x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Exhausted and feeling the effects of altitude

The sheikh's daily update on his climb for antimalaria charities.

We woke to the pitter patter of raindrops on our tents and an early morning mist. I was thankful that our first night on Mt Kilimanjaro had passed without event. Given the first day's incident at the airport, I had expected to be woken up halfway through the night by the sound of sticks chasing away a snake or perhaps something bigger. We were fortunate to have had a good night's rest.

We quickly packed our sleeping bags and put on our jackets to head out for the day's briefing. It was even cooler in the early morning on Mti Mkubwa than the previous night. Ziad explained that our target for the day was a seven- hour hike through the forests and moorlands up to Shira One and then Shira Two. We were going to rise over a thousand metres in just a day, but we were still far from the height at which the effects of altitude sickness would kick in.

Our first breakfast on the mountain was porridge. We were going to spend the next three days on a diet of carbohydrates and plenty of fluids to keep our energy levels up and help ease acclimatisation. While we sat down to have our breakfast, the porters began taking down the tents and within an hour we were off into the forest. It had rained all morning and continued through the afternoon, but the ground wasn't as slippery as it had been the day before. Within an hour the trees of the Lemosho glades began to taper, giving way to open heather moorlands and tiny streams of rainwater which had begun to carve their way through the mountainside.

The trail became steeper by the time we stopped for lunch at Shira One late in the afternoon. We'd covered over 750 metres in the morning and had another 400 to go to Shira Two. Although it was high noon in the heart of Africa, it was freezing on Mt Kilimanjaro. The weather was humid, but visibility was good. The journey to Shira Two at 3,840 metres was more of a walk across the plateau than a climb, and we reached it on schedule at seven in the evening.

We caught our first glimpse of the Western Breach with its stunning glaciers just before the sun set. The temperatures tonight were going to be even colder than the previous night and Masoud wasn't taking any chances when he went to sleep. He zipped into his sleeping bag right after dinner, leaving no chance of falling asleep on top of his sleeping bag, as he did the previous night. None of us had much sleep the previous night, because of the noise from the wind and rain. Our seven-hour climb today was going to take us east on a 15km trail to the top of Lava Tower and then back down to Barranco Camp.

We expect to cross the 4,000-metre threshold today. This is where most climbers experience the first symptoms of altitude sickness. We didn't get a chance to explore the area the previous night but it was interesting to see just how much the landscape had changed in a day's climb. The rainforest had given way to moorlands and now a semi-desert. We were off on our way by 8am and began the steep climb up Lava Tower. Although the shrubs first gave way to rocks, the route was soon filled with the strangest of plants, some rumoured to be more than 100 years old.

It was undoubtedly the most difficult day so far, as the five-hour climb became steeper and steeper up Lava Tower. Ziad explained that in addition to drinking plenty of fluid, the climb and later descent was purposely intended to trick our body into getting acclimatised to the low oxygen levels. Most of us felt a bit light-headed on the journey, and two members of our group fell ill by the time we had reached the top of Lava Tower, complaining of severe headaches and nausea.

Lunch on top of Lava Tower was limited to a handful of energy bars. We could barely see Barranco camp down below, but the trip down looked far more daunting We began our descent at 2pm and soon realised just how much more difficult the route down was going to be. Our knees hurt from the rough terrain. The descent itself took two hours, but we were exhausted. At 3,950 metres, Barranco camp is situated in a valley below the Western Breach and the towering Breach Wall.

As we watched the sun set, we began to think of the following day. Tomorrow's climb would take us even higher, where it would be even cooler and we would have even thinner air to breathe. Follow more of Sheikh Mohammed's adventures at www.musafir.com.