Day two dawns clear, and I wake to the sound of someone cleaning my biffy. This poor fellow must be at the bottom of the pecking order! Breakfast is a feast of fresh fruit, bread, jam and cheese, scrambled eggs and sausage; I dig in as if it will be my last meal.
Tobias is in no hurry to get on the trail, so I wander around the camp, fascinated by the strange flowers. I know that I must enjoy them here, because today we will climb out of the rain forest. Kilimanjaro offers a bewildering variety of vegetation zones, from tropical to arctic. I almost wish that I could spend two weeks in the lower elevations just studying the flora.
The juniper trees are stunningly beautiful, draped in lichens.
At last, Tobias is ready to leave, while the porters are still breaking camp. One porter leaves with us, however. His name is Ernest, and he will walk behind me the entire way. He carries most of the emergency gear as well as his own few belongings. He has partnered with Tobias many times.
For about an hour and a half we walk up through dense forest; the porters soon dash by us carrying their heavy loads on their heads.
A sudden transition brings us into the Heath Zone; one minute we are surrounded by tall trees, the next the trees give way to shrubs. And what strange shrubs! Heather, its branches encased in bark, reaches above our heads. But the flowers are the brilliant stars of this zone.
The weird Protea, which looks like part of an artichoke.
The spectacular Gladiolus, almost a familiar face.
A splash of canary yellow overhead. Tobias pulls it down to my level. I believe it is Hypericum.
Up and down, steep and gentle, but always “pole, pole,” the mantra of Kili, which means “go slowly!” I’m cruising along thinking that it must be time for a break, when Tobias points to a ridge far above us. “Lunch is up there,” he says. “Up there” involves a strenuous battle with large rocks, and my knees don’t enjoy big steps. Pushing down hard on the trekking poles makes me glad I’ve been working on my triceps, but I’m pretty tired when we finally top the ridge.
Now lunch on the trail for me is usually a five-minute stop to ingest some calories while sitting on a rock. Not here! The first thing I see is the mess tent, then my biffy, then the cook tent. Richard, our cook, trots out hot soup, boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes, a concoction of tough-as-leather beef, and a huge plate of fresh fruit, plus juice boxes and tea. I could get used to this!
We climb for a couple more hours before the trail makes a gentler contour to the Shira Plateau, our destination for the day. A series of showers keeps the weather pleasantly cool, and we arrive in camp (fully set up, as usual) completely soaked. We have gained 705m today and now sit at 3505m.
Before I’m even into some dry clothes, the afternoon sky clears to reveal the summit cone of Kili, so majestic above the Moorland of Shira. I rush from the tent to take a photo, as I never know when we will see the high snows again. We have the camp to ourselves, as most parties take the Machame Route, which we will join higher up. Also, this is low season.
I’m tired and fall asleep as soon as I’m in the sleeping bag, but wake two hours later. Tobias keeps urging me to drink, 4 litres a day if I can. The inevitable result is multiple trips to the biffy through the night, and unfortunately I can’t get back to sleep after the first trip.