Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 4 – The Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

(Please feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment below – I will respond as quickly as possible!)

Day 4 on the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro began like every other day:  get out of the zipped-up sleeping bag, figure out where the full pee bottle was to not accidentally crush it, find the camp shoes, put on some warm clothes, have some water, take any of the daily meds required, etc.

There is a morning routine to camp life in Kilimanjaro – at least I concocted one all of my own (did you feel that too, if you have climbed Kilimanjaro??).  This routine quickly moved from these individual tasks to those that were about packing up and getting ready to go.  While I was a little more leisurely about the first set of tasks (I woke up early enough), I usually felt rushed on the latter and somewhat worried I would slow down the group’s departure.

 Hiker, Trekker in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania wearing Arcteryx

Once the morning routine was completed, this trekker looks like a pro!

A mental and physical wall?  Meet the Barranco Wall

But on Day 4 I also woke up with something else on my mind beyond my routine:  the Barranco Wall.  I had on purpose not read every detail about the Machame Route before I left for the trip because I figured leaving some element of surprise would be good.  I didn’t want to be anticipating what came next but, instead, enjoy each moment.  Then, the night before we went on the Barranco Wall, I was told about it.  I was not sure what that meant but I had seen the wall on our way in from a distance and I got a little worried about what it would take.  Clearly it was going to be a narrow path with the wall on one side and the “fast” way down on the other…  I tried to not think about it because there was no sense in over-processing it.  But I was hoping it was not wall climbing with a cliff under me…

Of all the things to have worried about, wall climbing was not it.  No mental or physical wall there (that does not mean there were not a couple of tricky moments!).  The real “wall” was the wait to cross the Barranco Wall!  See, normally trails are wide enough to walk two people side-by-side which allowed for letting porters pass you without you having to stop or get out of the way.  We appreciated porters because they make the trek possible for the hikers (more on the porters here).  So we always let them pass if we were walking side by side at any point.

However, the trail on the Barranco Wall narrowed to single file for most of it.  The wall did require some times pulling yourself over rocks but always with the trail on either side of it (that is, never floating over empty space below).   So porters would be trapped waiting for hikers to work their way through.  Our group stayed off to the side right before the Barranco Wall started to let as many porters pass but it became rather tedious as we ended up sort of waiting for like a good 30 minutes or so.

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Long line of climbers and porters entering the Barranco Wall. Me?  In the waiting room to enter the Wall, I suppose!

The Barranco Wall on the Machame Route climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Barranco Wall, here we come! OK, in 2 minutes. No, in 10. No in 20…

Wondering what lay ahead of me, I was very ready to go and I sensed others around me were ready to go for whatever reasons of their own.  We finally got going and the wall was actually quite doable.  Yes, the trail narrowed at certain points to widths not comfortable for everyone but this actually did not bother me – but I still made sure I was closer to the wall than the edge :)

Climbing on the Barranco Wall in Kilimanjaro

At the beginning of the Barranco Wall, finally! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

Given we had to go slow, I had the time to look back at the direction of the Barranco Camp and the entrance to the Barranco Wall…

View towards Barranco Camp from the Barranco Wall

Camp was in the direction of the green-roofed hut on the top left. Note that trail of trekkers and porters.

Entrance to the Barranco Wall on the Machame Route

Closeup towards the almost-dry stream we had to cross to enter the Barranco Wall’s “waiting room”

There is a trail post-wall:  a trail of doubt for me

The wall behind us, I felt relief that now we were going to be back on a more “normal” trail.  Well, we were not quite back to one of those.  The trail after the Wall required climbing over a lot of rocks (without a cliff around) and the exertion of climbing over large rocks actually left me quite winded.  I could see myself lagging the group a bit more with every passing section of the trail and I was not happy.

Our Trekking for Kids lead reassured me that the extra exertion of the legs would definitely have this impact (picture, if you will, the difference between walking uphill vs. walking up the same incline using stairs:  it is harder on the latter).  I still was disappointed and wondered if my fitness level was not up to par and – furthermore- what did this presage about summit night??  Our hiking guide, checking in on me at the next break, told me that an accelerated heart rate is also caused by altitude and may not be a statement about fitness level.  I appreciated the support of the TFK lead and our guide and mustered enough strength to get me past this stage of the trail – but just barely…

Onwards!

Mercifully, after that stage, the trail become more the normal up and down hills so I was OK on those.  Occasional rocks along the way were further apart from each other so the issue did not re-surface and I once again believed I could do this.  My first moment of doubt since entering the mountain had lasted maybe less than an hour but, mentally, it had been huge.  So this is what people mean when they say climbing Kili is both a physical AND a mental challenge…

Along the way, the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the worse so we donned our rain gear but it really did not rain much or for long at all – whew!

Rain hits while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Hikers walking into the cloud…

We arrived at the Karanga Camp (13,800 ft; 4,200 m) after a 4 mile (7 km) hike that took around 5 hours and we were pleased it was yet another nice camp.  The tents were on a little bit of a slope but after one slightly uncomfortable night on Day 2, I learned the trick to make the sleeping bag as horizontal as possible:  just put stuff under the sleeping pad to even it out – simple!

Karanga Camp at Kilimanjaro's Machame Route

Yet another beautiful camp! (Photo courtesy of K. Shuman)

It is worth explaining that we used sleeping pads under the sleeping bags for two reasons:  one, further insulate you from the cold ground and, two, a little more comfort in sleep with the extra padding.  Mine was an inflatable one (but not self-inflatable).  I thought this would be an issue given the altitude and diminished oxygen levels but it actually was no trouble at all.  Plus it helped me practice my pressure breathing!  Folding the sleeping pad in the morning after deflating it to slip back into its tight packing sleeve was actually THE worst moment of my morning routine!

It’s all in the views…

Like many moments on this climb, neat views delight when they appear.  After the Barranco Wall waiting room, the post-wall stage that slowed me down big time and brought doubt, and the slight rain, it is the nice views that really motivate you to continue with every day and every step.  Such was, for me, this view on Day 4…

Mt. Kilimanjaro's summit beckons climbers

The summit beckons!

Back to Day 3

… or on to Day 5!!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Other posts about the Kilimanjaro trek:

–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike

–  Day 2 of the hike

Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

Comments

  1. Raul, I’m really enjoying reading your blog entries about Kili. It’s neat to be able to compare the experience with someone else that did it at almost the same time (and yes, I promise to eventually write more posts about my Kili experience, but first I want to finish the Mount Kenya entries).

    An interesting note is that our guide decided to have us be the last group to leave Barranco Camp. His justification for this was that some groups would start quite early and continue all the way to the Barafu base camp, and (as you experienced) there would be a long traffic jam on the wall all morning long. We left camp around 8:45am. There were a few stragglers on the Wall, but we really didn’t have to wait for anyone. However, it also means that I didn’t get to pause and take in the great views (and get the resulting photos) that you did.
    Ryan recently posted..Mount Kenya – Day 1, Burguret RouteMy Profile

    • Thanks, Ryan! I look forward to reading about Kili from you and I will also be checking out Mt. Kenya! I want to say we started Day 4 a little later than normal for that reason too but maybe not later enough!

  2. What an experience! Did you take notes everyday?
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..Martinborough, New Zealand – a wine sensationMy Profile

    • @MrsO, I take some notes especially on names and key facts (altitude, distance, price) in general. I don’t journal though if I have a thought I don’t want to forget later, I will also jot it down quickly. My photos help me recall the things I want to talk about quite well!
      @LazyTs, thanks!

  3. we’re proud that you kept pushing through, raul!!
    the lazy travelers recently posted..everything but the kayak with kayak kauaiMy Profile

  4. Well done! Love the view at the end.

  5. OMGgg… I don’t think I could do it but so proud of you for doing it! Living vicariously for sure. I like the pic with all the tents. Lol
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..Full Moon Party in ThailandMy Profile

  6. description made me feel like I was part of the hike! Love the details!

  7. I keep forgetting you are such an elevation until I am reminded by your prose… blowing something up every evening to sleep on…how long did that take? wondering how can you even prepare in advance for that…

    looking forward to day 5.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Safely Drinking a Margarita in its Birthplace-Juarez, MexicoMy Profile

    • @Craig, it really didn’t take any longer than it would have down here. I was expecting it would take more. But since I used the “pressure breathing” technique, I had more oxygen in my lungs than otherwise at that altitude. I got to practice pressure breathing while getting the pad inflated!

  8. Raul….I am so excited! Kili is on the bucket list. Not sure when….but in the next couple of years! I did some trekking in the Everest region, so I feel like I know what you were going through as you climbed, one by one, through that narrow pass. We didn’t stay in tents so had no challenges there…but I will be ready for it. Thanks for that tip! More motivated than ever to get over there!
    Anita Mac recently posted..Vegas Bucket List: Beyond the CasinosMy Profile

  9. I have to say, I LOVE reading these day-by-day experiences. I’ve always said I’ve wanted to climb Kili, but I really didn’t know what it would entail. You’re photos are really telling me the story.
    The World Wanderer recently posted..La Banquise: The Best Poutine in Montreal?My Profile

  10. love the photos here, Raul. not sure if they are convincing me to try this someday or that i don’t have what it takes ;)
    lola recently posted..treated like Royalty at Four Seasons Hotel George V – ParisMy Profile

  11. Whoa!! That’s one crowded campsite!
    jill recently posted..Carving the Cliffside: The Quest For Nicaragua’s Elusive SculptorMy Profile

  12. I am taking this trip in two weeks. This is the one part of the route that is freaking me out. I don’t do well with heights and I’ve been reading about the Kissing Rock part of the wall.

    How hard is this day?
    About how narrow does the trail get?

    • Ivan, first of all, thanks for stopping by. I hope the writeup was helpful. I was a little worried as I headed into the Wall myself. (I am OK with heights in general but there is such a thing as too close to an edge, etc. so I was worried.) I expected that I would be walking on a ledge or hanging on to rocks on the wall just so I could walk and move. It was not that bad. If memory serves me right, most of the path was at least 3 ft (1m) wide if not more. There was one moment where a big step was needed but the guides are right there to help you. If I had to return, having seen it now, I would not worry at all. In terms of how hard the day is, there can be a wait to get onto the Barranco Wall segment so that was a pain. After the Barranco Wall, I found myself winded often but that could have been not being as fit as I should have been. After getting to the top, I found the rest of the route beautiful and, while there were still hills, they were quite doable.

      Please let me know if this helped or if you have other questions. All I can say is 1) it is worth it, 2) the guides are there to help you with whatever you have to deal with, and 3) you likely will do just fine! I understand the concerns but that night before the Barranco Wall admire the beauty around that camp – it was neat – and let that help you keep the eye on the summit! I’d love to hear back from you after your hike to find out how it went. I hope you have a fantastic experience and remember to stay hydrated and go pole pole!!
      Raul recently posted..A Grain of Truth about MinneapolisMy Profile

      • Raul,

        Thanks for the tips and encouragement! I’m getting nervous since my trip is only 2 weeks away! I’m going through my packing list and trying to get everything in order.

        I will definitely let you and your readers know how it went!

        Ivan

  13. I am very much interested In the Kili adventure but I really have a fear of heights. Just how intimidating is the Barranco wall. Is it like walking/climbing on a ledge with a shear drop on one side. I don’t really get a good idea of it from the pictures.
    Dave recently posted..On My Way Back to Trek in PatagoniaMy Profile

    • Dave, good question. It was not like walking on a tight rope or something like that. The width was like 4-6 ft wide if memory serves me right.

    • Dave,

      I’m afraid of heights also but it was not bad at all. When you stand at the bottom and look up it is intimidating and it looks vertical. That’s because there’s noting else to give it a true perspective. When you start climbing you realize it is nothing out of this world. You just have to put down your poles and scramble up rocks. There are people everywhere. If you do fall, at most you’ll fall like 3 feet or something. The path is wide and there are no sheer cliffs.

      Ivan

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