As we climbed out of our sleeping bags and braved the early morning cold of Shira camp, the gloom brought on by two days of rain-soaked hiking was quickly dispelled by the light of daybreak. The massive, snow-covered slopes of Kilimanjaro, which we had briefly glimpsed the night before, were hidden from view by thick clouds, but the valley to the west of our camp was clearly visible. As we packed, a febrile sun peeked through the cloud cover, fighting in vain to pierce the mist that enveloped the mountain. Day 3 was the longest of our approach hikes and we set out half an hour earlier than the previous day in an attempt to beat the rain we were certain would eventually come.
Two and a half hours of hiking over rocky fields and plateaus brought us to a fork in the road. To the right lay the path down to Barranco, where we would be spending the night. We headed left, climbing towards Lava Tower just as the first ephemeral snowflakes fluttered down out of the ash-gray sky.
At 4,600m (15,091ft), the base of Lava Tower is at the same altitude as the Barafu base camp from which we would be making our summit bid; hiking up to this elevation before returning to sleep at the lower altitude of Barranco was an important step in our acclimatization efforts. Given that we both came down from Lava Tower with slight headaches, it was also a very necessary one.
We spent the better part of an hour climbing to the base of Lava Tower, where our guides intended to have lunch, but by the time we got up there, the snow was coming down in earnest. Somehow, a high-altitude snowstorm did not do wonders for our appetites and we did not linger at Lava Tower. It took us nearly two hours to descend the scree-covered slopes to our camp, which we reached just as the first drops of rain began to fall.
Snow. Fog. Yet, our gear was dry and we were safely ensconced in our sleeping bags by the time the heavens opened up and the downpour started. This was the best day we had spent on the mountain.