Oh, the beginning of day 3 of hiking. Waking up and realizing all you have to do is walk and enjoy scenery and fantastic company was rapidly growing on me. I woke up feeling rested and not as smelly as I had felt the day before. Perhaps my nose was immune to the smell, or maybe we all truly did just stop stinking. Regardless, I was feeling pretty good when John (assistant chef) brought coffee to our tent at 6:30. I doctored up my blister, which became a daily ritual, layered on a few clothes and again, ungracefully stumbled out of my tent and saw this:

Shira Camp front porch view

Now, when that’s the view from your front porch, it can’t be anything but a great day, and Day 3 turned out to be one of my favorites. It has been interesting to reflect back on this day, because initially I thought that this particular day would really frustrate me. Why? We were to hike from Shira at roughly 12,500 feet up to 15,000 feet, then BACK DOWN to 13,000 ft. Yep, DOWN. The whole goal was go to UP the mountain, and I feared that I would become frustrated at losing two thousand feet of elevation. But alas, I get ahead of myself.

The view was amazing, I didn’t have to pee in a cup, John’s coffee was as good as ever. I was ready. Breakfast was served: I think we had porridge first. We had porridge every day, and I’m not totally sure what it was. Some people called it gruel. But, it was warm and not too bad if a mounded spoonful of berry jam was stirred in. I don’t recall what else we had, but we always had fruit and toast at minimum. Here’s what the breakfast scene looked like some days…. Fruit tray covered up, table set, thermoses of hot water and coffee. The 5 gallon bucket by Melissa was always there, always full of filtered water for us. This is where we filled our water bottles. Ok, we rarely filled them, as a crew member was almost always on the watch for empty Nalgenes and he would take them and fill them. Water was collected at each camp from springs or creeks, then filtered. It’s all snow/glacier melt and tasted fantastic. Nobody got sick from the water, which is a good thing!

Inside for breakfast

At this camp, recall the previous afternoon, we had finally met all of the crew. The ladies of the group started a conversation that would continue on, about how the crew could easily make up a calendar, a “Crew of the Month” calendar. We all had our ideas of who would be what month. Perhaps this was a bit inappropriate, or maybe not. We all had some good times about this, but maybe the guys in our group felt a bit left out?

After breaky, we all packed up like we did every day and headed out. Kate, a member of our group who was supposed to climb Kili before but hurt her leg, had been having a hard time. She set out with us, but within 10 or 20 min, she made the choice to head down. To quit. I commend her for that decision, as I’m sure it was a very hard choice to make. We knew we’d see her after the climb, so we waved goodbye and watched as she turned around. She’s a strong lady for making that choice.

Kili, morning of Day 3. She’s closer!

Lobilia, my favorite plant of the trip
We walked, pole pole, up and up. What few plants were around soon shrunk or completely disappeared. We walked on dusty trails that intertwined like vines, weaving in and out of each other. I liked it, as it allowed us to sometimes walk next to someone, which was a welcome change from trying to talk to someone ahead of or behind, and the endless views of someone else’s rear-end and backpack. The trails weaved in and out of large rocks and boulders, endless evidence of the volcanic action from long ago.

Up we went. The lure of lunch at Lava Tower at 15,000′ kept us going, and just seeing something called “Lava Tower” was pulling me up. It felt long and barren and exposed. Somewhere on the way up, Donnie and I high-fived because we guessed we were finally higher than all of Colorado, higher than either of us had ever been. Yay! I think we got a few chuckles from others, “oh, you Coloradoans, making this look easy”. My body was feeling great and my backpack was becoming part of me, I wasn’t noticing it much. We paused for a tire pressure break and Donnie made a cairn for our team; one rock for each of us, including Kate. These cairns were everywhere, hundreds of them. Now there’s one more very special one.

Our team and the cairn Donnie made for us in the back.

I was feeling good, Donnie was feeling good, but others were starting to really notice the effects of altitude. Many had regular dull headaches, which luckily Advil took care of. A few felt a bit nauseous, but luckily it passed relatively quickly. Our team was doing really well.

As we continued, we encountered some fog. It wasn’t cold (Donnie is in a tshirt in pic above), but the fog sure made things look eerie. We all likened this part of the hike to being on Mars. Almost no plants, barren, desolate, and now some strange atmospheric aspects.

We finally got to Lava Tower, up at 15,000 feet. It’s possible to camp here, but we were merely pausing for lunch. Our toilets were set up (yay!!) as well as a tent for lunch. After a few requisite pictures, we crammed into the tent (it wasn’t the giant dome tent) for a lunch of….potato bacon chowder and grilled cheese!! Now, potato bacon chowder is good. Grilled cheese is great. But, grilled cheese grilled with the grease from the bacon? Amazing. Put that in front of hungry hikers? Heaven. That meal was at the top of our lists as a favorite. I’m not sure bacon has ever tasted so good. After lunch we packed up and started heading down. I pulled out my hiking poles for the first time, worried that 2000′ of hiking down might make my knees sore, and still having 4 days left, I didn’t want to have aching knees! After about 20 min with them, I packed them up. I’ve never used poles, and that was probably the problem. I felt awkward and clumsy with them. I’ve always hiked with my hands free, something I learned when I was little. Free hands can really help, so having them occupied by poles was not working for me.

Finally we were back in the vegetation zone, and they looked Seussian, not like what we had come out of a few hours prior. I recall taking my time on this particular afternoon. I was often the last of our group, with only a guide behind me. We were always bracketed by guides, and I loved how the guides assigned with pulling up the rear didn’t mind going slowly. No matter how slowly we went, or how many tire pressure stops or picture breaks, they never seemed agitated. I think that’s often a trait of Africans; there’s no rush. No hurry. We’ll get there when we get there, hakuna matata. I paused a lot for pictures on this afternoon, and was encouraged by the guides, because, after all, I’ll probably never be there again!

Plants on the way to Barranco

Everything was shrouded in fog as we headed down. I kept waiting to get out of it, but we never did. We finally found the sign in hut at Barranco and registered.

We walked more…..and more…occasionally catching glimpses in the fog of tents, but they weren’t ours. It felt like we walked through fog and tents for ages, and I was thinking how glad I was that I wasn’t in charge of finding our camp….when our porters came and met us! Gabriel, oh sweet Gabriel, he took my backpack and hugged me and congratulated me. Such simple acts and they felt so huge. We walked with our porters to our camp, which was, big surprise, foggy!

Camp at Barranco Hut

The fog was moving, constantly, and once in a while we’d get a glimpse of the mountain above us. Or maybe they were glimpses of part of the mountain, we weren’t sure. It felt confining and frustrating to not be able to see it. Dinner rolled around. Kale, cauliflower, beans, rice and beef stew.

Dinner, Day 3, Barranco Hut

This was a pretty typical dinner. Soup preceded this (pea soup this night), as it did at each dinner. Meals were high in fiber, carbs and citrus (vitamin C). Guides told us these things all helped with altitude (and energy). I ate everything they gave me, which often were huge helpings, but figured they know more about getting people up that stratovolcano than I do. As you can see, the protein was more of a condiment, an afterthought….

We had hiked 7.5 miles that day, topping out at 15,000 feet. My body felt great, the hike had been beautiful in a martian way, and I wasn’t frustrated at coming down in elevation. I think we were all pretty tired, as after dinner we all headed straight to bed, curious what we would see in the morning.

Blog post by: The Heskin Family