The first encounter with snow was on our first hike to High Camp (3800m). This was the day we hiked from Base Camp to High Camp, an altitude of 1300m, with half our gear and equipment. We dropped the luggage at high camp, had lunch and hiked back down to base camp for the final night ahead of summit.
The hike was hard – to put it in perspective – from high camp at Barafu to the summit of Kilimanjaro is about a 1000m of altitude. It was not the luggage we were carrying as none of us was carrying more than 13kg. The terrain is just testing. It has 5 tough climbs, some of them very technical and requiring upper body strength and loads of concentration. The ultimate test though was the last 100m of altitude on deep, soft snow. The hiking boots we had on were obviously less than adequate for the terrain but to go through the process of putting crampons on would have been a hassle. It took a few falls and a lot of energy to get to the top. The thing about this section of the hike was it comes late when we are already fatigued, not just from the hours we spent hiking that day but from previous days too. After taking a tumble, it takes a lot to get yourself back on your feet and to continue with the drill - first pull trekking poles out of the snow with some reasonable force and thereafter lift the legs.
The nightmare, though, was the drastic change in weather just as we were leaving high camp to start the descent to base camp. It started to snow and it got very cold. We took off with the understanding that we would be leaving the snow fall behind. That turned out exactly true, except the snow was replaced by rain. To hike in cold, wet conditions is really a challenge and unfortunately we had to take a less dangerous route that took a lot longer and was very slippery. The idea of getting to base camp, wet and cold, with no hot shower to get into or a hot bath to run was a bit difficult to accept. We slept in tents at Base Camp and you can’t get into a tent with wet, muddy gear. The logistics of preparing to sleep that evening was a challenge - even the tastiest meatballs that were prepared for dinner only managed to put half a smile on my face….. The discomfort was rather deep.
The next morning was sunny and warm, just the ideal weather to dry gear and clothing from the nightmare of the day before. So the hike back to High camp was delayed by an hour as we watched the gear dry. I was in no hurry for the 1300m climb anyway but there was no running away from it. Took us a lot longer than the day before as fatigue was seriously setting in and so my concerns around how we were going to climb 1800m on summit day on tired legs were growing fast.