on the trail and got to Shira Camp (12,500 ft) at about 2pm in the afternoon, right as the clouds and rain started to break up a bit.  As usual Duma set up our campsite a good distance from the other expeditions to give us some privacy.  We were about a hundred yards from a hell pad which could have been bad but thankfully no helicopters landed.  We spent a good part of the afternoon lounging in our tents, drying off and relaxing after the hike.  

At around 5pm Mike came by with Emanuelle to lead us on a very short hike past the Shira Caves for which the camp is named after and up to a high point dotted with cairns that climbers add rocks to for good luck.  It was around this point that we began to get our first afternoon glimpses of the peak directly above us and from the highpoint we could also see the 8-day Lemosho route coming from the West that we would meet up with the next day.  At this elevation, even with the clouds we only needed to wear a light puffy jacket to stay warm.  

For dinner our cook (who we never really saw because he cooked from the porters tent) made us another wonderful meal of tasty soup and then rice and what appeared to be some sort of beef pot roast or stir fry.  It was delicious! #glamping.  After dinner I took some time to explore some night shots with all the glowing tents of Shira Camp but it was too cloudy for any star or Kilimanjaro shots.  

We went to bed after watching one of the Star Wars movies (preparing for the new one when we get home).  I had to get up around 4am to pee (never good to hold it in while at altitude on a mountain) and when I opened the tent door with my glasses on I was blown away to see clear skies and the milky way directly above us and no moon in sight!  

I was of course in my boxers and it was probably hovering around 40 degrees but I toughed it out and set up my tripod quickly with my 50mm lens to grab some shots of the stars over the mountain as well as the city lights below and even lightning in the distance.  Some of the best night shots from the trip actually.  After I climbed back into the tent I also set up a time-lapse which sort of came out ok but got foggy in the early morning.

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