Waking up at Shira 2 camp on December 29th, 2015 was damn chilly and cold experience. Some puddles of water from yesterday’s rain had turned into small patches of muddy ice. I was waking up way earlier than the rest of the group. Between responding to nature’s call (in the cold!) and the changes in timezone, I found myself operating on less sleep than I had anticipated — but it didn’t seem to bother me like it would have if I walked into the office sleep-deprived. I felt energized every day we continued trekking on the mountain.
Today’s hike — we were informed ahead of time — would be a tough one. We’d be pushing up to a much higher altitude by hiking up to Lava Tower and then descending to Barranco Camp for the night which was at a lower altitude to acclimatize. We didn’t really know what we would be up against but at least the day started out with beautiful weather!
Morning at Shira 2 Camp. It was pretty cold!
It didn’t seem that far, until we looked back at the hike up from Shira 2 Camp.
The trek up from Shira 2 Camp was like a slow slog up a loose gravel incline. The pace wasn’t bad and it allowed for us to enjoy the surroundings. Some groups passed us, just as we passed others. We kept trekking up for so long that eventually the clouds began to catch-up with us.
Soon finding ourselves in the clouds, the trail actually got busier and very narrow because we were hiking on a ridge. Some points only allowing for everyone to be hiking single-file. This meant porters coming from all directions, mountain guides, and trekkers were all bottle-necked in this part of the trail leading towards Lava Tower.
Trudging up to a very busy area. We end up trekking along the rim where the trail is very narrow.
On the way, the landscape got very stark but beautiful. It is simply astonishing how this part of the mountain looks in-person. I won’t say it looks like Mars, but it doesn’t look like any place that most human beings would consider living.
There was a really neat point of the trail where we had to literally squeeze down through a gap. You can take a look closer at the photograph above. Not only was it a gap, but it was a steep descent as well making for a challenging but interesting footwork. Trekking poles make things a lot easier.
We’d take breaks on the side of the trail and find rocks to “leave a message” behind for Mother Nature. Getting closer to Lava Tower, many of us were beginning to feel the effects of the altitude. I was getting a bit lightheaded but the landscape fortunately continued to inspire me to take photographs and trek on.
Taking a break after the trail widens up a little. A look at how vast the valley is before the climb up to Lava Tower
By the time we got to Lava Tower, we were fully under cloud cover and there was a bit of rain drizzle as well. I did not realize this but apparently there were many groups that also camped at Lava Tower. I can only imagine what it might look like in the morning when it was sunny. That said, I didn’t really enjoy the fact that there were so many groups funneling into the Lava Tower area. Many of us were really feeling the altitude at this point or were pretty tired from the long slog up from the valley — to make things even more challenging, we had to find a spot to it down for lunch and I think we took an unnecessarily difficult route.
Nonetheless, I was happy to sit down and enjoy lunch while treating a water refill (which is I admit, a bit of a hassle at times). Unlike many others who were struggling with the altitude, I was still hungry — which was surprising. I think I ate almost everything in my lunch box.
Our mountain guides seemed eager to stick to schedule so we soon set off back on to the trail after a quick break to answer nature’s call. It would be a very steep descent down. The altitude mainly affected me in a way that gave me a sense of lightheadedness — so I wasn’t feeling as surefooted as I normally would be. The way down was full of unevenly set stones, jagged rocks, and loose gravel. Fortunately, our mountain guides were keeping an eye on us and reassuring us as we went — and our trekking poles were an excellent help once again.
The descent from Lava Tower is very steep. A closer look at the descent.
Once past the steep descent from Lava Tower, it was as if we arrived in another world. A world filled with senecio trees! Despite the fog and the rain, it was a very welcome sight after the very stark Lava Tower area. We also had to take care to avoid slipping on certain sections of the trail. The descent was definitely helping address the altitude sickness that some members of my group were feeling but the way down was also rough on their knees.
The steep descent takes us into an area full of senecio trees. It was a beautiful sight with all the mist and fog. A very rugged trail on the way down made it quite challenging. It was amazing watching the porters make their way down.
There was a point along the trail when I had to answer nature’s call again (thanks to all the water that I’m being forced to drink) and unfortunately there was no place to go along the trail, so I actually had to climb up some of the rugged areas. The funny thing is that I thought we were on a break. I must have either drank way too much or misunderstood because as soon as I found my way back to the trail, I lost track of where the group was and the mountain guide that had my trekking poles. Oops.
I just kept trekking forwards until I saw someone in my group and inquired. As soon as they saw it was me, my poles were passed from person to person down to me. Good thing they have keen enough eyes to spot me through the fog because I definitely was having a hard time!
Once we arrived at Barranco camp, it was a relief to see our porters. They greeted us with smiles and cheer — helping to relieve us of our packs — which I thought was ridiculous because they were carrying so so much more than we were.
Barranco Camp was unfortunately almost like tent city. I could not believe how many people and how many tents were set up here. It was insane. It also meant that our group tents were closer together. I kid you not that they were in some cases, inches apart. In some sense, everyone was growing more intimate than ever before!
The clouds clear up for a brief moment for a view of the Barranco Wall that we will climb tomorrow.
Alas, the public latrine situation here was not nearly as good as it was on Shira 2 camp. I think due to the number of people including porters — people don’t pay attention to whether some latrines are designated for tourists or porters — they just use whatever is available. Well, if you’re not fortunate enough to have hired chemical toilets, you just have to make do. Unfortunately with tent city, it also meant we had to trek half way across numerous tent sites in order to reach the latrines. Not so great when it is cold and in the middle of the night.
On a lighter note, I think my group was getting tired of millet porridge because when our guides offered the possibility of oatmeal — they all practically cheered themselves hoarse. Funny how these little things affect mood on the mountain. Personally, I didn’t mind the millet. At the end of the night, due to the number of people at the camp, there was a discussion on when to tackle the Barranco Wall — we didn’t want to wait too long (9am) or get stuck with a lot of traffic (8am). We ended up deciding to tackle it at 8:30am. I had no idea why it’d make such a difference but I wasn’t a mountain guide. Once dinner and tomorrow’s briefing wrapped up — we stepped out to enjoy the stars once again.
Check out Day 5!