I wake up with a tremendous headache and noticeable loss of appetite – symptoms of altitude sickness. The others in the group are fine, but they are all taking acetazolamide (which goes by the trade-name Diamox) a drug that induces deep, heavy breathing, and thus improves oxygen enrichment of blood in high altitude environments. I’ve been coping with the reduced oxygen levels while I’ve been awake, but clearly my respiration rate was a little low whilst I was asleep, and I’ve ended up with this headache.
I don’t want to take acetazolamide – I’ve got nothing against the drug; I’d just prefer to summit Kilimanjaro without the use of medical crutches if possible – so I’ve come up with a cunning plan to avoid the morning headache scenario. I’ll test out my idea tonight.
There’s frost on the tents, but we have clear skies this morning; a welcome change after two days of on-and-off rain.
Today’s hike takes us into the desert-like, extreme-alpine zone. There’s no vegetation to speak of. Porters can be seen picking their way across the lunar landscape several kilometres in advance, thanks to their brightly coloured wind-cheaters and pack-covers.
It’s slow and steady climbing all morning. Lunch is taken alongside the Lava Tower, an enormous formation of basaltic rock at 4,642 metres elevation. We’ve gone high this morning to help acclimatise, and there are several members in my group complaining of nausea, headaches, and loss of appetite.
Not me though; our situations have reversed. I’m feeling fine. My headache is gone and my appetite is back. I wolf down a big, carb-heavy lunch.
It starts snowing during the lunch break so we wrap things up early and hit the trail. It’s downhill all the way to Barranco Hut this afternoon (climb high, sleep low is the mountaineering motto).
We leave the vegetation-deprived alpine desert behind and enter a stream-fed valley filled with unusual high altitude flora species. The weirdest of all is the prehistoric-looking Giant Groundsel (Dendrosenecio kilimanjari).
As we descend thick fog begins to waft over the alien landscape in the manner of a cheaply-made 80s sci-fi flick.
With these bizarre pre-historic plants growing all around, and the fog wafting by, it seems at times that we have entered a Lost World similar to the one created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, where stegosaurus and iguanadon and giant moths still roam the lands.
Barranco Hut (3,940m)
Camp 4 is at Barranco Hut, at 3,940 metres elevation. Barranco camp sits at the junction of the Lemosho/Shiro, Umbwe, and Machame Routes (Machame is the second most popular route on Kilimanjaro). After leaving Barranco Hut the trail will become noticeably busier.