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The climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro  
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Day Two - On To The Mountain

   

Out of the rainforest, up through the Heath and into the Shira Plateau!

2/20/10: Day two on the mountain started out the same way the next 8 days would begin: With coffee, tea or hot water delivered to our tent, followed by warm water to wash with, a quick packing session followed by a full breakfast in our mess tent. I can not say that we ever lacked great food or great service. Team Kilimanjaro took care of everything. The staff, whom I was beginning to get to know pretty good, was very accommodating, and Joshua ran a pretty tight ship. He was amazing to watch, kind of like a conductor calling on each section to play its piece, and to play it with perfection. His team was a well-oiled machine. Every person had his respective duties, and they performed each task with precision and a smile.

Seen here is our first actual breakfast together. From left to right is Nathalie, David, Bruno, Sach, Barry, Marek, Angie and myself. On the table is everything from hot water for tea, mayo, peanut butter to coffee, honey and milk substitute. Each day our breakfast would begin with porridge, followed by some sort of egg main course, toast and fresh fruit. This was the most important meal of the day in that we would need to pack on as much energy as we could for the extended hike that usually followed. At this point, we had no idea how long our hikes each day would be. Yesterday was a day of mostly driving before we finally had the chance to exercise our legs. I was anxious to find out what today’s hike would be, and maybe less anxious when the day was finished and I realized that I hiked quite a distance. I am glad going into the day that I did not know how much ground we would cover, it would have been intimidating.

Breakfast with the team
day 2

After breakfast, we loaded up all of our gear, turned our duffle bags over to the porters, secured our daypacks with rain gear, energy bars, sun screen and anything else we might need throughout the day. The porters took down our tents, and we all set out on our second day of hiking.

Joshua ran a pretty tight ship and kept everyone on task, along with motivated us to get moving. Seen here is the campsite as one of our porters begins to tear our tents down. In the background, Bruno, Marek and David have a conversation as they get their gear together. The other people you see are other hiking parties who shared the campsite with us last night. It was a very busy campsite, and the monkeys in the jungle scared the dickens out of me. It was really strange, I heard a screech on the left of the then, then the right. It sounded like a monster was circling the tent, it turns out is was a series of monkeys. It was a wild first night in the jungle for sure.

Angie is ready to go as another porter works on tear down. Behind Angie is our own portable Loo, or lavatory that was carried up the mountain and set up at every stop. A luxury well worth its weight on the mountain.

Angie ready to go

Joshua

Joshua ran the show. This is a great man and a very skilled mountaineer. I truly miss him. That was one thing that made me sad this week on the mountain, that I knew after these nine days, I probably wouldn't get to see these guys again. Team Kilimanjaro employs some really amazing people.

As we hiked, most of us asked Joshua and the other guides questions about the terrain, the mountain, local customs, and the like. One of my questions was what is there in this rainforest that can hurt us? You know, is it possible to be eaten by a lion, strangled by a big snake, beheaded by headhunters, what? Joshua told me about a stinging Nettle, a plant that can sting you and the irritating pinch last for up to 12 hours. He explained that Milkweed, which is usually found in the same area as the nettles, is the remedy for the sting. Well of course since I was wearing my “light” hiking gear since we were in the warm rainforest, I had the opportunity to experience the stinging nettle. One plant got me right on the knee. Like the yellow fever shot I agonized over for weeks prior to getting it, it was not that bad. It hurt a bit, was irritating mostly and it was too much work to try to get to for the Milkweed treatment so I just kept hiking with it. Eventually I had bigger things to worry about and it sort of went away. That night however the entire area around the sting was sore, much like a bruise. So I learned firsthand about the stinging nettle.

To the left of David’s ear, you can see hikers on the trail down below, which is where we’d be in just minutes, then following along you can see the duffle on the head of a porter as he climbed up the trail and further up you can see another porter as he ascends. Welcome to the rainforest trail, lush, green, full of sounds and smells. This is what we paid for, it is what we saw in the brochures, it was everything it was supposed to be. For the most part, the trail was not that challenging. We were constantly reminded to go “Polle Polle,” meaning “Slow, Slow.” We went slow as to allow our bodies to acclimate slowly as we hiked. We could have all trudged at a much faster pace than we were relegated too but that was not the plan. “Polle, Polle” was the order of the day. I did find out however that by starting out and maintaining a slow, constant pace I was able to reserve my energy better. Actually I really found this out when I tried hoofing it quickly, as I experienced shortness of breath immediately. At this point, we were at around 10,000 feet elevation, and though it didn't seem like we were that high, we were. The air was thinner and any over-exertion lead to heavy breathing and the need to try to get more air, which did not seem to be there. So, settling in and listening to our guides, “Polle Polle” became the way.

Rain forest

I this photo, the trail went down hill first, you can see climbers just to the left of David's ear, then up the other side, where you can see two porters hiking through the rainforest.

This was more of the rainforest trail, seen here is a convoy of porters.

Lush, green rainforest. It was hot and muggy, but pleasant as can be.

The rainforest is thick, dense, and intimidating. One would not want to wander too far off of the trial, not that you could. It is simply too thick, and full of stinging Nettles.

As I climbed higher and higher, Lichen begins to appear on tree branches. This clearing provided a brief view of the valley below.

As we climbed higher and higher, it became evident that the environment was changing. Once we reached a ridge, our guides said, “We are leaving the rainforest and entering the next climate zone. This was evident by a cool breeze blowing across the mountain top and all of the beautiful opaque lichen sailing in the breeze. It was a mystical place up there, and we were all feeling something special inside. We took a break when we reached this ridge, and it was nice to kind of look around at the surroundings.
A friend of mine sent me an email prior to my climb that said to be sure to look around and enjoy every moment of this journey. I held those words close for my journey and attempted to really look around as much as I could. The reality of it though was this, unless we stopped to take a break, it was really hard to look around. I mean my focus really was on the trail and what I can see most vividly in my mind today is the boots of the person in front of me. Each step had to be placed just right or an ankle could be twisted, a knee could be injured slipping in the mud, a root could trip us, there were many reasons to keep one’s eyes on the trial so unfortunately, I was unable to look around as much as one would think. But usually when we stopped for a breather, I clicked off a few pictures. Don’t forget, we also had our hands full of hiking poles usually, and thank goodness for them. They really saved me in that not only did they provide stability but also helped the legs pull me up this mountain. I highly recommend two hiking poles, don’t leave home without them!

This was the point where the rainforest ended. The terrain was about to get very different. Marek takes in the moment with his camera.

lichen on a tree
the environment began to change

Once we left the rainforest, we would hike up and down the foothills to Kilimanjaro in this terrain. It was steep, and full of these types of plants. I should know and remember what they were called but, well I don't. These plants were sharp though, if you brushed up against them, you could really scratch yourself. It was rocky too, and pretty steep most of the time.

Many people have asked me, what did you see when you were hiking? It is funny, but this is pretty much what I saw, other people's packs and heels. I mean I had to constantly look down at the ground ahead of me to make sure I placed my foot in the correct spot. A twisted ankle, or even a broken leg accidentally stuck in a hole could have been the end of the trail for me. So until we reached a resting spot, where we could all look around and take pictures, it was hard to not focus on the trail.

Our guides

Here are our guides, Frank, Joshua and Felix. These are some of the finest human beings I have ever met. They are happy, strong, confident and positive. I learned a lot from each and everyone of them. Joshua is a leader of leaders. Thank God we had him as our chief guide. If you choose to climb Kili, I highly recommend Team Kilimanjaro and these guides. They are the best!

So welcome to the Heath climate zone, our guides for the day were (l to r) Frank, Joshua and Felix. These are world-class professional guides that truly love this mountain. The pride of the African people, pride for their country, their mountain and their jobs is simply amazing. I mean my Americanized mind thought they were smiling cause of big pay, or bonuses or some sort of prize for getting us up the mountain. Joshua simply explained that this mountain is his office, and his enjoyment comes from seeing people like me summit. His job was to make that happen. He accepted the challenge and enjoyed the ride while doing it. Felix is Venance’s younger brother. He is a fine young man, that I would really enjoy getting to know further. When we were at the weigh station I told Venance I was worried since my day-packs felt way too heavy. He lifted it and agreed. That is when he pointed out Felix, his younger brother who was loading the gear on top of the truck. He told me if I have any problems, see Felix and he can help me. That made me feel better, knowing I had an “ace in the hole” if I needed him.
Mountain girl extraordiness!!! She is strong, she is smart, and she is determined. I wish I was as confident as she was. Nothing scares this girl.
Mountain Girl
We were rising above the clouds as we hiked. I tried to remember to turn around and take a picture as much as I could. Looking back, the real world slipped away!
The only wild life I saw this day consistently was the White Necked Raven, called Kongrudru in Swahili. These birds were big, and they really weren't scared of us. You probably think they wanted food but I think they were just more curious as to what we were doing.
Kongudru

down in the valley

As we crossed over a lower ridge, we headed down into this valley which is where our porters, servers and cooks would have lunch set up and waiting for us. The interesting point this this photo to make is, the trail, which went up the other side. You can see midway up the mountain a red coat and some white duffle's as the porters make their way up the trail. "That's the way," our guides would say. But lunch first!

As we climbed up the ridge, the environment quickly changed. The trail became much more rugged, the vegetation became somewhat less friendly and the climb became much steeper. The few times that I as able to look up to see where we were going I would get a quick blast of, “Oh my goodness, we are going up there.” Usually I could see other climbing parties, or porters way up in the distant, going over some far away ridge that seemed days away. I tried to remember what my buddy Tom Brand always says, “If you want to take a good picture, just turn around and see where’ you’ve been.” So I turned around a lot, that is when I realized how far we had hiked, and how high we were getting.

Lunch time! Our guides decided to forgo the tent, it was a beautiful day, let’s eat outside. Of course there was our table, with all of the condiments, hot tea and a hot lunch followed by fresh avocado, tomatoes, oranges and peppers. Funny thing I learned at this point was the oranges were green. I mean they tasted exactly like an orange but the skin was green. Who ever heard of such a thing, I felt they should have been called “greens” not “oranges” or as we know green fruit, Limes. Though they weren't bitter or sour like a lime, they were oranges!!! “Okay, why sweat the small stuff? I’ll have a few of those oranges as well…” Pictured below left Angie and I settle in for lunch while on the right (l to r) Peter serves a refreshing lunch course to Bruno, Barry, Peter and Sach.

Angie and I settle in for lunch

After lunch, it was back onto the trail, UP! We hiked and hiked, kept putting the next foot in front of the other, before long, we reached the ridge. At this point, we hiked along the ridge higher and higher before traversing off on a side trail that took us down into the Shira crater. The Shira crater is a 500,000 year old volcano that has basically kind of just melted into the ground below. This would be our camp for the evening. It took a while to get there however so once heading off of the ridge and into the valley I was relieved to see the camp up in the distance. One thing I learned however, even though you can see the final point to where I was heading, it never was as close as it seemed. So sometimes your better off just coming around the corner or something and realizing that, ‘Hey, we’re in camp’. That’s how I like to find camp, not seeing it from far away. That reminds me too much how far we have to go.

This IS one of those opportunities to take a look around. We reached the top of a ridge that you just saw in the video. It is time to take a break, check our rain gear, catch what little bit of oxygen we can find, and prepare to keep climbing. At this point I figured we were getting some place, considering we hiked up and out of the rainforest, over a big set of ridges, down into a valley to eat lunch, then up this big ridge that you saw in the video. Surely we are getting close, right? Looking back, we were maybe a little over half way to our Day 2 destination. Polle Polle the guides would say, and keep moving.
Top of the ridge
Mountain Man
Mountain man extrodinaire! Hey, it's my website, I can say these things.

This is a shot of some of the interesting plant life, growing right out of a lava rock. Nice colors and life.

Actually, this photo was Angie's idea, and a good one. I tired to remember her ideas. She said, "You see this rock, this is what I would take photos of IF I had a camera." Two big points here, A) This is what she would take pictures of, and B) IF she had a camera. Interesting!

Funny thing here is I was reluctant to take this photo, but I'm not stupid. I took it. But it meant turning the camera that I had just turned off, back on, and I was on my second battery already with only one battery left, and 7 days to go. So as you follow along this adventure on this website, you may notice less and less insignificant photos. Each photo I would take in the next several days was preceded by the thought, "Is this photo worth not getting a summit photo?" This one was, cause Angie asked me too. And those I always took.

nice picture of rock on kili

Once we hiked the ridge for awhile, I turned around and took this picture. You can see porters coming all along the ridge, including way off in the distance. That is where we came from. Today’s hike has already been quite a long ways, and we were pretty much above the clouds at this point. Seeing the town below would not be something we did regularly once above the clouds. Also in this picture my might notice our friends, Konguru, or the white necked ravens. The seemed to keep us company all the way up the mountain. I am pretty sure they were not the same ones each day, but to me they were. I enjoyed having them along.

Wow, leaving Moshi behind us. Somewhere down there is the African town of Moshi, obviously beyond all these foot hills. What a beautiful scene though.

Look at the porters way off in the distance on the ridge.

I know these pictures are somewhat small on this website, I am trying to conserve space. But see if you can spot the white specks along the ridge. Those are porters carrying our gear from lunch, catching up to us and will eventually pass us. But that is the ridge we just hiked up to, and then along to get to this point.

flowers

Ants! Africa is full of ants. Though I was not bit by any, Angie was bit in the knee by a big, black ant that she couldn't get out of her pants fast enough. And that is not easy to deal with when you have to claw through hiking pants, usually a base layer and your Gaiters to try to get to the critter. Even so, I was amazed by the different ants we came across. The Cocktail ant lived in the environment we were hiking at this point. They live in these big nests that they build up off of the ground because they don’t like the water and flooding. These nests, which usually seem dormant, quickly come to life when bumped. Take a look at this video and see this next spring to life. I don’t think you would want to lean into one of these, at about face level never the less.

Coctail ants

When we saw ants, our guides usually said, "Very Dangerous!" These ants were not as dangerous as some but they sure were active. These nests grew up off of the ground in the vegetation. No ant can be seen in this image but take a look at this video to the right as I bumped the nest.

tuft seats on the moutain

We came across what seemed like a watershed that had these large grass tufts just inviting us to sit down and rest. Maybe it was a trick or something. I said, “This would make a wonderful album cover for like the Beatles or someone.” Marek, Bruno and Angie took the opportunity to sit down in Kilimanjaro’s waiting room.

We were above the town now, above the rainforest and above the clouds. The scenery was awesome. We were accompanied with a light rain, which was more refreshing than it was a nuisance. Little puffs of clouds spread like smoke signals from Indians below, sending us some sort of message that I was unable to translate. This was a really interesting portion of the journey, seeing these lush green foothills from this vantage point. I mean, I saw all the pictures beforehand, but actually standing in the middle of it, and looking back, was simply breathtaking.

Geting higher and higher
We reached the Shira plateau (left), now it was a matter of crossing the plateau to our campground, Shira Camp 1. Still up ahead, I knew the mountain was there cause the guides told me it was, I still had not actually seen it – officially. Where is this thing? Somewhere under those clouds I guess (right).

Finally the clouds parted for a moment, the great mountain was revealed. "Holy Smokes," I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" The answer, a dream! At breakfast yesterday, all cozy here in Ohio someone asked me, "Was it worth it, all of the money?" The answer is right here to the right, "Hell yes it was worth it!" What do you think? Have you ever climbed something like this, on foot, and slept on this? This experience was worth every penny.

Joshua told me that there was a blizzard going on right now on the mountain. We were in a steady light rain, and the mountain was in a steady snowfall. Thank you to the snow, the mountain was illuminated for us. If you notice the sloping incline towards the right hand side of this mountain, that is the Western Breach, and the route we were taking to the top!

Finally, I have seen this mountain in real life. It was only day two of the ascent!

finally the clouds parted for a moment

Now if you are like me, you might notice that the mountain looks a little different than in the photos usually published in a magazine or website. This is because we were approaching the mountain from the less traveled side, the West! Exposed and laid right across our site like was the Western Breach, the route we would be taking to the top!

I had officially now seen the mountain, I remember just spending several moments at camp just marveling at the beast. I spoke with Joshua for a while and he detailed our route to the top. It didn't look that bad, but he reminded me we were still quite a ways away from the mountain, which tended to get a little more intimidating the closer we got. I could tell he was right, just looking over the ridge (above) which is somewhat in focus in this picture shows a very distant mountain, and a couple of days worth of “Long walks” ahead.

the mountain did not turn out in this photo, but it's there, right behind us! Joshua, David and I took an opportunity to stand here and drink all this in. It was drizzling right now, but we didn't mind. It was worth getting wet!

I was getting to know Joshua a little more each day. This day, the end of day two, I stood in the rain talking with him, learning more about him, and what gives him joy. He explained to me that he gets his satisfaction when he sees his climbing parties reach the summit. He has a wife and two children back home in Arusha, but this is the busy season, and most of January and February is spent on this mountain. In fact, two days after we come back to base camp, Joshua will head back up the mountain with a new climbing party.

It is hard being away from his family he explains, but this is his job and he truly enjoys it. He said to me, “This is my office man, and I love it!” I realized then, I was standing in his place of work. This is where and what he works towards every day. Wow! Africa baby, what a life!

There she is, Mount Kilimanjaro. No longer a mystery to me, I was now able to get on with wondering what I had actually gotten myself into. The night before when we had arrived at Shira Camp 1, while we were in light rain, the mountain was engulfed in a snow storm. This allowed the mountain to really glow, as it does in this photo. I love snow, it does not slow me down in the least. Snow to me is like a walk through the garden. It adds beauty, complexity and life, a still life that can only be appreciated when one experiences it.

The mountain now, has the sun rising behind it. It's shortly after 6AM when I took this photo. The west is the best way to approach this mountain, at least for me!

The next morning for breakfast, we left the mess tent flap open to expose the best view ever in a restaurant, the western face of Mount Kilimanjaro. I remember telling the group that this is the best restaurant in Africa. It was kind of a long walk and hard to find, but if you did you would be rewarded with great food and a wonderful view. Each day, for our delight, the sun rose in the East behind the mountain, illuminating this wonder for us.

Day two completed!!!! More to follow as I have most of the next few days written, I just need to resize and post the photos. Check back, I hope to have Day 3 up by today or tomorrow!

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