By Day 3 on Kilimanjaro we had fallen into a pattern that was summed up by Rob as; get up, have breakfast, walk a bit, have lunch, rest a bit, have dinner, go to bed, then get up and do it again. The 'walk a bit' part of Day 3 would take us at least as far as Lava Tower at 4600m. Beyond that would depend on whether we were sticking with 'Plan A' and the Western Breach. Our head guide, Jimmy, had set out ahead of us so he could check on the condition of the Breach. This soon after the end of the wet season, snow on the route was a distinct possibility. Whilst we were equipped with ice axes and crampons, so could handle a certain amount, too much would turn the Breach into a winter graded mountaineering route. This would be a challenge too far and we would have to resort to 'Plan B' and take the Machame route all the way to the summit.
The terrain on the route from Shira camp to Lava Tower changed again. We left the moorland behind and headed into the alpine desert. On route, word came from Jimmy, over the radio, that the Breach was free of ice and snow and that other teams had already tackled it. We would therefore be staying at Lava Tower, whilst those teams intending to summit by the Machame route would walk by on their way down to Baranco Camp. By the afternoon ours were the only tents at Lava Tower. This meant that, when the time came, we would have the Breach to ourselves.
The 'rest a bit' part of our routine, whilst important for acclimatisation, was dull. Fortunately, the camp offered several photo opportunities with the dramatic Lava Tower itself, the beckoning upper mountain and the ubiquitous 'rustic' long drops.
As night fell Vic and I had another stab at shooting star trails, using the Lava Tower for foreground. It was far beyond a size that could be painted with head torches so we started shooting before full dark to try and retain a little detail. The final image was about 30 shots. I would have liked more, but the cold night took its toll on my camera batteries.
Day 4 was our shortest walk. A climb of only 200m, across the alpine desert, to our high camp at Arrow Glacier. Even at our pole-pole pace it took less than 90 minutes, including a 15 minute break to let the porters get ahead.
The image below is something of a 'Where's Wally' shot. It was shot using my Olympus Pen at the equivalent of 300mm. At full resolution I can just about make out the tiny dots of a team climbing the Breach. We later found out that they were on a 7 day itinerary and would be camping in the crater prior to sumiting. This explained why they were on the Breach in late morning. We, on the other hand, were not stopping at the crater, so we'd have to climb the Breach before dawn by headtorch.
At 4800m (the same height at the top of Mont Blanc), the Arrow Glacier camp was a windy affair. We spent much of the time there in our tents listening to them rattle. That night I slept in all my summit clothes bar the down jacket.
Summit day started with a thin breakfast at 1am and it was boots on at 2am. The Breach was not the scary monster of my fears. It was, however, a long slog of seemingly endless scree sections broken up with exhausting scrambles. I reached the crater rim just after dawn. At this altitude (around 5500m) there was only 50% of the oxygen available at sea level. This was supplemented by a powerful smell of sulphur from the volcano. Crossing the crater, we passed the Furtwangler Glacier, all that remains on Kilimanjaro's once extensive ice cap. Seeing the crater and the glacier had been my main reason for wanting to climb the breach. But now I was here, I was so tired and hypoxic, I barely paid it any attention. The two rather mediocre pictures below were the best I could manage.
Besides, I still had another 300 vertical metres of scree to drag myself up. I had little conscious thought during that stage. Time passed. I got to the top. After that it was easy. There was just a gentle (but deceptively long) final approach, over wind carved ice, to the summit marker. I touched the sign a little before 8am.
Since this a blog of the photos that I take, not those for which I pose, there will be no shot of me mugging up at the summit sign (you'll have to find me on Facebook for that). Instead, I include a shot of our three guides, Jimmy, Ernest and Abdullah, showing how to do a proper victory pose.
lodge to tackle a completely different Kilimanjaro. Multiple times.