Climbing Kilimanjaro – Lemosho Trek Day 4

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.

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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! 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. 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. 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. 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 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. The descent from Lava Tower is very steep. A closer look at the descent. 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. 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. 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. 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!

Learning Bicycle Maintenance 101 from a MEC Clinic

As I mentioned earlier, I am pretty much clueless when it comes to bicycles but I can’t remain that way if I intend on cycling 500km on the Greenbelt.

So I decided to sign up for a 1 hour bike maintenance 101 class at MEC.  It only costs $10 so it is pretty affordable (based on cost of living these days in Toronto).  If need be, just skip a lunch!

I dragged a friend along because he happened to be experiencing problems with his bicycle chain and wasn’t sure how to address it.  There were 201 (more advanced) classes as well but I figured if we needed to, we could take those later.

The class itself was really casual and informal and run by a friendly bicycle technician at MEC with quite a few years of experience.  People from all walks of life showed up to learn at my class.

Bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner
A cool bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner

Most of the class was focused on fixing tire flats but we did cover some of the other major things.  Some major takeaways for me were:

  1. The differences between presta and shraeder valves for the tires.
  2. The steps involved to replacing or fixing the tire.
  3. How to clean and oil the chain properly.
  4. Determining the right tire tube for your tire.
  5. Why there may be issues with the bicycle chain.

In hindsight, the steps involved with fixing the flat tire make total sense but the lack of knowledge and understanding of the anatomy of the bike (not to mention information overload) is what hinders us from making the right decision on what to do first, next, and last.

Some notes that I took were:

Fixing Flats

  • Before trying to remove the tire, shift gear to the highest number (furthest away from the wheel) to avoid hindering the tire removal.
  • Unhook the brake noodle for V-shaped or cantilever brakes.
  • Recognize the differences in approach to presta and shraeder valves
    • Presta valves have a bolt and nipple to adjust when filling air
    • Shraeder valves are wider
    • Tire pumps are not always compatible with both.
    • Use the brand or labels as reference points to know where the valve will go and/or when checking for issues with the tire or the rim.
    • The tire bead (a wire encased in rubber within the tire) helps maintain the tire form and structure

Chain maintenance

  • Use a rag or old t-shirt and clean the guck or dirt off the chain.
  • The chain should be silver.
  • Don’t use grease.  Use proper lube — eco-friendly if possible.
  • After applying lube into the chain and NOT on to the chain — use a rag to wipe off any excess lube.
  • Excess lube or oil will only catch more dirt and cause more problems down the road.

Picking the right tire tube size

  • Refer to the bicycle tire.  It should identify the brand, the dimensions of the tire or type of tire (i.e. 700CC), the suitable tire pressure range.

Overall, I really enjoyed the MEC Bicycle Maintenance 101 Clinic.  I do wish they had example bikes that we could actually work on but I guess perhaps the cost might be higher.  It was nonetheless really informative and I may pursue the more advanced or specific clinics down the road.

In the meanwhile, it is almost time to start trying some maintenance on my own bike!

Some additional resources I found helpful:

Climbing Kilimanjaro – Lemosho Trek Day 3

As we trekked through this part of Kilimanjaro — I found myself yearning to stay in this area a day or two longer.  I loved how the flatness of the plateau contrasted against the sheer size of Kilimanjaro’s summit (and the remaining trek ahead of us). It just seemed like this would be a perfect place to stay on the mountain a while and just really take in the vastness of the plateau.  The trail was relatively straight forward and easy to walk along with the exception of a couple of instances where we had to cross a few streams.

Getting to sleep last night wasn’t too difficult on the Shira Plateau — it was remaining in a state of sleep that was the challenge.  Drinking more than 3 to 4 litres of water wasn’t helping with this situation.  I had found myself reluctantly and clumsily stumbling out of my tent in the middle of night to answer nature’s calling.  Fortunately, I was still feeling pretty energetic despite the interruptions and was eager to pack up and get an early start in this morning of December 28th, 2015.  To be honest, ever since I arrived in Tanzania, I’ve found myself waking up earlier — not sure if it was the time difference or the fact that the lack of electricity just forces you to go to sleep earlier.  Maybe both.

It was a little unreal stepping out of the tent to finally get a glimpse of Kilimanjaro’s summit — while on … Kilimanjaro.  Only a few days until the New Year.  This was happening.

A quiet and tranquil morning view from my tent. A quiet and tranquil morning view from my tent. With the clear sky, we can finally see Kilimanjaro from our campsite and its respective size. With the clear sky, we can finally see Kilimanjaro from our campsite and its respective size.

As a result of the beautiful morning, we decided to move our breakfast outdoors out of the mess tent and enjoy the view.  This would probably be the only time we’d eat breakfast outside the mess tent but it would be glorious.  People brought out their solar panels to charge up any battery packs that required while we ate.  Breakfast was often an interesting mix of fruit, chapate, toast, sausage or bacon, and some form of porridge (initially millet — if I remember correctly).

I think I was building a form of addiction to toast with jam.  Something I never paid any attention to before.

Once breakfast was finished, everyone packed up and we set off further into the Shira Plateau — making our way towards Shira 2 camp.  The plan today was a pretty light hike of 5km and then take the opportunity to do some short acclimatization hikes.

Making our way through the Shira plateau towards the summit. Making our way through the Shira plateau towards the summit. A look back at the vastness of the mountain plateau. A look back at the vastness of the mountain plateau.

As we trekked through this part of Kilimanjaro — I found myself yearning to stay in this area a day or two longer.  I loved how the flatness of the plateau contrasted against the sheer size of Kilimanjaro’s summit (and the remaining trek ahead of us). It just seemed like this would be a perfect place to stay on the mountain a while and just really take in the vastness of the plateau.  The trail was relatively straight forward and easy to walk along with the exception of a couple of instances where we had to cross a few streams.

This is where trekking poles are invaluable — particularly if you are surefooted or find yourself challenged with it comes to balance.  It’s also helpful to avoid getting your boots wet — even if your boots may be considered waterproof.

The clouds were catching up with us by the afternoon ... as usual. The clouds were catching up with us by the afternoon … as usual.

Similar to our experience from the previous two days, the clouds began to roll in by noon.  Before the rain, we would sit down and enjoy lunch.  Lunch was also an peculiar mishmash of items — everything from a banana, apple, a butter sandwich or a piece of chocolate, all the way to a tin-foiled wrapped piece of fried chicken.  We all amused ourselves pondering how fried chicken came to be.  Quietly, I mused to myself whether KFC or Popeye’s would ever sponsor the porters in carrying buckets of fried chicken up a mountain.

We continued to make our way through the Shira Plateau staying ahead of the clouds to some extent.  Along the way, we even took a break although it wasn’t much of a break physically because our mountain guides led us off the trail to show us a cave that had some traces of use by the local people in the past.

The trek eventually brought us to interesting signs that were set up because the trail would begin to fork.  Apparently, porters have in the past mistaken the direction of Shira 2 camp and would end up at a different campsite.  This actually happened to one of our porters who was carrying one of our mess tent tables.  The poor guy was new to the Lemosho route and ended up at a different campsite.  Fortunately, a couple of our othere porters who knew the route went to fetch him.

Passing by signage.  Apparently even with these signs people can easily get lost. Passing by signage.  Apparently even with these signs people can easily get lost. Stopping for a break with a few senecio trees.  These are rare in this part of the mountain. Stopping for a break with a few senecio trees.  These are rare in this part of the mountain.

As the cloud cover rolled in with the mist, we all began to don our jackets.  The trail was also becoming more rugged and no longer were we in the Shira Plateau — we were gradually making our way out of it.  That said we weren’t completely out yet but it was really awesome to encounter these odd looking senecio trees.  It’d be the first time I had ever seen one — never even knew about them before.

Of course just as we were getting close to Shira 2 camp, the rain began and we found ourselves walking into the campsite for registration in the rain once again.  It wasn’t bad and I was grateful that it didn’t rain for most of our hike — unfortunately the rain and the cloud cover made it difficult to tackle some extra acclimatization hikes so we ended up just sitting in the mess tent.

Unfortunately, the mess tent had some leaks and parts of the rain cover were pooling water — this I could see making the situation rather uncomfortable for some folks given that it was the main and only source of shelter for just hanging out and eating.  It didn’t bother me much but I could see that it was bothering some of the others.  We made the most of it and amused ourselves trying to move around or sit away from the leakages.

Arriving at Shira 2 camp in the rain, but after resting in the mess tent for an hour or so -- the skies began to clear. Arriving at Shira 2 camp in the rain, but after resting in the mess tent for an hour or so — the skies began to clear.

The cloud formations are pretty epic to observe as the sky begins to clear up. The cloud formations are pretty epic to observe as the sky begins to clear up.

Some of the others who were willing to hike in the pouring rain went off to check out the Shira Caves but I figured I didn’t want to test the waterproofing of my rain jacket if it wasn’t necessary so I stayed back.  Surprisingly altitude wasn’t bothering me much and I had managed to avoid taking diamox pills so far.

Once the rain stopped and the clouds began to roll away, we were gifted with some pretty spectacular views.  I love cloud formations and it was just breathtaking to see how everything looked as the sky began to clear up — and that also allowed us to take some acclimatization hikes before dinner.

The evening at Shira 2 camp was quite a bit chillier than the past two nights.  On a positive note, Shira 2 camp lived up to its name based on what I had read.  It had the best toilets and latrines on Kilimanjaro.  Not only was there a designated large building with solar power for tourist latrines — there was ceramic tiling, and there were both western and local-type latrines.  I think that cheered up the group a bit.

The night brought clear skies full of stars that we all admired but were too cold to bother trying to photograph.  Instead, everyone quickly just brushed their teeth and tried to go straight to sleep.  Some people were already feeling the effects of altitude but it wasn’t major.  Tomorrow would be the day when we’d be pushing the threshold.

Check out Day 4 of the Kilimanjaro trek!

draw.post.repeat

I’ve been meaning to do more sketching or drawing in addition to working away on Sidetracked & Wandering (a former iteration of this site) where I typically write about hiking and travel.

That’s why I’m happy to launch a shiny new initiative with my friend @serenadraws – inspired by the dear data project, but with a few twists to it.

The idea is to mail one another a postcard drawing or sketch of something on the mind or of something that has had an impact on us.  We alternate weeks.

Take a peek over @ draw.post.repeat

Between the Bike and the Weather

With spring time fast arriving in Toronto, I am hoping to get started with some early spring training once I return from a quick trip to Utah.  I don’t know this’ll happen if temperatures continue to be looking to be in the low single digits.

A 14-day weather forecast from Weather Network starting from March 20th 2016
A 14-day weather forecast from Weather Network starting from March 20th 2016

I’m hoping that once I return from my trip to Utah, things will be significantly warmer for the first weekend of April.  I’ve been doing a bit of reading on training and it is suggested that cyclists training should start off with short one-hour rides.  I might even start with less than that if the weather is that cold.

I’ll also need to see if any of my toques can fit under my helmet and will work effectively.  I think I caught a brief cold in mid-late March as a result of wind chill and my toque was practically useless as I could feel the cold wind blowing right through.

In the meanwhile, I’ve focused on learning more about my own bike, a Trek 3700, a 2010 model if I remember correctly.  There’s a lot to learn and I haven’t figured out which bicycle maintenance book to buy yet — but a friend and I have signed up for a bicycle maintenance clinic at MEC.  It’s $10 for an hour’s worth of learning, and you don’t have to bring your own bike (which is good because I live a fair distant away from the MEC store in Toronto).  I’m excited to see what I’ll learn and be able to put into practice when I bring out my bike for some spring cleaning!

My bicycle when it was younger (and newer)
My bicycle when it was younger (and newer)

Between the bike and the weather, I’ve got a lot of figuring out to do…!