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  • Dave Greten

Kilimanjaro - Part Five

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Day Five - Shira Two campsite and the Lava Tower

Please read part one, two, three, and four if you haven't already.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful yet again. The sun in Africa was just unbelievable. I was glad to have brought my sun hat and didn't have to apply suntan lotion every hour.

We were at around 12,000 feet when this picture as taken. In it Tom is sitting with our guides and porters. Not all of them are in the picture, conspicuously absent is the one we affectionately nicknamed Dr. Seuss (more on him later). Our head guide Amani is on the far left. Tumaine, our assistant guide, is seated next to Tom in red, wearing an uncharacteristic scowl.

Our porter/waiter Roderick is dressed in black. He's the one who broke my heart when he told us how he was saving his pay for English lessons. How much money a Tanzanian earns is largely based on how much English they speak. English lessons are expensive in a country with few native speakers. Amani learned most of his English in secondary school, which only 20% of Tanzanians can afford to attend.

I never caught the name of the guy in the background with the raised fist but he was great. He was always smiling and shouting encouragement to us while we were hiking, even as he ran past us on the trail. When we tipped everyone at the end, he gave the three of us hugs. He did not speak much English but his enthusiasm was infectious.

Here Andy and Tumaine took a breather as we hiked to the Lava Tower. We were making our way back up to 14,000 feet and I was pleased by how little the altitude was affecting me. I began to think that maybe summit day wouldn't be so hard. I was later proved to be very wrong.

Here's Andy as we hiked to the Lava Tower. This area was barren and rocky, not terribly welcoming at all. I found it ominous and felt like I was hobbit hiking through Mordor. There was some cloud cover up here, which looked like steam rising from a volcano.

Andy and Tom climbed to the top of the Lava Tower while I stayed at the bottom and took this photo. If you click on the photo, you can see their tiny figures at the top.

I had slept horribly the night before, a constant theme on this trip, and didn't feel like doing extreme climbing while tired. I was happy to rest and take the photo instead.

Here's the view Andy and Tom saw from the top of the Lava Tower. The Lava Tower itself is around 150 feet high putting them at over 15,000 feet elevation. In this photo, Tom is seated at the edge of a sheer drop.

When they came back down, the first thing Andy said to me was, "You would not have enjoyed that." Andy knows I am not fond of heights. When we hiked Mt Rainier, Andy jumped over a crevasse and thought, "Dave's not going to like this hike very much."

After climbing the Lava Tower, we made our way back down to Baranco camp. Here Andy and I are standing in a grove of those weird trees we saw earlier. While at the Lava Tower, a cloud had rolled in making it misty and cold. It's a strange experience to walk through a forest of these trees shrouded in fog.

This photo was taken at one of those moments where I was thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" The hot tea helped but mostly I felt tired and dirty and longed for home. Moments like these happen the closer you come to summit day.

Baranco camp was an intersection for multiple trails so we were suddenly camping in a large group of hikers. We had hardly seen anyone else previous to this. One of the hikers was an altitude sickness-stricken Dane who I gave some aspirin.

For fun we pressed our guide to name which nationality were the strongest hikers. After much hemming and hawing, he answered the Austrians. Americans were ranked as "okay" which I found surprising. When I travel abroad it's important to me to never conform to the stereotype of the slothful, indulged American.

Here's a view of the glaciers of Kilimanjaro as the sun was setting, Andy standing at the bottom right. Just out of the picture was a view of the Northern Breach trail. That was the trail we had intended to take until it was blocked by a landslide a couple weeks before, killing three American hikers, two of whom were from Massachusetts. This was something we didn't spend a lot of time talking about but I thought about it that night at Baranco before I fell asleep.

Next Installment: We climb a headwall and things start getting more difficult

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