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The margarine was frozen solid at breakfast. The most we could achieve was to shave off thin strips and place them on the (already cold) toast. While the lunch and dinner menus vary, breakfast always consists of a thin porridge, slices of mango or pineapple, toasted bread and a one-egg omelette and frankfurter each. It’s getting a bit tedious, but we managed to force it down.

The ravens appear to have followed us up the mountain, but we are wise to them now and no-one lets them get away with anything; everyone is happy waving arms and screeching to frighten them off.

After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Ian. He is taking a more direct route to the summit than we are, as he is well acclimatised by virtue of having done lots of high-altitude trekking in Taiwan. We exchanged email addresses and he pointed me to his photoblog, chronicling his trips to date.

Getting ready to set off

Getting ready to set off

We set off around 8am and, within half an hour, we crossed a ridge and suddenly had a fine view of Kilimanjaro ahead of us. The sky was clear and you could see every detail of the mountain, including the glacier atop it, brilliant white, like a starched clerical collar standing above the grey of the rock.

Crossing the Alpine Desert

Crossing the Alpine Desert

We spent the morning trekking towards the mountain across a desert of grey and red gravel. The saddle between Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi is classed as Alpine Desert, meaning almost no vegetation and, regardless of whether hot or cold, very dry. In the desert we passed the wreckage of a light aircraft that had crashed there some years previously. It was just a few large pieces of superstructure, the rest of it, presumably having had value either for resale or crash-investigation purposes, had been hauled away but these pieces hadn’t warranted it and had just been left. A reminder of how remote a place this is at 4,000m above sea level.

Although we could see Kibo Hut (a common base-camp for the summit ascent) in the distance, that wasn’t our destination. Instead we veered across the plain to the Northwest to camp at a lower altitude known as Third Cave Camp.

The sun was quite merciless as we crossed the saddle and came down what looked like a (dry!) channel for water run-off. Despite drinking plenty of water, I think I caught a mild touch of sunstroke as I was very listless when we finally reached camp, set up on the side of the channel. Even once we were at camp there was very little escape from the heat. It wasn’t long after noon and we are not far from the equator; the sun was directly overhead, so there was very little shadow to shelter in. The tents, while they gave respite from the sunlight, acted as greenhouses, trapping the heat.

Huw did manage to sleep in his tent, but reported waking up stuck to his mattress with sweat. Chris spent a while reading in the mess tent simply to avoid direct sun, as he burns easily. Lee and I mooched about trying to find comfort. There was no mobile signal to be had so in the end, I sat in what little shadow I could find under the small awning on the mess tent, drank and tried to read my Kindle.

The clouds did begin to build up into the afternoon so the air became more bearable. I managed a “wet-wipe shower” in my tent, which left me feeling better. Finally, around 3:30pm, the mist rose up to envelope us. Typically, after suffering through the scorching heat, it rapidly got cold and we had to wrap up again.

Relaxing after dinner

Relaxing after dinner

Dinner today was a thin chicken soup with bread, a number of African vegetable pasties (very tasty!) with salad, followed by slices of mango and the tiny bananas. While the food is plentiful and tasty, it often comes in odd numbers; for example, we’ll often have five bread rolls between the four of us – or in this case nine pasties. Nobody has yet fallen out over who gets the last banana, but it just seems odd that it’s prepared this way. Surely the numbers could be rounded up or down without it causing an insupportable increase in weight?

Over dinner, we discussed “Don’t Tell The Bride”, a reality TV show where a couple get their wedding paid for, so long as the groom does all the organising without reference to his bride. The show inevitably reveals that the groom in question has got no idea about what kind of wedding his future wife would like, and we all got to wondering whether they know each other well enough to seriously take an oath of life-long commitment. I couldn’t resist noting that it’s not the gays who are destroying marriage; the chavs got there well ahead of us!

From there we went on to play poker again. Huw’s Beginner’s Luck inevitably deserted him and Lee took the pot tonight. We followed that with a session of “Room 101”, where we’d each make a case for something to be obliterated from existence and forgotten about. I don’t recall everything we covered, it was quite a lively session. Chris’ argument in favour Red Trousers being wiped from the face of the earth failed to convince the jury, but I managed to get rid of pointless meetings. Huw put forward Cornish Nationalism, which led to a discussion about the distinctions between nationalism and patriotism and the evening eventually wound down into casual debate.Chris making a photo, in every sense!