Day two of the hike was relatively short, only a few miles, but very steep and rocky, and about another 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Everybody in the party did well, and the day felt much easier. This was due mainly to the fact that it was dry instead of drizzling, and we had the whole day to make the hike, instead of just a few hours on the day previous.
A decent night’s sleep after a hard day of exertion also helped. Sleeping, always a challenge while camping, gets even harder in middle age for the sometime adventurer. Our outfitter scored big points by bringing (and portaging) two decently wide and about two inch thick sleeping pads for Sam and me. I also brought a lightweight 1 inch thick self-inflating pad, so between the two I was fairly comfortable. I developed a system of rotating myself like a rotisserie chicken through the nights, first right side, then on my back, and lastly left side to keep the invariable joint, pressure and back pains at bay.
The other problem to deal with for men of a certain age (and yes, I know, sometimes you women too) is the frequent call of nature. At home I can be up a minute or so, do the necessary and fall asleep again in another minute. All surroundings are warm, comfy, familiar and easy to maneuver around. Not so when one tries to get up and out of two or three layers of sleeping bag and liner, unzip the tent doors hunched over to exit, walk far enough away, in the dark, to do what needs to be done as Garrison Keillor puts it, and then repeat to get back into bed. Oh, and let's not forget the cold, just for added fun. And avoiding falling off any nearby cliffs. Small price to pay for adventure. Besides, what a view! Never at home or in the city do you get to see stars like this, bands of the Milky Way from horizon to horizon, and the whole southern hemisphere of constellations not usually seen. Definitely worth the hassle. Of course, on those nights you have to get up a couple of times or more, not so joyous.
But back to the hike! We started off from our campsite to an almost immediate steep and uphill climb. Two things very different about this trip as opposed to other mountain hikes back home, the first being associated with the trail itself. Almost no switchbacks, and by that I really mean none. There were a couple of accidental switchbacks, I suppose, but nothing cut that way on purpose. The second was specific to our trip. I have never in all the hikes I've done in my life (except in the army) seen so many people packed together on a trail. We had more groups of hikers and their guides than I could count, along with porters passing us on the way the whole trip. The number had to have been a couple of hundred at least. Normally this would be very unpleasant. But for some reason, whether the serious nature in each person’s mind for being here and camaraderie of those attempting the same challenge, the slow pace due to the steepness and altitude, whatever it was, everybody was very respectful and helpful to each other, and all considerate and cheerful.
An hour or so into the climb, we broke through the clouds surrounding the base of the mountain into sunshine. Hiking was much easier due to the ground being less slick, and the views across the valleys were spectacular. Another hour or so from there and we started across a series of lava flow ridges, a lot of up and down, but still easier hiking than yesterday. There were a few slightly technical spots requiring careful footing and handholds, but again, nothing that was very hard.
The total hike was about 4.5 hours, and when we were through, we were greeted to a wide open campsite on a slight slope among the lava fields that gave an awesome view of the valley and surrounding peaks and valleys. This view only improved through the afternoon as the cloud cover dissipated. By late afternoon we could see the whole mountain and the challenge before us. We were at 12,500 feet, and we had about another 7,000 to go to the top, and four days to finish the challenge.