Day 2 – Machame Camp to Shira Camp (9,350 to 12,500 ft.)
Today we climbed about 6 hours through moorlands, leaving the rainforest and climbing into terrain marked more by heather, rocky ridges and small valleys. In the early afternoon we were greeted by the mess and kitchen tents set up to serve us a hot lunch before we headed on.
In what would become a familiar routine, the sleeping tents were set up when we arrived in camp early in the evening. We would carry our duffels to our tent, clean up, then head to the mess tents for tea or hot chocolate and a snack.
Meals in these first days would be eggs and toast with hot dogs at breakfast, rice or pasta with chicken at dinner. Soup at dinner became an amusing ritual. The porters would carry big insulated pots to the entrance of the mess tent and announce it as Cucumber, or Sweet Potato, or Carrot soup. Whatever the name, it always turned out to be the same; a salty chicken broth with a few grated shreds of its namesake vegetable. For all that, we were glad to get it and most wanted seconds. Hot soup would become a real treat on the mountain.
I think with the constant exertion and altitude we enjoyed food that would have dismayed us at home. While the hot dogs at breakfast were treated with suspicion by many, most of us enjoyed whatever else was served. After a few days there would be no more chicken; pasta or rice with mushroom or vegetable sauce would become the norm for dinner.
In Shira camp I first encountered the deep shuddering shiver that would overcome me in my sleeping bag for the next few nights as I tried to get to sleep, and the high altitude pattern of waking 6-8 times a night which persisted until we descended to Mweka camp at around 10,000 feet on the last night. Both the shaking and the sleep disturbance seemed more related to the altitude than the cold, so I didn’t let it bother me much after the first night.
One of the guides told me that large animals would sometimes come up to these altitudes, perhaps to find salt licks. I’ve seen a photo of a mummified cape buffalo high on the mountain.