I woke up to the sounds of the camp. Tent zipping open and closed. The sing-song sounds of Swahili and the birds crowing. I had made it through my first night on the mountain and needless to say, did not sleep well. The ground was as hard as a rock, our tent was on an angle just like the mountain itself and I was frozen cold all night long despite the low elevation. It would become a regular battle for me each and every night trying to figure out how to stay warm, how to not have to get up in the middle of the night to find the toilet tent and how to remember in the pitch black darkness which green Zara tent was mine. For me, sleeping was going to be the hardest part of the climb.
The second day climb would take us from 9,780 feet (2,980 m) to Shira Camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 m) passing through rainforest glades, the vast open moorlands and up to the Shira Plateau where the treeline ends and the vegetation becomes sparse. In total, the climb is roughly 4 miles (7 km) taking anywhere between four to six hours depending upon speed.
We ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, fruit and freshly made chapati bread (there are a lot of Indian influences in Tanzanian cuisine) and then were on our way. We set off around 8:30 am along with all the hundreds of other climbers, going up a steep, narrow path in single file line. The first hour was rather laborious and frustrating because when one person or group stopped, it set off a domino effect going down the mountain stopping us all. Thankfully the trail widened and opened up a bit later into the hike or it would have been a long, annoying day.
As you climb up out of the forest and lush tropical trees, you enter heather and moorland filled with low-lying shrubs, less vegetation and a thick coating of mist and fog hovering over the forest. It is quite beautiful and the higher you climb, the more you feel like you are floating on top of the world.
What makes the Machame Route so incredibly spectacular is the constantly changing ecosystems, cloud covered views and the amazing, unique species of trees and plants some of which are endemic to this part of the world. There truly is no place like it.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky”. – Rabindranath Tagore
As I hiked, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clouds. I think years later the clouds will be what I remember most about climbing Kilimanjaro. The heavenly, serendipitous beauty of the clouds at different times of day and how they changed with the movement of light and shadows from the sun.
The hike was relatively short and easy. Just a little after one o’clock, we got our first sight of Shira Camp, which would end up being one of my favorites. I was elated to arrive so early and have some time to relax and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. My journal was packed along with a good book. I couldn’t think of any other place I’d rather be.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds”. – Edward Abbey
As we approached Shira Camp, we caught our first glimpse of Mount Mero in the background. Mount Mero is another favorite peak to climb which has a lower elevation (14,987 feet) and takes about half the time as Kilimanjaro. It is one of the top ten highest peaks in Africa and is an active stratovolcano.
I learned from the porters that Kilimanjaro is believed sacred by some people. They never ever climb it but worship and treasure it instead. After spending the afternoon and watching the sun set over the clouds, I could see why. I was utterly awestruck by the view around me.
Soon we arrived at Shira Camp where I would spend the afternoon gazing at the clouds below me. It was going to be a special sunset. I could feel it.