Kilimanjaro, my last great mountain: Part Three

Morning on the Shira Plateau

At 0400 I went to the biffy and saw a magical sky bursting with stars and a crescent moon that provided just enough light to make out the outline of the mountain.  The melodic trills of an alpine chat welcomed the dawn, reminding me of the song of the winter wren.  Sun blessed the early morning, drying my damp hiking clothes in minutes.   I’m going to gain weight on this climb if I keep eating at my current rate: mango, banana, avocado, cheese, bread, jam, omelet, sausage, cucumber and tomato slices for breakfast.  Stalking around the mess tent was a large black bird with a white patch on the back of the neck.  One croak confirmed that it was a raven.

Moorland of the Shira Plateau

We leave at 0845, heading across the Moorland with its low vegetation, different from any we have seen.

For two hours the trail is mostly flat, but I have trouble coordinating my breathing with my pace.  I’m worried, because I really shouldn’t have a problem at this elevation, but once we start to climb, all is well.

We pause from time to time to rest and drink as the sky gradually clouds over, threatening another afternoon of rain.

Soon we are in a mist that swirls around the grey-green shrubs and hanging lichens.  It is a landscape of fantasy: soft, mysterious, quiet.

Tobias on way to Moir Camp

Tobias in rain gear

Then we enter the Alpine Desert zone, a land of rock and scattered tufts of green.

Alpine desert zone

Lunch is on a ridge – chicken, banana fritters, fries, a veggie concoction – needed to give us strength for the steady rain that accompanies us all the way to camp and continues through the night.

Arrival at Moir Camp

The “desert” seems to be getting its annual quota of moisture on our watch.

In an attempt to get a good night’s sleep, I decide to drink nothing after 1700.  Bad idea.  I snuggle into my sleeping bag but cannot get my breathing down to the slow breaths needed for slumber. At 2300 I give up and start to drink, feeling better with every swallow and finally falling into a deep sleep.  Of course, two hours later I’m wide awake after the inevitable nature call.

Moir Camp is at 4160 m.  It is a barren site, nestled between ridges, with limited views, and little life beyond the ravens.  So what was an elephant doing up here?  Its bleached bones offer only questions.

Elephant skeleton at Moir Camp

Was it madness that drove it to such heights?  Was it lost?  Was it searching for something?  Did it realize before it died that it had made a mistake or did it find some satisfaction in its wild venture?  I feel sadness, but also a little admiration for its daring.

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