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Home > Treks > Kilimanjaro > Day 4 > 4.1
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Beyond the Treeline

Beyond the Treeline
 
 

HAVING strange dreams is one of the symptoms of high altitude. Well I definitely had a few strange dreams during my first night on Kilimanjaro. I can’t recall them now, but they were really weird.

It was very chilly when I woke up in the early morning. I had slept huddled in my sleeping bag, but I didn’t have my blanket on over the top of me, so I felt rather cold when I woke up. I crawled out and got dressed. Jono rolled over complaining he hadn’t slept at all thanks to how short his bed had been on the upper level bunk of the A frame hut. Salesman Mark started talking as soon as he woke up. Then came the knock at the door. I recalled the ritual from the Inca trail. Sure enough our guides Jaseri, Azaan and Imara were outside with bowls of warm water and soap for washing ourselves. They also had cups of tea.

Breakfast
Breakfast

Now I never drink tea at below two thousand metres above sea level. Here at two thousand seven hundred metres, I obliged, with two spoons of sugar as I had done in the Inca trail – the rule was one spoon full rounded down for every thousand metres of altitude.

This morning it was brilliantly sunny outside which was a nice change from the perpetual cloud I’ve seen overhead since leaving Dubai a week ago now. The grass was a little frosty. No wonder it felt so cold. Then I realised that if there was a frost here, then how cold is it going to be further up the mountain? We had a thousand metres to climb today, and another thousand tomorrow, then finally a further twelve hundred the next night. One thousand metres altitude gain equates to six degrees drop in temperature. That would make the summit about nineteen degrees cooler than here. If I was already feeling it down here, it is going to awfully awfully cold at the top!

Breakfast
Breakfast

Jono was very surprised that I was finding it cold up here, rather curtly saying that where he comes from in Canada the temperature often drops to below minus thirty in winter. I on the other hand live in the subtropics. Mark seemed in a fantastic mood today, singing “we’re going on a jet plane”. Jono got annoyed at him, but Mark said the song came from the days when flying was considered a real luxury and romance. These days everyone did it so the novelty wasn’t the same now as when the song was written. With that explained, he continued singing it. Perhaps he was thinking climbing a large mountain was a luxury in this day and age.

I collected my large water bladder and took it up to the hut for the porters to fill. We all assembled at our table which had already been set for us. The honeymooners Levi and Rachel joined us.

The dining hut
The dining hut

Hekima the cook produced a large metal pot full of porridge, which to be honest I couldn’t stand. Then a couple of porters served us a small banana, some papaya and some watermelon. There was also plenty to drink. There were four thermoses as there had been yesterday - two had hot milk and the others had hot water. The hot milk was no doubt made from powder.

Ashley was celebrating her thirty second birthday today, so the cook, guides and porters came together at breakfast in the large dining tent and sung her a Swahili birthday song. It was nothing too amazing, but we spent the breakfast celebrating with what we had.

There was also a large bowl of cornflakes, which I tried with the hot milk (there was no cold milk). That was disgusting. Thankfully there were some hot sausages and other food to eat.

Trekkers leaving Mandara
Trekkers leaving Mandara

Once we finished eating, we went outside and collected our water bladders and bottles the porters had by now filled and sitting on the outside table. We also picked up a lunch box each from the same table, and packed up ready for today’s hiking as another fairly large group departed leading the way for us.

Putting on our day packs, we left our main packs in the hut. No doubt my pack will be a little heavier now with the overnight dampness. We went outside to below the dining hut where Jaseri and the other Azaan and Imara were already waiting. They were all rugged up in thick jackets and woolly hats. It was rather cold, but I didn’t think it was that cold.

The last of the forest
The last of the forest

We left the hut going through the final stretch of cloud forest where monkeys were rummaging around in the trees just above our heads. A thin haze enveloped us and when we were out of the thick bush, it was overcast with a thin layer of high cloud above us. At least sunburn wasn’t going to be a big problem today.

My legs were very stiff from the climb to the waterfall gully the other day. This was the second day out and usually pain is worst then, so I hoped the pain would start to start to subside from now on.

We walked through the heath scrub, soon passing the junction where we had turned off to explore Maundi Crater. Jono was walking directly behind me and persistently spitting. He told me that it was an unfortunate manifestation of an allergic reaction he had the other day. Now that made sense to me, and made me a bit more tolerant of it.

In the heathland above the forest
In the heathland above the forest

Polé polé – we were taking it very slowly following Jaseri’s painfully slow lead as all the porters quickly overtook us, seemingly not giving any thought to the potential of getting altitude sickness. They were incredibly strong, all of very good muscular stature. They carried their huge loads on their heads balancing them with their hands. This seemed very unnatural to me with all that weight on their heads. At least their spines would be straight through and not leading forward as one experiences whilst carrying a back pack.

A solitary dead tree
A solitary dead tree

Whenever each porter passed us they advertised quite strongly that deodorant seems to be in short supply here in Africa, and to make matters worse, it seems that Africans are the smelliest people on the planet. You could smell them approaching and the thick stench of their body odour would linger long after they passed.

As they would pass us, we would mutter “Jambo” to each other. Jambo is the Swahili word for “Hello”. I recalled in New Zealand whenever we would pass someone on the trail we would briefly mutter “hello” then press on knowing we would never see each other again. The connection was just for a brief second. I recalled the climb I did in Hokkaido. It was not “hello”, but “konnichiwa”, the Japanese word for Hello. Here it was “Jambo”.

We continued walking through the alpine heath. The soil we walked on was dusty very dark greyish brown volcanic dust with the odd bit of cut grass trampled into it. The scrub spreading out from either side of the track was getting more scattered and shortening. Fast porters were coming the other way now, descending from the hut we were heading towards. They will be coming off the mountain today, carrying the supplies of other groups who may or may not have made it up to the summit.

Ascending the heathland
Ascending the heathland

Reaching the summit was now off my radar. Firstly I couldn’t see it through the clouds above me. Anyway the goal I had to focus on was hiking a thousand vertical metres to a hut at about the same altitude as New Zealand’s highest mountain. At this altitude I will be sleeping higher than I had ever slept before. Today’s goal was enough without thinking any further ahead.

The porters were coming down the track thick and fast now, all of smelt ripe. Most of them were men, but there was the odd female porter as well. I had never seen female porters before – certainly not on Mount Kinabalu or on the Inca Trail. The female porters I saw here were incredibly well built, though still feminine looking despite labouring under the heavy loads they carried upon their heads.

Resting by a patch of scrub
Resting by a patch of scrub

We reached a small bend in the track under the shade of some scrubby trees. Not that we needed shade as the cloud cover that had suddenly appeared shortly after passing the Maundy Crater was thickening above us. We were at about three thousand metres now and the terrain wasn’t very steep at all. We were climbing up a very long and wide ridge, perhaps the enlargement of a gentle knoll. The terrain steepened above us to a large round hill summiting about a thousand metres above us. There was another one further in the distance poking up into the thickening cloud cover. Later I would discover this was Mawenzi Peak, Africa’s third highest summit.

We stopped here and had a quick rest in amongst the almost leafless trees. I sat next to Vicky who was wearing and showing off her high tech Macpac lyrcas, making the rest of us look scruffy. She obviously wasn’t very experienced at climbing, as she had gone out and bought the latest gear. In my experience the seasoned hikers tend to look rather scruffy showing the character of all the war stories they had been through.

Resting by a patch of scrub
Resting by a patch of scrub

Much to my horror I suddenly saw a cigarette butt on the track in front of me. I had seen a few more coming up the track. How on earth could anyone smoke up here in the oxygen deprived environment? I recalled that all of the porters and guides on Mount Kinabalu were smokers, but they never smoked on the trail. I had never seen any cigarette butts on the Mount Kinabalu track, or on the Inca Trail. I’ve always had a thing that you know you are on a good track when there are no cigarette butts. The disgusting smokers are obviously not fit enough to hike such tracks and ruin the tranquillity of the natural environment with their disgusting personal habits. So why was it different up here?

Were they from the locals or from the tourists? Either way further depriving yourself of oxygen at this altitude would be suicide.

Once rested, we got up and continued hiking polé polé up the gentle grade. To our left down the slope was a large obvious dome crater, probably a dike volcano hundreds of thousands of years old.

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15 August 2011

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzania

 

3°10'S
37°27'E
2740 - 3000m ASL

 

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