Lava Tower from afar
The Lava Tower campsite was superb -- easily the best campsite we had for the entire trip. For one, there was a large and very flat area available for our tents. Secondly, the Lava Tower was an impressive spire that juts up right out of the camping area. Thirdly, there were excellent views in all directions, and fourthly, there were these neat walls of [natural] rock that encircle the campground. It almost seemed man-made!
I was feeling a little bit of, hmm, I don't know quite how to describe it... let's use the word 'yech...'. I was tired, and I had a slight headache, which periodically came and went. Fortunately, I was still hungry, and Michael, our cook, whipped up a particularly tasty lunch that included French toast and these nice little fried banana fritters. Markus had lost his appetite completely and doesn't touch any food at all. Pu was feeling extremely bonked and didn't have too much of an appetite either, although he managed to get some food down.
Good nutrition at 15,200 feet
Not long after we arrived, two more Canadians arrive (Mike Persson, the guy from Red Deer, was already in camp). Eventually we got around to chatting, and they introduced themselves as Julia and Courtney, two 4th year medical students from Vancouver. They were bright and cheery, and were also going up the same route as us. Funny - the majority of campers at Lava Tower that day were Canadian!
Markus and Peter at Lava Tower
After lunch, I walked around a little, hoping to keep moving and assist in the acclimatization process. I certainly wanted to scramble up the tower itself; it looked pretty neat, and was much bigger than it looked, towering about 150 feet above the camp.
At 15,200 feet, we were now definitely in the zone of little to no vegetation, and for someone who's only been to briefly to 14,410 feet before, this was seriously high. Of course, it didn't seem high; we weren't on the knife-edge of some summit ridge; we weren't camped on a huge crevassed glacier; and gale-forced winds and sub-zero temperatures weren't buffeting our camp. So it was a bit deceptive. I was glad, though, for this gentle introduction to high altitude. Being able to climb a relatively high-altitude peak like Kilimanjaro, and being able to do it while being catered to in such a luxurious fashion, means that I could focus on understanding how to deal with adjusting to the higher altitude, and, having gained such experience, be better prepared for other high-altitude peaks where the conditions, the terrain, and the physical requirements were greater.
Video: Arrival at Lava Tower
This video clip covers our arrival at Lava Tower on the 4th day of the climb. (1 minute, 10 seconds)
Andrew relaxes at Lava Tower
We arranged for dinner to be a bit earlier; Markus attempted to get some food down, and did get a little in him. He did not get far, however, before he had to quickly leave the mess tent and vomit up the food he'd eaten so far. So, things were not going well for him in the food department. Pu seemed a bit better at dinner. I'd convinced him to start taking Diamox (we all had Diamox, a drug that is used to combat the effects of altitude). He said he felt a bit better already.
Twilight at Lava Tower
As night fell, and the clouds cleared away, simply spectacular views of the upper mountain (upon which our route could now be clearly seen) revealed themselves. Away in the distance a sea of clouds floated just below eye level, and in the far distance we could see the flashes of distant thunderstorms. I took several long exposure pictures of both the mountain, the lava tower, and the twilit clouds. Caroline and I had a little fun by making a 'light-painting' of the words 'LAVA TOWER' against the dark silhouette of the tower.
Sunset clouds as seen from 15,000 feet
Lava Tower Light Painting
The night was interminably long. I went to bed early (before 8pm), and we were scheduled to get up at 8am the next morning (the next day was a rest day at Lava Tower, so there was no hurry to get up and going). Although I slept, I kept waking up now and again (probably an effect of altitude). At each wake-up, I'd look at my watch and it would only have advanced ahead a very little bit. Those 12 hours passed very slowly. I changed my mind about having dinner from as early as possible to as late as possible!
[The next morning]
It was now the fifth day of our climb. At 8:05am the sun finally overcame the shadow of Kilimanjaro's peak and beamed down into the campground. The difference was quite amazing. From a frosty, chilly shade, to a warm tropical radiance, all in the span of just a few minutes. We had another tasty breakfast outside under the glorious clear skies. Pu was feeling much, much better this morning, and his spirits were noticeably higher. He was eating again, and feeling more confident about tackling the peak.
Video: Pu and Peter on Acclimatization
Pu and Peter talk about how they are managing with acclimatization at 15,000+ feet at Lava Tower. (1 minute, 1 seconds)
Western Breach from Lava Tower, Annotated
Frosty morning at Lava Tower
Sunny breakfast at Lava Tower
Eating breakfast at Lava Tower
The day's activities consisted of a scramble up lava tower, and a short acclimatization climb. The evening before, Chombo had talked about 'guiding' us up the tower, which I thought a little bit ridiculous, given that the climbing route up the tower looked pretty straightforward (one climbs the tower by going around a bit and up its downhill side). I took it upon myself to get started before he got around to organizing us into a group, and as a result I managed to climb the tower ahead of the group and by myself.
The view northeast from Lava Tower
The summit of lava tower was a delightful spot to take in the surroundings. The campsite, with its tents arranged about willy-nilly, was directly below the highest point. I could see the little blue rectangle of our dining table, still not yet cleared from our breakfast. To the southeast, I could see the footpath we had ascended from the Barranco, and to the northeast, I could clearly see the footpath that ascended to the Arrow Glacier campsite, which was just out of sight behind a couple of morainal ridges. The morning was gorgeous -- warm, and with no wind. I was again amazed at how gentle the weather was at this altitude.
Markus ascends Lava Tower
Camp from above, wide-angle
Chomo and porters on Lava Tower
Video: Acclimatization Day at Lava Tower
This video clip covers our acclimatization day at Lava Tower. (1 minute, 29 seconds)
After some more lazing around camp and chatting with Roman, Julia, Courtney, and Mike, we forced ourselves to undertake a short acclimatization hike. Again we were assigned a few babysitters, and we went off up the trail towards the Arrow Glacier campsite. The clouds had closed in for the day, so we did not get to see much. We did not make it that far -- about an hour uphill and about 500 feet of elevation gain. The clouds were getting thicker and the threat of some afternoon precipitation was growing, and in general the group was feeling 'altitude-tired'. Still a very good exercise, and probably helped everyone's sleep that night.
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