I slept better last night than any night previously; I woke up around 1am, but got pretty much straight back to sleep and slept through, almost until the 6am wake-up.
This morning we all took full advantage of the washing bowls. We were camped near benches for the first time plus, with the warmth of the sun in the early morning, it wasn’t a problem to take off the layers we’d slept in. Everyone had a good upper-body wash and Lee and I managed to wash our hair. It improved everybody’s mood tremendously and we set off into a clear morning, with the summit in sight and looking reachably close.
It was another desert walk, although this time steeper and more broken up with rocks as we were onto the shoulder of the mountain. Po-le, Po-le is now a familiar pace and, going up hill, often the only one we can manage. At this altitude (upwards of 4,000m) any exertion leaves you out of breath. The conversation is now minimal when we are walking; your entire universe is taken up by following the pair of boots ahead of you and keeping breathing.
I’ve mastered the art of breathing through my nose while sucking water from my Camelbak into my mouth and then timing my swallows so that I lose the minimum number of inhalations. Previously every sip of water had left me gasping for breath afterwards and in this heat and wind, you really do need to keep on top of your hydration!
We took a long break mid-morning to give the porters a chance to pass us with the camp equipment and luggage. We found that there was mobile signal to be had for the first time in several days, so everyone was calling home. I didn’t manage to get through to either Brett or my parents, but left messages for both and sent text messages to Brett so he could update the Twitter account.
From our vantage point we could look down on the saddle/plain between Kili and Mawenzi and see just how far we’d come in the last few days. It was quite magnificent and humbling, to see the size of the terrain and to think of how much more of Tanzania and Africa lay hidden beneath the clouds that lapped around the shore of what we could see. Between the plain yesterday and the mountain today, I don’t think I ever had an inkling that so much gravel existed in the world! The whole experience of this trek leaves one with a sense of perspective about one’s size compared to the planet. It brings home just how tiny we are, which both reminds you of your insignificance and makes you appreciate what human determination can achieve.
Another reminder of the fragility of life was also presented to us on the ascent today; trapped in the entrance to a small cave is the mummified corpse of a buffalo. It had tried to edge into the crevice for some reason and then been unable to get out and died where it lay. There was no smell or real indication of decay, so we assumed the climate had long since desiccated the remains.
We reached the School Hut Camp around midday and the porters gave us a song in welcome with which we all joined in eventually. Around the same time the mist reached us too, so we were straight out of our light walking gear and into the cold-weather layers to rest.
Lunch was cheese pasta, beans and donuts, followed by tomato soup and mango slices. I checked my phone again as we ate and found that Brett had replied to my voicemail (he’d been in the shower when I called) and forwarded a few comments/questions received via twitter.
After lunch we each retired to our sleeping tents for a nap in advance of the acclimatisation hike in the afternoon. Not long after we lay down we were enveloped in a hailstorm. While I hate camping in bad weather, there is nothing more enjoyable than being snug and warm inside a tent, listening to the sound of rain or hail stones on the canvas!
By 3:30pm the hail had stopped and we were, somewhat groggily, ready for the altitude hike. It was a slow-moving group again. I checked my pulse and it was pretty high. It did make the grogginess disappear though. That seems to be how the altitude sickness works; while you are exerting yourself, you don’t feel it. The only times we’ve felt the symptoms have been when we’ve sat down after walking, typically before a meal, as food seems to relieve the symptoms somewhat, even though you don’t feel the appetite to eat it.
We followed the route we would take tomorrow for our ascent to the summit. While there were no particularly remarkable features on the trail, the higher we got, the more impressive was the view back down to the desert plain between these two great mountains.
On our return to camp we found that the ravens had been into the tent. While they had scattered some of Lee’s gear, nothing seemed to be missing so we took it as an object lesson about remembering to fully zip up the tent flap when we left it!
Tomorrow night, after summiting, we would be camping in the crater. Samuel, our guide, had advised us that we should pack a communal bag containing only what we’d need for that night and that the rest of our luggage would go on to the final camp at Horombo Hut, where we’d rejoin it the following day. When it came down to it, none of us had much additional to take with us! Because we’d be leaving early tomorrow morning, we’d be wearing all our cold weather gear, so apart from toothbrushes and odd bits of additional clothing to change into, none of us had much. We eventually filled one small sports bag!
None of us suffered particularly with altitude symptoms that evening. We ate by candlelight in our full arctic gear, Chris having finally given-in to the cold and put on his long-johns! By about 7:30pm it was pitch-black and below freezing. We made a half-hearted attempt at evening games, but gave up fairly quickly and turned in to get the most sleep we could before beginning our trek to the summit in the morning.