So, we finally find ourselves getting very close to our objective on this trip: the roof of Africa. Yesterday was a relatively short day for Cantrailia, and it took us up to 4,300m where we slept and acclimatized. The goal for today was going to be to make our way to our final ‘camp’ on the ascent of Kili. I use the term ‘camp’ lightly, as we were really only going to sleep a few hours there before beginning our slow trip up the mountain. But of course, I’m getting ahead of myself in this introduction. So, rather than spoil the fun, I’ll start like I always do. First, have a look at the satellite map showing where we hiked for this day. Also, check out the set of pictures on flickr. Overall, it was a good, if not a bit boring, day on the mountain. There’s not that much to tell, but I’m sure I’ll embellish it enough to turn into a decent little story for you all :-). When you’re done checking out the goodies, come on back and read on.
As you might very well guess at this altitude, we awoke to a very chilly morning. The night before, we had left our washing water in the basin outside the tent, and it was froze completely solid. Hmm, that might make it tough for the porter… I flipped it over and pounded the block of ice onto the ground. Too funny. Also, the tent was pretty much frozen solid from condensation freezing to it. However, the great news of the day is that upon shaking the fog from my head and stretching outside, it was very nice to see that the sky was clear, and that the sun appeared to be struggling it’s way from behind the mountains to shine down on us. Wow! What a sight. A sunny morning is just what I’d hoped for.
As a result of this most welcome sunshine, a few of the porters set themselves at the mess tent, and basically picked it up and moved it straight out from the table. The effect was that our little group would get to enjoy our breakfast in the bright sunshine enjoying the views of Mount Mawenzi and Hans Meyer peak! Very cool indeed to have breakfast at 4,300m with such a spectacular view. We had to eat fast though, because at that temperature (it was still below freezing) the food wasn’t going to stay warm. We still appreciated the effort of giving us such a splendid breakfast table.
After breakfast, and still before 8am, we set off and bid farewell to the Mawenzi Tarns. Our trek today started there, at 4,300m, and would end at Kibo Camp, located at the foot of Kili at 4,700m. Yup, you read right, we were only actually gaining 400m in elevation throughout the day. Mind you, there would be a bit of up and down, so we were climbing more than that, but the actual gain was pretty negligible. However, the route was still over 8km of hiking. We had been told that this route would basically be lunar landscape. No vegetation, just small pebbles and some big rocks strewn on a path that stretched far off into the distance. In fact, we’d be able to see Kibo camp hours before we got there, just tantalizingly out of reach.
With that knowledge in mind, we set out once again at the Kili shuffle pace of ‘pole pole’, which means slowly in Swahili. Not long after our start, we walked up a ridge and were greeted with a magnificent view of Kili. It was crystal clear at the moment, and we could see the snow line and where we’d be going. The guide was also generally able to point out already where we were camping. It looked far away from both where we were, as well as where we had to go to summit. Guess that’s why they call this a hike. We took some great photos from this spot, but then started moving again. We had about 4 hours total of hiking today, and the sooner we got in, the sooner we could try to get some sleep before the midnight start to summit day.
Along the way, we quickly realized they weren’t kidding about seeing your destination. Not only could we see the camp far away, but we could also make out the stream of porters spread out from where we were all the way to camp. It was a very surreal sight. We were also keenly aware now of just how slow we were moving. No one was really complaining too much anymore, as we knew at this altitude you really had to take your time or risk failure on the next section, but it was still funny, and I have a good video that shows you the pace.
The only really interesting part of the day (but I won’t call it a highlight) was trudging past the remains of an airplane that crashed high up here in the mountains. There wasn’t too much debris left, but still a fair chunk of the fuselage. It appeared as though it had been picked quite clean of anything of value in it, but the pieces left were certainly a reminder of the dangers that lurk in high mountain passes. I believe we were told that it had crashed a few years back, killing all the passengers aboard. It was a small craft flying from Kenya into Nairobi. There were no memorials or anything like that, but it still felt like some sort of grave marker. I snapped a few shots, as did other, but in general, we just walked by it. I was surprised just how close it was to our trail.
Apart from that, we made only one stop along the desolate path at some big boulders to allow people to take their nature break. Given the landscape we were traversing, there weren’t many opportunities for privacy for the ladies to do their business, so it was greatly appreciated I think. We were all in good spirits, but likely all had some thoughts in our heads about what the next day would hold. From what I could tell, everyone still seemed very strong, and unaffected by the altitude. That was a good sign, and our guide also confirmed that he thought we were in great shape and said there was a very good chance that everyone would summit. Good to hear, given that the actual summit rate is only between 40 and 60%!
When we finally got to Kibo camp, it was an absolute zoo. The tents seemed to all be completely crammed together. I wasn’t looking forward to spending the night and starting the hike in the midst of this tent city. We went straight to the ranger’s hut to sign in, and were then pointed towards our ‘camp’. But guess what? Once again our porters completely kicked ass! Whereas there were tons of tents in the main area, we were in a completely separate spot, where you climbed up some rocks, then descended into a little sheltered area. Therefore, it was nice and quiet, and we had lots of room to ourselves. We were very impressed with this, and I dare say it lifted our spirits just a touch. One thing is for certain. Looking back on the Mount Meru hike compared to this hike… well, there was no comparison. They had redeemed themselves!
After a nice lunch, we were told to try and get some sleep for a couple hours in the afternoon before supper. I asked about whether we’d do another acclimatization hike, and we were told normally they don’t. However, I was keen to do one anyway, and asked if others wanted to. John seemed interested, and Dylan and Deb also were on the fence. I told one of the guides I’d come see them later in the afternoon about it. We headed to our tents, and people proceeded to fall asleep. Well, most people. I couldn’t, as I’m really not much for napping. Eventually, I just got up and headed outside. Guess what was happening? It was snowing! Yup, while we normally would get rained on, this time, due to our altitude, we actually got snowed on, and of course I managed to capture that on video as well 🙂
After a bit longer I rattled the canvas of John and Dylans tent, as well as Deb’s ‘palace for one’. Deb opted to sleep more, and Dylan, still recovering from being sick, also passed. However, John was willing to go for the hike, so we gathered up a guide and went for a quick hike up the mountain. I think we only gained about another 130m, but then the weather turned again, and it was soon extremely cloudy and raining / snowing. We turned back, and headed for camp. I wanted to descend fast, but was forced to slow down. Although I felt confident of the way, the guide wouldn’t let me go ahead, claiming I might just end up at Horombo Camp, which, by the way, is an additional 1,000m down the mountain. His point was simply when you can’t see the path, we have to stick together. Fair enough. We got back to camp, and that was the end of hiking for the day. We of course had an early supper, then it was back to bed for everyone in order to rest up. As I mentioned, we’d be back up around 11pm, in order to depart by midnight! Insanity. This time I opted to do the sleep thing as well, even though it was early. A bit of music helped that happen. Ahh Sting, your calm melodies can always lull me to sleep 🙂
And there ends Day 4 of the trek. Thought of the day? How about this: never underestimate the value of a well-treated porter and their willingness to go above and beyond in helping you. The fact that the company we chose was known for treating porters well showed in all the little things they did for the good of the group. It was clear with other companies that this wasn’t the case! Well, off to bed now, as tomorrow is summit day! Rest up friends.