Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Don't get ticked off - wear trousers

Something not a huge amount of people are aware of is that are all at risk when walking in the countryside from tick bites and subsequently the potential for Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is a relatively uncommon disease however it is becoming more and more frequent.

Ticks inhabit long grass and wait for an animal or human to walk by at which point they attach themselves to the passerby and bite them in order to feed off the blood of the host. Some ticks are carriers of bacteria which can potentially be harmful to humans. Whilst some people can carry Lyme Disease, they may never show any symptoms whilst others can have their skin affected and others can suffer joint pains, affects to the heart or their nervous symptoms.

These infections from ticks can be easily avoided by wearing long trousers in order to stop the ticks from being able to attach themselves to the skin. As much as we enjoy putting shorts on in the hotter months we can open ourselves up for a dose of Lyme Disease.

If you do get bitten then you should attempt to remove the tick by grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and by turning the tick anti clockwise whilst pulling it out with tweezers. If you develop an expanding reddish round rash, it may then develop with people experiencing flu symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms you should see the doctor, treatment is possible with antibiotics and the earlier it is diagnosed the better.

Ticks live in warm moist environments so are generally active between April and October in the British countryside however particularly dry years cause the ticks to dehydrate and die. On the other hand should we experience a particularly warm winter we could see ticks being active throughout the winter months.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Shira Route - Day 8 (Homeward bound)

Mwera Camp: 3200 m
Mwera Gate: 1650 m
Ascent : 0 m
Descent : 1550 m

We were woken up before the crack of dawn today at the unearthly time of of 5:30am. We had agreed to this however and it was to enable the porters and guides to get home at a reasonable hour to see their families. It really was the least we could do to show our appreciation to them for what they had done for us over the course of the week enabling us to get up and down Kilimanjaro safely.

There was no cup of tea to greet us as we prised our eyes open this morning however there was the customary washie washie in an attempt to clear the head. This morning it was not the same necessity, the enjoyment was overshadowed by the prospect of a shower back at the hotel, which was far more appealing at this point.

We packed our kit before breakfast in order that the porters could get all the tents down and and get packed away for the last yomp to the park gates and the coach home. There was an awful amount of moisture in the air and all electronic goods like phones had been kept in plastic food bags to stop them from being trashed by the damp.

Over breakfast and our last meal in the mess tent we put the tips together for the porters and guides. It was suggested from the African Walking Company what we should give depending on the number of us, the length of trip and the standard of service we'd received (we all agreed this had been exemplary). Once we'd all contributed, the total came to $1105 to share around. When we came out of the mess tent we saw that all the other tents had now been taken down and were pretty much packed away ready for the off. In no time at all the mess tent was then stripped down and packed away - the porters really were desperate to get home.

A few of the guys also put the kit that they'd used and felt they no longer had a use for into a big bag that would be given to Restus (the head guide) who would distribute it amongst the guys fairly - this was pretty much the only way they acquired their camping and trekking kit so it was a kind gesture for those guys that would not use the stuff again.

Albeit really muggy the weather was really kind to us today and we had clear skies which was perfect for our final goodbyes. Paul, one of the guys in the group was nominated as spokesman. for the thank you speech and to handover the tips. He stood in the middle and all the porters and guides stood around him in a big arc. He'd prepared a few words for the speech however he was a bit thrown soon after he started. After each sentence, as most of the guys spoke no English, Restus translated for them. This naturally stints the flow of what you are trying to say. Paul's words of appreciation and thanks soon came round to the subject of the tips, which clearly needed no translation and he was met with rapturous applause when he mentioned the amount of dollars we were tipping them. We then took photos of each other with the porters and then made for the gate with Patrick, our summit porter, leading the way. We left the rest of the porters behind with Restus to distribute the tips and kit that had been donated by the trekkers.

Kilimanjaro porters and guidesOur team of Kilimanjaro Guides and Porters

We meandered through the rain forest for a few hours with steam rising out of the undergrowth making it a bit tough to get any decent shots without the cameras fogging up. The path started off being like any other path on the mountain, pretty narrow and really rocky however before long the path opened up and it was wide enough to take a car. As we moseyed down the last leg of the trek towards the Mwera gate at 1650m the porters hurtled past shouting "Jambo" (Swahili for Hello) as they went, they were clearly full of joy and really excited to be on their way back home to their families.

Kilimanjaro ForestSteam in the forest

After about 3 hours of trekking we arrived at Mwera Gate. There was a gatehouse here where we had to sign ourselves out of the Kilimanjaro National Park and collect our certificates for reaching the summit. We were given packed lunches that were brought up for us which were always welcome. Along with the packed lunches we were given questionnaires by African Walking Company regarding the hike - you could tell that we were firmly back in civilisation now and it felt a touch surreal with the hoards of locals trying to flog you some souvenir or other be it a knife, a t-shirt, a painting or some other nik nak that would inevitably be almost impossible to get either on the plane home or through customs.

Signing out of KilimanjaroSigning out of Kilimanjaro

A short walk further and we arrived at the bus where the hoards of locals were thicker and more persistent with their sales pitches. We checked all of our kit back in with African Walking Company and sorted our kit out to get on the bus, at which point we realised one of the guys sleeping bag had gone astray. Whether it hadn't made it off Kilimanjaro or whether it had gone missing since it had arrived at the coach would remain a mystery for the time being as exchanges were made between various of the porters, guides and management all in Swahili.

At around midday we were on our way home - well back to the hotel. It was refreshing to see that on our way away from Kilimanjaro you could see that the weather had closed in and we had a few specks of rain. A few of us caught a well earned 40 winks.

We arrived back at the Ilboru Lodge at around 2pm and jumped straight in the shower to scrub of the weeks worth of dust and grime. It looked like some kind of laundrette as everyone was hanging their damp stuff out on balconies to dry. We headed into Arusha to get some souvenirs to take home for friends and families, whilst we still had another 10 days or so in Tanzania we were to head off for some pretty remote places from here on so would possibly not get another chance.

That night was spent all together with the group over a meal and a few aptly named beers at the restaurant Via Via in Arusha. It was a great way to polish off such an amazing trip and achievement. We reminisced on the highs and lows and commended each other on a job well done and how making it as a group in its entirety had certainly been the cherry on the cake.

Kilimanjaro beerThe aptly named and refreshingly welcome celebratory beverage

At around 10:30 we headed back to the hotel where we said our farewells, we'd been through a hell of a lot together but the time had come to head our separate ways, some headed off home with the rest heading their own way deeper into Tanzania on Safari in various directions.

Whilst we'd embarked on this adventure as 5 friends ,we'd gelled exceptionally well with the rest of the team we trekked with and I think that is what drove us all on to reach Uhuru and summit Kilimanjaro, an experience that would never be forgotten as long as I shall live. Thanks to all the guys that I shared that one with, you made it awesome for sure!

So with legs like spagetti, knees and ankles screaming at me I vouched I'd never, ever embark on anything like that again but with the pain being temporary and the sense of achienvement lasting forever I'm sure that that vouching wont last long......

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The wider the better - alas help is at hand!

Further to my posts regarding my trust Meindl Bernina and my quest to find comfortable boots for broad feet, I have now discovered (thanks to the Sunday Times) Altberg. They are an independent boot maker based in Richmond in North Yorkshire who actually make boots in 5 different widths. This is a dream come true for anyone with frustratingly broad feet like myself. However not completely satisfied that they will be able to find a boot from their range that will fit you, at their factory shop in Richmond they also stock boots from Scarpa, Miendl, Lowa, Zamberlan, Brasher and other leading makes. They do advise that you can order online/mail order however for wide feet Altberg do advise that you visit their factory shop for an on the spot boot fitting service and advise from them directly.

This must be the best possible shot anyone with awkward shaped feet have at finding a boot that fits as it should. Let's be fair about this, boots really are one of the most important pieces of kit we will ever own, if they don't fit trekking just isn't enjoyable.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Summit Day - Day 7 (Barafu Hut to Uhuru via Stella Point and down)

Barafu Hut : 4600 m
Summit 1 : Stella : 5735 m
Summit 2 : Uhuru : 5896 m
Millenium Camp : 3800 m
Mwera Camp: 3200 m
Ascent : 1296 m
Descent : 2600 m

We were awoken at 11pm (still on day 6 really) and were told to get ready for the final assault. Our water bottles were filled with boiling water to try to prevent it from freezing on the ascent as it is liable to get down as far as minus 20 degrees on the summit (where Fahrenheit and centigrade are the same).

We were fed a light breakfast consisting of tea, biscuits and cake, following which we kitted ourselves out with the warm kit we had. The pace we were about to head off at was not going to keep us warm so our clothing had to.

The whole of Barafu Camp was alive with torches where people were stirring ready to get stuck into the culmination of what they had spent recent days working towards. At midnight we left the camp at a pace that would give us the best shot of climbing the 1300 metres we would need to do before we hit Uhuru - the summit of Kilimanjaro. Today we were guided by the head guide and three assistant guides along with the summit porter Patrick who brought the tea for our break at the crater rim.

One of our guides set the pace at the front of the pack as we left the camp, the only light being emitted from our head torches which you could see bobbing about everywhere from the different teams attempting the summit that morning.

Heading off at the steady pace we set was comfortable without any overheating. The pace we set I think was partly due to the darkness and the fact that we only had torchlight to guide our way which certainly made traversing the snow covered boulder field even more challenging, especially as our brains were only working at half pace at this altitude. To give an idea of how steady we trekked at this point, it took us around an hour to get out of the camp as we trudged ever upwards.

Once out of camp the boulders became fewer and farther between which did make it a touch easier but only due to the fact that the ground was more even, the steepness did not ease and anything but the steady trudge would have been reckless. We followed this path for around an hour and a half. There was nothing to see in the pitch black apart fro each others head torches and the circle of light our own head torch shone on the floor. It was important that we focused on the floor as there were still a lot of loose rocks, step on one of these and your balance is gone! This could enter you into a whole world of pain as you try to recover your balance or scrape yourself off the floor, either way this is precious energy and breath wasted that you need to regain and compose yourself from, something you really can do without.

At around 3am we reached the main ascent where the path starts to zig zag steeply all the way up the scree slope to the crater rim. This was no time to get excited, although we were now facing the final push it was an awfully long push.

It was snowing slightly at this time but will the layers and layers I had on, even at the slow slow pace we were ascending at my body was perfectly warm enough. My feet however were another matter they were in so much pain due to them being so exceptionally cold. I had two pairs of socks on and with no more socks with me the only solution my addled brain could come up with was to curl my toes up under themselves. This naturally wasn't the ideal solution and didn't make an awful lot of difference, however I wasn't suffering with the altitude sickness as some of the other guys were so this I felt was little really to worry about.

By about 4am there were no groups behind us and we had fallen to the very back of the pack. The idea of leaving in the middle of the night is to avoid climbing during daylight hours due to the fierceness of the sun at this altitude. Up here there is little atmosphere to filter out the UV rays so you burn in no time. The guides were now starting to get concerned about our pace and the fact that we were not going to be at the summit by daybreak. They were considering splitting the group into the faster and slower halves. The downside of this of course is that the slower guys become even slower without the motivation of staying on the heels of the quicker folk to keep them moving.

Having a breather on the final Shira Route ascent
Having a breather on the ascent

That said we were certainly becoming slower as a group with us communally taking more and more breaks and sitting on whatever rock of ledge we could use as a makeshift seat to try to alleviate the muscle burn and to circulate oxygen throughout our bodies by gasping for air. Taking on fluids can really now only be done when stationary otherwise it is almost impossible to get your breath back.

At this point I did feel as though I still had plenty left in reserve but definitely better to keep it that way then overcook it and end up in the state I had done the previous day.

Mawenzi at first light
Mawenzi at first light

At around 6am we got the first hint that sunrise wasn't far away however we were probably still around 150 metres from the crater rim. We weren't that far behind schedule, the guides had judge our departure time from camp pretty well.

Mawenzi at sunrise
Mawenzi at sunrise

With the crater rim in sight the group separated to quite a large extent as those with energy left pushed whilst others were barely putting the heel of one foot in front of their other toes with each step. At around 6:30 as the sun was coming over the horizon with Stella Point now well and truly within reach I started to stride out now wanting to get there. I'd made it to Stella Point by about 7am which is the first point on the crater rim for all those routes approaching from the south and sits at an altitude of 5735 metres. There was still 160 metres to go to Uhuru, the summit of Kilimanjaro, and under normal circumstances this would be no mean fete however up here it is truly energy sapping. Patrick, the summit porter, arrived a the crater rim and provided us with tea as a morale booster and to ensure that we were not omitting to take on the vital fluids we needed.

At 8am the last of our team arrived at Stella Point and I felt for him, he looked as though he'd had it. The whole group shouted and screamed encouragement to boost his morale to get him to the crater rim. At which point he gave up, he was going no further. Or so he thought, but the guides had none of it and pushed him on for the top.

Glaciers close to Uhuru on Kilimanjaro
Glaciers close to the summit

This path flattened out quite a bit here as we walked around the crater rim passed all of the glaciers that we were advised had sadly been disappearing over the years. With the sun rising into the sky the temperature rose and layers had to be shed. One of the guys had a thermometer on his pack and we were amazed to hear that where we were expecting the temperature to be well below zero it was actually a fierce 15 degrees Celsius. No wonder the layers had to come off.

Glaciers on Kilimanjaro
Glaciers close to the summit

Having walked around a third of the circumference of the crater I finally caught a glimpse of what I had been waiting to see for months, through all the training at home and throughout the previous 6 days on this mountain -Uhuru Peak at a height of 5895 metres. It is marked by the famous sign which marks the height and name of this beast, the highest mountain in Africa and the biggest free standing mountain in the world.

Me and Michelle at Uhuru Peak
Me and my girlfriend Michelle at Uhuru Peak - woohoo

The feeling of euphoria was overwhelming and the views spectacular with the snow filled crater to one side and the colossal glaciers on the other decorated by frozen waterfalls as the ice melts during the day and freezes through the night. Fewer and fewer photographs were being taken in recent days as peoples enthusiasm to do anything other than trek wained. This however was one photograph that was not going to be missed. Job done I sat down to soak it all in when the strangest feeling washed over me. A combination of dizziness, overwhelming exhilaration and happiness I knew this was some kind of affect of the altitude. One of the guides saw it in me and told me it was time to go. I never argued and was straight up striding downhill back towards Stella Point.

We seemed to reach here in no time at all and once here there was no time to waste. We now had to descend to Mwera camp that was located at an altitude of 3100 metres that is a descent of 2.5 kilometres.

I had not been looking forward to this part of the trek, over the years my knees have had a fair amount of abuse with one thing and another so they were not going to enjoy this kind of torture. The scree just off the crater rim took a lot of the sting out of the impact which was great and we made great ground at a semi jog bouncing from one foot to the other.

Descending Kilimanjaro in the Rain
Descending in the rain

Not far from the summit it started to snow and it fell heavily. That said this didn't slow anyone down and despite my knees feeling a touch tender we managed to get back to Barafu camp in just over 2 hours. It's crazy to think that it took me around seven hours to get up there and around two to get back.

Under normal circumstances we would enjoy a breather at Barafu Camp where we could have a bite to eat and a lie down however due to our poor time keeping on ascent this was not to be and we packed our bags from the night before, had a quick bite to eat and carried straight on through.

Over lunch the head guide gave us the opportunity to preen ourselves by advising us that in his 11 years as a guide we were only the second group that he'd successfully guided to the summit in it's entirety. This we put down wholly to the talent and attitudes of the guides.

Kilimanjaro Rain
Trying to keep our spirits high

With our bags packed we stepped back out into the relentless weather and descended Kilimanjaro further. The path fell through steep rocky terrain and with every step I was feeling a shooting pain through my joints which was starting to feel a bit like agony. This was a touch demoralising and although we had now completed our goal my morale was getting a touch low. This was to be compounded as the snow turned to hail as we descended then eventually to rain. I don't actually think you could refer to is as rain, it was far too heavy for that, either way the chips were down.

We appeared at Millenium Camp where we were supposed to be camping the night however as a thanks to the porters and guides we were pushing on to the lower camp in order that they could get an early start the following day and get home to the families they had not seen since we set foot on the mountain a week ago. Some of the guys stopped to by a bottle of pop that was on sale at the hut of the camp at exorbitant prices however the rest of us were cashless, I really didn't anticipate anywhere to spend it, but with entrepreneurial flare these days there is someone keen to sell you something wherever you may go.

Descending into rainforest
Descending into the forest

As we descended from Millennium Camp the foliage became much greener and much fuller as we entered the tropical rain forest climate zone. There was still a lot of water around but it was so much warmer down here.

We finally stumbled into Mwera Camp late in the afternoon at around 5pm. We'd been trekking pretty much constantly for 17 hours with the last 5 hours being in what was snow all the way through to tropical rain, we'd ascended 1300 metres then descended 2600 metres and we were exhausted with aches on aches, but what a sense of achievement.

Being in the tropical climate zone meant most things were wet. Was I bothered? Was I hell! At this altitude breathing returned to normal, everyone could operate as humans should be able to and further more we had all achieved the goal we had all worked so hard for so long to do. With a huge sense of satisfaction and well bonded as a team we sat for our last meal on the mountain, potato soup, stew and fresh fruit. Everyone ate like they'd not eaten for a week - in fairness though some actually hadn't.

Soon after we hit the sack and I slept like a baby.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 6 (Karanga Valley to Barafu Hut)

Karanga Valley : 4000 m
Barafu Hut : 4600 m
Ascent : 600 m
Descent : 0 m

We got the "Washie washie" call at around 7 am and most people got up feeling and looking pretty fresh after having had a pretty good nights sleep at a lower altitude than we were at the previous night.

Kilimanjaro from campView of Kilimanjaro from the camp

It was a cracker of a morning with just a few wispy clouds in the sky and it looked like it was going to be a beaut of a day, this was the lead up to our summit attempt now as tonight was to be spent at the foot of Kilimajaro.

We limbered out of Karanga Valley Camp in high spirits as we trucked off for Barafu Camp. Today's walk was only due to be around 3 hours but again at altitude (which we were now getting used to) everything was pretty laboured so as you can imagine the actual distance walked wasn't too far although the gain in altitude was 600m.

Before long the bright conditions and warming sun that we left at Karanga Valley Camp was replaced with overcast conditions and drizzle. Waterproofs were donned for the last stretch which. I was starting to feel quite used to the thin air and hadn't really felt overstretched physically up to this point, whilst it was certainly laboured it wasn't exhausting. With this in mind I decided to stretch out a bit to feel a bit of the burn. This turned out to be a big mistake in the end. As we arrived into Barafu Camp the drizzle that we'd experienced turned to snow which had settled throughout the camp. With this being the last camp before the summit this place was huge and was full of tents of all different shapes and sizes - there were hundreds of people here, or due to arrive here.

Barafu CampsiteBarafu Campsite

Our guides seemed pretty cheesed off when we got there as the porters hadn't arrived soon enough and as a result we were not camping where they'd hoped we would be. This camp was pretty horrendous. There were no toilets here so our makeshift loo consisted of a toilet tent with a bucket that some unfortunate guy had to empty when it was almost brimming which was far from pleasant with the state of everyone's insides. Calling this a campsite is probably a touch on the generous side it would be far more accurate to refer to it as a boulder field where the tents were basically erected on areas where boulders had been moved to one side although the ground was far from flat and the boulders could be easily felt through the mattresses. Pegs were absolutely useless too so the guy lines were wrapped around rocks and these were used to hold the tent in place. All told it was pretty ugly. We were advised to familiarise ourselves with the campsite during the daylight hours in order that we didn't walk off any unmarked ledges in darkness.

Camp before the snowBarafu Camp before the snow

Barafu Camp after the snowNot long later

The porters asked us to drink what was necessary to keep us hydrated but not to be wasteful as the water at this camp had been carried in from Karanga Valley Camp three hours (at our pace, probably about a third of that at the porters pace) down the mountain.

We were advised to rest for the rest of the day before we had dinner at around 5:30pm. So we retired to the tent and climbed into sleeping bags as the temperature now was freezing cold with the snow still falling outside. It was now that I started to see what all the altitude sickness fuss was all about. Well it hit me like a locomotive. It felt like my stomach was on spin cycle and that i wasn't sure if I wanted to hurl or put my bicycle clips on. No matter where I laid I couldnt get comfortable yet the slightest movement made me want to heave. I laid still and read, there was no point trying to sleep. I put this wholly to me pushing myself too hard on the final leg into camp and I was filled with sympathy for the other guys that had been taking diamox like sweets for the last few days.

I didn't sleep that afternoon and finally we were called for dinner. Fortunately once I was up I actually felt a lot better and ate well. Our final supper before the last push done and we went to the tent to put on the under layers we were to attempt the summit in and arrange all our kit so that we could just get up at midnight and head straight off with no messing about. It's staggering how long it takes to do anything with slow movement, stopping catching your breath every other moment and with a blank mind you struggle to remember what you did a split second ago.

All set for the off we went to sleep and didn't really sleep but rested well. It's funny I found that night that whilst I didn't actually sleep I felt pretty refreshed and revived and ready to go - the excitement and sense of trepidation were no doubt contributing factors to this.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 5 (Lava Tower Camp to Karanga Valley)

Lava Tower Camp : 4550 m
Karanga Valley : 4000 m
Ascent : 300 m
Descent : 850 m

This was the first night I didn't have a good nights sleep I put this down to both the altitude of 4550m we were now at combined with the constant pitter patter of rain on the tent throughout the night.

It turned out that the pitter patter wasn't rain at all but was in fact snow, when we woke up and surfaced in the morning, the setting was stunning with blue skies and the dazzling sun reflecting off the snow that covered the mountainside.

Lava Tower Camp after snow

The camp surrounded by a dusting of snow

After breakfast we left the lava tower camp where the normally grey Kilimanjaro moonscape setting that we'd become accustomed to in the last couple of days became more green as we descended the 600m into the Barranco valley bottom. Initially the grey dustiness turned green with grass and plants which became decorated with small trees and flowers. For some of the guys this descent came as a welcome respite from the altitude sickness, for others it was a bit of a frustrating loss of height.

Lobella on Kilimanjaro

Our head guide in front of a giant lobella

Towards the lower reaches we came across the giant lobella which are resident here and look quite like triffids in this surreal, other worldly setting. The group were continually stopping to take photos at as a result the guides had to have a word and a mild telling off as this caused for us to be behind schedule for the day. As we descended into the valley the enormity of our task reared up in front of us by means of the Barranco wall. This is a near vertical wall that ascends 300 metres from the valley bottom. From a distance we could follow the multicoloured zig zag of porters and hikers ascending out of the valley in the direction of Karanga valley camp.

Barranco Wall

Barranco Wall

As we got into the valley bottom we could see behind us the Barranco Valley camp which was used by hikers embarking on a shorter route to ours. The streams that we followed down into the valley were now considerably more than that and looked quite inviting for a dip although I did refrain - I've made this mistake before.

After a breather at the base of the wall we psyched ourselves up for the climb into the heavens.

We climbed the wall in Spiderman fashion (although for more haphazardly then the costumed one himself) on hands and knees due to the incline. As the floor started distancing itself from us the cloud closed in and the thunder started shouting at us in surround sound.

Climbing the Barranco Wall

Climbing the Barranco Wall

All of a sudden our gingerly, considered climb took on a sense of urgency. With no reference point as the valley bottom was only known to be down somewhere through the cloud we had no idea how long it would take for us to hit the deck in the event of a wrong footing ,whichever way it would certainly be sore. At one point one of the girls couldn't reach her foot over a gap we had to cross so a guide got hold of her foot and pulled it over ensuring it did.

We managed to climb over the wall top in the dry with the thunder still ringing in our ears and the lightning now flashing around us, the view into the valley bottom being none existent as it was totally obscured by clouds.

Packed lunches were handed out at this point by the guides whilst we were all fighting our waterproofs on in anticipation of the pending storm. We were given soup to go with the lunch and the guides took any opportunity to ensure that we were still taking on the recommended volume of fluids.

As we all chowed down on lunch the first specks of rain could be felt. Knowing that this wasn't the full extent of things everyone started filling their faces to get rid of the lunch box before the heavy stuff kicked in, which it did in no time.

Walking towards Karanga Valley Camp

Walking through rain and hail towards Karanga Valley Camp

The following two and a half hours of the afternoon was spent covering Kilimanjaro's undulating mountain wilderness with hail and rain pattering on our hoods as we pretty much looked at the floor for the duration covering the ground in order to keep the weather out of our faces.

As we finally turned the last corner (or so we thought) Karanga Valley camp came into view, which was such a relief after a pretty miserable afternoon. As we came closer to the came it became apparent that the mosey into camp wasn't going to be as straightforward as first expected. There was a 200 metre deep gorge that had to be crossed before we could call an end to the wettest days walking we'd had yet.

The saving grace was that the final ascent saw the end of the rain and allowed us to slog our way in in the dry. This was a relief as we'd pretty much had it at this point and the arrival in camp saw most of us head straight into our tents for a lie down. We could see how much rain there had been at the campsite as the porters had had to dig channels around the tents to keep the water away, the ditches were still full of water. This campsite was pretty rocky and was on a fairly steep slope. It was pretty busy with more groups than we were used to but this was the campsite that was located on a few of the ascent routes so had a tendency to be much busier than the camps on the quieter routes we'd been benefiting from.

Karanga Valley CampKaranga Valley Camp and the valley before it

As the light faded we were treated to an awesome sunset with Mawenzi silhouetted in front of an awesome panorama of yellows, oranges and reds. What a pleasure. The 600 metres of altitude we'd lost since the previous day helped marginally with the breathing, any assistance with this was a huge bonus.

Mawenzi SunsetMawenzi silhouetted by the sunset

One of the guys sleeping bag had been soaked during the days trek so he mentioned it to the porters who took it away and within 20 minutes it came back absolutely bone dry - how on earth they managed to do this on the side Kilimanjaro I am not quite sure, this will remain a mystery.

Today was Robert the chefs birthday so after our dinner we all sang happy birthday and he had a cake which had been brought up the mountain with fresh supplies. We all had a slice which brought ourselves and the porters closer together and was great for morale all round. Although it was a brief celebration it was great to have us all celebrating it together.

I slept well this night which was in the main part I think due to the lower altitude we were at.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 4 (Moir Hut Camp to Lava Tower Camp)

Moir Hut Camp : 4200 m
Lava Tower Camp : 4550 m
Ascent : 400 m
Descent : 50 m

I was awoken this morning, not by the welcome call of washie washie but to a full bladder. Not surprising really considering the amount of fluid I'd been taking on to keep my body hydrated in an attempt to stave off the altitude sickness. Reluctant to get up to relieve myself I lay awake. Great decision as it was no time at all until I heard the footsteps of the porter with our cups of tea and washing bowls.

Refreshed I got out of bed at just before 7, did the toilet duties and went to the food tent which was all set ready for us for breakfast. Breakfast consisted (as it did every day) of porridge, fruit , omelettes and bacon with as much tea or chocolate as you can plough through. By this point people were generally plumping for chocolate as the tea was a bit on the potent side and was solely for practical purposes rather than for enjoyment.

The trekkers were now starting to look (and smell) pretty worse for wear. One of the guys was chuckling about the wretch worthy pong his newly wedded wife's socks were emanating. Others were nursing blisters and illnesses as a result of the altitude we were at. A whole host of cocktails of drugs were being consumed in order to keep the symptoms at bay. Common medications were decongestants, pain killers and the altitude sickness specific drug of diamox. I didn't actually bother carrying any diamox nor did I need it. Most of the others that took it with then ended up relying on it and I think it helped to a large extent.

The effects of altitude sickness include but are not limited to headaches, tingly limbs, sleeplessness, nausea, digestion problems, diarrhoea, forgetfulness, shortness of breath and exhaustion although the latter are obviously closely tied to the lack of oxygen at that height. Up until this point I was firmly relying on Adams Ale and it was seeing me through nicely, I gleaned that whilst I could stay on top of it I was winning, as soon as you get behind and the nausea sets
in you can get little into your stomach due to the ill feeling and that which you do has a strong urge (quite literally) to make a further appearance not long later. Touching wood I was still feeling fairly buoyant and although every small task was becoming more laboured I still felt ok.

We left the camp at about 8:40 and trudged onwards. At the very outset the guides were urging us to slow down and take our time, there was no need fir this now the pace was really dictated by how people felt.

This morning the temperature was hugely variable, in the open the wind was biting but as soon as you found a sheltered spot the sun was fierce.

On leaving the camp the view of the mountain was pretty limited, obscured by clouds, giving us only a view of the foothills. However by about 10:00 the clouds has dispersed and we were blessed with a magnificent view of Kilimanjaro with glaciers and frozen waterfalls being clearly visible all over the mountainside.

Alpine dessert of KilimanjaroThe moonscape of the mountain

For the first part of the day we were blessed with empty tracks (apart from our superhuman porters that ran up the mountain passed us with our kit on their heads) as we'd put in an extra night with that camp so this path was little used.

Lava Tower of KilimanjaroLava Tower in the distance

It wasn't long before we could see the hikers and porters ascending a ridge line in the distance that we were to join on our way up to the lava tower campsite. It was a pleasure to walk with fewer people around you than to be on a mobbed route, it makes all the difference planning your trip properly to get the most out of it when you actually do it.

The group heads towards Lava Tower

Lava tower appears in the distance erupting for the sky a sheer pillar of rock. It wad at the base of this tower where we were to camp that night at an altitude of 4550metres. On arrival one of our guys spewed without warning, some of the team were showing true grit and determination forcing themselves onwards despite rejections from their bodies.

Sickness on KilimanjaroOne of the guys feels a bit ill

As was the normal drill we arrived at the camp to find all the tents put up with our mattresses laid out and our bags inside. We had a brief rest before lunch. Our afternoon acclimatisation walk was to take us to the base of Arrow Glacier at 4856m.

Lava Tower CampGasping for breath without wanting to get burnt

We descended out of the camp and crossed a couple of streams (which were the water source for the camp which of course included us), then the path started to go up and up. Now the cloud was quite bad (I'm using the word cloud rather than fog here as I think at 5000m you are for sure in the clouds rather than in fog which occurs around sea level) and we only had an intermittent view of the camp when the cloud allowed.

The camp in the shadow of Lava Tower on KilimanjaroThe camp in the shadow of Lava Tower

We hit snow for the first time and carried on into the clouds until we arrived at a deserted campsite with collapsed toilets and remnants of a camping ground which were proof enough that this place was no longer used. Despite being pretty much close enough to the glacier to be able to touch it we still couldn't see it due to the dense cloud good job we had the guides with us.

We didn't stop for long at all and trudged back to camp along the route we'd taken on the way up across the streams which were now swollen and brown where the snow above this point had melted running down the mountain side. It was mad to see the difference in just a few hours.

Dinner time on KilimanjaroDinner time

Tea and popcorn were ready for us when we arrived back to camp. We had a chance to sort out our kit for the night and arrange our beds by which time dinner was ready. This was made light work of and now feeling the cold most of us headed through the icy wind and cloud the few metres (which seemed considerably more) at around 830pm to get as much sleep as possible. Getting into bed was a real effort and left me breathless. I found that it had to be done in stages catching your breath in between. Even rolling over in the night was a strain, the altitude is slowing everything down more so day by day. It is as though you have a plastic bag constantly over your head slowly suffocating you at every turn.
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