Tuesday 5 November 2019

5. Kilimanjaro Challenge: Lemosho Route - Day Four - Moir Hut to Lava Tower and down to Barranco Camp 4,600m

Jambo Jambo!

Thanks for sticking with me up to Day Four of my Kilimanjaro Challenge along the Lemosho Route. We had now from the start travelled 28km up 1,950 metres and made it to Moir Hut at 4,200 metres amsl and aside from the dose of nausea and the occasional pang of a light headache I made a habit of sniffing peppermint oil and was okay to press on. 

But Day Four was going to be our toughest day so far physically and mentally, as we would be following the golden rule of 'walk high, sleep low' passing up to 4,600 metres at the Lava Tower and then dropping down to Barranco camp at 3,950 metres to sleep, where the real signs of any altitude would come into affect - it is 'part of the game' our guides would tell us. A tough game to play in the undulating highs and lows of the Kilimanjaro experience.  

We had awoken again in the frost to beautiful clear skies a little after 6am to see the spectacular view of the Arrow Glacier and the sun peeking over the western face of the peaks, reassuring us we were getting closer!. There is a vitality of energy among the porters at the camps so you can't help but wake up early in the hub bub of the camp break downs. It was actually the first time we were in the mess tent having breakfast and were far too hot! Members of my team attempted to unzip all the openings and roll up the windows of our tent to air ourselves out - but the porters eventually just lifted the tent up and moved it off us to enjoy breakfast in the rising sunshine!

I was still feeling a little nauseous but not to the extent I had been, but I had an impending awareness that this leg may bring on the obstacle of genuine signs of altitude sickness on our journey and would just have to wait and see whether it was going to hit me. I was still strictly keeping to my advice plan of taking Diamox, drinking 3 litres a day, going 'pole pole' and even breathing through my nose more! 

Video diary from a frosty morning at Moir Hut...

Frozen tent! but a streaky seedeater bird flew in to say good morning.  

  The Uhuru summit on the highest peak of Kibo is on the other side of the face - you can see the snow! 

 Having sun soaked breakfast alfresco style....

The camp starts to be broken down pretty much immediately after breakfast by the 'tent guys' and porters, our duffels needed to be packed and ready to go on heads and even at the time of leaving, our tents were being whipped up off the ground and dismantled! 

Our guides were so attentive to us, not just in leading us up the mountain but even paying attention to the fact I'd put my gaiters on wrong and would snatch them off my feet and put them on properly!  

So once rugged and buckled up 'Hip! Hip! Hop Hop!', off we embarked on Day Four ascending higher through the dryness of the rocky semi desert trail towards the Lava Tower, taking my usual 'tortoise' position at the back of the group, even more conscious now of going slowly we were heading into 'altitude sickness territory'.

'Be the tortoise.....' kind of look like a walking one don't I?

Porter catching up already from the camp...on the other side of the valley I could spot brightly coloured climbers where the trail splits and veers off to the north for people doing the Northern Circuit Route - a new path in recent years on Kilimanjaro 

My wonderful guide Kotalieb - so kind and patient.

Our on-foot moving service 

As we ascended higher and higher, you could see the landscape changing into sparse rocky alpine desert leaving the land of moorland heather to the land of lichen covered boulders. I was lucky today to be able to see views of Mt. Meru way in the west of Tanzania rising out of Arusha National Park.

Trying not to trip!

High above the clouds! about 4,400 metres up

The rocky road ahead, its like a different planet up here!

Unfortunately our jinx with the 'worse week of weather in October' during our climb would still haunt us as the mist and rain clouds came rolling in again to obscure our view of anything more than a couple of hundred metres away as we climbed higher and higher towards the Lava Tower. We just couldn't escape from the rain each day making it twice as tough to battle through the cloud clogged gauntlet of the mountain.  

I knew my physical fitness was intact, I had trained religiously for 6 months on the lead up to the trek and didn't doubt my physical capacity to do Kilimanjaro as long as I treated my knees with TLC by orders by my osteopath. I had said to most people in my many conversations leading up to the expedition that the greatest obstacle for me would be the unknown realm of high altitude and how my body would deal with it.

It was past the 4,500 metre point that my nausea disappeared which had been plaguing my appetite and was then replaced by a different kind of dulling headache beginning to creep into my skull. Despite me drinking all the water, lingering behind the group and taking those damn Diamox pills (and peeing alot - a supposed good sign of acclimatisation) - I knew this was the onset of Altitude sickness, you just knew it and I attempted to keep it at bay, playing the game as it were that headaches were common and normal at this extreme height.

It only seemed to be a mild headache, but I was very honest with my symptoms to my now guide Abel to keep tabs on me. Headaches are symptoms of AMS and I was not surprised for myself to start feeling some affect from the change in air and altitude as we were approaching 4,600 metres - I would have considered myself extremely lucky to not feel any symptoms of AMS but it wasn't very realistic considering I had never climbed at extreme high altitude before. I recognised what was happening to my body and wanted to wait it out to see how well I would be doing on our descent to Barranco camp, so stuck with it and kept the mild fuzziness of the headache from worsening...or at least I hoped it wouldn't.

We had now entered the challenging second half of Kilimanjaro - when the going gets tough, the tough get going!       

My group are....somewhere there???

The trail near to the Lava Tower starts to get busy at this point, the peace and solitude of a few groups on the Lemosho Route comes to an end as we begin joining the same route with the popular Machame Route and see the a long line of porters and other climbers all mixed together, fighting for space to get ahead to the camps as we all try to clamber over the passage of bearded lichen boulders and moss shrouded rocks on the steep incline - that was a headache just in its self! 

The Lava Tower! After about four hours of hiking, the shifting tide of rain and mist came in to disrupt the views again but I found wearing my sunglasses helped to try and beat down my threatening headache that was starting to burden me slightly in the damp and chilly cloak of the bright mist.

At 4,600 metres (which is 7m shy of the highest mountain in Switzerland) the 90 metre Lava Tower is located on the western slopes of Kibo (the highest peak on Kili and where we're trying to get to!) along the Shira, Machame, Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes, so there's alot of people stopping off at this popular resting point. Its a volcanic rock tower that was formed by volcanic activity on Kilimanjaro many years previously and is known as a volcanic plug where lava shot out of a vent at the base of the tower which cooled and hardened into igneous rock and stopped the venting of lava from beneath.

I had made it up to the Lava Tower where we'd reached our acclimatisation point and be stopping for lunch, my headache still lingering - I knew this was Kilimanjaro's way of letting me know I was in its higher territory and hoping as we began descending after lunch it would pack its bags and leave me alone! I knew I could be prone to headaches if I didn't drink enough at sea level so I made hydration a top priority to help me through it. I knew my body and what I could be resilient to.

Here's a photo of me still alive at the Lava Tower camp looking like I'm from a Beastie Boys music video, we couldn't see a thing through the mist again which could have given us superb panoramic views of the mountain, but I think the weather was settled into this dire rain pattern for the week and it was unfortunate we'd just have to miss out on the views.

Once we'd all reached the top, the porters and team had already set up the mess tent and the kitchen. The rain was really starting to come down up at this altitude so they decided to move all our day packs into another tent to stop them getting saturated. With the misfortune of a lingering headache and fast, hard thick rain - I hadn't lost my appetite with nausea and actually quite enjoyed lunch up at the Lava Tower which others had told me that some people tend to start to lose their appetite at this rest stop. I was feeling hopeful now that this leg of the trek had been vital for acclimatisation and we were going to be descending now after some food making our 2 hour descent 700 metres to the Barranco Camp down the southern slope of Kilimanjaro. 

The rain was still pounding down on us torrentially which made the zig zag descent south from the Lava Tower over the boulders gushing with rain rivers a pretty precarious and dangerous task into the gully. With water getting into our boots and squelching through the next couple of hours not being able to see too much aside from the overwhelming cold, bleak fog we were trapped in. The path down to Barranco rose and fell a few times before plummeting into the Barranco Valley where the faint silhouettes of some obscure misshapen trees began coming out of the mist as I drew closer. They looked like prehistoric giants fingers with spiky dull mustard coloured leaves like cabbage tutti-frutti hats - or pineapples that had been mutated and stretched. I half expected in my fuzzy headspace to see a brachiosaurus stomping behind us in the Jurassic scene! The distinctive funky shaped trees sprouting around at different heights were Dendrosenecio kiligroundsel and found only above 3,600 metres in damper more sheltered parts of the mountain. Their dead bleached banana leaf style trunks which felt like well....felt insulated their fragile trunks from the cold alpine conditions. They are also slow growers, you can tell by the number of 'cabbage heads' they've got, one marking 25 years!    

Despite this fantastic exotic discovery of the trees, the affect I was hoping for my headache going away was not happening, it was doing the opposite! As I descended lower and lower in the Barranco Valley towards the comfort of the camp, the intensity of my headache was growing and growing and I knew 100% that I was suffering from AMS despite all the water I was drinking. I was helplessly falling victim to it and there wasn't really much in my control I could do except to soldier on and reach the Baranco Camp at 3,900 metres where I could lie down - and that's all I really wanted to do!

Finally reaching Baranco Camp, we had descended 700 metres and by this time my crashing headache and exhaustion chased me into my tent and I was awoken up by guide Robert when I hadn't shown up in the mess tent hours later. I was experiencing 'the rite of passage' as I would call it of Kilimanjaro by suffering from the affects of altitude passing over the 4,500 metre point, which I had fully expected to and needed to go through.

The pain of an altitude headache I can only describe for those who have never had AMS much like your brain being crushed by intense pressure and nearly tear inducing. He gave me a health check reading blood/oxygen level, heart rate and examined my circulation from my eyeball and tongue which appeared to be fine but now having numbers marked on my health report, I was asked if I wanted to descend for check up and treatment in Moshi. I knew my own body (we women do) and was defiant to the idea of someone else telling me I had to quit. It was common, I was told to have a blinding headache at this stage and had every possibility to be just temporary so I wanted to resort to taking two painkillers and hopefully sleep the headache off and see how I was faring in the morning. I didn't want to descend and end the expedition unless I was not able to cope anymore, I knew I could recover and this was the challenge of Kilimanjaro even if it could bring me to tears. I had to stay optimistic and fight on.     

I couldn't face the clatter and noise from the camp outside so I had my food brought to me by the kind, attentive kitchen staff - should have been charged more for tent service!

And then I was left alone, relaxing into the pounding in my head willing my dreams (and the paracetamol too) to take all my pain away and just hoped my Kilimanjaro challenge was not coming to an end....

Thanks for reading folks - if you'd like to donate for my journey so far to my Just Giving page to charity 'Action For M.E' who help sufferers of 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome' like my sister, I'd super appreciate your generosity (and so would my head!)

Equipment and clothing I used were from Ultimate Outdoor and Cotswold Outdoors

Meindl Boots
North Face 
TYTNY Walking Poles
Regatta Outdoors 

Asante Sana

Day Ascent Distance : 400 metres (1312 ft) ↑ ascent and 700 metres (2296 ft) ↓ descent 12km

Total Elevation (Day 4) 4,600 metres amsl (15092 ft)


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  2. Hiya, Thank you - do try to make it look different to other travel blogs. Glad it has come in useful to you, Kilimanjaro is certainly something you need to prepare for!


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