Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 3 – A Lava Tower, Then All Hail Broke Loose

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.

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

This view early on Day 3 certainly motivated us to tackle Day 3’s challenge

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).

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

Some little vegetation…

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

… gives way to no vegetation in no time!

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).

Lava Tower shrouded in clouds

Clouds coming in to the Lava Tower camp area

At the Lava Tower in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Celebrating arriving at the Lava Tower with my hiking buddy for the day, Melanie

Making it to 15,200 ft is a celebration worthy moment.  For us, that meant a warm lunch!!!

DIning tent while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our dining room on the mountain

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.

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area

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.).

Daypacks covered during a storm in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Stormy weather in Kilimanjaro

The umbrella person was not one of ours, for the record. They may have just been blown away by the winds after this photo was taken…

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.

Hail on Mt. Kilimanjaro

See the MONSTROUS pieces of hail?? The humanity!

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).

Barranco Camp in Kilimanjaro

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.

If you have not yet, subscribe to this blog so you can get notifications when new posts come out and Like ilivetotravel’s page in Facebook where announcements and other items are posted (don’t worry, I won’t inundate your wall with posts – one per day or so!).

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Back to Day 2

On to Day 4

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 2 – The Moorlands and Shira Camp

While the excitement of getting going made Day 1 a great day, Day 2 was no less exciting.  For many of us in the Trekking for Kids group, that was mainly due to the change in the landscape (and maybe having one day under our belt?).  Day 1 on the Machame Route had us hike through the forest zone at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; nice but not terribly interesting (at least to me).  We had heard Day 1 could be tough if it were raining or had just rained with the mud, etc.  But we had good luck on the weather front.

In any case, on Day 2, we moved into what is called “the moorlands“.  And it was a landscape I really liked, offering interesting plants and great views as well.  But before we got going on Day 2, I took a look around when I got out of my tent at the Machame Camp (at 10,200 ft / 3,100 m) and this is what was waiting for me!

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

The top of Kili!

A moorland?  What is that?

I had no idea what moorlands were prior to the hike.  So I looked the term up and it said it was a climate zone at some elevation with low-growing vegetation and fog.  In the end, the descriptions I had found didn’t really help me conjure a good mental picture though the Wikipedia article actually had a picture of Kili’s moorlands.  No worries, I was about to spend a whole day hiking the moorlands of Kili so I stopped trying to get that mental picture.  And these are some of the sights of the moorlands!  (Hope they give you a better sense of the moorlands than Wikipedia gave me.)

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro with fog behind it

One of the most interesting plants we saw on the climb

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro

Another interesting plant of the moorlands zone

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Great example of the terrain and sky that day! Here a guide walks in front of me

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

The trekkers making their way in the low vegetation and fog typical of the moorlands zone

Great vistas were part of our reward on Day 2!

We left camp early in the morning around 7:45 AM under a great and beautiful blue sky.  We could see neighboring Mt. Meru in the distance which made for some good photos of the view.

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mt. Meru in the distance

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro

I told you it was a photo opp spot!

The trail that day was pretty rocky but not in an intense way as other days.  Interesting larger rocks along the way also made for photo opps that the group did not let go to waste.  This group let NO photo opp go to waste!!

Rock in Mt. Kilimanjaro's moorlands

Hikers on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Everyone trying to get their photo taken on this scenic spot

A beautiful place to spend the night:  Shira Camp

We had had a great day but it was to get better after the 5.5 mile (9 km) hike:  Shira Camp at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) (a gain of 2,400 ft in the day), where we were going to stay that night, was one of the most beautiful spots I saw on the entire climb.  It overlooked a ridge (the Shira Ridge) and, turning 180 degrees, would leave you facing the summit of Kili.  It was breathtaking, especially at sunset.  We were fortunate that we got to camp about 6 hours after we started (around 2 PM) which allowed us ample time to soak in the views – and get good rest before the challenge of Day 3!

Approaching Shira Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When we first spotted the camp – notice the fog

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

We enter camp and look for the green tents of Zara Tours

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro - Zara Tours tents

We finally found our tents and everyone proceeded to settle in. We had THE BEST location in camp!

One of our trekkers, Annie, had brought, of all things, a couple of small kites, and it was neat to watch her and others fly them.  Myself? I joined fellow trekkers Olivia and Austin in doing some stretches after the long day of hiking – but enjoying the great views while at it!

Flying kites in Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Kites on Kili

One of the spots with the best view of the ridge and, therefore, a great spot for a photo opp also seemed to be the best spot for a cellphone signal as a few guides would sit on those rock and text away for a while.  This spot also happened to be like within 10 ft (3m) from the toilet-tent nearest to my tent – a place I would visit a couple of times during the night as Diamox (the med you take to help prevent altitude sickness) is a very effective diuretic…  One of the best pieces of advice we got pre-trip was to bring a so-called “pee bottle” so one could relieve oneself within “the comfort” of one’s own tent… Easier for guys than gals, I am sure.  Of course, if the bottle runneth over or a case of bad aiming hit, neither would not be a good situation (not alluding to ANYONE in the group…) so care must be taken in the use of said bottle…  Sometimes though, the bottle did not have enough capacity for production so one still had to go outside.  That was a slight pain as one had to put on the shoes, maybe a jacket and long pants, find the headlamp, etc.  But I never failed to fall asleep easily upon returning from these small nighttime outings, mercifully…

I am not sure how this post took such a turn, dear reader, so I will bring myself back to the more pleasant topic of the hike…  OK, since I have already brought the topic up, here is a gratuitous photo of the portable toilet in the toilet-tent. (I know some of my friends and family are DYING to see a pic of one of these.)  Are you glad I went “there”?

Toilet in a tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro

At least I made the picture smaller than the rest…

So, quickly switching gears (warning:  awkward turn of topic coming…), this day we had one of our many favorite lunches:  grilled tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwiches!  A real treat and we all gobbled up these babies up happily!

Grilled sandwiches during our Kilimanjaro trek

Grilled sandwich goodness!

When it is all said and done…

So all these make for great memories of Day 2 but these are the images that really capture the “awesomeness” of the day for me.

Sunset at Shira Camp with clouds going by hikers

Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro as its backdrop

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!

Back to Day 1

On to Day 3

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 4 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

%d bloggers like this: