September 20, 2007
Machame Hut to Shira Hut
Total Distance: 3.51 Miles
Total Ascent: 3,600 ft.
Ending Altitude: 13,600 ft.
At dinner the previous evening Kambona told us that this day would be the most challenging except for summit day. I awoke tired and still feeling sick. The stomach problems were becoming an increasing worry to me. I wasn’t sure what was causing it, but it wasn’t getting any better. I worried that my year and a half of preparation would be for nothing because of a stupid stomach ache. I forced breakfast down, but it brought me close to throwing up. I knew it couldn’t be the altitude. I had been very careful about my drinking water. I was on prophylactic antibiotics. The only thing I could think of was that I had eaten something bad at breakfast the previous day. I was worried enough that I informed Kambona. He suggested that I take a Pepto-Bismol tablet. I then realized that I had failed to bring any with me. But I was saved by Diana, who offered me enough for an initial dose, and then another for the trail.
After breakfast we packed our gear and were introduced to our porters. My porter was named Adam. He was around 22 years old and skinny as a pole. He had a big smile, but didn’t speak English which limited our communication. I turned my bag over to Adam and set out for Shira.
The road from Machame Camp climbs immediately and relentlessly and only levels off just outside of Shira Camp. The day started with perfect weather. We gained altitude quickly and soon had panoramic views of the forest below us and of Mount Meru to the northwest. The surrounding hills were steep and carpeted with green. It reminded me of the steep overgrown slopes of the Io valley on the island of Maui. I stayed near the back of the group and slowly plodded my way up the trail. This should have been a great part of the trek. It was extremely scenic, and I had trained hard for such strenuous segments of the climb. But this morning I felt sapped of energy and was often reduced to making resolutions to complete stretches of twenty or thirty steps. As we climbed, the clouds began to roll in and we soon were climbing through mist and fog. This chilled the air and blocked the view. At times the mist was so thick you could only see a few dozen yards ahead.
After an eternity we came out on a ridge top where we saw that our dining tent was pitched and awaiting our arrival. Owing to the previous day’s mix-up, this was our first lunch on the trail. It was a complete surprise to see that it would be a full, inside meal. The weather was misty and cool. Entering the tent was an unexpected comfort. I still had no appetite, but I was determined to keep my body fueled. The meal started with soup, which warmed and helped hydrate. Then we had the pizza that had been prepared for the previous day. It tasted great and I marveled at the fact that I was eating semi-fresh pizza on Kilimanjaro.
The location was teaming with white-collared ravens, which evidently knew that this was a preferred lunch site. They were busy gliding on the air currents and scavenging for scraps. We told Kambona that the ravens in the national parks in the U.S. had gotten smart enough that they would unzip a hiker’s pack to get at the food inside. Kambona told us that these ravens were not so intelligent and simply used their oversized beaks to tear the packs apart to get at the food inside. From that point on we keep a vigilant eye on our packs.
As we left our lunch site, I took the second dose of the Pepto-Bismol that Diana had given me. Owing to the meal, the Pepto-Bismol, or both I soon began to experience some relief. This helped me move along better, and after a while I even felt like joining the conversation as we walked.
As we climbed higher, stretches of the trail became increasingly sheer. There were a couple of places that required a brief scramble over small rocky outcroppings in the trail. The weather remained foggy and cool. The trees were covered with beards of moss reminiscent of the costal forests of the western United States. The hanging moss was nourished by the moisture laden mists that were a daily event as the savannah floor far below warmed the atmosphere. The vegetation gradually became thinner as we climbed. The clouds remained with us for the rest of the day. I was holding my own by now and getting along fine. And finally we crested a ridge that looked out over the scattered tents of Shira Camp.
At this point, I was greeted by Adam, who came to carry my pack the rest of the way. Without the benefit of a mutual language, he asked to take my pack. We were only about a half mile out of camp, so I told him no. I tried to tell him that he had already carried the heavier part of my gear for the entire day. But he looked confused and disappointed. Nonetheless he accompanied me into camp and showed me that my duffel was waiting in the tent. I thanked him and crawled in.
I was extremely relieved to have made it this far, and was feeling better than I had at the beginning of the day. One of the head porters, Zuberi, brought a bowl full of warm water, so I washed up and relaxed for a moment. I found my down jacket in its stuff sack and used it as a pillow. It felt great to lie down. When I came out of my tent, the clouds had parted and the sun was shining colorfully through an opening. It was an inspiring site after spending the bulk of the day in a gray overcast. I grabbed my camera, set up my tripod and quickly fired off a series of shots that I hoped I could stitch together into a short panoramic. This incredible sunset, along with my improving stomach, greatly raised my spirits. Dinner that night was much more enjoyable, as was the after dinner conversation. I still had little appetite, but the dull ache was decreasing. I ate heartily knowing that my body would need the fuel for the climb to over 15 thousand feet tomorrow.