Saturday, January 28, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 2

Day 2: Machame Hut to Shira Hut (12,300’)

Hike time: 7 hrs, Elevation change: 800 M
Estimated distance: 6km, Final elevation: 3800 M

From the Machame Hut we cross the stream onto its west bank and follow the path up the steep rocky ridge crises-crossing a few times before reaching Shira Hut at the base of a semi-circular wall of rocks. We will have ascended 900 meters (3,000’) in 5-7 hours and about 6 km (3.72 miles) of walking.

The peak from our campsite

We awoke to see Kili looming over our campsite, had breakfast, then packed up camp to head off for day 2. It started off as a beautiful sunny day, yet a little brisk in the morning. After the tents were down, our duffels stacked in a pile, Nickson introduced us to the assistant guides and porters. We had quite a huge expedition...I don't know the actual numbers, but I'm guessing about 28 hikers and 70 porters? Yes, an expedition. Day 2, I was carrying about 30 pounds of gear with 3 liters of water, fleece, poncho, rain gear, beanie as essentials amongst other things that I carried every day.

The hike started off from the campsite ascending up a well worn dirt trail. I let the fast group go and joined the not-so-fast group, where I belonged ;) We hiked through similar heather flora as the first day's hike's end. For a few hours -- shorter trees, bushes, more exposed to the sun. We ascended quite a bit, porters passing us all the time. I hiked with Sara for a while, but then I took more breaks and went at my own pace. Although I was slow, Nickson had commented how I looked like I was a climber. I told him that Sean and I were rock climbers at home...not mountaineers, but rock climbers.

We came to a clearing where the path turned to an exposed rock. If you turned around, you could see Mt. Meru in the distance and the green treelined slopes of Kilimanjaro surrounding us, descending. The clouds were starting to form.

Me getting to the exposed rock part of the trail

Sean and me at a resting point

I met up with the rest of the group at the exposed rock section of the trail. We rested there for a while, some continued on while Sean and I rested more. Diamox taking its, action, it was time for a pee break, so Sean and I went to find a very scenic pee spot. There was a boulder that was perfect for girls because it had a u-shape in it -- a bit exposed as the trail was higher, but hidden because of the shape of the boulder. The view from that spot was beautiful -- the slope of Kili descending, clouds rising up to us and above us. We then relinquished our pee spot to other hikers who thought it was a good idea and place to go as well.

View from the pee spot - clouds rising

We hiked on through landscape that changed to less trees, shorter bushes - some flowering, grasses, and boulders everywhere. Boulders that looked like they wanted to be climbed. The path grew rockier and rockier, steeper in some sections with class 3 climbing/scrambling involved. Sean and I hiked with Brian and Alexa for a long time for the lunch push. They are an American couple who are working as teachers at an American school in Saudi Arabia, and lived and climbed a bit in Mexico. Really cool and fascinating people.

Me getting ready to do some class 3 scrambling

The boys hiked on faster, Alexa and I fell behind. Dustin, a quiet assistant guide, kept our pace. We caught up with the boys and a few others at a set of boulders. A well needed rest stop as the trail continued on upwards. We were to have our lunch stop near the top of the area we could see.

View from the resting point on the boulders -- those specs are people going up the trail

Making our way up was pretty grueling. Most of the group was at the top, hanging out on the boulders. Sean and Brian took speed, I hiked on my own, and Deanna and Alexa were a few minutes behind me amongst a few others.

Silhouettes of people at the top, near the lunch stop

I finally met with the others after a little more class 3 scrambling, where we rested while the lunch tents and tables were being set up. The clouds rose quickly and the climate grew colder. I did some serious intra-hiking stretching to keep my muscles limber. Then it was time to chow down...

Mark, Lara, David, Jen, Deanna, Court, and Dillon in front of the lunch spread

One lunch tent was set up, so some ate in there, while the rest of us ate outside. Pasta, more pasta, chicken wings, and pineapple. A few minutes into lunch, the weather took a turn -- it started hailing on us. The porters quickly set up a second tent, where the rest of us quickly ran into to hide from the elements. As lunch went on, the hail lightened up to going away completely.

We continued on hiking, mostly across a ridge, ascending and descending here and there. It started sprinkling on us, so I took out the poncho I borrowed from the Porters Assistance Project only to rip it while putting it on my head. Now only if I had the duck tape which was in the check-in luggage...I had trouble hiking with the ripped poncho as I couldn't see the steps in front of me, so I took it off and put it back in my pack, and just used my waterproof shell jacket.

The hike to camp was very rocky and slick with water pooling from the rains. Cindy and I kept each other company, with Deanna catching up every few breaks. The terrain grew rockier and rockier, with larger steps to be taken up and down. We passed by a rock ledge that would have proven as excellent shelter from the rains if they were to get more intense. But the rains were not too bad -- enough to form small trickling waterfalls down the rock ledge reminiscent of how Reimer's would be if it rained at Sex Canyon. We got to a point were Donovan and Zamo were waiting to assist hikers. It was a rocky traverse with a small cliff drop off to the left side. I'm sure if I hadn't been climbing for the past year, it may have been scary for me, but it was an easy traverse for me now.

We hiked on further and further, and then caught up with Cristee and Adie who stopped to admire the view. The campsite was visible and within range, so there was no real rush. Cloud filled mountain ridges and aretes created a backdrop for the Shira campsite which was just beyond a small valley and creek we had to cross.

Shira campsite

Sean arrived first, so he picked out our tent. First thing we did was start laying out our gear to dry, which is difficult when you're practically in a cloud. We started to dig a moat around our tent just in case it rained. Digging a moat around a tent you'd think is a simple task. Try doing it at over 12,000 feet and you'll think differently.

Sean at our tent

There was a bit of time between getting to camp and dinner, so we all hung out and what not. Sean watched my door at one of the 2 adjoining long drops (it was missing a piece of wood from the door). And yes, it was my first time using one of those to crap in to. Picture this...a wooden shack with a wooden floor with a square cut out of it. Luckily, no one had missed. The smell makes me want to vomit, so I try to avoid them. And man, what a leg work out!

Later, Ronald, our character-filled meal server, gathered the porters and assistant guides into songs and dances. They did the Kilimanjaro song and a few other songs about the mountain. It was a festive mood. Here we were, we made it through day 2. Still far away from the summit, but about 7,000 feet in elevation closer than we were from the Machame gate, our starting point.

Emmanuel and Ronald lead the songs and dance

View from Shira camp - clouds rising to our level

We filtered water, had dinner, then called it a night. It was frigid., freezing out. I hated the thought of having to walk out in to the woods to take a piss, so I devised a plan...I dug a hole between the tent door and the outer fly, build a dam out of dirt. This was my pee hole. If I had to pee in the middle of the night (which was guaranteed on Diamox), I'd just squat as low as I could, unleash, then cover it up with dirt. Who'd know? And that's just what I did. Worked excellently.

7,000 feet in elevation closer...there she is


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