Saturday 11 August

(magnify) Ready for the trek!

Wake early at six to give RL plenty of time to pack. This gives RS and me a fairly leisurely start to the day. We fill up on delicious heavy brown bread for breakfast, and are ready at reception by eight. The Landrovers are loaded by eight-thirty, and we drive for a couple of hours to the Londrossi Gate. We are quite crammed in and kit is stuffed into every available space and lashed onto the roof too.

Ghislaine sitting next to me in the back of one Landrover is clearly very excited. She double-checks her equipment and discovers that her video camera has only six minutes of tape left. She tells me that she booked the trip only last week and has been flying around madly since then getting together all of the equipment she would need.

Weighing bags (Photo: RL)

There is a minor mishap as we rattle along the track to the gate when the tarpaulin covering the roof luggage comes untied and flops down, completely obscuring the driver’s view through the windscreen. On reaching the gate, our luggage is all unloaded and weighed and we all sign the visitors book.

We then continue a short way up the track in the Landrovers until we are out of the trees and on a misty heather heath land. Here we unload and begin walking.

(magnify) The Shira Plateau

Our chief guide is Tosha, ably assisted by Rambo and Liberate. They set a very slow pace – always polepole (which means slowly slowly in Swahili). I find it quite hard to walk so slowly at first but presently I settle into it. It is like the exaggerated slow amble of the belligerent official who is to determined to demonstrate that however much of a rush the person seeking his attention is in, he has all day, and possibly tomorrow too if he feels so inclined.

After a few hours of gentle climbing along the vehicle track, we turn off to the right and eat our packed lunch at the start of the path. Mist rolls in across the plateau. We glimpse the lower flanks of Kilimanjaro in the distance, but most of the peak is obscured by cloud. There is a mysterious air to the place. It is almost unnaturally quiet. We are surrounded by white mist, which occasionally parts just enough to reveal distant rocky outcrops that form part of the collapsed rim of what once was the Shira crater, now the Shira plateau.

(magnify) Shira One Camp

Well before we arrive at our first camp I catch a fleeting glimpse of it through a gap in the mist. It is quite big, and as we approach closer, quite noisy too, a somewhat unwelcome change from the peace and solitude of the trail.

We have big blue two-man A-frame tents to sleep in. I’m on my own, and the two Rachels are sharing another. RL is not certain about this camping lark, and I try to offer some encouragement.

(magnify) Nightfall at Shira One

We are provided each with bowl of warm water for washing. The site is incredibly dusty and I try to keep the tent closed as much as possible to keep the dust out. Tea, coffee, Milo, hot chocolate, and popcorn are available in the mess tent. A few of the party have a mild headache, but no one is suffering from any major effects of the altitude just yet. Mind you, we are at ‘only’ 3550 m. Just another 2345 m to go…

Dinner is at half past six, and we have onion soup, followed by fish in batter with potatoes and a vegetable sauce, with fruit salad for dessert. Most of us are quite tired and begin drifting off to our own tents soon afterwards.