Machame Camp (3010 m) – Shira Camp (3845 m), 5.5 km, 835 m elevation, 5 hrs 30 min. Total trip distance so far: 16.5 km, total elevation 2055 m , total hiking time 9 hrs 40 min.
We woke to the wonderful sound of “knock knock…tea”. Warm tea in the tent is a wonderful way to wake up, then porridge and tea for breakfast. We were provided with lots of food and were encouraged to eat as much as we could. We tried to hustle to get ready a little quicker but did not leave camp until a little after 9 am.
The trail on day 2 could not have been more different from the the well-groomed trail and pleasant gradient of day 1. The trail was extremely steep with lots of obstacles. We were constantly stepping over or around rocks and frequently had to utilize hand holds to help propel ourselves forward. Day 2 was definitely pole pole. Our pole pole pace is reflected by our time of 5.5 hrs to hike just 5.5 km.
We had our first break at 10:20 am. We had some snacks during the break, but it was mainly to rest.
The trail continued steeply upwards. Laura, Siobhan and Emily all thought that this was the toughest day hiking. We came to a lovely rocky outcrop at 11 am and stopped for another break. The outcrop had sunshine and was sheltered from the wind but offered a fantastic clear view of the summit.
The view of the bottom of the mountain and the plains below us was obscured by clouds. The clouds would chase up after us throughout the day. They finally caught us at about 1:30 pm, enveloping us in mist. We didn’t leave the clouds again until about twenty minutes from the end of our hike. This coincides fairly nicely with the elevations and climate zones we hiked through on day 2. We had entered the second climate zone, the Heath Zone, yesterday just before arriving at Machame Camp. The Heath Zone extends from 2800 m to 3350 m. The higher altitude results in not only temperatures of about 5C colder on average, but also a large drop in precipitation from 2300 mm in the rain forest to just 1300 mm in the heath. The Heath Zone is characterized as being shrouded in mist receiving most of its precipitation not as rainfall but from the mist. The flowering plants that were in abundance in the Heath Zone would not be present once we ascended to the next zone, the Moorlands.
Continuing on from our rest stop, we hiked for another 30 minutes before cresting a rise and coming to a short plateau. It was very clear that we had entered the Moorland. As we walked along the plateau we were actually as tall as the tallest trees around us. We had not been hiking for 24 hours yet and this was a huge change from the rain forest and its green canopies that we had been hiking under just the previous afternoon.
The Moorlands extend from 3350 m to 4020 m and are characterized by a much drier and cooler climate. Annual precipitation is down to just 525 mm a year and the daily highs can be as low as just 4C. Night-time temperatures can range from -1C on the coldest nights to +10C for the warmest..
The two climate zones, the Heath and Moorlands, are said to overlap. This can be explained by the presence of microclimes created by changes in the landscape that can trap cold or warm air and produce a localized climate that differs from an adjacent area. The Giant Groundsels that we had passed are only found in the Moorland Zone but as we approached our lunch spot we did hike past a daisy bush. The mixing of the groundsels and flowering plants was a telltale sign that we were passing in and out of small microclimes of the Heath Zone in the Moorlands.
We continued to hike through the rocks until at 12:25 pm, when we descended a small hill to an area where many of the hiking groups had stopped for lunch. We found a sheltered spot next to a rock and pulled out our food. Lunch was a long and relaxing affair. We did not head off again until just after 1:30 pm. To control the human waste issue that plagues Mt Kilimanjaro, there was a pit toilet erected where we had stopped for lunch. The toilet was not an improvement over last night’s version.
I was feeling pretty energetic, so I went off to take some photos. Standing on the ridge I was able to look back to where we had been. If you look closely at the photo of the lunch area you can find the big rock where the rest of the group was relaxing. The toilet speaks for itself.
After an hour of relaxing and getting used to the altitude – we were well over 10,000ft (3048 m) by now – we headed off upwards towards Shira Camp. The trail was briefly a nice dirt path but quickly went back to clambering up through the rocks with some very minor scrambling. The use of hands was necessary but the volcanic rocks gave excellent handholds. At about 2:10 pm the clouds rose up to us and we found ourselves hiking in a thick mist.
We rose out of the mist at 2:30 pm. We headed up a sparsely wooded slope, with just a few small trees. The trail flattened out as we came over a small ridge and we could see the camp and lots of tents in a barren field below. We arrived at Shira Camp at about 2:40 pm.
After our hot water sponge bath, we relaxed in our tents for the afternoon. After some early evening tea we explored the camp. We had what looked like an almost 5-star toilet but it ended up still being just a hole in the floor.
Dinner was pumpkin soup and pizza. Pizza on a mountain in the middle of a hike! The girls both just loved our cook Paul. He was very impressive. All of our meals would have been fabulous at a restaurant; making them on a mountain with a limited kitchen was quite a feat and we all really appreciated the excellent meals after a day of hiking up the mountain.
Hiking in August back home in Canmore, we would have daylight until close to 10 pm but here in Tanzania, near the equator, the sun sets at just 7 pm. At the higher latitude we live at, approximately 51 degrees North, our daylight hours range from a low of just 8 hrs 7 min in December to 16 hrs 33 min in summer, a fluctuation of over 8 hours of daylight from summer to winter. Tanzania is only 3 degrees south of the equator and sees only a 25 min fluctuation in daylight hours annually. In the summer Tanzania has 12 hrs 20 min of daylight and 11 hrs and 55 min of daylight in their winter (which was when we were hiking).
The transition from daylight to darkness was also noticeable during the hike. Twilight in Canmore can last between 1 1/2 hrs and 2 hrs as the sun sets or rises. In Tanzania twilight is fairly consistent at around 55 minutes. My guess for the reason is that at the equator the speed of rotation of a point on the Earth is higher than at home since you are at the widest point on the Earth and have to travel further around to complete one rotation. This higher speed passes a person through the twilight zone faster. The shorter daylight time and briefer twilight took some getting used to.
We turned in at about 7:00 pm. One of our traditions when hiking is that I read a novel out loud as a bedtime story, sort of a throwback to when the girls were younger. So I spent about 30 minutes reading a Dick Francis novel out loud, loud enough to be heard between the tents.