Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 4 – Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

There is a morning routine to camp life in Mount Kilimanjaro – at least I concocted one all of my own.  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.

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.

 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 (and not dread the next moment…).  Then, the night before we went on the Barranco Wall, I was told about it.  I was not sure what was shared really 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 to get through it for this amateur.  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’s edge right by my feet…

It should be called the Barranco Wait, not the Barranco Wall…

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 allows 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 these points.  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 eager to get going (instead of pondering what lay ahead) 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- Barranco 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 – good exercise for my lungs at altitude!  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 Mount 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

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 3 – A Lava Tower, Then All Hail Broke Loose

Morning greeted us at Shira Camp where we had arrived on Day 2, and we started our way up around 8:45 AM to the famous Lava Tower of Mt. Kilimanjaro (though, admittedly, I had not heard about it before I signed up for this trip…).  Excitement combined with anxiety as to how I would perform at the higher altitude.  Our hike on Day 3 started at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) and would peak at the Lava Tower at 15,200 ft (4,630 m).  I had not been that high before (airplanes aside).  Not the longest climb we had done so far (that was on Day 1 of the Machame Route).  But given the altitude, I expected a challenge.

Climb high – and then come back down?  Seriously?

So, the plan for the day was to go up to 15,200 ft.  I remember reading the itinerary and thinking “wow, only 4,000 ft more to go to the summit!”.  And then I read we would end the day at 12,700 ft, barely above our starting point at the Barranco Camp.  “Say WHAT??!!!,” I jived to myself.  I quickly learned how smart this approach was.

The “climb high, sleep low” approach allows for the body to exert itself at higher latitudes with lighter air but sleep at a lower altitude where more oxygen in the air would help the body recover.  As I learned,  this would help the body adjust to altitude better.  I am not sure one fully adjusts to the altitudes in the mountain but you are closer to that with this approach.

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

This view early on Day 3 certainly motivated us to tackle Day 3’s challenge

The way to the Lava Tower

So off we went, walking in semi-desert terrain.  It is amazing how the terrain is so different every day of this climb.  It keeps it interesting.  I heard the Machame Route is actually the best to truly enjoy this diversity and, as far as I could tell, it was definitely true of the route (though I cannot personally compare it to other routes).

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

Some little vegetation…

Alpine desert in Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Lava Tower

… gives way to no vegetation in no time!

As the day went on, the skies darkened and, at different times, fog or clouds passed us, like right after we arrived at the Lava Tower (around 1 PM).  The Lava Tower, one can safely assume, is made from the rocks that the mountain spewed during its volcanic heyday.  But for me, what was more important when we got there was the fact I had managed OK to get to this altitude (“OK” does not mean piece of cake; but it does not mean “barely made it” either).

Lava Tower shrouded in clouds

Clouds coming in to the Lava Tower camp area

At the Lava Tower in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Celebrating arriving at the Lava Tower with my hiking buddy for the day, Melanie

Making it to 15,200 ft is a celebration worthy moment.  For us, that meant a warm lunch!!!

DIning tent while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our dining room on the mountain

Every day, our porters would set up the tent at camp and serve our meals there (though, normally, lunch was taken on the trail during a break).  The food was so good – or was it just we were starving from the exertion??  I think it was a little bit of both.

So let’s go down from Lava Tower to the Barranco Camp – piece of cake

After having succeeded in climbing to over 15,000 ft and surviving the thinner air during the one hour lunch break, it was time to go down to camp (and more oxygen density!).  We felt at this point we had this covered – everyone was in great spirits, talking and laughing.  We exited the Lava Tower Camp area by going between two very large rock formations and proceeded to go down.

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Exiting the Lava Tower Camp area

Well, Mother Nature had a different plan for these hikers.  Just after we cleared the rock formations and had proceeded down the rocky terrain some, the weather turned.  A little rain and we all got geared up (covering our daypacks, putting on the hard shell pants, etc.).

Daypacks covered during a storm in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Stormy weather in Kilimanjaro

The umbrella person was not one of ours, for the record. They may have just been blown away by the winds after this photo was taken…

And then it started to hail.

At first, we actually kind of liked it.  Cool was the word.  Until it started hailing harder.

Our collective recollection now is it was hail the size of a small motorized vehicle.  That day, they were the size of mansions.  Upon closer examination of our pictures, the hail was the size of small pellets (my fellow trekkers may kill me for revealing this).  However, this group of trekkers had been spoiled -er, blessed- with awesome weather so we can be forgiven for talking about this hailstorm for a day or two as if it had been a preamble to the Apocalypse.

Hail on Mt. Kilimanjaro

See the MONSTROUS pieces of hail?? The humanity!

We got to camp (still raining some) around 4:45 PM and quite a few folks had to make a run for number one or number two since we had not made any stops during the hail/rain.  No one will forget our guide’s impression of one of our trekkers who was suffering more from an urgent number two run.  As we discussed the day over dinner, we all kept talking about the storm.  Until our guide, Luis, proceeded to tell us that the storm had lasted exactly 1 hr 47 mins and that, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of bad weather in the mountain, this ranked as a 0.5.  We pondered his point for a moment and, I believe, someone asked for the mango plate to be passed…

E.T., phone home

The Barranco Camp, where we were going to spend the night, was my second favorite camp after the Shira Camp.  I think it was the sense of proximity to the summit combined with a nice setting (though not the expansive vistas of the Shira Camp).

Barranco Camp in Kilimanjaro

One of our trekkers managed to get mobile network signal at this camp and offered the phone for quick calls home for anyone interested.  Having a Cuban mother, I decided I had to take advantage of the opportunity to tell her I was eating well and alive (I think those are her priorities for me, in that order).  She was ECSTATIC to hear my voice, that I was eating food, and that I was alive.  Thanks, Annie!!

More of the scenery

Barring the summit, my favorite vistas were coming to a close.  That does not mean there were not going to be other great views but the best for me had been Day 2 and Day 3, in that order.  Before you close this browser window, a couple more pictures of the scenery of Day 3.   Day 4 will be bringing the Barranco Wall – something that had me wondering how scary would the wall be…  Stay tuned.

If you have not yet, subscribe to this blog so you can get notifications when new posts come out and Like ilivetotravel’s page in Facebook where announcements and other items are posted (don’t worry, I won’t inundate your wall with posts – one per day or so!).

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro

Back to Day 2

On to Day 4

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

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

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

%d bloggers like this: