04 February 2012

EK Climbs Kili: Day 7 (Shira II to Barranco)

Note: click on the "kilimanjaro" label to read about the entire trip.

DAY 7 / 20 JANUARY 2012 / FRIDAY

START: Shira II Camp (3800m or 12500')
VIA: Lava Tower (4700m or 15400')
END: Barranco Camp (4000m or 13100')

I don't have the best sleep in Shira II camp, it's probably my body's utter confusion regarding what exactly it's doing above 12,000 feet. Today we have another long hike to Barranco Camp which will take about 6-7 hours. It includes a stop at the Lava Tower which is quite high, and then we will descend into Barranco for sleeping. We are following the age-old mountaineering advice: climb high, sleep low. After a day and a half with our team, they seem to have decided on names for us. I am now known as "Emil" and I am travelling with "Mista Chris".

We have breakfast about 7am and it's the same as Mti Mkubwa, and will continue to be the same for the rest of our time on the mountain. That's fine with me because oatmeal and eggs are one of the most perfect breakfasts I can think of, in any environment. And coffee, can't forget the coffee! We have that too. 
The view behind us as we leave Shira II. You can barely see the camp hut, a light green splotch middle/upper left.
The beginning of the trail out of Shira II is steep and the trail is busy - lots of porters and other tourists are starting their days too. Our pace is polepole but we still catch the tourists in front of us. This leads Godlisten to proclaim that Chris and I are "strong like buffalo", a phrase that will be repeated several times throughout the trip. Let the man tell you himself:


We see 2 American gentlemen who are not strong like buffalo. They are descending (with their guide) due to altitude problems, and will be evacuated via the road we crossed yesterday. I feel sorry that they spent a lot of money to get here and only made it a little more than halfway up the mountain. I drink a few extra gulps of water as we pass, hoping it won't happen to me. 
  
We are going to Barranco!
As lunchtime approaches, so does the Lava Tower. Based on my pre-travel research, I tell Chris that it is about the size of a large house. And as we get closer, I can tell I was horribly mistaken. It's about the size of several large mansions. It's absolutely enormous. Godlisten tells us the base is 4600m, and if we feel good when we get there we will climb to the top which is 4700m. Chris stops to fill a bottle at a stream (that he will purify) and Godlisten decides to forge on ahead with me, leaving Chris and Mareme to catch up. The first few hundred meters are fine, but as we get closer to the Lava Tower, I start to experience what real altitude feels like.

Lava Tower. See the trail on the left side? Provides a little bit of scale, at least better than Godlisten's hat in the foreground.
My head feels pressurized, my breathing is shallow, my stomach is slightly nauseous, and my nerves are generally caught off-guard. It's a sensation I have never experienced before, and my body is on the verge of mutiny. Thankfully, my mind is able to take a step back and rationalize everything for me: "You are experiencing altitude. It is normal to feel weird. Slow down a little. Take a sip of water even though you feel nausea. Chill out. This is not a race." So I obey, and use a highly technical AR technique to keep moving: stare at your teammate's boots and keep walking.
This 200-ish meters of hiking was the scariest experience of the whole trip for me. Sure, the summit was more uncomfortable, but by then I knew what to expect and was fine pushing through. On the Lava Tower approach, I was in completely new sensory territory and really had to fight to stay calm and keep walking.
We made it to the top of Lava Tower. See the tents down there? We're high up!
I must have done an good job of making forward progress despite my thick head because at the base of the tower, Godlisten decides that we will ascend. We take a short break to wait for Mareme and Chris to catch up, and my head seems to clear and I feel a little more normal. Then we start scrambling up the Tower. Godlisten has clearly done this multiple times; he goes first and shows where to "catch" and "switch foot". There are some rather exposed moves, and I am grateful we're in Africa because there's no way American companies would let tourists do this without ropes. My mind is able to help me here too, my ignoring the exposure and just pretending each move is at ground level. We scramble up the 100-ish meters to find ourselves on a wonderful small plateau at the top of Lava Tower. This is our lunch spot! Excellent! After we eat there is a trail on the other side we can just hike down, right.......?


.....aahhhhh, no. After we take this video and start eating, Godlisten informs us that we will be descending Lava Tower the same way we went up. This news shuts down Chris' stomach and he can't eat. So we decide to pack up and climb down, and eat lunch at the base. I am a little concerned about the descent too, but surprisingly it's much easier than we think. Again Godlisten shows us where to "catch" and "switch foot" and soon we are walking again on the scree surrounding the Tower's base. We find a rock slab to shelter us from the wind and eat the rest of our lunch.
Mareme, me, and Chris, in front of the Lava Tower.
As we finish up lunch, Godlisten makes one of the most important discoveries of the trip: nuun. I have brought several tubes with me to help keep electrolyte levels balanced while drinking so much water every day (4-5L). After lunch, Chris asks for a tab to put in his newly purified bottle, and I dig it out of my pack. Godlisten asks what it is, I try to explain, but at first he isn't interested because he thinks all drink flavorings have sugar (which he doesn't eat). But, nuun doesn't HAVE sugar, and I point where that's written on the tube. Swayed, he asks to try some and I give him a tab of grape. It's an instant hit.
It's a good thing I brought so many tubes of nuun because from that point forward, I shared with Godlisten, Chris, Mareme, and a few porters every day. Every morning as we were filling our bottles, someone would come over to our tent and ask for "the no sugar". I had a selection of flavors (grape, lemon tea, lemon-lime, or tri-berry) so they would pick one and I'd pop the tabs into their bottles. We used 1 tab per 1 Liter of water, which is weaker than the recommended dose, but still tasted great. Grape and lemon-line were the most popular flavors. At the end of the trip, the tri-berry package was still unopened so we gave it to Godlisten with his tip. I have Godlisten's Tanzania address so I am hoping to send him a care package with all of the flavors.
Backside of the Lava Tower. Definitely not a hiking trail.
We continue hiking past Lava Tower, and it's a net downhill into Barranco Camp. The trail is technical and I use my trekking poles a lot to help with step-downs. As we come into Barranco camp, it's beautiful. The clouds are swirling all around, but there are some trees and vegetation we haven't seen yet. Mchami sets up snack right away inside our tent, it's popcorn and a friend dough snack that Peter makes himself. Will the wonders never cease!?

We eat snack, and I take a short video to make up for the fact that I left my camera in my duffel bag all day. (In the video I say we are on the eastern edge of the peak - that's not true, we're on the southern edge.) Dinner is at about 5.30p and it's hot drink, creamy butternut squash soup, chapati, rice, green beans, and veggie/meat sauce. The chapati are especially delicious and become a favorite for Chris and me. After dinner we just hang out at the tent, reviewing pictures, writing, drinking hot drink, it's the good life. As the sun is setting, the clouds roll out of camp and the peak is revealed. It's stunning. The stars also start to emerge as the sun's light diminishes, and Chris fires up the Google Sky app on his on phone to check things out. We see lots of familiar constellations, but they're backwards: Orion, the Pleiadies, Cassiopeia, Taurus, along with the planets Jupiter and Venus. We stay outside until it's too cold for comfort, and then go back to the tent to sleep.
View of Uhuru Peak at dusk. One of my fav pics from the trip.

Looking back on the trip, I think this day was my favorite. It had everything I appreciate about adventure: long hours, new challenges, good people, tasty food, and a happy ending. Pin It

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