Third day on the mountain: Across the Shira Plateau towards Lava Tower
On the morning of the third day of her team’s climb at Mount Kilimanjaro, Seattle banker Laurie Stewart takes a moment to contemplate her journey so far. See those clouds in the background? The photo doesn’t do justice to the height Stewart is sitting at. Shira Plateau is 12,500 above sea level. Compare this to the numbers on the Empire State Building, below. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley, www.fhcrc.org/about/ne/events/climb)
The observation deck of New York City’s Empire State Building reaches 1,050 feet above the city streets, essentially at sea level. At this point, Stewart and her party have reached the height of nearly 12 Empire State Buildings. And they are nowhere near Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit yet! The summit of Washington State’s Mount Rainier, also of volcanic origin like Kilimanjaro, rises to 14,411 feet above sea level. Kilimanjaro’s summit, Uhuru Peak, stands 19,344 feet above sea level.
If Laurie Stewart looks a bit relaxed in the photo above, she has a right to be. After the hard second day, a night’s sleep off her feet went down well.
Not that sleeping on Kilimanjaro was like snoozing on a pillow-top mattress at home.
Brrrrrrrr in any language
“I was almost always cold” in her tent at night, says Stewart. “It was always a hat on my head and layers of clothing. Then I would take my jackets and my inner layer for the next day, and my warmer pants too, and I’d jam all those into my sleeping bag with me.”
Putting the next day’s clothing in helped warm it up for morning dressing, but there wasn’t much help in the night.
“I was pretty much chilly until we got down off the mountain,” says Stewart.
Not that she hadn’t prepared for the temperature extremes.
“Sleeping was always an adventure,” says Stewart, “even though my bag was rated to 0 degrees.” Stewart hadn’t been tent camping anywhere since her days as a Girl Scout and then as a young married woman exploring with her husband, Ken.
No comfort in the comfort station
Ever notice that in great adventure novels, in travel documentaries, in memoirs of incredible deeds of conquering nature, the little details of life all humans struggle with get left out?
Probably not a bad idea, but there’s reading and then there’s life.
Talking of nighttime cold brings up another memory for Stewart. The use of the, hrrrm, “facilities” at night.
Each time the group camped, the porters set up a latrine tent. The tent provided a measure of privacy and the latrine the ability to minimize environment impact. The first camp, guide John Hauf had demonstrated the use of the portable device.
It wasn’t a popular nighttime destination.
“It was so bitterly cold at night, no one ventured out,” recalls Stewart.
And this was on a climb where, due to exertion and altitude issues, hydration was a must. The climbers took to bringing containers into their tents at night.
“Since we were consuming about three liters of water a day,” says Stewart (that’s one and half of those large soda bottles, folks), “you can probably imagine that the bottles came in handy.”
Back to the mountain
Of course, the goal hadn’t been comfort, but to climb Kilimanjaro, so the party resumed its trek.
As explained in an earlier installment, the aim was always to gain height—while dealing the natural changes in the terrain—but ultimately to descend from the maximum height of the day to something lower, to assist in climbers’ adaptation to the rising altitude. The maximum for this day was 14,800 feet, higher, as noted in one of the captions, than Washington State’s Mount Rainier.
“Up, up, up, up, up,” was how one of Stewart’s satellite phone messages to ABA Banking Journal went.
Not an easy day, but easier than Day Two. Stewart takes the story from there:
“This day was an easier climb for me, as it was always up, but on a sort of shale trail, rather than the huge rocks we’d been on that required such navigation!” says Stewart. She noted that at times, throughout the climb, “trail” was somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, she says, without the aid of the team’s guides, there would have been no knowing, for the neophytes, where the trail really was.
In the course of the climb, the group passed through an incredible valley, a virtual oasis, in Stewart’s words.
“It was difficult to believe that a valley at this altitude would be so lush,” says Stewart. The team forded two rivers and actually found palm trees along the way, another surprise at that altitude.
The visual highlight of the day, a bit (!) higher than the 14,800 reached if you went all the way, was Lava Tower. This huge pillar of volcanic stone thrusting toward the sky cannot fail to impress, even in a photograph.
Feeling the climb
A summary like this doesn’t probe the physical effort involved in the climb of Kilimanjaro.
Stewart had her own issue on Day Two, as recounted. But she wasn’t the only climber feeling the push of this undertaking. One climber began feeling altitude issues the first day, and struggled with the choice to press on or go down. Finances finally convinced her to keep going, according to Stewart. Early retirement from the mountain involves extra costs, because of the need to send parts of the support team back down, early, with the climber.
Breathing was never a problem on the mountain for Stewart, but steadiness on descents, such as on the way to the third night’s encampment, began to be an issue.
At this point, Stewart began mulling the issues she would face as the climb continued.
“I slipped back with the slower folks, and we did not reach camp for the night until well after dark, and a total of 12 hours climbing,” says Stewart.
We leave her for now with her companions and her thoughts at camp in the shadow of the Great Barranco Wall, at 12,900 feet.
Lava Tower dominates the landscape at this part of Kilimanjaro, rising to 15,200 feet. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley)
This extended view of the opening photo gives a better appreciation of the expanse to the right of Stewart’s perch on Shira Plateau. The distances and landscape are breathtaking. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley)
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