Another early start today. We awoke to a frost on our tent and silver highlights all over the ground around us. Even so, there’s dust everywhere. No sooner have you cleaned it off your hands then you have to pick something up and they’re coated again. I’d expected not to be clean on the trek, but hadn’t anticipated this degree of griminess.
The sun was out though, so, after a successful test in the afternoon sunlight yesterday, I used a bit of double-sided Velcro to lash my solar panels to the back of my day pack and set my phone charging while we walked. We set off around 7am under clear blue sky, but by around 8:30am the clouds came up and we spent most of the morning walking through cool drizzle. I just hope it doesn’t get any worse than this; camping in wet weather is an especially miserable experience.
We got occasional glimpses of Mawenzi Peak – where we were heading to camp today – through the cloud along with touches of sunlight. As we walked, Lee had us check our pulses to see how much we were exerting ourselves, even though we were still doing the po-le, po-le. It turned out that we all had fairly high pulse rates; I was at 120bpm.
Today was a fairly short trek so that we could do an afternoon acclimatisation walk to a higher altitude. That’s how you avoid serious altitude sickness apparently; build it up slowly, climbing to a high altitude, staying there for half an hour or so and then descending to a more comfortable altitude. Then the next day you are acclimatised to your highest altitude and you can go higher to repeat the process. The height cues your body to produce more haemoglobin and returning to a lower altitude means you don’t suffer too much while it’s doing it.
We camped at a place called Mawenzi Tarn, a campsite around a small, shallow lake on the saddle between a minor peak and the much more impressive Mawenzi Peak. The vegetation is getting quite sparse now; all low-lying, clustering around lichen-covered rocks and dips in the terrain, with only occasional spots of colour. After lunch – which I managed to eat most of, albeit by force of will rather than desire – we strolled around the tarn to the Ranger’s hut in the centre of the campsite. They had a pair of buffalo horns on a stand outside and a couple of the Australians were getting photographed lining their heads up in front of the skull so it looked like they were growing horns.
After we’d signed-in with the Ranger I investigated the camp’s toilet facilities. They were small cabins with squatting holes in the floor, built out over a cliff-edge. I can see why Team Kilimanjaro make a thing of providing a portable toilet; the camp facilities were all pretty nasty. In most of them people had had rather bad aim but not the civilisation to clear up after themselves. Consequently most of them stank pretty badly. I did find one that was reasonable and made use of it. Not an unpleasant experience; just different from what I’m used to.
Later on we went for an ‘excursion’ up a ridge towards Mawenzi Peak for acclimatisation to the altitude. Mawenzi is quite a jagged mountain; there were several comparisons to Mount Doom and the climb gave us some impressive views. People also seem to like balancing piles of rocks here, stacking them up in little piles on any surface to hand. Huw and Lee both added to the towers on display as we enjoyed the top of our climb. The clouds blowing in and out around us periodically gave great views of Mawenzi and the lands below us, so I had plenty of fun with my camera.
As we were getting ready to descend, Ian, our Canadian friend, arrived with his own guide. Lee, who seems to like adopting personas when being photographed, persuaded us all to be photographed with faces appropriately scary for the imagined pedigree of the mountain.
We descended and had dinner. My appetite wasn’t huge again, so again I forced myself to consume food. Normally I’m a great believer in listening to my body, but I’d seen enough advice from previous travellers about this; although the altitude suppresses your hunger, your body still needs the fuel for the exertions you’re demanding of it; you need to make yourself eat, even when you don’t feel like it. The altitude symptoms tonight were nowhere near as bad as last night; I didn’t have much appetite, was short of breath and had a bit of a headache, but I was still quite functional.
After dinner, we taught Huw how to play poker using leftover snacking peanuts as currency. It turned out to be a fun evening’s entertainment, playing cards, all wrapped up in our arctic gear because of the cold. That’s one very noticeable thing here; the sun sets quickly and as soon as it’s gone, it gets very, very cold.
We turned-in early again, around 8pm, but as I wasn’t feeling especially tired, I took my camera up to one of the small rock mesas nearby with Huw and took some long exposures of the camp and Mawenzi by moonlight and also a few shots of the stars. I slept intermittently again and ended up giving up the attempt around 1am, so got up and took some more shots by night.
The silence is very pure here when it’s quiet. With all human life asleep and the wind dropped, there is absolutely not a sound to be heard. It is quite beautiful.
The air here is very dry compared to last night. We had a frost last night and, while there was moisture on the tents when we turned in tonight, by the small hours there was no sign of it on the canvas or on the ground, but it was still very, very cold out there.