Day 3: Shira Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower. 23/01/08
I’m wide awake at 10:30pm, again at 1:30am, and finally my alarm goes off for ages at 6:15am because I have ear-plugs in and so don’t hear it! A quick toilet stop, which I find surprisingly clean, probably because there are many around this site. I slept warm in my sleeping bag, and given the clear sky, it will probably be hot when the sun comes up (which is not yet!).
So far, I have to say the scenery has surpassed expectations. Here we are surrounded by Mount Meru, and the rocky leftovers of Shira, with Kibu’s cap towering above.
Breakfast consists of hot water for washing, a hot water thermos flask for tea and Milo, a large bowl of porridge, 3 slices of toast, two fried eggs, sausage, salad, cheese, fruit and jam, peanut butter, and today, a bowl of beans as well! I almost wonder whether it’s some kind of joke, I must be putting on weight! I don’t have the headache any more, but do still have the pre-headache warm buzz feeling. Lunch each day is prepared with breakfast – today it’s fried sandwiches, a boiled egg, banana, orange, cake, fruit juice and a piece of fried chicken. Slightly worryingly we were still having fried chicken four days in! I guess if it’s cooked well..
Setting off early at my request, we soon overtake a Russian couple and are in front, which is nice because you get some peace on the trail.
Porters charging up behind us
The moorlands turns into alpine desert, a kind of volcanic moonscape with just scattered rocks covered in lichen and moss.
Nothing else grows up here, it’s so inhospitable.
As we march along, Alex drops a surprising question: Do I want to summit today?!!!! If I’m feeling fit and want to, that is! I decline! This is 48 hours into the trek, and he’s suggesting we go for broke, straight up the Western Breach!!
Does gets me thinking though, I am feeling more confident, despite some of the interesting claims I’d heard, such as apparently after vomiting from AMS you feel better! Before you die perhaps!
Better signposted than their towns!!
Anyway, the Western breach looks formidable, and I’m not sorry to turn down this opportunity. It looks not dissimilar to Annapurna I’s South Face! We make a slow approach to the Lava Tower, a big lump of, err, lava, which is one of the keys to Machame being a good route for acclimatising – at this point you get up to 4,600m before dropping again for a couple of days.
I think some ice has been at work here
I can feel a certain lack of energy, my heart thumping away, but still no headache as such.
We’ve reached snow!
We reach the Lava Tower, at 4600m and to my relief find we don’t have to climb the actual rock summit, instead finding shelter behind a rock wall, to relax, acclimatise and have lunch.
To summit from here one heads straight up the impenetrable Western Breach, stopping (if one so desires!) at Arrow Glacier Camp, which was closed in 2006 after four people were killed by a rock-fall. I guess it must be open now. I give Alex Importance of Being Earnest, but it gets put down after a cursory flick.
We have the place to ourselves for a while, but more people roll in as the clouds reach us. Alex thinks it might rain soon, so despite my acclimatisation plan of remaining here for a couple of hours, let’s go!
We make a steep descent along rocky wet trails, with low visibility as the clouds rush up the mountainside. It’s a couple of hours to camp, as we descend into the Great Barranco Valley, which turns out to be full of fascinating plants, the senecias I mentioned before, appearing like weird palm trees in this equatorial alpine valley.
I later learn that this spot is in fact called the “Garden of the Senecias”.
Technically the large ones are senecias, reaching 5m high, and the shorter (up to 3m) ones are lobelias. I haven’t yet ascertained how you differentiate between a small senecia and a large lobelia!
We reach Barranco Camp at 3972m, with still no rain but it is fairly cloudy.
The Norwegian girls pass by my tent and say hello.
They want pancakes, apparently everyone’s had pancakes apart from them! I offer to hook them up with Octavio. Next, the usual drill, popcorn etc.
August sets the floor for dinner
I avoid the biscuits to stand any chance of eating dinner. My mobile phone works here. Apparently the Vodacom reception at the summit was the highest mobile coverage in the world until China Mobile extended their coverage to the top of Everest! No beating that, I guess. It seems strange to think tomorrow night we’ll be ascending to the summit – about 2000m higher than our current position! I absolutely have to get to summit or I’ll confirm Jina’s suspicions about me being a wimp! So much pressure!
Just a softie really
Opening my tent door on the other side I find I have a beautiful unrestricted view of the valley with clouds quietly drifting up.
The enterprising warden here offers t-shirts as well as maps, but I’ve got enough to carry thank you very much! Now I have a small headache, which doesn’t go away through dinner – which today is fresh leek soup with thick cut white bread, an enormous plate of pasta with beans and a kind of Bolognese sauce, then plenty of pineapple. Clumsily, I knock over my tea, and in this temperature it’s very hard to dry anything. Outside, small birds sing away, looking curiously into my tent, and doing occasional fly-bys in case of food tit-bits left over. It’s so nice to be above the mozzies.
I receive a couple of texts from Pippi which makes me happy. Bedtime, and it’s a good night, despite needing a moonlight toilet trip into the bush in my underpants! The night temperature curiously yo-yo’s up and down as the cloud rolls back and forth across us.
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp. 24/01/08
We enjoy a clear sky to start with clouds billowing up far below us. I wanted to stop Octavio making me porridge but he was already making the horrible stuff when I walked across to their tent in the twilight! Why do people like porridge, it’s horrible! My nose is cold! The sun is not up yet, and probably won’t reach us for a while as we’re sheltered in the valley. Today we’re looping round to the main approach point, Barafu (meaning Ice) Camp. We’re first out of camp, and are treated with an unexpected 2-300m climb (technical term: scramble!) up pretty much sheer rock face - certainly not quite what my terrain guide implies!
Barranco far below
This does give us a marvellous view back down to the camp site with Mount Meru in the distance - Alex says this is his favourite bit of the trek.
Tents down below
All tall mountains up above
In general, Alex descends quite fast, but his ascents are incredibly slow (even for me!). We’ve still had great weather so far, and I feel jealous of those who summitted (is that a word?!) this morning in the bright moonlight. We rise up and drop down repeatedly, looping round the mountain anti-clockwise,
crossing streams and rivulets as we go, then finally Karanga valley and up to Karanga camp, which is used by those spending an extra day in acclimatisation, at 3963m. It’s a steep climb out of Karanga valley, the last source of water before summit – the porters carry all water from here!
We stop for a break here, and I nibble some of my lunch. The sun is shining but clouds are powering up mountain. The next bit is a long steep slog, and there’s an “expedition” going up so slowly in single file I first think they’ve stopped completely until we get close. There’s about a dozen of them, mixed ages and sex, so close they’re almost nose-to-back and they literally put one food forward every 10 seconds. We motor past, even at Alex’s go-slow plod rate. There are rocks strewn about here, and no vegetation. From the top of this climb I catch a glimpse of Barafu Camp in the distance -Alex say it isn’t Barafu. He’s wrong, I’m right!
Since leaving Baranco valley this morning we’ve been passing several glaciers on our left, including Heim and Kersten, from the Southern Icefield directly below the summit, and further round, Decken, and now we approach the final “wall” into Bafaru (Ice) Camp. Alex suggests stopping for lunch, especially as the crew haven’t passed us yet so there are no tents waiting at camp. The sun hides behind the clouds as we sit, and the temperature falls rapidly. The crew finally catch us shortly after, and we climb up to Barafu together – the other Ringo expedition go-slow group having finally made it up.
Alex says he has climbed Kilimanjaro more than 50 times! To me it’s more one of those “been there, done that, other things to do” kind of adventures. I have headache as we walk into Barafu Camp, a strange site at 4633m,
sprawled up a rocky hill, with tent spots secured where it’s possible between the boulders.
Octo marches in
Followed by Joachim
From camp, there is a marvellous view of Mawenzi, one of the other volcanoes to our right as clouds roll over the ridge the camp stretches up.
We find our spot, and my tent is put up first.
Which bit next?
I note that I’ve finished the 3L of water I brought, finally! The reason it’s lasted so long is the copious quantities of boiled water the crew provide me morning and night. Inside my tent, everything is a bit wet, both from my tea spill, and from packing away the tent before the sun dried it out this morning.
A heavy hailstorm starts.
Just a dusting, really
Today I’m really looking forward to popcorn, and chew on a couple of Eclairs whilst I wait. We did well to get into camp early - this hail will be rain below, and the last thing you want is a soaking just before summit. Later lovely Andrea and Aussie girl show up – they of course received a soaking. I’m now avoiding tea because it’s a diuretic, I’m trying to stay as hydrated as possible given this is a factor in altitude sickness. Just Milo and hot water for me. The sun comes and goes but it keeps hailing. I seem to have another tent (with noisy porters) very close to me which is strange as I didn’t notice any spots for tents nearby.
The hail stops and we venture out to views of a dramatic landscape. The summit is shrouded in cloud, and there are more nasty clouds bubbling up. I consider whether it’s wise to switch packs to my daypack for the summit? My main pack is after all a tried and tested formula. It’s difficult to find others (okay, Andrea) in this site, as it’s very fragmented and stretches a fair way down the hill. I fill out the warden’s log, recording the usual name, age, occupation, tribe, also payment voucher number.
Some sites, like this one, you go to their hut to sign, others they come round to your tent, especially the more enterprising ones who try to sell you maps and then t-shirts! If only they sold beer! (Well, Machame Camp did).
A blast of sun affords a drying opportunity, so I have my socks and boots baked dry.
Octo has a good-looking soup bubbling away. August apparently got caught in the storms because he rested early on the trek. It’s interesting how the word for “welcome”, i.e. Karibu, is used lots more in Swahali than in English. For example, August says “welcome to tea” once he’s laid out everything on the rug.
Dinner is pasta, tonnes of the stuff of course, then I get to sleep, or at least try, at 7pm.
The clouds clear, ready for the ascent!
The guys in the next tent talk away, loudly, which is quite annoying, as I have to be up at 00:00 to get ready, we’re planning to leave at 00:30am.