I woke up well-rested and at ease at Shira Camp. I had slept better since I’d finally figured out the secret key to staying warm at night: Hot water-filled Nalgene bottles at the bottom of my sleeping bag. Our American guide, Chaney, told me to fill them up right before bed with the boiling hot water that we use for our evening tea. I arranged one bottle at the foot of each leg and voila, it worked like a charm! Chaney also instructed me to dress in breathable layers. I slept in my long underwear, hiking pants, wool socks, long sleeve DryFit t-shirt, top layer DryFit pullover, Spyder over-layer, fleece jacket and wool hat. I scrapped the additional Gortex jacket that I wore for dinner and left it next to me for that awful time at night I had to climb out of my warm sleeping bag and find the toilet tent.
Although it sounds like an awful lot of clothing to sleep in, it was just right. It gets pretty darn cold on the mountain and the higher you climb, the colder it gets. Being warm at night was critical. Otherwise you were in for a long, brutal, uncomfortable night.
Our hike today would be one of the longest ones of the climb except for the summit day. Beginning at Shira Camp (12,600 feet/3,840 m), we would head east up past the end of the vegetation for five hours up to Lava Tower at 15,190 feet (4,629 m) where we would have a hot lunch and break. Next we would descend back down to Barranco Camp at 12,960 feet (3,950 m) where we would spend the night at a lower elevation. The main purpose of the hike was acclimatization (it is highly recommended to go up and sleep lower to get your body used to higher altitudes).
The joy of each morning for me was the freshly brewed Tanzanian coffee that our guide Chaney brought. He made a fresh pot each morning in his French press and waiting the six or seven minutes to brew was torture. It was much better than the instant coffee! I also enjoyed the eggs, hot chapati bread and fruit. Loading up on calories was critical to ensuring you had enough energy to make it to your next meal.
We set off around 8 am to yet another gorgeous sunny day. We had lucked out tremendously with the weather as it was beautiful every single day of the hike, did not rain, and was relatively warm. Just a week before us they had to almost cancel the summit attempt due to high wind and bitter cold (rumors were it was 20 below zero F on top!). Little did we realize how lucky we would be!
As we headed out on our climb, the landscape began to dramatically change from rainforest and moorland to dark black rock. It was a fascinating hike! If we stopped to look on the ground, we could see pieces of obsidian (black volcanic glass) and I put a small piece of it inside my pocket to bring back to my daughter as a souvenir.
The geological origin of Kilimanjaro dates back to the formation of the great Rift Valley over a million and a half years ago. Kilimanjaro’s volcanic activity originated in three main volcanic cones: Kibo (the highest), Shira and Mawenzi. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim. While Shira and Mawenzi are extinct, Kibo lies dormant and could erupt again someday. (Good thing I didn’t know that before I climbed!).
Hiking up to Lava Tower, I was reminded of Kilimanjaro’s eruptive past. The views were stunning and it felt a little like being on the moon. There was no vegetation in site and lots and lots of rocks to maneuver around. Here are some photos in a gallery from the climb (Click on a picture to view enlarged):
We arrived at Lava Tower, a whopping 15,190 feet (3950 m) a little past 2 pm, famished and exhilarated at the magnificent site before us. Lava Tower was formed by lava thousands of years ago when Kilimanjaro was an active volcano. Its sharp peak stands alone and jets up about 300 feet into the sky making it an interesting climb for those inclined to do more. I chose lunch and saving my knees over climbing up Lava Tower!
There is nothing like a freshly cooked, hot meal after a strenuous hike. I devoured my vegetable curry and home-made chapati bread. We still had a few more hours hike to Barranco Camp where we would be spending the night. I didn’t want to go hungry.
Stay tuned…Hike to Barranco Camp coming up next! Get ready for some of the most amazing vegetation you’ve ever seen! High Alpine desert.