Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 4 – Barranco Wall and Its Challenges

The Barranco Wall, one of the most dreaded if not feared parts of the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro…  I was blissfully oblivious to it.  While I had researched my trek and prepared for it, I had mostly focused on the training, clothing, gear, and altitude sickness more than on the intricacies of the climb itself.  Looking back, I am glad I did not know about the Barranco Wall before I met it that morning…  How hard was it to climb the Barranco Wall?  Was it like wall climbing or walking along a steep edge?  How wide was the path along the Barranco Wall?  How high was the Barranco Wall?  What would I feel?  I am sure the questions would be endless in my mind and, if you are reading this, perhaps you are asking yourself those questions and seeking answers.  I talk about it, let me take a step back in the narrative here…

Starting day 4 on the Machame route

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 as I mentioned earlier 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.  Other than that the wall should take an hour or two depending on your fitness level and the traffic ahead.

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 🙂  The Barranco Wall is between 200-300m high and, while not trivial, it didn’t hit me as scary from an altitude standpoint though people are very different when it comes to altitudes and ledges so keep that in mind.

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”

In the end, there were a couple of tight spots and a little jump where help was useful (from a physical standpoint and a mental block standpoint).  It was better to have hands free along the path to be able to hold on to things so the hiking poles helped most packed away vs. in my hands.  The physical exertion was a non-issue for me along the wall and I was glad for that – but there was more ahead, post wall…

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!!

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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

Gear for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – Clothing

Planning my hike of Mount Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari (check out my visit to Serengeti) in Tanzania was not an easy task – it felt daunting.  Good research was key and I figured that would be the case from the get-go.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking it, talking to the great folks at REI, and working through the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids) which was outstanding.  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things to add to my packing list for hiking Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari.  But I was well armed with information and advice.

This post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with the goal of reaching its peak, Uhuru Peak, an adventure that requires both cold and hot weather gear.  I will attempt, as an amateur, to share over a couple of posts what made it to my packing list and how it helped.  This post will focus on clothing.  If you are reading this and planning a similar trek, please feel free to leave any questions as comments and I will reply and try to help.  In addition, should you have other suggested items or even better suggestions than mine, please share!  There are more ways to skin a cat than one!

Before I get on to my recommendations for the packing list, a few key items to note:

  • I went on safari after the hike concluded so I include in the packing list things for the safari as well.
  • Kili has multiple climate zones ranging from hot to extreme cold.
  • I am not laying out all the options possible, especially in clothing, but will share what all the advice led me to choose.
  • I did write about my 7 top items to take on this hike.  It was a high-level view of the question but hopefully this post will get more details.
Kilimanjaro, planning, gear, packing, climb, hiking, trekking, Tanzania, mountaineering

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Clothing – Lower Body

From the bottom up:

  • Hiking boots – Get good ones and do your practice hikes with them so you break them in well.  Otherwise you may suffer more during the hike, including dreadful blisters.  Some folks went for shoes that were more like hiking shoes but I like the safety of the ankle support since I am bound to get sloppy and then twist my ankle when tired.  The following are a couple of boots that read well from the product descriptions (mine were REI waterproof hiking boots from a long-time ago so no image at Amazon for them) – study these and keep in mind that waterproof and comfort reign supreme in terms of choosing one. Regardless of where you buy them, make sure you know whether you can try them out and return them if you, once you have tried them out, decide they are not for you. These two represent two different price points.

Sample 1Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

Sample 2Columbia Men’s North Plains Ii Waterproof Mid Hiking Boot

  • Gaiters – These help keep mud and scree from doing a number on you.  You will need them at summit for sure and probably on the first day if it has rained recently (it had not for us so I did not use them that day).  You don’t really need knee-high things in my opinion; something to cover the possible gap between the bottom of your pants and the top of your boots is fine.
  • Socks – Socks for the hike and the safari were very different types.  For the latter, you may not need to be told what to get.  But for the former, remember to use a liner to wick moisture from the feet and then woolen socks over them.  For summiting or the colder days, you need very thick woolen socks.  I was still a little cold in my feet even with the sturdiest of these.
  • Pants
    • A rainproof outer shell was a must to avoid getting soaked.  However, it does not need to keep you warm (I used under-layers to handle the cold).  The outer shell is about rain and, also, wind.  I got a hard shell (you can get a soft shell instead if you want).  A key feature I would highly recommend are the side long zippers (ankle to hip) that enable you to very quickly put them on (as in, when rain starts all of a sudden…) – a breeze!  Bottom line on these:  windproof and waterproof.
    • When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I just used my hiking pants as the exterior layer.  I would highly recommend zip-off (convertible) hiking pants for quick adaptability:  if it gets too hot during the day, you don’t have the “do-I-want-to-go-through-the-hassle-of-taking-off-my-boots-to-change-into-shorts?”-type of dilemma…  But it also saved packing both long pants and shorts 🙂  Read through all the details of these and others you may find (all sorts of price points!).  The convertible hiking pants shown don’t need to be anything fancy:  comfortable and with the amount of pockets you feel you want in the right places (and with buttons, Velcro or zippers on them per your preferences).  Basic worked fine for me!

     

Sample Hiking PantsColumbia Boy’s Silver Ridge III Convertible Pants
Sample Outer ShellMarmot Men’s PreCip Full Zip Pant Shell

  • Base layer for the legs – Base layers (long leggings) made from merino wool (the best) will be important to keep me warm.  This layer, given the material, will also keep odors from building up which makes them re-usable for more than one day (saving the load of what needs to be carried by the porters and taken in my luggage on the trip to/from Africa).  You can use polypropylene for this layer but I hear merino wool just performs better.  On summit day, you may need two layers of base layer.  I wore two under the hiking pants and then the hard shell on the outside.  I was consistently told before the trip that silk is about the best material to help retain warmth next to the skin.  I was surprised when I heard that.  I just happened to have this pair of silk leggings but, once on Tanzania, our lead guide told me to use the two merino layers I had instead of the silk pair and one merino pair.  It worked well enough for me on summit night!
  • Shorts for safari – I wore shorts during the safari (the zip-off hiking pants and an extra pair) but I also did wear my full hiking pants to better protect me from the sun (and bugs, I suppose).  Of course, shorts will also be things you wear in the evening or when exploring towns.

Clothing – Upper Body

  • Base layer– The upper body layering approach is much like the lower body’s.  I used base layers for the colder days – again merino wool.  (Usually one, but two on summit night!)  For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax type of shirt.  As I went up and things got colder, a wool “close-to-the-skin” layer under the CoolMax worked well.  Wool is ideal for skin-contact as it wicks moisture from your skin preventing many things (one of them: smells!).  I show one example below but there are tons from many brands that fit the needs – and varying budgets 😉  Bottom line: no cotton!

Sampletasc Performance Men’s Elevation Ultrafine Soft Merino Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt

  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this layer would separate the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Tasc‘s Elevation line (of which I show a base layer item above) also has a 1/4 zip hoodie jacket that also combines merino wool with their signature bamboo fiber which may be a great item.  I didn’t have one with a hoodie so I had to wear the regular ski hat if I was cold enough at camp at night. (By the way, I am a fan of Tasc‘s regular bamboo fabric t-shirts so I am curious how this one would work).  The Icebreaker item I show below, has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable; search around when you click through below as they have other versions of the same type of item with some range in price point…  The SmartWool brand, in my short years of serious hiking, has proven to be a good and reliable one; so theirs is worth reading more about when selecting a mid layer top  Be wary of items that will themselves as having wool; a few years ago I clicked on one and it was mostly polyester and only 11% wool – always read the product details!!  Note:  An alternative could be a fleece jacket – there are pros and cons to wool vs. fleece with one of the main ones being how each performs in keeping you warm when wet (wool is better) and how quickly they dry (fleece is better).  Since I knew I would have the right layers to keep rain off me, then wool was a no-brainer for me.

Sample Mid Layer 1Icebreaker Merino Descender Long Sleeve 1/2 Zip
Sample Mid Layer 2Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Full Zip T

    • Outer layers –  On the trek, I had an outer hard shell for rain and wind.  I also carried a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I used the latter in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  My outer shell was an Arcteryx jacket very much like the one below. Arcteryx is not a cheap brand (I hunted the jacket until I found it on a great sale!) but reading through the item I show below will give you an idea of the features to look for; best I can tell, this one is pretty similar from top to bottom to the one I had (except mine was orange).  To keep in mind for summit night:  I used two merino wool base layers, the merino wool light jacket, the hard shell (for wind, not rain), and the synthetic down jacket – which I was not wearing at the beginning of the ascent but which I wore during breaks and once it got too cold even while moving.  It important to plan these well because summit night will be COLD.

Sample Outer ShellArcteryx Alpha SL Jacket

  • Shirts for safari – I had quick-dry short sleeve shirts that also had side vents – very comfortable in warm weather and preventing odors from building up…
  • Head- and neck- gear –  I used different items to cover my head from the cold and from the sun – both very important.  A typical sun hat to protect against the sun (with a rim) was a very good idea.  A skull cap was one of the items I used in cold weather.  In very windy or in rainy conditions, the hood from the hard shell helped a good deal.  I also had a buff which I used when the skull cap seemed like a little much.  In fact, the buff served many purposes, like loosely hanging around my neck to avoid burning up when in the sun.  I also used it to cover my mouth and nose when it got dusty on the trail or in the safari.  Finally, I brought a balaclava for summit night.  It would offer lots of protection with only a small space open to look out.  I could also just use it around my neck (would keep it warmer than the buff would).  So quite a few options!
  • Outer gloves –  You are going to want some extreme gloves! The gloves should be waterproof because you don’t want gloves getting wet where it is cold! And some good heavy duty insulation (e.g., PrimaLoft). You will still need liners underneath (you would think an extreme glove would be enough…).  My fingertips were still a little cold on summit night even with the liners! But that eventually passed as I entered “the zone” (read how summit night unfolded!)  You also need to decide on the type: mitt or separate-fingers. For that outer layer of gloves, I chose mitt. Plus: less “surface” exposed to the outside, so keeps more warmth around your fingers. Minus: Lower usability of your fingers since they cannot move independently. However, my rationale for mitts was that most of the time, I would be holding hiking poles in my hands during the ascent and for that, the mitt grip worked. Once I wanted to reach for tissues or take a photo, yes, I would have to take the mitts off but that was not a big deal. Even fingered style gloves may have been too thick for some of these motions.
  • Liners – I only used the extreme gloves summit night but the liners I used a lot on the days and evenings prior to summit night.  Maybe bring two pairs of liners of different thicknesses, or one pair of liners and one pair of lighter gloves.  The Grabber hand warmer thingies that generate some heat can be helpful though they do not always seem to generate the same level of heat at high altitude.  Nevertheless, any heat helps so you may want to bring some.

Clothing – sleep time

OK, do I really think you need help with this?  No and yes.  No, because sleep wear is such a personal comfort thing.  But yes because part of it is slightly counter-intuitive.  When you are sleeping in the super-cold weather sleeping bag at night at the higher altitudes and on colder nights, the less you wear, THE BETTER.  No, no, nothing kinky about that statement.  Simply the interior of the super-cold weather sleeping bag will make you feel your own body heat warming you as it leaves your body.  So the more clothing you wear, the less your body heat will work with the sleeping bag to keep you warm.  Other than that, keep the jackets, pants, etc. close to the sleeping bag because when you wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself (and, trust me, you WILL if you are taking Diamox), you will need to put those on because you will not be able to go outside in your “sleepwear”!

ilivetotravel Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro Olympus camera

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!  Wearing the merino wool mid layer and the synthetic down jacket.

Can I help you any more with planning your packing list?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing items I’d include in any packing list for a hike of Mount Kilimanjaro.  These items shared here are the things I obtained and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions on what to add to the list of things to bring to hike Kili, and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, checking out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!

Disclosure:  I am not being paid or in any way compensated by the brands whose wares I discuss in this post.  While I would love to sample their products and review them, that is not the case in this post – just want to show good samples of the types of items I’d consider.

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What to wear Kilimanjaro, clothing Kilimanjaro climb, packing list Kilimanjaro, hiking

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Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

 

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