Kilimanjaro Day 2. Ascent to Shira Camp, New Years Day 2020

Day 2 evening. 1/1/2020. Shira Camp, 3,750 m above sea level.

As I write this, I am lying in my tent for rest and alone-time before dinner in half an hour. Today was a shorter hike than yesterday. We ascended 2,800 ft over 3.8 miles for 4 hours 50 minutes of moving time. What a way to start the new year.

Eddy ya maka oompia!” That’s poorly spelt Swahili for Happy New Year. Thanks Manosai for the enunciation.

5:55am, Machame Camp sunrise.

I woke extra early before 5:52am to the sound of birds, Swahili chatter, and gentle surround-sound snoring. Temperature chilly.

I climbed out of our tent well before the 6:30am wake-up call and strolled around to soak in the sunrise. It rivaled last night’s incredible star-studded sky. I live for these mornings.

I impatiently attempted to sync my Garmin but accepted that my phone will not be syncing the next 7 days’ worth of data.

Kilimanjaro roommates staying hydrated before breakfast on January 1st, 2020. I sipped on ginger tea with honey every morning. I had been off coffee for 3 months.

We started the day with a hearty, multi-course breakfast (Everlasting Tanzania will do you NO wrong if you connect with them as your Kili guide). Next, we were taken out of our tents and invited to join a BOOMIN’ song and dance with our porters and guides. Their voices, wriggling hips, and claps guided us into the inner circle of dancers and we were off to an upbeat start in a heartbeat!

Today was all about ascent. Only the last half kilometer or so took us down -200ft. The biome has certainly changed from yesterday’s rainforest into drier heather moorland. The higher we went, the more we immersed into the mountain’s rolling clouds, which added mist and slip to the mud beneath our feet.

The views along the way were breathtaking. The first one meriting a panorama was this, roughly 45 minutes in:

Magnificent panorama of Kilimanjaro’s forests, with the town of Moshi in the horizon, within an hour of departing from Machame Camp. Notice our porters with giant bags balanced on their heads in the foreground.

In this picture, we are facing south, with Moshi on the left and Arusha on the right. We were so impressed and took a flutter of pictures here.

I will say that the real MVPs of the day were our porters. These hardworking, some thin, some muscled, all unbelievably strong-spirited men (and 1 woman) carried our large 60-90L backpacks up the same route but at possibly double our speed. I kept saying “asante” (Swahili for “thank you”) every time they passed us.

The porters transported not only our baggage, but also our food (heavy: potatoes, tilapia, even watermelon), medical supplies, tents, and even 3 toilets (plastic disinfectant tanks attached to a toilet seat and base) up the same route and set up camp well before we arrived each day. This meant we arrived straight to dinner in the mess tent. They were doing the real work.

Our porters, the real troopers.

With on average 4 porters to 1 trekker, one of them told me that he worked for 2 years for 2k USD a year before potentially becoming a cook or guide. My understanding is that the guides have the highest responsibility, especially our lead guide Saidi, as they are the most client facing. Also, only the most experienced guides, around 10 of them, joined us for summit night (coming up in 5 posts).

The guides said that they do 2-3 summits per month. Saidi from Everlasting Tanzania been doing this for 20 years. That’s at least 400 summits to the top. Mind-blowing.

Daniel was our lead guide today.

The crew. Energized and moving up, up, up.
Zooming in. The ground beneath our feet was a mix of rock, mud, and giant slabs of granite.
Zooming out. Rest break with a cold mist rolling in.

I started out in a t-shirt and leggings, but eventually donned my long sleeve, thin gloves, and a little later my furry beanie and neck warmers as the temperature dropped further around 2000 ft up in our 2800 ft ascent.

The trek to Shira was mostly dry in the first half and grew increasingly wet in the second. I took note of unique plants, rocks (mostly volcanic, from eruptions no later than 200k years ago), and waterfalls. Daniel showed us an Everlasting flower, which felt like plastic to the touch, and likely survives here because it doesn’t need much water.

This plant can grow over a hundred years old. I found a young one only 7 feet tall. Daniel said that they can grow over 50m tall.

Roughly an hour from arriving at Shira Camp, there was some scrambling involved. But nothing too crazy.
Finally arriving at Shira Camp. The end of Day 2.

My right outer knee ligament was feeling something toward the end of the day, but I was glad that my IT band, knee caps, and outer glutes were generally not feeling much. I was sniffling the entire way from a near cold which started 3 days ago, but what can you do.

There were lots of small side trails which I imagine are carved out for toilet breaks. Our group took a decent amount as we were all on diamox, the standard anti-altitude sickness medicine which is a diuretic. I waited until we hit a sheltered outhouse around 3/4 in. Everything about it resembled Chinese toilets, so I wasn’t fazed. 

The whole time, my inner self was ecstatic: this is phenomenal hill training for trail running. But I knew we had much to accomplish in the 5 days left and held back. Patience.

We started around 9am and arrived at Shira Camp close to 2pm. This gave us time to admire the magnificent clouds in front of our tents and take a walk to see ancient caves 15 minutes away.

A spectacular view of Mount Meru (center), not to be confused with the peak featured in Jimmy Chin’s epic Himalayas climbing documentary.
Friends hanging out at campsite. Looking back, I can’t believe this was Day 2. Days 2 to 4 completely blurred together in my memory, had I not written daily notes.
Fickle climate. Within 10 minutes of sundown, a freezing wind settled in, and the same peak above, previously doused in gold, succumbed to grey.

I enjoyed a crash course in Leica camera photography with Gaurav but unsuccessfully brought his face into focus. Either my vantage point was too low or I’m still learning… I will take more for you, Gaurav. Believe in me.

There was a sexy-looking ridge for which we asked for permission to cop out a short trail run before dinner. When Rob first suggested it, I thought he was crazy. Within minutes, I convinced myself that this would be a fun 2-hour round trip. Within seconds, our guide shot the idea down. Til next time.

One highlight of this trip were the meals we shared under the 8-meter long yellow mess tent. No matter how cold or where our campsite was set up, the conversations we shared under this tent were always full of life, coated by the smells of hot cocoa, ginger tea, and warmed by our bodies huddled closely side by side. We talked about engagement stories, section characters, the magic of beet powder, career aspirations, race dynamics…

One moment in time on New Years Day 2020 evening.

In the meantime, our kitchen porters came around over and over attempting to whisk our empty plates away to replace them with MORE food. I felt bad during the few occasions I had leftovers: no more than a two hour drive away are people with insufficient food to feed their families, but I simply could not finish the carbs in front of me at times.

First thing every morning and right before dinner, our guides took our vitals, reading our diastolic and systolic heart rates, and blood oxygen levels (90-100 being ideal under 4K m elevation, 80-90 above 4K m). I had trouble getting my oxygen level past 82 on the second night when we were at 3,750m, but I was feeling great.

Later I realized I had been taking half the prescribed daily dosage of diamox (125 mg per day versus 250) from Day 1 to Day 4. However, this worked out fine for me.

It’s dinner time. My face is completely heated up from the day’s hike. Time to get out of this tent.

The most beautiful close to our day. I wonder where I will be on New Years Day in 2021?

Notes to future hikers:

  • Bring 2 additional pairs of thermal underwear. I brought 2 pairs of leggings and relied on reusing them for the whole week. This worked out but I could’ve used warmer layers.
  • Pack the next day’s daypack well before dark. In this morning’s hurry, I forgot to bring a gu and cliff bar for snacks today.

Thanks for reading,

Melissa

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