December 29, 2010
After another night of downpour, waking to warm sunshine and clear skies was a real treat. The sunlight painted the terrain in surreal colors; the rocks seemed a bit more brilliant and the shadows deep and etched this morning. The unobstructed view of Kibo Peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest point, was indescribably beautiful. It seemed so close yet so unattainable. I feel immensely fortunate to have had three straight days of climbing without rain whilst my wife hiked last year in almost nonstop rain. It’s almost as if the stars aligned on this trek; maybe my prayers had been heard after all. Then again, maybe it was simply wishful thinking and my luck was about to change. One never knows what can happen in an unpredictable environment such as this where fate moves like the wind.
We climbed another 500 meters today to over 4,000 meters (about 12,000 feet). The hike was easier than yesterday’s and to our pleasant surprise shorter than expected. We arrived 2.5 hours later at the third camp known as “Camp 30 Caves” – so called because of the small, porous caves that puncture the mystical red and brown lava outcroppings that ringed the camp.
The vertical rise above Camp 2 was steep and wet enough that our guide August advised us to use hiking poles in order to prevent slippage and to help us hoist ourselves up tricky outcroppings. We crested the ridge without incident. The remainder of the climb meandered gradually uphill. We hiked through desolate ravines carved by mountain runoff surrounded by rock sentries warped by millennia of erosion. The temperature fell precipitously, prompting me to don the inner liner of my North Face jacket, light gloves and stocking cap. The mist descended and shrouded the land in ethereal shadows. The cloud cover ebbed and flowed as if it were breathing, occasionally pulling back to reveal the path ahead of us before exhaling and obscuring it again.
Wildlife still ranges at these heights. White necked black ravens circle the camps scavenging for food discarded by humans. Small lizards that seem to inhabit the entire African continent dwell even here; it’s unclear how they keep warm enough to survive the cold. Apparently no one bothered to tell them that better climes lay further down the mountain. Why any creature would live up here with a more comfortable life in such close reach is beyond me. One week on the mountain was enough for me!
I strapped on my iPod for the first time and rocked my way to camp. Thank god for Steve Jobs. Having thousands of songs at your fingertips is such a blessing. A medley of inspirational songs kept me company; the landscape became my music video. My boots couldn’t help toe tapping on the rocky path, although I went to great lengths to keep my booty from shaking. I didn’t want to elicit odd expressions as I sauntered along the way, slipping up a couple of times as my hands turned my hiking poles into a makeshift air guitar. Music was a nice diversion after three days of casual conversation and the pervasive sounds of Kilimanjaro.
Camp 30 Caves is nestled in an area sheltered by twisted rock outcroppings. With sparse vegetation, mostly flowering sagebrush and moss, terrain devoid of trees, and rolling mist mixed with rain, the terrain conjured up images of Scottish highlands. This certainly is a unique part of Africa. I couldn’t think of a colder, more alien landscape on this continent. The Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa are a distant second to Kilimanjaro and surrounding peaks in height. The Sahara and other deserts are just as desolate, but none offer the tundra-like conditions one finds here. The land here was more akin to the far reaches of the northern and southern hemispheres.
The weather when we arrived at camp was agreeable, so Betty, Kay, Tom and I chatted outside for a while on topics ranging from how to dry damp clothing to whether we managed to pick up a cell phone signal. I’d been fortunate to pick up a signal at various points along the way and sent my wife daily updates on our progress. So far we have yet to tire of each other beyond a few annoying personality quirks. They threatened to toss me down the mountain after I sang an annoying rendition of that classic Billy Ray Cyrus country song “Achy Breaky Heart,” sparing me after I quit during the third stanza. We’ve generally gotten on as well as can be expected without bathing facilities and are actually quite collegial. So far there has been no drama fit for a soap opera. We’ve been a great source of mutual encouragement and commiseration.
To be continued…