Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Kili 2 - Machame Hut to Shira Plateau

Day 2 - Machame Hut to Shira Plateau (3,840m)
An embarrassing lunch with fetching tablecloth. How do the chickens get up the mountain? I cannot find the coffee tent. Is Diamox good for you?

The morning is crisp and the hot water in plastic bowls for washing cools rapidly. The mountain looms over us, massive and benign, snow fields and glaciers very visible but distant. It’s awfully high.

Breakfast is porridge made – we think – from traditional scots oats mixed with pap, and jolly nice and wholesome it is too. The fried eggs and toast are however less beguiling and the coffee has not improved with ageing, but hell, who’s complaining, we’ve got a mountain to scale.

We set off at the same early morning snails pace. It takes at least 15 minutes to get into the rhythm, but once it’s reached it feels that you can achieve anything.

A picture that needs no caption
We walk through vegetation that is an uneasy transition between the cloud forests below and stubby windblown shrubs. Reminiscent of Western Cape fynbos with  Restio’s, Ericas, and Protea all present. We ascend quickly and the rhythm feels good. Looking back Machame Hut is receding fast, Mweru is an imposing mountain 80km’s to the West and the plains between Arusha and Moshi are cloud covered.  At one stopping point Kibo can be seen framed between feathered deeply green trees, startlingly white. The immediate slopes are thickly vegetated; a primordial garden.

As we rounded a rock promontory at the edge of the mid-day resting place we saw, and scoffed at, the sight of two trekkers and their guide seated in isolated splendour to one side of a plateau on folding chairs at a table fetchingly covered with a blue table cloth. “Pur-lees” we muttered under our laboured breaths, until we saw – oh horror – a table with a fetching blue table cloth, laid out with cutlery and plates with a soup tureen in the centre, set for nine! The menu comprised boiled eggs, toasted sandwiches, oh and soup – did I forget the soup? All rounded off with fresh orange quarters. Who can really complain?

Luncheon al fresco

Local chicken
There are certainly no complaints from the largest rooks I have ever seen. These birds are plainly masters at high altitude scavenging and follow us all the way up the mountain to the highest camp. My only fear for them is that they may die of over-eating. My suspicion is that far from carting frozen chicken pieces up from below the porters are actually trapping these birds and serving them to us as chicken a la caught, and there is a certain similarity between those powerful thighs and the “chicken” chunks. . .  Bombay Rook perhaps?

From our palatial picnic site to Shira Hut the topography becomes more vertical and more reminiscent of Cape Town's Table Mountain, both in terms of rock formation and flora. As we traverse the mountain side the mist closes in and we cross a number of streams fed by glacial melt-waters.

Shira Hut could be any refugee camp in the world. It is desolate with clumps of wind swept trees. There are tents scattered over a wide area. A couple of forlorn long drop toilets stick out like odiferous sore thumbs. I find myself scanning the site for the Red Cross tent, or at the very least Medecins Sans Frontieres, or UNICEF; in fact any one who might have some decent coffee, but to no avail.

It is cold and the wind is whipping round the tents. I waterproof my boots to take my mind off things. That, evening as we plough through our wholesome soup talk turns inevitably to Diamox (after having exhausted the days urinary tales).

Diamox is a wonder drug that is supposed to act as a prophylactic against altitude sickness. It also does other things as well and is generally considered by the non-medical community to be pretty hardcore stuff – whatever it is used for. It is so hard-core that while all nine of us were taking it not one of us had been given consistent instructions for its use. Some were taking one tablet daily in the morning. Others were taking two tablets, morning and mid-day. Some were taking one tablet, but half in the morning and half in the evening. Someone had been advised to take three a day. Needless to say confusion and subdued anxiety was rife. What’s more Diamox has some interesting side effects. It is a diuretic, which explained the frequent toilet stops (and thus the urinary banter), and causes the most dire tingling in the extremities. It is also responsible for all sorts of other temporary ills and rightly became the excuse for any minor mishap that befell us.

Shira Hut. The coffee tent is the blue one?

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