Machame – Shira Two
Hike: 5 km
3022m – 3830m
“The words steep, rocky and dusty are out adjectives for the day as we leave the grassland behind and enter a barer landscape. We make our way slowly upward with a backdrop of Giant Senecias — today is a great introduction to how we will need to acclimatise as we ascend by having the trail lead us up and down and over ridges.”
END: SHIRA TWO CAMP
Sarah was sick.
We didn’t know if it was something she’d eaten, altitude sickness, anxiety (or it could’ve been pregnancy for all we knew) — but her dinner had decided that it wanted a little fresh air the night before, and so she was having a rough go at Kili.
We decided to take it slow on Day 2 and see how she fared.
But first things first — I had to conquer a challenge of my own that I’d avoided the day before:
Using the outhouse.
If you get squeamish quickly, I advise you to skip to the next section (marked by the next horizontal line… after the next horizontal line.)
I knew that outhouses weren’t for me as soon as I walked in one. Maybe it was the door that didn’t entirely lock. Perhaps it was the smell of all those who’d come before and that which they’d left behind. The mosquitoes were a massive pain in the — wait for it— ass.
But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. You can’t expect to eat all the stuff they shove down your gullet and expect to block out the call of nature forever.
It’s all about the technique, though. You need to simultaneously:
- squat in such a way that you’re folding your body into a “Z” while
- keeping your legs apart enough to maintain your balance (because you don’t want to fall in there), all while
- aiming to make sure you hit the mark of a tiny little hole on the floor of the outhouse
Not the most comfortable experience I ever had. But you do what you’ve gotta do and move on with life. There’re a couple of lessons to learn here:
Lesson #3: Eat as much as you can! You’re going to need to eat as much as possible if you plan to make it to the top!
Some problems you’ll face with this are:
- your appetite waning as you make it farther up the mountain
- your appetite waning as you get homesick and realise that you only have strange food to eat that you’d typically never touch
But your stomach only has so much capacity, and if you’re hitting your limit — trust me; it’ll make the entire outhouse thing so much easier.
Lesson #4: POOP. All kidding aside, this is a serious lesson. The less weight you’re carrying — both inside and out — will make the entire climb a lot easier for you. Don’t let your cultural differences bring you down!
So with that out of the way, it was time to start Day 2!
Even though we couldn’t believe it, Day 2 started with an even steeper climb than everything we’d experienced on Day 1, scaling boulders as we quickly ascended through temperate zone #3: heather and moorland (2800m-4000m)!
Now while Day 2 might not have been as physically exhausting as Day 1 (part of this being due to walking at a slower pace, the other part due to having learned my lesson from Day 1 and carrying a lot less), that didn’t make it any safer.
Even though we’d cleared the forest, the rain was still an issue — the thing about Kili is that you could very clearly see the weather coming at you well before it changed! Being near the rainy season, you could get unobstructed views of your surroundings in the early morning (6:30 – 9:30 AM), in the evening (6 – 7 PM), and everything in between (aka sleepy time).
The problem was the sunshine — as the sun beamed down, it would heat the moisture trapped in the clouds below. What this means — and I wish I’d taken video of this (but when you’re climbing a mountain, you tend to have other priorities) — is that you can actually see the mist creeping up the mountain slowly heading toward you (like a horror movie), until your surroundings eventually look like this:
And when the mist comes, rain was never too far behind. Mountain climbing with low visibility and slippery surfaces. Nothing to worry about here, right?
No, climbing wet rocks is a lot harder than climbing a dry route — as I would discover as I misplaced my footing on a slippery rock ledge once, clinging to the rock I was already on for dear life — the only alternative being the 100 m drop below! (I CAN’T MAKE THIS UP!)
After going pole pole with frequent rest breaks, we eventually reach Shira Two Camp, and while the clouds still decided to stick around for a while, we still got slivers of sunset:
Some napping and dining later, and we’d call it a night, preparing for whatever Day 3 had in store for us.
Shira Two – Barranco
Hike: 10.4 km
3830m – 3900m
“We start out this morning with a gentle hike before encountering rocks and boulders that we need to manoeuvre around and by lunch we reach Lava Tower (4530m). We enjoy our meal before having the option to ascend Lava Tower to have a fantastic view down to our team and across to our camp for the night.”
END: BARRANCO CAMP
And then suddenly, I was wifeless.
Not in the strictest sense of the term, mind you — we’re still married today and she’s still alive — but Sarah’s sickness won the battle after another night of her dinner not staying where it should, and as of morning three we would bid her adieu with her making her way with the porter Samuel to the ranger’s station so she could get a ride down the mountain and back to Ahadi Lodge to recover.
On one hand, we were all concerned and hoped that she would have a speedy recovery so she’d be up and running again. On the other hand, somewhere on the dark side of Casey’s mind, a thought was brewing:
Wait. So she convinced me to come on this insane climb — and now she’s not even going to finish??? How is this fair?!
But of course, this was unfair. Despite the fact that being sick made the climb utterly miserable for Sarah (though I didn’t have the faintest idea what would be on the menu for me in a few days!), she did put an effort out — so I need to commend her for that 🙂
So yes: then there were three.
I don’t know whether it was due to having gone slowly the night before and having stored up a huge reserve of energy, or because I wanted to get off of the uphill portions of this mountain as quickly as possible because they always proved to be harder on my legs, but this was the day where I usurped Trevor’s role of The Beast and zoomed ahead on the brutal climb at the beginning of the day (we’re talking 3 – 3 1/2 hours of rocky climbing on a 30° incline, here!), putting a good 10-15 minutes between myself and Trevor and Sakshi. It was less having a wealth of untapped energy, and more just utter stubbornness. When Sakshi later asked me what my secret was, I told her my mantra went a little like this:
“You stupid mountain, I’m going to climb you! YOU CAN’T STOP ME.”
And that’s what kept me going. Like I said — a large part of climbing a mountain is the mental game to keep you going while you’re trying to get to the top, so as long as you focus on where you’re headed:
(while of course taking some time to appreciate where you’ve been:)
it makes it easier to conquer the mountain, bit by bit. After accidentally heading off of the trail a couple of times, having other porters point me back into the right direction until I got fed up and decided to wait at The Junction (a point where you either choose to go straight to Barranco Camp or take the more scenic route toward Lava Tower and a view of Arrow Glacier, used to acclimatize climbers for the higher altitudes of the mountain), where I’d eventually be reunited with my friends:
Now, you might be wondering which path to take. Sakshi took the route back to Barranco Camp — as you can see, she was pretty tuckered out. Totally fair — it was a tough climb! Trevor and I decided to brave the scenic route, but let me remind you: by this time, you’ve done 3 – 3 1/2 hours of gruelling uphill climbing, fording narrow rock passes and trying not to trip over the loose rocks.
Lesson here? If you choose the Lava Tower path, I promise you — the route is designed to turn you into minced meat. Seriously.
Ascending was bad enough — up and down and up and down through gorges, over rivers and through rocky pathways — but the descent. The descent was very likely the worst punishment I’d received on the climb so far!
Photo courtesy of Trevor Craig
You take it quickly, climbing down a path that no human being is meant to take so fast — and before you’re prepared for it — BOOM!!! — altitude headache! This rendered me near-useless and disoriented until we got to camp, where Advil would become an excellent friend to Trevor and myself.
Climb time: 8:15 am – 2:50 pm, 6 hrs 35 mins
Suggested climb time: 8-9 hours (while I know that this wasn’t a race, there’s a certain degree of pride in overachieving!)
Height climbed: 2160 m
Distance walked: 23.6 km
Day Three tried valiantly to kill us, but the bright side is that Day Three wasn’t nearly as hard as Days Four and Five promised to me!
Which I was trying not to remind myself!
With that, we had some time to rest and play some games what quickly became our favourite game on the trip — Race for the Galaxy — in Château de Casey:
But really, it was only a distraction from the promises the next day had in store for us, including having to scale the beast known as Barranco Wall… but that’s a story for next time.