A Walk Above the Clouds: Kilimanjaro by the Machame Route

By Jerry Fine with comments in italics by Lee Waite

Day 2 -- Monday, July 28
I was just getting in some good sleep, when, Oops, time to get up. Breakfast was at 7 am. Cornflakes, crepes, "eggies," toast, and gallons of tea. We were really enjoying talking to Chip and Jeffra more and more. They were tough and had a good sense of humor. Chip often remarked, philosophically, "What's time to a hog?" He had a beautiful Virginia accent. After breakfast Geoffrey took and filled all of our canteens. I was drinking almost 100 fluid ounces each day on the trail from my Camelbak. I also started taking Diamox, a 500 mg. pill every day. Lee and Sarah had started Diamox at the foot of the mountain.

Diamox is a trademark name for acetazolamide, a well-known carbonic anhydrase inhibitor which is used in the treatment of seizures and glaucoma and is also a diuretic. It doe not prevent mountain sickness, but it speeds up acclimatization by increasing urinary excretion of bicarbonate. Among other effects, some research has shown that it helps you sleep better at high altitude. At high altitude, your respiration rate is naturally increased by the lower partial pressure of oxygen. This higher respiration rate tends to make you lose water more quickly. The combined effect of the diamox and the rapid respiration means that it is very important to drink a lot of water.

We started hiking at 8:20 led by Geoffrey. Jeffra came behind us with Chales. The big fancy group was also moving up, and initially they passed us, but then seemed to slow down. We then passed them. It was really hard on the narrow trail. But once we got out in front we made good time. I think that morning Geoffrey began to realize that Sarah, Lee and I were pretty strong and could move. Chip could also keep up with us, but we sensed that he was in some conflict not wanting to get too far ahead of his wife.

The trail led steeply up the same ridge, through the vegetation, which got stranger and stranger. We were traveling through a forest of senecios, giant plants of tropical high altitude regions. It looked like a 10 or 15 feet high stalk with a giant cabbage on the end of it. There were more and more clearings with views. We could see, looking back down the mountain, that there were clouds, indeed an undercast, below the 10,000 foot level. We felt like the mountain was an island in a sea of clouds.

The ridge ended in a 50 foot cliff, which at first looked difficult, but you could see that the national park authorities had put in a route. In one place, a crude staircase had actually been built! On top of the cliff was a flat area, where Geoffrey called a lunch break. We went through several thermoses of hot tea, as well as our sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and oranges. The big group had their picnic table set up, with a mouth watering selection of appetizers.

After about 45 minutes we started climbing again. The vegetation was now really only shoulder high and we had a good view of the route ahead. We seemed to be ascending to the crest of a ridge which dominated the skyline. It was steep enough for hand and foot climbing in a few places. I had started out wearing shorts again, but put on my windpants for this leg, along with my polartec jacket. Actually the weather was not at all cold, just pleasantly cool.

We finally topped the ridge and saw a vast plain in front of us: The Shira Plateau. It seemed immense, sloping gently downward towards the west, where we could see the caldera and its rim. There were some mighty rock pinnacles on that rim. Geoffrey pointed out the Shira Needle and the Shira Cathedral. Unfortunately, we would not have time to visit them.

Figure 4: Left to right; Sarah, Chip, Jeffra and Jerry at camp on the Shira Plateau

Soon we were in camp, a flat area next to an ancient ridge of lava. The Shira Cave was an obvious opening in the side of that ridge. The porters had already moved in, in spite of a sign in English forbidding camping in the cave. The guides had a good cook fire going. We plopped our stuff down in front of our tents and settled in for a pleasant afternoon of basking in the sun. We had arrived shortly after 1 pm. Elevation of the camp: 12,500 feet.

There were several small expeditions camped in the same area with us. We were sharing the latrines with them, and it looks like their guides were cooking with ours. Naturally Lee Waite found the Germans, and had quite a long conversation with them. Naturally I found the Spaniards and gave my Spanish a try. It's a lot of fun talking to Europeans, or people from any foreign land, for that matter. It's fun when you can speak their language, because they never seem to expect an American to do that, and so they are surprised. Naturally their English is better than the language you are speaking.

We had arrived at the Shira Plateau campsite very early in the afternoon. It was very pleasant to sit in the sun, relaxing and reading. It was also enjoyable chatting with the other climbers. One group consisted of a German medical student and her boyfriend who was not German, but was also a medical student in Germany. The third member of that group was the girl's younger brother. They were planning to spend a extra day at the Shira Plateau and then climb the Arrow Glacier route. Actually, they seemed to be a bit unsure about precisely which route they were climbing, but presumably their guides knew. They were really a very friendly group. It is possible to feel very close to other climbers in this situation although we knew that we would never see them again. In fact, Im not sure that we ever bothered to exchange names.

Jeffra and Chales came hauling in about mid afternoon. She was suffering from altitude sickness, and had thrown up. She was a game lady though, and was a long way from quitting. We had a good time sitting around talking with Chip and Jeffra that afternoon.

The tent was so warm that afternoon that I lay inside it in just my undershorts, on top of my sleeping bag, reading. Around 4:00 we were served a high tea, with tea, cookies and cakes. Supper was after 5, soup course, chicken, rice and a green veggie. To bed early. I still did not sleep well, but it was an improvement over Machame. As you can imagine, I was urinating to beat the band.


Day 1

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at lee.waite@rose-hulman.edu

Copyright 1997 by Lee Waite and Jerry Fine
Rebroadcast or any other use of this document, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball or the authors, is prohibited