Start height: 2800m
End height: 3800m
‘Hello. Good morning. Coffee?’ a little voice said outside my tent. I glanced at my watch. 6am. I’d been semi-awake for at least an hour listening to the sounds of porters making breakfast. Unzipping a tent was the lovely man who would bring coffee, tea or milo to our tents every morning to start our day with a smile.
Getting a coffee, I began the repacking process, trying to figure out how many layers I’d need. Although it’s cold in the morning and evenings, the day heats up, particularly as you hike up steep bits. Many thin layers is the answer.
I got some more washy washy water and attempted to clean my hands and face, using my mini Molten Brown bottle of soap, sponge and nailbrush, all of which had been recommended as a way to make you feel more human. It does help clear some of the grime, but it’s an exercise in futility. The minute you’re clean, you have to tie dusty bootlaces or sort out muddy poles. It is far easier to use wet wipes regularly and hand sanitiser even more often.
We headed to breakfast and got to experience our first porridge. I cannot praise the chefs enough on their ability to cook for that many people on just a camp stove, but I found the porridge hard to face. Every morning it varied in consistency. Day 1 was the runniest. Day 7 they seemed to have nailed it, or perhaps we’d just got used to it. The trick to making it edible was lots of sugar. I’m talking equal parts sugar to porridge. Bread with peanut butter, pieces of omelette and Vienna sausages made up the smorgasbord.
After a bit of waiting around for water – the only time on the entire trip where we had a water glitch (another incredible job performed by the porters) – we set off. Or should I say up. Almost immediately we began a steep uphill climb. Unlike day one, which had featured a tree covered path, with a few slightly steep bits, day 2 was determined to let you know that you were climbing a mountain.
Boulders, slippery rocks, expansive views, blazing sunshine, and scrambling using your hands, all got our hearts pumping. One of our group had a nasty slip and banged her head and eye, but made of sheer grit, she continued on, sporting a shiner.
Although technically a lot more difficult and steeper than the previous day, most people seemed to enjoy it more, thanks to the variety of the path. The lush rainforest had been replaced with alpine vegetation including trees covered in long, yellow lichen, which would have made an excellent substitute for Trump’s hair. Weird pineapple-shaped trees, caves and rock pools all added to the feeling that we were walking on the set of Jurassic Park.
The effects of the hard climb and altitude started to take effect, with some of our group starting to feel ill, breathless or headachey. For my part, I felt a dull pressure, rather than pain, in my head and occasionally felt a bit breathless. But that could have been caused by the steep climb. While we stopped to catch our breath, the porters charged past with their heavy loads. Much of the day was spent yelling, ‘Porters coming through, step to your left.’ Traffic is something you have to contend with on Kilimanjaro. It’s not like taking a hike through the empty wilds of Yorkshire. Every group has hundreds of porters and there many different groups all going up at the same time, some walking at a faster pace than others.
Looking at the people around me, I decided to take a pre-emptive Diamox as a preventative to altitude sickness. I didn’t feel bad and was genuinely enjoying the walk, but altitude is a funny thing. You never know when it might affect you.
At last we reached the ridgeline. The path flattened out and the sun came out, making it easy to burn unless you’re covered in factor 50 cream. The clouds bubbled below us leaving us to bake in the rays.
We got to Shira Camp early afternoon. After lunch, tent sorting and a brief nap, it was time for an acclimatisation walk. This optional short hour-long walk takes you up another few hundred metres, just to get you used to less oxygen. It supposedly makes you sleep better when you go back down again.
Arriving back at camp, the porters all gave us a welcome sing and dance. Lots of ogi ogi ogi, oy oy oy chanting followed the famous Jambo Bwana song. We got introduced to all the team and their respective roles. Maximum Respect (the group’s motto) was given to the toilet technicians, whose job it is to empty the little loos into the long drops. It’s incredible how much energy the porters have. They’d lugged all the kit up the steep slopes all day, set up all the tents, cooked our meals, set up the loos and prepared the water – yet they still had boundless energy to dance and sing and smile.
In contrast, many of our group were now feeling the effects of altitude sickness. Vomiting, dizziness, headaches, emotional meltdowns, breathlessness, nausea, and exhaustion all seemed to be cropping up.
I felt slightly breathless, slightly headachy and felt the odd bit of dizziness, but mostly felt fine….until I visited one of the loos after someone else had been in there! That brought on nausea fairly fast. Mostly, it felt like a cross between a hangover and morning sickness.
Dinner, for those who could manage it, was zucchini soup, followed by rice with spinach and okra stew, with skewers of some kind of meat (possibly goat?). It also happened to be the birthday of one of our team. The incredible chefs had outdone themselves by baking a sponge cake Mary Berry would have been proud of. How they did it on a camp stove remains a mystery.
Then time for bed. We’d reached 3800m, another 1000m in height gained. It was getting a lot colder at night and it didn’t take much convincing to get people to settle down fast.