Kilimanjaro: Day 5
Tuesday, September 28
One of the more interesting pieces of advice Thomson provided was that we should carry a "personal urination receptacle." I'm not sure why no one had thought of this before, but I suspect that one would never dream of asking one's tent-mate if it was okay to use such a thing in such close proximity. Somehow having it there on the punch list gave us the license to carry one. Encouraged no doubt by the diamox, they were clearly put to good use overnight. Too good. I was in severe danger of overflowing my container(s).
Meanwhile, you will recall from the flight down to KIA that CHI-D and Mick sat together in the lanky-persons section. CHI-D was also one of the folks complaining about how heavy the rental sleeping bags were. He can now confirm the irony that despite the weight, it is not long enough to reach his shoulders. Amusing here, now, at this low altitude, but not so amusing as it gets higher and colder.
In other wardrobe malfunction news, the gaiters that zipped up like a champ yesterday after 20 years on the shelf, took ten minutes of wrestling to zip up this morning. I'm almost late for departure, and by then I'm hot and cranky, not a good start to the day.
But a better start than for others in the party. We were shocked to learn this morning that simba has already lost its first member: Sheryl was already getting the classic headache and nausea symptoms. She'd had trouble at fairly low altitudes in Colorado, recognized the symptoms and did not want to repeat that experience so she was heading down the mountain. This left her husband Bruce on his own, which must have been a terrible blow. Or at least it would have been for me. But he was one of those people with a coat-hanger in his mouth—he didn't seem capable of not-smiling or being uncheerful.
For the first hour or so we're still in the forest. At one point where we stopped for a water break the bearded lichens hung so prolifically from the trees that it looked like snow. NYC-D grabbed some of the lichen and draped it around his chin. Sunday says "he looks like Mr Christmas!"
As apparently every porter knew, this was also a spot where your cell phone worked (and it seemed like they all had one). So practically every one of them dropped his load and pulled out his phone. I asked one of them if I could take his photograph and he said "as long as it does not appear on FaceBook." Okay then.
Wilson continues to point out flora as we walk along, including the African Yellow Wood which is one of the bigger trees in the forest, and what he called almentia a shrub that had leaves said to be a cure for stomach ailments up to and including dysentery. (I can't corroborate this name.)
Wilson is an interesting guy, who amongst other things owns a 50 acre farm on which he grows bananas and coffee commercially. "There's nothing like your own coffee, home roasted" he boasts. I don't doubt it. I asked him if the farm supported his trekking habit, or the trekking supported the farm. Without hesitation he responded "trekking supports the farm." Which is telling, because you would have thought fifty acres was a reasonable-sized property in one of the poorest nations on earth, so if trekking makes even more than that (and he of course is combining the incomes, not choosing between them) then he must surely be making a decent crust.
As it does in the White Mountains, when the vegetation changes it does so very dramatically, and we're suddenly in the alpine heath. The much shorter vegetation opens up the views, so for an hour or more we can now look backwards off the mountain. Then we crest the Shira Ridge and can see forward too, but of course Kibo is still hidden in the clouds.
Grasses now dominated the mountain slopes, too, picked out here and there with some splendid wild flowers including the yellow-flowered Protea kilimandscharica . Another is the back-garden favorite Kniphofia thomsonii, better known to most as the red-hot poker. That's what it says in the book. Of course to me it is far better known as Kniphofia thomsonii. Brian: "let me get this straight: the only plant in the world to bear your name is also called 'red-hot poker'?"
At first I thought the two Dougs were together. They were constantly sparing, and were often the epicenter of the group conversation. More accurately, now I look back, NYC-D was the subject or instigator of a majority of group topics, and CHI-D was just the most willing member of the party to take the bait. But relationships were now becoming clearer. CHI-D, Nick and Stacy are all work colleagues, and Stacy and Spencer of course are a sub-unit of this gang. So only NYC-D and Paul are running solo.
Not that any of this matters—as fast as these lines were becoming clearer they were eroding again as the team became more and more homogenized and folks walked and talked with whomever was close by at the time. It was wonderful to discover that there were no thin skins. NYC-D in particular seemed to have been everywhere and done pretty much everything (including being an eye-witness to the second plane plunging into the WTC tower on 9-11) yet even a pretty heated discussion about Israel and the Jews was treated with truly noble patience and determination to defend his point of view and yet not cause offence (or becoming offended).
The Shira Ridge
The Shira Ridge is the oldest and smallest summit on Kilimanjaro. It is the least impressive peak, being nothing more than a heavily eroded ridge, 13,oooft (3962m) tall at its highest point, Johnsell Point. This ridge is, in fact, merely the western and southern rims of the crater formed by the original volcanic eruption.
The Shira Plateau is a large, rocky plateau, 24 sq miles (6,200ha) in size west of the Kibo summit. It is believed to be the caldera (collapsed crater) of the first volcanic eruption that has been filled in by lava from later eruptions.
It was around this time that Waldo somehow let it be known that when he had left home he had turned off the water and gas. To his eternal credit, what he failed to correct for the aghast but admiring crowd was their assumption that his wife was still at home, whereas in fact she was at that precise moment gallivanting around Amsterdam, where we had dropped her off en route. It came up regularly after that. "Dude! Can you believe the cahones on that guy? That's awesome." Reason #145 it was a good job there were no ladies present to slap us around. Amazing how brave we can be in their absence.
As we pulled into camp, Danken was there to greet me, and as soon as we were settled in our tents, bowls of warm water appeared for us to top and tail with. We're now over 11,000ft, and close to a personal record I suspect. Everyone seems to feel good still, though I'm intrigued to see in my notes that everyone, including the guides, already seem concerned about Nick who is looking more tired than the rest of us. Probably a greater concern, especially to the guides, is that he is not eating enough. Still, if I remember correctly, his vitals were okay as measured in the mess tent that evening.
Finally as the light started to fade, we caught our first glimpse of the mountain. What a fabulous sight. Many folks expressed concern about how formidable it looked, but here's where our White Mountain training provided an unexpected advantage: I know the final ascent is only about 3000ft; and given how close to vertical some of those New Hampshire climbs were, I know Kibo cannot be any steeper than that; and I know that under normal (sea level) conditions we have breezed up such slopes in under two hours. So although there are plenty of other things to worry about, I absolutely do not need to worry about how tall the objective looks. It's actually quite comforting to be able to lay the issue so firmly to rest.
The triangular windows of the mess tent remind me of an Apollo command module, and so does the space inside. But what we lack in space we certainly make up for in quality and quantity of food. A typical breakfast is porridge, omlettes, bacon, toast, peanut butter and of course coffee. A typical supper: a good thick, potato-based soup; meat, for example mango chicken; starch (pasta, potato, or rice); and a dessert.
Also present at every meal was fresh fruit and or vegetables, as a salad, or just cut open. Passion fruit, bananas, pineapple, papaya. Cole-slaw, tomatoes, celery. But this presents a huge dilemma. Everything we know about travel in general, and to Africa in particular, screams DO NOT EAT FRESH STUFF unless you can peel it yourself.
It seemed a travesty to have folks hauling this heavy food up the mountain when we had no intention of eating it. Thomson had done it's part to head this problem off at the pass, and Andrew handed around a laminated sheet explaining how they keep the food clean. There was a lengthy discussion, and in the end the committee reluctantly agreed that:
With varying degrees of enthusiasm, we all picked at the fresh stuff. The sharp tang of the passion fruit was my favorite.
Once out of the forest, take a steep track into a savannah of tall grasses, heather, and volcanic rock draped with lichen beards.
Copyright © 2010 Richard Thomson