Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 8 - Tanzania - Fourth day on the mountain

I woke up this morning at 5:40am and it's a bit chilly in the tent. Mainly because it was very humid last night and I left a couple of the overhead vents open to keep the tent condensation down to a minimum. Now I remember that my fancy Casio watch has a thermometer on it that's fairly accurate if you are not wearing the watch. Your body heat will effect the reading if it's on your wrist. According to the watch it's 43 degrees in the tent. Not as cold as I thought at first.
It's time to get moving to warm up so I start deflating my sleeping pad and stuffing the sleeping bag away. Everything is packed away by 6:30 and I crawl outside my tent for the first time to witness another gorgeous sunrise. Oddly enough, I guess I didn't snap any photos of it. For once I was selfish and just soaked it in in person.
We actually get on the trail just a few minutes ahead of our normal 8am departure time and I'm thinking it's because the day is going to be long and tough. After all, we are climbing 2,100' today in a short distance.

Shortly after leaving camp I turn around to see our caravan of porters coming up behind us.

 And looking up ahead we can tell that the area around Mawenzi Peak has gotten some fresh snowfall in the last 24 hours too.

As we are getting closer and closer to the ridgeline we have to cross to get to our next campsite, I start to notice all the huge cairns along the path. These cairns are huge, not the typical ones found around the Nevada desert to mark trails. I can't for the life of me figure out why they have gone to the trouble of putting up such large cairns so close together but I have to snap a picture of them.

Strangely enough, my curiosity is answered in less then 5 minutes. Within minutes of snapping the photo above, this is what the trail ahead of us suddenly looks like.

Almost in an instant we are engulfed in this thick soup. My first thought is that this is fog rolling in on us but then I realize it's not fog. We are at 14,000' now and this is the cloud layer. We are actually hiking into the clouds!
Before I know it we are rolling into our next campsite and it's not quite 12 noon. I was really expecting it to be more difficult to reach 14,100' but here we are in camp, Pole, Pole and everybody is feeling great.

Our first view of the Mawenzi Tarn camp site.

Of course the amazing porters that flew past us a couple hours earlier have already got our tents set up and waiting on us. And it's a good thing because today as soon as we stroll into camp the snow/hail starts coming down. We crawl into our camps to wait for our call to lunch and get out of the snow fall. Luckely it is short lived and I get a chance to walk around camp after we have lunch and take a few more photos of all of these amazing cairns they have built. Some of these have a purpose of marking the trail but it's obvious others are built just out of whimsy.

 I climbed up a short ridge to get a closer look at this group of cairns and I'm simply amazed by their size. These things really took a great deal of effort to build.

 I had to get a self-portrait in here to show the scale of the size of these cairns.

An interesting marker for the camp hq.

One of my favorite shots of Colleen.

She's probably laughing at the water we have to drink at this campsite.
Even I was a bit startled when they filled our water bottles and brought them to us. Yes, the water really did have a nice green tint to it.
No need to worry though, a little swirl of the Steripen and all is good. It really had no different taste then any of the other water we drank along the climb.

The snow/hail has stopped in early afternoon and it's time to head out for our daily acclimatazation hike. The hope is to get up to 15,000'. Before leaving camp for our hike I have Colleen snap this shot of me standing in front of my tent. You can tell it's getting a bit cooler outside by my clothing.

As we head up the side of Mawenzi peak with the 15,000' mark in sight the trail really gets steep and Zach takes this opportunity to teach us several different types of steps that might come in handy on summit night.  The first step is called the Mountaineer's Rest Step. It really slows you down but allows you to take micro rest with every step. Next is the French Step and then the Duck Step (An obvious step where your toes are pointed outward.). It's very important to know not only how to properly do each type of step but also to know when the different steps are appropriate. As it turns out on summit day the Mountaineer's Rest Step will come in very handy. The easiest way to describe it is when hike up very steep banks you take a very tiny pause with the rear leg straight and carrying all of your body weight. You are trying to take all the weight off your muscles and put them on your skeleton. But you do it for only a micro second. Apparently these tiny pauses add up and allow you to keep pushing up hill. It really works!
Along the trail we take a few brief breaks but with the temps falling nobody really wants to stop for long.
Here's a quick shot of Killian, our local guide and another of Zach, our American guide. The two guys we will depend so much on for our success on this trip.

Our goal was to get up to 15,000' but we eventually get to a point where we can climb no further because of sheer cliff walls overhead. I check out my GPS and it reads 14,950'! A full 450' higher than the highest point in the lower 48, Mount Whitney. I'm surprised that I'm having absolutely no problems with the altitude.
I mention to Colleen and David our height and snap this shot just before we descend back to our camp for the evening.

As we get back to camp you can tell from this picture of my tent compared to the one above that the snow has begun to fall again.

A quick dinner and the snow is really starting to come down now. Zach has asked us to get our summit gear on as sort of a dress rehearsal. He mainly wants us to make sure all the layers fit comfortably and also wants us to see how long it takes to put all the layers on so we can plan appropriately tomorrow night when we leave for the summit. I have to admit I'm feeling a bit like the Pillsbury Doughboy with all these layers on. Here's what I'm wearing for our summit climb where the temps can range from a balmy 30 degrees all the way down to minus 20 degrees. You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
My Feet: My regular toe socks, Heavy weight SmartWool socks, my La Sportiva Trango EVO GTX boots.
Bottom Layer: Silk weight thermals, Mid weight thermals, Fleece pants, My regular hiking pants, insulated ski pants, gaiters.
Top Layer: The same silk and mid weight thermals as on bottom, Fleece jacket, and the NorthFace Tri-Climate jacket
Hands: Mountain Hardwear gloves, NorthFace Nuptse Summit Series Mittens
Head: BalaclavaFleece hat, Jacket Hood.
Just minutes after pulling on all this gear I'm sweating just standing still. I think I've got enough cloths to make this work.

After we are done with the dress rehearsal it's time to turn in as a storm is really brewing outside.
Around 9pm another lightning/thunderstorm rolls in on top of us. It sounds like all hell is breaking loose above us and it goes on till around midnight. No sleep during this three hours because even with your eyes closed the lighting is blinding. Finally around midnight it calms down and I'm able to drift off to sleep. Sweet sleep......

Details for today's portion of the trip:
Distance Hiked: 2.3 miles
Start Elevation: 12,037'
End Elevation:  14,137'
Total Elevation gain: 2,100'

Tomorrow is the start of a long day, little did I realize how long it would turn out to be. We are to leave our camp here and head to our high base camp at 15,451' and rest for a few hours before leaving at midnight tomorrow night for the summit.