The Hike to Lava Tower


Kilimanjaro summit in the morning, from Moir Camp

Lava Tower…it sounds exciting, but lava tower is really just another big rock.  Today is an acclimatization day.  We are hiking from Moir Camp at 13,600 ft to Lava Tower at about 15,000 ft, and then down to Barranco Camp at 12,950 ft.  Today’s hike is 6.3 miles and should take us about 7-8 hours.  Hike high, sleep low to acclimate to the elevation.  


Dawn at Moir Camp

Day 4 and we are all awake early.  Kerry has already popped her head out of the tent to declare it a beautiful clear morning with a spectacular view of the summit.  And then all three of us are stuffing our feet in our boots, and out of the tents for a morning hike over the ridge for a better picture.  Moir camp is not pretty; actually none of the camps from here on out are very appealing. There is little vegetation and the camps are just vast expanses of rocks with tents.  Moir looks like a moonscape with a ridge behind it.  Even the ranger hut is abandoned and unsightly.  All of the camps have dirty out houses, holes in the ground.  The porters use those – we have our own private bucket in a private tent.  Thank the lord for that convenience. 

We climb up the ridge for some great views and pictures, and realize it is a great way to start the morning.  If only we had known!  Tip:  Get up early in the morning and take a hike to get your lungs working!


Starting the Hike on Day 4

We start off at about 8:30 in the morning after breakfast and our medical check.  The start of the hike is straight uphill, switchbacks through rocks.  We are going up 2,000 ft to Lava Tower.  The trail we are on merges with the trail from Shira 2 camp.  Then the trail merges with the trail from Machame.  Three groups of clients are all merging and hiking to Lava Tower and for the first time we are on a crowded trail and realize that we are indeed hiking in the busy season.  At first the “pole pole” pace seemed slow.  Now that we are on a steep incline, I am actually happy that I do not have to hike up at a 3 mph pace.  The trail is steep, there are switchbacks and rocks.  

The Clients (that is us hikers) with our guides are all hiking in small clusters with the porters all whizzing by us with 40 or more pounds on their heads.  We have sophisticated packs and clothing and hiking boots – and most of them are wearing hand-me-down clothing and hiking in shoes that are falling apart.  We started long before the porters, as they break down the camp after we depart.  About an hour into our hike, the porters start to pass us, and we step to the side to let them pass.  So far I have only seen one of them break a sweat.  And while the guides are chatting away, us clients barely say “hi” to one another.  Kerry and I keep trying to be friendly, but usually only get a nod in response. 


Lava Tower in the Clouds

We take a few breaks, it is slow going, but overall we reach Lava Tower and feel that the hike was good.  We all had started out with one long sleeve t-shirt on, but at each break we were adding another layer.  By the time we reach the tower, the clouds have blown in and the sun is obscured.  We are in the mist.  We pass by the other groups who were hiking ahead of us, and they are trying to stay out of the wind, huddled in the lee of the rocks, eating their box lunches.  We, however, have a mess tent for lunch today and a hot lunch waiting!  We warm up with coffee, tea and zucchini soup.  Then the fajitas are served.  Ok – they are not really fajitas as the “tortilla” is more of a indian flat bread, and they are not spicy at all, but they are tasty!  I eat all of mine; and I take a antacid by the time I arrive at the next camp.  As we are eating, those groups that were huddled together for warmth start to pass us, and yes, we get a few comments:  “oh, come on…”  and “I’m jealous”


Hiding from the Cold


On our way to Barranco Camp

When we finish with lunch our hike takes us straight down to Barranco camp.  We start to pass some of the bizarre vegetation of Kilimanjaro.  Big bushes that look like mutant joshua trees, but they are soft.  Carrot flowers and more Giant Lobelia are present.  We pass a waterfall.  And then we see camp – it looks like a tent city.  Three different trails have converged here, and there must be 14 different groups.  There are porters everywhere, on their cell phones… WHAT? yep, this is one on the camps where you can actually pick up a cell tower and call home.  


Trail to Barranco Camp


Barranco Camp



Our 7-8 hour hike actually only took us 6 hours.  It is cold – again.  Recurring theme. How dumb was I to think that I’d be comfortable!  Tea & snacks to warm up and I spend a lot of time on my journal today.  Dinner is soup and vegetable sauce over potatoes… ok – I am getting a little tired of this vegetable sauce.  It is never quite the same, always a variation of veggies, but basically always a tomato base with a variety of veggies and herbs.  Good thing I ate a lot at lunch, and I am not very hungry.  I eat only a little dinner.


Senecio Kilimanjari – Giant tree like plants. Sunset.

Tonight I start to cough as soon as I lay my head back.  I’m not quite half way through the hike and my cold is only getting worse. I sleep, but wake up several times during the night.  I read, write more in my journal, try to say quiet.  Morning arrives and Kerry is up early and to on a photo shoot again.  I didn’t make the morning hike today, although I wish I had.  It is the beginning of Day 5 and it is going to be a great day.  So I will leave you with two more photos from earlier in the day:







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