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

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

(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

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

Mt. Kilimanjaro with a beautiful blue sky and clouds

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

Kilimanjaro Hike: Day 2 – The Moorlands and Shira Camp

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

While the excitement of getting going made Day 1 a great day, Day 2 was no less exciting.  For many of us in the Trekking for Kids group, that was mainly due to the change in the landscape (and maybe having one day under our belt?).  Day 1 on the Machame Route had us hike through the forest zone at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro; nice but not terribly interesting (at least to me).  We had heard Day 1 could be tough if it were raining or had just rained with the mud, etc.  But we had good luck on the weather front.

In any case, on Day 2, we moved into what is called “the moorlands“.  And it was a landscape I really liked, offering interesting plants and great views as well.  But before we got going on Day 2, I took a look around when I got out of my tent at the Machame Camp (at 10,200 ft / 3,100 m) and this is what was waiting for me!

The summit of Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp

The top of Kili!

A moorland?  What is that?

I had no idea what moorlands were prior to the hike.  So I looked the term up and it said it was a climate zone at some elevation with low-growing vegetation and fog.  In the end, the descriptions I had found didn’t really help me conjure a good mental picture though the Wikipedia article actually had a picture of Kili’s moorlands.  No worries, I was about to spend a whole day hiking the moorlands of Kili so I stopped trying to get that mental picture.  And these are some of the sights of the moorlands!  (Hope they give you a better sense of the moorlands than Wikipedia gave me.)

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro with fog behind it

One of the most interesting plants we saw on the climb

Plant in the moorlands terrain of Kilimanjaro

Another interesting plant of the moorlands zone

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Great example of the terrain and sky that day! Here a guide walks in front of me

Moorland terrain in Mt. Kilimanjaro

The trekkers making their way in the low vegetation and fog typical of the moorlands zone

Great vistas were part of our reward on Day 2!

We left camp early in the morning around 7:45 AM under a great and beautiful blue sky.  We could see neighboring Mt. Meru in the distance which made for some good photos of the view.

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mt. Meru in the distance

View of Mt. Meru from Mt. Kilimanjaro

I told you it was a photo opp spot!

The trail that day was pretty rocky but not in an intense way as other days.  Interesting larger rocks along the way also made for photo opps that the group did not let go to waste.  This group let NO photo opp go to waste!!

Rock in Mt. Kilimanjaro's moorlands

Hikers on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Everyone trying to get their photo taken on this scenic spot

A beautiful place to spend the night:  Shira Camp

We had had a great day but it was to get better after the 5.5 mile (9 km) hike:  Shira Camp at 12,600 ft (3,840 m) (a gain of 2,400 ft in the day), where we were going to stay that night, was one of the most beautiful spots I saw on the entire climb.  It overlooked a ridge (the Shira Ridge) and, turning 180 degrees, would leave you facing the summit of Kili.  It was breathtaking, especially at sunset.  We were fortunate that we got to camp about 6 hours after we started (around 2 PM) which allowed us ample time to soak in the views – and get good rest before the challenge of Day 3!

Approaching Shira Camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When we first spotted the camp – notice the fog

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro

We enter camp and look for the green tents of Zara Tours

Shira Camp in Mt. Kilimanjaro - Zara Tours tents

We finally found our tents and everyone proceeded to settle in. We had THE BEST location in camp!

One of our trekkers, Annie, had brought, of all things, a couple of small kites, and it was neat to watch her and others fly them.  Myself? I joined fellow trekkers Olivia and Austin in doing some stretches after the long day of hiking – but enjoying the great views while at it!

Flying kites in Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Kites on Kili

One of the spots with the best view of the ridge and, therefore, a great spot for a photo opp also seemed to be the best spot for a cellphone signal as a few guides would sit on those rock and text away for a while.  This spot also happened to be like within 10 ft (3m) from the toilet-tent nearest to my tent – a place I would visit a couple of times during the night as Diamox (the med you take to help prevent altitude sickness) is a very effective diuretic…  One of the best pieces of advice we got pre-trip was to bring a so-called “pee bottle” so one could relieve oneself within “the comfort” of one’s own tent… Easier for guys than gals, I am sure.  Of course, if the bottle runneth over or a case of bad aiming hit, neither would not be a good situation (not alluding to ANYONE in the group…) so care must be taken in the use of said bottle…  Sometimes though, the bottle did not have enough capacity for production so one still had to go outside.  That was a slight pain as one had to put on the shoes, maybe a jacket and long pants, find the headlamp, etc.  But I never failed to fall asleep easily upon returning from these small nighttime outings, mercifully…

I am not sure how this post took such a turn, dear reader, so I will bring myself back to the more pleasant topic of the hike…  OK, since I have already brought the topic up, here is a gratuitous photo of the portable toilet in the toilet-tent. (I know some of my friends and family are DYING to see a pic of one of these.)  Are you glad I went “there”?

Toilet in a tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro

At least I made the picture smaller than the rest…

So, quickly switching gears (warning:  awkward turn of topic coming…), this day we had one of our many favorite lunches:  grilled tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwiches!  A real treat and we all gobbled up these babies up happily!

Grilled sandwiches during our Kilimanjaro trek

Grilled sandwich goodness!

When it is all said and done…

So all these make for great memories of Day 2 but these are the images that really capture the “awesomeness” of the day for me.

Sunset at Shira Camp with clouds going by hikers

Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro as its backdrop

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!

Back to Day 1

On to Day 3

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

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 4 of the hike

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer

%d bloggers like this: