Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kilimanjaro - Shira Camp to Barranco Camp

Today was an extremely long day starting with a very early start and a beautiful sunrise.  As usual Mike checked both our O2 blood content as well as our heart rates to see how we were doing after a night at 12,500 feet.  We were all fine except Emy was a little concerned about her high heart rate.  As we left camp we had amazing views of Kilimanjaro above us but within an hour the clouds had once again engulfed the peak.  

The days climbing would take us to the highest elevation any of us had been to at over 15,000ft at the lava tower then would drop us down to Barranco camp for the night, thereby allowing us the “climb high, sleep low” method of acclimatization we needed for the final summit day.  We entered the “heather zone” as Mike called it as soon as we left Shira camp.  From this point on till the last night we would be “above tree-line” and exposed to the full elements of the weather.  

It was pretty uneventful climbing on our way to Lava Tower.  We left camp with Mike with Emanuel saying “see you tomorrow” which became a joke with us on the climb as he and other porters would always quickly catch up to us and pass us (excluding Mike who stayed with us).  Although the hiking was pretty uneventful there were some interesting rock formations we passed by and I really enjoyed the conversations we had with both Mike and Emanuel sharing cultures and terms for things we saw on the mountain with each other.  For example, I learned that Emanuel has bad teeth and couldn’t share our gummy bears and that he loved watching Formula 1 racing and also managed a farm.  

Both he and Mike were allowed to be guides because they knew English, had higher education, and both went to guide school with medical training.  I wonder if it is the same for other companies… I somehow doubt it.  At one point Emanuel picked up my pack and guessed it to be about 20kg or about 35-40lbs with all my camera gear and electronics in it for media capture.  From that point on my nickname with him and Mike became “buffalo” and they eventually began to stop asking if I wanted help carrying anything, as clearly I didn’t. 

I had asked if I could climb the Lava Tower and both Mike and Emanuel chuckled.  Why they laughed became obvious when we got to the massive tower.  It was clearly only climbable with ropes and protection.  That, and we were all quickly beginning to feel the effects of altitude.   And it wasn’t just us… Anna and and another girl from Canada we met at the entry gate were throwing up alongside the trail from the altitude.  Although we got some great shots of the lava tower rising into the cloudy mist I definitely gave up any idea of climbing it!

At the base of the lava tower were dozens of tents from varying companies.  Mike explained to us that this was the base camp for the shorter and much more dangerous route to the summit via the “western breach” which had just re-opened after years of being closed after a rockslide killed several people.  We were all very happy to have the extra 2-3 days under our belt for the altitude rather than rush to the summit via this dangerous route.  

Emily was really feeling the altitude at Lava Tower so we ate our lunch fairly quickly while Mike used my DSLR to try to capture some pics of some interesting looking birds and ground squirrels/chipmunks for me.  Our lunches were varied on the climb but one thing that was always in them was a small fried chicken leg and thigh which I always happily ate first. Mike also passed around a thermos of hot tea which was very welcome in the cold, cloudy and windy weather which we all were almost shaking in.  

The hike down from the tower to Barranco camp was the most beautiful section of the day.  We had to descend steeply through a window in a huge volcanic rock wall  and then cross a nice stream at the base.   As we descended we found ourselves heading down into a ravine filled with really tall giant groundsel trees which seem so unique to Kilimanjaro at that altitude.  These trees along with with the other lush plants seemed so tropical for where we were on the mountain.  Perhaps all the clouds and mist keep the healthy despite the temperature!  Mike explained to us that many of the flowers of the plants only come out at night which seemed very interesting to us.  

During the early afternoon on our descent the clouds cleared up a bit and we were afforded wonderful views of the towering Uhuru Peak of Kilimanjaro above us with its massive glaciers spilling down over its sides.   Because the Lemosho route had joined us earlier in the day there seemed to be many more people on the trail with us compared with the previous two days before Shira camp.  

2 of those people unfortunately were obnoxious american guys who were spouting off about how many women they had slept with and just generally being douchebags on the trail.  We hoped that perhaps many of the climbers couldn’t understand them and felt embarrassed that people like them traveling give a bad representation of our country.  The girls especially didn’t like hearing them and when I passed them I made the comment “yup, found the Americans…” trying to give them a hint to change the topic.  

After we signed in at the lodge around 3:30pm we spent the rest of the afternoon in partly cloudy weather taking lots of photos and videos of the area and searching for the trail for the next day which Mike pointed out and appeared to go straight up a cliff!  The guidebook had been right and my head was pounding from the altitude we passed through during the day.  Thankfully, some ibuprofen helped me out before we sat down for dinner which turned out to be a wonderful pumpkin soup I dumped spoonfuls of butter into for energy as well as a wonderful pasta dish with beef.  Emy was having such a hard time with altitude at this point that she lost all of her appetite and just picked at her meal.  

That night I only stayed up till about 9pm as I knew I need to allow myself more sleep to remain healthy for the climb but before heading to bed I was able to capture some great shots of the sunset as well as some misty clouds circling the peak directly above us.  Once again there was no moon which was a little concerning as I thought I had planned it right to climb under a full moon on the summit day which was just 2 more nights away.  Thankfully the arc of the moon changes a lot day to day and I wouldn’t be disappointed.

No comments: