It was 6am and the Diamox was telling my body to wake up and pee, but I didn’t want to. It had been telling me to pee for the last 7 hrs, resulting in rather restless sleep. Finally I was up, and when I unzipped my tent I saw the most spectacular sunrise above Africa. It wouldn’t be my last.
It had been a rough day of pole-pole walking for me (day 2). We started off from Simba Camp (2,600m) and would reach Second Cave Camp (3,450m) by the end of the hike. A total difference of around 800m elevation and walking time of just over 2.5 hours. The cold that I had contracted the week before was taking its toil. Well that was my excuse anyway. I started to lag behind the pack choosing walk at my own pace – or rather to the rhythm of my breathing.
To our surprise, as we staggered along the path, someone spotted a chameleon! I’d never seen one before and thought they only existed in exotic places like Madagascar. This one was a shade of brown/yellow, exactly the colour you needed to be to blend in with the terrain. Our route had started off as fertile lush green farmland with brown dirt roads but as we increased in altitude it was now very arid and yellow with hip height scrubs and small trees. We passed the chameleon around before he had enough of us and scampered away.
The dirt was also starting to seep its way into every crevice on our exposed skin. I both dreaded and looked forward to blowing my nose to see which shade of black or brown would come out.
At 3,400m and not yet acclimatized it was beginning to be a struggle to walk to and from the toilets when we reached camp. Our camp was set up a few metres above the bathroom and after a long squat session one needed to stop and puff a bit on the way back to their tent just to get the oxygen back into the legs. These trips to the bathroom only got harder as each camp (and toilet) increased in altitude. And that brings me to my 6am sunrise.
I had been avoiding the toilet trek, especially at night when it was cold and you needed to find your fleece and headlight in order to navigate the rocks and other campers.
Speaking of which, although we had asked for a ‘toilet tent’, we were recommended not to have this. When we discussed this amongst ourselves during our daily hiking chats and seeing the toilet tents of other hikers we concluded that we were actually glad we didn’t get one. And here are the main reasons why:
i) more privacy and warmth: the camp ground squat toilets were actually very well-built and maintained. Each had a long hole and although once every now and then you get the odd bad whiff it was generally bearable. In addition, the toilet building was usually warmer than a flapping ‘tent’ arrangement which could also become potentially transparent at night if the guest was sitting on his throne with a headlight on (we saw this first hand).
ii) no additional loo-porter: when you ask for a toilet tent some poor guy is then delegated the job of having to carry around your toilet (it looks like a portable camping toilet with a seat). He then has to set it up and and empty the contents every morning. This isn’t a job I would wish on anyone!
By 8am we were again full of breakfast, packed and ready for another day. We had chosen an additional day on the Rongai Route to ensure extra acclimatisation so day 3 was a leisurely hike to Kikelewa Camp (3,600m). Actually it was more like a gentle walk as we were only rising 200m in elevation.
Myself, a cold-ridden-coughing-and-sniffing hiker, was joined by our lead guide Siraji at the back of the pack. Siraji was starting to feel pain in his lungs for the last few days and was happy to take an even slower pace than the group with me. This was by far the best hiking/gentle-walking day for me so far. We had broken above the clouds the day before and the sky was clear blue and sunny. How lucky we had been so far with the weather! Every now and then you just had to stop and look up from your feet, taking in the incredible landscape of Africa below the mountain and breathing in the spectacular views. The horizon was scattered with small villages and through the clouds you could sometimes see smoke rise.
We were now almost half way to our destination and that called for celebrations in the form of a packet of gummy snakes that I had packed with me all the way from Australia. We had all brought a variety of snacks, myself personally taking along a few small protein bars, lollies, salt and vinegar chips and nuts. Kes and Su had what seems like several kilograms of trail nuts with them which we all helped chow down each day as they were determined to ensure none of it came down the mountain.
As we walked closer to the camp we saw in the distance a bunch tents pitched up like a circus (these were the other hikers who were on the same route as us). Because the first few days of hiking were rather short we usually reached camp around noon or just after. Right in time for a warm lunch, a shower, nap, afternoon tea and then an extra ‘acclimatisation’ hike before settling in for the night.
That evening we found out that our Lead Guide, Siraji, was starting to feel worse for wear even though up to that point he had been putting on a brave face. Although the average Joe Blogg is capable of climbing Kili, the remoteness and potential health impacts are not to be laughed at. We heard stories from the locals of hikers having to be evacuated by plane (in fact an evacuation plane flew past us on our last down) and porters suddenly dying on the routes due to existing illnesses which they had not disclosed to their guides. With this in mind, the other guides discussed Siraji’s situation with us and recommended that he descend the mountain to seek medical care. We were very supportive of this but sad to have him leave us prematurely.
The next morning after breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Siraji. Although we had only spent three days with him it was an emotional goodbye as he had been incredibly supportive and positive to us the whole trip. I was personally very moved when he looked me in the eyes and said, “I want to see a photo of you at the top!”. It completely choked me up and had me nearly in tears. We had been walking together the majority of the last two days and he had been infinitely patient with my slow pace and optimistic that no matter what I would make it. “100% of my guest have made the summit”, he had told us on the first day, and we were all determined to ensure that his record would not be broken.
to be continued…