Our climbing party consists of about 18 people counting us: a main guide, an assistant guide, a cook and 12 porters. It seems like overkill at first, but when you consider the magnitude of what is required while you are on the mountain for eight days, it is indeed necessary.
These guys carry everything from our toilet to every morsel of food that we will eat on our climb, not to mention our duffel bags and tents. It is quite an undertaking, and one that is executed with incredible precision.
I marvel at how much each porter carries up the mountain at twice our speed, arriving at camp ahead of us so that everything is prepared for our arrival. Most porters are underequipped, wearing hand-me-down clothes and boots.
The hike on Day 2 proved to be incredibly arduous. We trekked seven hours out of the rain forest and into heather and moorland. It was a very steep climb as well, rising 2,400 feet to the Shira plateau. We were all getting fatigued around Hour 5 when we came around the corner of a rock outcropping, and there she was. It was the first time we had seen Kilimanjaro in all her glory, glacier fields and all.
We were all immediately energized by such an incredible sight and seemed to float the last two hours to Shira 1, basking in the mountain’s shadow the whole time. The sight really was awe-inspiring. If I wasn’t able to go on another step, the trip was now worth it.
We still have four more days of climbing to reach the summit, but being constantly in its presence is motivating. I still believe the most relevant danger is altitude sickness. I am taking all the precautions I can by drinking water, continuing to eat (even though my appetite is poor) and getting proper sleep, and I started Diamox, a medication that helps with altitude sickness. Even still, I am getting very mild headaches from the altitude, but the longer I’m in one place, the less frequent they are.
And here is an excerpt from 14,380 feet:
Thankfully, my journey thus far has not solely been glimpses of my own mortality, but also of great splendor and beauty. Never have these words been more useful to me than in my attempt to describe the sights of the past two days.
The first of these sights came into view at a formation reverently termed Shira Cathedral. Reaching into the sky atop an already elevated ridge, the igneous spires that crown this cathedral are no less awe-inspiring than those at Notre Dame or St. Peter’s Basilica, and the view from their peaks is absolutely spectacular. All around me, steep ravines, carpeted in lush vegetation, race to the valley floor at such gradients that one wonders how even the trees cling to their sides. After what seemed like hours, with pictures taken and video captured, we continued on to camp at Shira Hut.
The following morning, we set out early to Barranco Camp by way of a landmark known to the guides as Lava Tower. It was here that I found myself once again overwhelmed by the beauty of this landscape. As we sat at the tower base eating our lunch, a dense bank of clouds swept in like an avalanche from beneath us, consuming everything in its path and shrouding us in cold darkness.
And as we descended into the Barranco Valley, the clouds withdrew, revealing a cascading waterfall, emptying into a winding river that would lead us to our evening camp.