The day began with a gentle wake up call from the porters at 6.30am. They would tap at the door to the tent and say ‘Good Morning!’ and bring us a fresh bowl of hot water for washing (to which I would reply Nzuri asubuhi and Asante sana which means ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you very much’ in Swahili).
Once we were all packed up and had a hearty breakfast of millet soup (like a runny sweet cream of wheat), toast, eggs, sausages and fruit, we were ready to head out on the the trail again. Although the distance to cover would be less today, the expected hiking time remained about the same since the higher altitude would surely begin to slow us down.
At Machame Camp we had just cleared the rainforest and now on this leg of the journey we carried on through the heather and moorland. Instead of luscious green trees, we saw giant heathers, shrubs, grasses and a more rocky trail which reminded me of those in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Although the morning started off crisp and cool, it soon warmed up with the clear skies and sun overhead, and since there were no longer trees to cover and shade, I had to be particularly careful today to use my SPF 50 sunscreen. It was also on this first segment of the day that we began to get our first views of just how far we had come, but also just how far we had yet to go.
The trail gently ascended the whole way. It is likely because I was going my natural pace and the temperature was a bit lower, but although on a continuous incline, I felt that the hiking was easier today and felt quite happy and confident with the progress. It meant that I was still able to savor the experience, taking in the views and enjoying the moments.
This was not so, however, for the many porters on the mountain. They each had a mission to pack up camp and transport it as quickly as possible to the next destination and get it all set up and ready for us by the time we rolled in. This meant that we had to constantly give way to them to pass and I am still amazed at their strength and stamina. They were about 4 times as fast as us and carrying twice as much (often balanced on their heads!), taking no breaks and not stopping until after we were in bed and rising early to be ready when we got up. I realize that this is what we hired them to do but I often felt a sense of guilt and as though I should be carrying far more myself. It also meant that there was no time to personally get to know these people who worked so hard on our behalf. I could only hope that the tips we intended to leave would be enough to express the sincere gratitude I felt for their support.
About four hours into the day’s trek, the trail ascended into the clouds and the temperature began to drop. However, the clouds did not last long and after another couple of hours we emerged above them and at Shira Camp.
After the usual registration, designation of tents, and a break for a hot drink and popcorn, we all set off again for a short acclimatization hike up to the higher Shira Camp 2. Apparently it was once allowed to camp in the caves but since a tent would not fit and the nights are so cold, a campfire was required to keep warm. Unfortunately, the campfires had caused several wildfires to spread and so the national park has since prohibited anyone from doing so today. This is also where you can site the helipad and the last place on Kilimanjaro for aerial rescue. Fortunately it is not used much – only about once a year according to our guide.
Overall, I was grateful that I was not experiencing any problems with the altitude. My stomach and appetite were perfectly fine and I had no headache. A few in the group, however, did notice their appetite declining and one person reported developing a mild migraine. At 3800m (12467ft) it is expected that most will experience some degree of symptoms. I am certain it was mostly due to the Diamox that I lucked out. I am also convinced that going a bit slower and drinking at least 3 litres of water helped.
At any rate, I was ready for a good nights sleep and again retired to my tent around 9p after enjoying a beautiful sunset above the clouds.