Lava Tower

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

Lava Tower, 3.20

We're in a good routine now. Tea in our tents at 6.45, pack, the usual huge and bracing breakfast.

It is a beautiful morning, a clear sky allowing us to gaze across the plateau and the caldera rim to the grand silhouette of Meru in the distance.

We head straight back up the hill we climbed, past yesterday's vantage point, plodding on up into Alpine shrublands: lovely, vivid vegetation softening the harsh outcrops of old lava flows.

It is a long climb, but, given we are over 4,000m, it goes reasonable well.

At the junction where the Northern and Southern circuits meet, we turn east to make a gorgeous undulating traverse then a climb towards Lava Tower on the approach to the fearsome Western Breach. The altitude starts to tell, and I find the ups increasingly laborious.

 We are just on the vegetation line, alternating between small shrubs and bare Alpine desert. We head towards a long lava cliff, with the Lava Tower dominating the middle horizon.

Round above the cliff and down a short slope, a final exhausting climb gets me to the busy platform below the chunky but perhaps slightly disappointing tower, which, unusually, is less dramatic close up than I’d expected. The platform is covered with tents, a shock in this lonely landscape. 

Serena and Eugene are perched on boulders below the tower, but Bill doesn't like the look of the weak rock of the tower so he and I sit away, facing it, chewing our lunches and discussing our strange world.

The return to the junction is mainly downhill, so easier. We meet a very ill old man wobbling between two guides who hold a hand each. He is all pale khaki: his hat, his short, his trousers - and his face.  He is clearly suffering from severe altitude sickness and will die if not got down quickly. Charles remonstrates with the guides, even draws a line in the gravel which the man can't walk along. But he is clearly determined, and the guides overwhelmed. We head on. I still wonder about what happened to him, and feel guilty about not talking to his young companions, but altitude does funny things.

Back at the junction, we carry straight on, now on the Northern Circuit, along the contours towards Muir Hut camp, over vast lava slopes and between curious formations. 

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