Day 1, Lemosho Gate. 6890 feet.
We finally arrived at our starting point at an elevation of 6890 feet. To put it in to perspective, where we were setting off from was over a 3000 feet higher than Ben Nevis. Our first days trek would take us four hours over six kilometres through the beautiful rainforest zone that encircles the mountain. We were surrounded by lush tropical vegitation and as we walked our guides told us we would be taking it "Poli poli" which is Swahili for "Slowly slowly". This was to ensure that we were giving our bodies ample time to adjust to the altitude. I knew we'd be taking it slowly but you really had to concentrate to allow yourself to slip into the pace that Meshack was setting. We ambled onwards and upwards and it threatened to rain. We learnt quickly how to be waterproof in a couple of minutes, snatching our rain gear out of our daypacks and giving each other someone to lean on so we could get covered up without falling over. After scrambling about I watched Meshack simply pop an umbrella up. Fuming. I've never travelled through a place where you can experience four seasons in a day. Apart from Scotland.
We reached our first camp, Mt Mkubwa (go on, say it out loud), without incident, signed in and saw for the first time our camp set up. Our sleeping tents, one for Lauren and I and one for Dan, were set near a mess tent, a tent for the cook, a huge tent for all of the porters as well as a tent for Meshack and Evance. We were not alone at this camp, a few other tents were dotted around, one expedition even had a private toilet tent. Carrying that is a shit job.
After rolling out our sleeping bags and having a wash we had a look around camp, I stumbled upon a blue monkey just a couple of meters away that was sat in a tree at eye level just staring at me. It was a weird moment, just having a stare at each other. I called to Dan and Lauren to bring the camera over as the monkey lazily flopped down out of the tree and into the grass to start grazing. I think seeing any animal in it's natural habitat is always unforgettable but this was brilliant. I felt like Dian Fossey.
Dinner was a random affair. After we'd finished our cucumber soup and fried fish we had some hot drinks and a good ol chinwag and zipped ourselves into the sleeping bags for the first time. Sleep didn't come easy, something we would have to get used to. There was just a thin slither of canvas seperating you and the jungle with all of the nocturnal noises it had to offer. Through the night I had a fitful sleep, the anti malarial medication I was taking, Malarone, was providing me with some of the most trippy and vivid dreams my subconcious could muster. That coupled with the constant chatter of the resident Colubus monkeys (which initially I found exciting but rapidly became annoying) made for an unsettled and exhausting first night.
Day 2, Mt Mkubwa. 9498 Feet.
We got up at 6.30 but had been awake for hours, It was funny to hear the camp stir and get going for the day. The unzipping of tent flaps, the clutter of pans, the noisy conversations. The African porters speak to each other with such vigour and Swahili is such a guttural language that I was always aware of it when in camp. It was a fascinating sound. We washed and dressed and had breakfast. Breakfast was not good. Watery porridge and cold fried eggs. Yuck. We ate it all because we knew our bodies had to be well fuelled but it was rank.
We hit the trail, heading off through the rainforest. Over the hours, the trees became shorter and as we gained altitude, the jungle dropped away and was replaced by stunning moorland. We trekked up and down over babbling streams and through deep valleys. Everyday we left before the porters. They would pack up camp, come charging past us with huge packs on their heads and become specks on the horizon in no time. I knew their job wasn't easy but today highlighted that fact. There was a young boy, Dennis, 18, who was taking his first trip up the mountain as a porter. He was carrying a huge sack of maize or ugali on his head. He was struggling. As we passed him he was trying to put on a brave face but collapsed under the weight of his pack. It was difficult to watch. The guides called ahead for some of the other porters to come back and to help him. In one of the poorest nations on earth jobs like this are hard to come by and the level of fitness needed is astounding.
After six hours and 8km we reached Shira camp one and signed in. An hour or so later, Dennis arrived with some help from his colleagues. He gave us a big grin and told us he was ok. Today it was just our team at this camp. Perfect. In the distance the mountain was still shrouded in cloud as the weather swirled around us creating moody moments and sweeping rainbows. We spent the afternoon resting and exploring around the camp, taking photos and having a laugh. The only company we had was from the enormous ravens and the occasional grass mouse. We had reached 11,500 feet and as night fell we noticed a clear dip in temperature. We shivered over dinner and as we made our way to the tents we noticed a corona of colours around the almost full moon. The nights from this moment on would become increasingly uncomfortable and the effects of altitude would slowly start taking their toll.