Morning greeted us at Shira Camp where we had arrived on Day 2, and we started our way up around 8:45 AM to the famous Lava Tower of Mt. Kilimanjaro (though, admittedly, I had not heard about it before I signed up for this trip…). Excitement combined with anxiety as to how I would perform at the higher altitude. Our hike on Day 3 started at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) and would peak at the Lava Tower at 15,200 ft (4,630 m). I had not been that high before (airplanes aside). Not the longest climb we had done so far (that was on Day 1 of the Machame Route). But given the altitude, I expected a challenge.
Climb high – and then come back down? Seriously?
So, the plan for the day was to go up to 15,200 ft. I remember reading the itinerary and thinking “wow, only 4,000 ft more to go to the summit!”. And then I read we would end the day at 12,700 ft, barely above our starting point at the Barranco Camp. “Say WHAT??!!!,” I jived to myself. I quickly learned how smart this approach was.
The “climb high, sleep low” approach allows for the body to exert itself at higher latitudes with lighter air but sleep at a lower altitude where more oxygen in the air would help the body recover. As I learned, this would help the body adjust to altitude better. I am not sure one fully adjusts to the altitudes in the mountain but you are closer to that with this approach.
The way to the Lava Tower
So off we went, walking in semi-desert terrain. It is amazing how the terrain is so different every day of this climb. It keeps it interesting. I heard the Machame Route is actually the best to truly enjoy this diversity and, as far as I could tell, it was definitely true of the route (though I cannot personally compare it to other routes).
As the day went on, the skies darkened and, at different times, fog or clouds passed us, like right after we arrived at the Lava Tower (around 1 PM). The Lava Tower, one can safely assume, is made from the rocks that the mountain spewed during its volcanic heyday. But for me, what was more important when we got there was the fact I had managed OK to get to this altitude (“OK” does not mean piece of cake; but it does not mean “barely made it” either).
Making it to 15,200 ft is a celebration worthy moment. For us, that meant a warm lunch!!!
Every day, our porters would set up the tent at camp and serve our meals there (though, normally, lunch was taken on the trail during a break). The food was so good – or was it just we were starving from the exertion?? I think it was a little bit of both.
So let’s go down from Lava Tower to the Barranco Camp – piece of cake
After having succeeded in climbing to over 15,000 ft and surviving the thinner air during the one hour lunch break, it was time to go down to camp (and more oxygen density!). We felt at this point we had this covered – everyone was in great spirits, talking and laughing. We exited the Lava Tower Camp area by going between two very large rock formations and proceeded to go down.
Well, Mother Nature had a different plan for these hikers. Just after we cleared the rock formations and had proceeded down the rocky terrain some, the weather turned. A little rain and we all got geared up (covering our daypacks, putting on the hard shell pants, etc.).
And then it started to hail.
At first, we actually kind of liked it. Cool was the word. Until it started hailing harder.
Our collective recollection now is it was hail the size of a small motorized vehicle. That day, they were the size of mansions. Upon closer examination of our pictures, the hail was the size of small pellets (my fellow trekkers may kill me for revealing this). However, this group of trekkers had been spoiled -er, blessed- with awesome weather so we can be forgiven for talking about this hailstorm for a day or two as if it had been a preamble to the Apocalypse.
We got to camp (still raining some) around 4:45 PM and quite a few folks had to make a run for number one or number two since we had not made any stops during the hail/rain. No one will forget our guide’s impression of one of our trekkers who was suffering more from an urgent number two run. As we discussed the day over dinner, we all kept talking about the storm. Until our guide, Luis, proceeded to tell us that the storm had lasted exactly 1 hr 47 mins and that, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of bad weather in the mountain, this ranked as a 0.5. We pondered his point for a moment and, I believe, someone asked for the mango plate to be passed…
E.T., phone home
The Barranco Camp, where we were going to spend the night, was my second favorite camp after the Shira Camp. I think it was the sense of proximity to the summit combined with a nice setting (though not the expansive vistas of the Shira Camp).
One of our trekkers managed to get mobile network signal at this camp and offered the phone for quick calls home for anyone interested. Having a Cuban mother, I decided I had to take advantage of the opportunity to tell her I was eating well and alive (I think those are her priorities for me, in that order). She was ECSTATIC to hear my voice, that I was eating food, and that I was alive. Thanks, Annie!!
More of the scenery
Barring the summit, my favorite vistas were coming to a close. That does not mean there were not going to be other great views but the best for me had been Day 2 and Day 3, in that order. Before you close this browser window, a couple more pictures of the scenery of Day 3. Day 4 will be bringing the Barranco Wall – something that had me wondering how scary would the wall be… Stay tuned.
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Back to Day 2…
On to Day 4…
Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek: