Well, this is it, training is over, time to put up or shut up
Arriving in Africa
The day before travelling, I re-checked the data logger and put a set of fresh Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries into the unit. These were chosen because of their wide operating temperature range (-40°C to +60°C), so they should allow the device to operate even on the summit. The logger performs initialization when new batteries are inserted and tries to work out its GPS position. As you will see, this may have caused an anomaly in part of the tracking data; but, more on that later…
The travel time to Tanzania from the UK is about 18 hours, including the main nine-hour flight, so we arrived at our first-night hotel at midnight. Just in time to meet our guides, Jill and Tom, from Adventure Peaks. After a short orientation talk, it was time to take our last shower for a week and then get some sleep.
Day 1 – Machame Camp
The next morning was fresh and clear, and the bus arrived on time to take us to the park gates. At the gates, you meet up with the porters and local guides, and spend several hours filling in paperwork whilst they divide up the carrying loads.
Well, this is it, training is over, time to ‘put up or shut up.’ Just for good measure, I checked that the data logger was in the top of my rucksack. It would be embarrassing to have forgotten it at this stage.
Darren and Sarah at the Machame Gate Entrance to Kilimanjaro National Park
The first day’s walk was up through three forest zones; tropical, sub-tropical and temperature woodland. Each region has its own unique flora. It all seems so familiar, yet when you look closely the plants are different. The air is quite damp and the humidity levels were high. I packed the data logger inside a plastic bag wrapped in a sock for impact resistance (I find high-tech solutions like this work the best!).
Throughout the day, our guides kept driving home the message about walking slowly (“pole pole” in Swahili) and keeping hydrated. It actually comes as quite a shock to the body to have to drink 4-6 litres of water per day, but we dutifully followed instructions.
At the end of the first day, we had climbed from 1800m up to 3000m to our first night’s camp. No sight yet of Kibo summit (the whole mountain is called Kilimanjaro, with our destination being Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Kibo summit). But the next morning, as I took a short video of our campsite, the summit came in to view. It was still some 15-20km and four-day walk away, but it looked massive!
Day 2 – Shira Camp
From the Machame campsite, we walked up to 3800m and the Shira camp. The Shira Plateau is a large, relatively flat expanse of rock mainly composed of the old lava flows from Kilimanjaro. Everywhere around can be seen shards of obsidian (volcanic glass) and the vegetation now thinned out with few trees and many more cactus-like plants (you can probably tell that I am not a botanist). Now that we were out of the damp rainforest, the solar radiation increased considerably and the heat was starting to be felt.
Before dinner, we took a short trip up to the Shira cave, a very small shelter roughly 10m x 8m where, in the past, up to 100 porters slept on bare rocks. The Tanzanian authorities have introduced welfare programs, and this kind of thing has now been banned.
The most memorable thing about Shira was the amazing sunset. From the plateau campsite, Mount Meru is clearly visible. This is a 4000m peak that is often used as an acclimatization walk for Kilimanjaro. On this day, the sun set behind the ridge highlighting Meru and was casting a golden glow over Kili behind us.
Sunset From the Shira Camp
Whilst at the campsite, I was also able to check the data logger. After peering into the unit for five or six minutes, I noted an LED flash indicating a sample being taken, so all seems good.
When I go to a conference and see bobble-headed enthusiasts wearing some kind of virtual reality goggles, spinning around in chairs, craning their necks to see some distant corner of a virtual world – I’m both completely disinterested and oddly intrigued.