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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