We got our wake-up call at sunrise. Because we’re so close to the equator, days are consistently close to 12 hours year-round. The longest day in a year is about 12 hours and 19 minutes with sunset at 6:42 PM. The shortest day is about 11 hours and 55 minutes with sunset at 6:28 PM. So there’s really only about 25 minutes of variation throughout the year–if you count on sunrise at 6:30 AM and sunset at 6:30 PM, you’re on pretty safe ground.
It was cool last night without being cold–down into the 40s. By the time we set off this morning at about 8:30–after a hearty breakfast thanks to our wonderful camp cooks–it was into the low 50s.
I feel good as we set off, but that changes. There’s no point mincing words–today was bloody hard, unexpectedly so. Part of it was the terrain. During the day we crossed up over the top of the forest zone into the heath zone. But it wasn’t a straight climb up–we seemed to spend most of our time dipping down into valleys. Our overall altitude gain was about 2,500 feet for the day, but getting there involved a lot of up and down.
That made it a long day, but what I found hardest was that we’re well into the zone where the reduced oxygen at altitude starts to affect the body. That threshold is usually considered to be about 8,000 feet. That’s why the cabins of most commercial passenger planes are pressurized to about that level during flight. But we’re starting the day at 9,154 feet and heading up to 11,500 feet. Everyone reacts differently to altitude. Some people’s bodies acclimatize easily and quickly. It turns out that mine doesn’t. By the time we reach camp, I’m utterly exhausted, dizzy, light-headed, and even my resting heart rate is faster than normal. No headaches or nausea yet, but they’re the next things to expect. This constant exhaustion and dizziness sticks with me for most of the rest of the climb, making even the smallest exertion a hard slog. Not until we start descending on day 7 and reach 15,000 feet again do I quickly feel energetic and “normal” again. The porters and guides, on the other hand, never seem the least bit affected. It’s one of the many reasons we’re in awe of these guys (all the porters are men in our group, although apparently there are some women porters who work on these expeditions). But later we find out that one or two of the new porters, whose bodies hadn’t acclimatized yet, also struggled.
Making up for the exhaustion are the spectacular views. After lunch, we round a bend and get our first view of the summit. It’s still a long way away–we still have to cross the Shira Plateau, which is mercifully flat–but there’s no mistaking Kibo summit with its permanent snow cap, a very rare sight in the heart of Africa.
And on the way, we also got above the clouds for the first time. It’s strange and exciting to be looking down the layer of clouds without looking out a plane window. It gives us a real sense of actually making progress on this climbing thing.
By the time we hit the Shira Plateau, we’re well out of the forest zone. The trees have been replaced with small grasses and shrubs interspersed with the distinctive Everlastings.
Shira 1 Camp is very different from Big Tree Camp–there are no trees here. It’s in an exposed area with no protection–there’s nowhere to hide if the weather turns bad or the cold wind comes up, and you can’t help feel sorry for the rangers based here in their ramshackle little hut reeking of propane.
But, again, the view makes up for it. It’s still a ways away–we still haven’t finished crossing the Shira Plateau–but we have a clear view of Kibo Summit from our tents.
And being above the clouds and in an exposed area far away from any major light source also means that we get our first taste of the spectacular night skies up here.
This is part of a climb diary I put together with photos from each day on the Lemosho Route. You can find the other posts below. I’ve also included some gear tips for climbing Kilimanjaro and some ideas on what to expect from your climb.