Kilimanjaro, Day 2
Mti Mkubwa Camp (2650m) - Shira 2 Camp (3850m)
The sun has barely risen when the guides announce the wake-up call. I dress in my sleeping bag, then emerge half an hour later. Who needs an hour to get ready when there’s no shower?
Breakfast is served in the tent, where a feast is laid before us. Porridge, roasted tomatoes, carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, toast, both cooked and raw bananas, and oranges. How can anyone eat this much food so early in the morning is beyond me.
Set off time was set for 7.30 a.m. but we don’t get going until 8 a.m., following the lead of our guides. We are all silent at first, listening to various birds calling out through the trees. It’s not long before we see a family of blue monkeys, much larger than yesterday’s troupe. They swing away as we approach.
I’m only wearing my hiking pants, a T-shirt and rain jacket, while Danny is layered up with his fleece, arm sleeves, beanie and gloves. It’s not often he wears more layers than me. I’m not freezing while we're walking, but if I stop I’m on the verge of going numb. Sunlight flickers through the leaves, but the tall trees prevent its warmth from reaching us. I look forward to the uphill segments, powering up every incline to keep myself warm.
The path continues as it did yesterday - uphill sections, flat sections, but nothing too strenuous at the slow pace we're moving. It narrows for a while, our legs brushing past the damp foliage lining the edges. Juniper trees, covered in old man’s beard moss, dot the forest, creating a enchanting landscape for us to hike through.
About an hour after starting out we enter Zone 3: Moorland Zone. The trees become shorter, the ground drier and more rocky, and we are treated to views over the surrounding mountains. Manyama points out the stunning proteas that have appeared, resembling miniature corn cobs when closed but opening into grand, white flowers when in bloom. There are also many varieties of everlastings, the rainbow of colours adding to the captivating scenery.
One of our breaks is at a "picnic site" (gravel patch) with almost 360 degree views of rolling green hills around us. This is more like what I was expecting on Kili. The sun feels warm on my skin but the crisp breeze has me reaching for more layers. As with every break, I’m eager to resume the trek before I start shivering.
As we continue up the steep, uneven path clouds start to roll in, completely blocking out all views around me. At times we scramble up large boulders, slowing our pace down even further. I notice that I’m running out of breath more quickly, and I almost work up a sweat. My legs are keen to push hard but my lungs are resisting. We catch up to a group of porters, who I guess are also feeling the effects of the incline and the altitude.
Eventually the gradient levels out, the terrain becomes more sandy, and there are occasional breaks in the clouds. Turning a corner we suddenly find ourselves looking out over the vast Shira plateau, an old volcanic crater. Shira 1 Camp, our lunch spot, is in the centre of the plateau, while Shira 2 Camp, tonight's destination, is off in the distance. The peak of Kilimanjaro stands right before us - entirely covered in cloud. Disappointingly, only the lower portions are visible. Aside from this, it's a magnificent sight.
It's an easy, although rocky, downhill walk to Shira 1, and we breeze along the path. We are now in the higher moorlands, where trees have given way to tall grasses and shrubs. Manyama points out a tiny chameleon sitting on a branch, then spots buffalo prints in the dry mud. I search across the landscape but there are no buffaloes in sight. Clouds drift across Kili, allowing us to catch tiny glimpses of snow on its slopes, but it is yet to reveal all of itself.
At Shira 1 Camp we are delighted to discover that the porters have assembled our tent, allowing us to eat inside, out of the bitter wind that has picked up. While we are devouring our fries and salad the temperature plummets, dark clouds appear and rain starts to fall. Earlier, FC mentioned that if there was any rain it would only be a short, misty shower, but this downpour is determined to prove him wrong. It's heavy and it's clearly not passing any time soon. We wait it out in the tent, bundled up in multiple layers.
An hour later the rain has reduced to a light sprinkle, allowing us to commence the 10km trek to Shira 2. The route through the scrubland is easy to follow, alternating between dirt, gravel and larger rocks (and thankfully, no mud). There is a slight incline but nothing demanding, and our pace is much more rapid on this section. A couple of creek crossings add variety to the otherwise monotonous walk. Fog lingers in all directions, crushing any dream of Kili sightings.
In the morning the guides had suggested a detour to the Shira Cathedral, a lookout over the flatlands that I was keen to undertake. However, due to our prolonged lunch/rain break and the lack of visibility, we skip it.
Throughout the afternoon we experience patches of sun followed by patches of rain. Kili constantly teases us, displaying segments of itself through gaps in the clouds before swiftly disappearing again. We have no idea how tall it is as we haven't seen the summit yet. My only distraction is the changing face of the mountain, hoping that all will be revealed.
After five hours of intense watching, Kilimanjaro finally unveils itself, all the way up to the crater rim (the actual summit is on the opposite side to us). Streaks of snow line the upper portions, but it doesn't look too severe. Behind us the peaks of the Shira Ridge materialise, with clouds forming mesmerising patterns. Not long later blue skies emerge, sending my camera into overdrive. It's the best view we have encountered so far.
Shira 2 Camp is situated on a windswept ridge, where both Kili and Shira mountains are on full display. We run into the German woman we met yesterday, but is too cold outside to stay and chat for long. It is only our two groups at the campsite. The amenities block contains two squat toilets and one Western toilet, but the latter is so filthy that you couldn't pay me enough money to sit down on it. It's going to be a week of squatting for me.
Once our tent is ready we jump inside and into our thermals, sipping on hot drinks in an effort to stay warm. I brave an occasional photo run in the arctic conditions, observing how the light and clouds have changed the scenery. A layer of clouds sit below us, the tops of Shira Ridge poking through. Sunset isn't the spectacle I was hoping for, but otherwise this place is astounding.
Briefing is held inside our tent, where our vitals are measured and found to be normal. It's then a lengthy, chilly wait for dinner, eventually arriving at 8 p.m. We scoff it down quickly then hop straight into our sleeping bags, listening to the wind howling outside as we fall asleep.