RONGAI 2 CAVES CAMP (11,300 ft. / 3,450 m) ~ KIKELEWA CAVES CAMP (11,800 ft./ 3600 m)
Walking time: 5 hours
As I noted at the end of yesterday’s post, it was a night full of bathroom breaks every hour! I never pee that much but this altitude and the copious amounts of water that we’re drinking is making me feel like a open tap. Our elevation gain today was only about 50 metres but I could feel it. The landscape is rocky and stark as we changed direction from going up the mountain to going sideways toward Mawenzi Tarn.
There were some interesting flora and you have to be amazed at how such surprising beauty from a small red flower can survive in such harsh conditions and make you feel inspired to believe that you can climb a mountain.
The paths are fairly well defined but some areas are very narrow with only sufficient room to place one foot. If we did not have Godfrey, Honest and John to guide us, we'd be completely lost. Why? Even though the path is well defined, there is no single path and when you are only looking at the pair of boots in front of you while you walk, it is easy to get turned around when everything starts to look the same. I don't know how they know where to go but I can only surmise that it's from years of experience.
I found that if I didn't look too far ahead when I was walking, it was easier to climb. If you look at when you are and where you need to go, it can be overwhelming, especially as each metre of altitude gain makes you feel like everything you are wearing is getting heavier. It's not; it only feels like that. Looking back from where we left in the morning, I could see our slow but steady progress and I had to remark on how wonderful it was to feel that I had accomplished this much already.
Last night's camp in the distance
Yesterday and the first day we saw some people walking back down so we knew that they did not make it far before succumbing to illness. There was a woman and man going in the opposite direction (descending) from us and she looked quite ill. She had a very bad cold so I cannot imagine how miserable she must have been feeling. So far, we are all doing well and no one is sick or yet affected by the altitude.
View of Mawenzi - tomorrow's destination
We arrived in camp in the early afternoon in time for beautiful song and dancing from our porters and a delicious hot lunch made by Chinga and served by the ever smiling Ellie. Then Godfrey took us for a 200 metre acclimatization walk which we were sure we did not want to do but after we started, it did not look so daunting - as long as I stuck to my new rule of not looking too far ahead. This is a great lesson I am re-learning - to see the big picture but to focus on small and manageable pieces in order to accomplish my goal. This is not a new lesson for me. It's a great reminder though. We did so well with our acclimatization, that we decided to go for 300 metres instead of the two that we planned and we were rewarded with a stunning vista of mountains and clouds.
Honest (forefront) atop Kikelewa
It bears mentioning again that we are glad we rented a toilet with accompanying tent. It is a life saver. We asked Julius the porter to remove the actual toilet so we could use the tent as a makeshift bathroom and it worked fine. Putting our collective heads together, we came up with an ingenious process improvement for our bathroom. Yesterday we found that it was practically impossible to strip down, wash up, get clean and re-dress when you are standing in a pool of dust in your makeshift bathroom with no place to put your clothes, soap and shampoo except a tiny shelf that holds two rolls of toilet paper. So today we came up with a solution. We asked Ellie to use one of the chairs from the mess tent to put into the bathroom/toilet tent and we used a large orange garbage bag to stand on to undress/dress. It worked like a charm - at least for me as I was the first one to use it since it was my garbage bag and my shampoo or maybe because I was the one setting it up.
Then it was off to Chinga's kitchen tent to help him make dinner. He makes the most delicious soups and main courses and if you look closely at the picture below, you'll see that he makes all of this on a gas burner which someone has to fetch up the mountain each day!
I kept looking at Mawenzi Tarn in the distance - mesmerised with the peak and wondering how on earth I would be able to get there by tomorrow. As you can see, it is quite stunning and more than a little daunting.
Dinner was served about 6:30pm by which time it was dark. When you are this close to the equator, night comes quickly as does day. There is really no long twilight or dusk as there is at the 49th parallel.
We look like aliens going to the bathroom at night with our headlamps but at least we know when the toilet is occupied. I have to say though that the moonllight tonight (as it was last night) has been incredible bright and there are millions of stars lighting up the skies. The Milky Way was so easy to see tonight.
After star gazing for a few minutes, we all retired to our respective tents (Sunita and I sharing) and had another early night.