Up and Down Again: A Trekker’s Tail

As expected, in an high desert region, the night was quite cold. However, the tent remained relatively warm and our 0 degrees Fahrenheit rated sleeping bags were still overkill. We were nice and toasty.

Sharon’s sore throat progressed to a cough and the stuffy nose to a runny one. These were good signs.

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Sharon and Saumu with Lava Tower in the background.

We started the day off with a 700 meter (2297 foot) climb to the site of Lava Tower. Here the trail, which until this point was the road less traveled, merged with Machame. Also known as Whiskey Route, this is one of the more popular routes. AND IT SHOWED! The campsite, though only used by larger groups, was filthier than previous ones. Behind every rock outcrop were human feces and toilet paper despite the outhouses located nearby.

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We’d better get a million hits with this picture!

Being a popular lunch stop, the area was frequented by the four-striped field mice. These hamster sized guys were adorable and fearless, running over our feet when given the chance. We had to keep our food close so as not risk theft.

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Luke above the “difficult section” of Lava Tower.

After lunch came the highlight of the day; at least for Luke. Lava Tower is an approximately 70 meter (230 or so foot) vertical slab of volcanic rock. The first few meters were easy, but the next section required a few class 3 or 4 moves. The rock had a few bolts in it, signaling that some climbers used ropes to get up since a fall would most likely result in serious injury or DEATH. Saumu and Sharon opted out, but Luke carried on. After the slightly adrenaline-inducing section, the rest of the climb was class 2 at best. Luke completed it in short order and was rewarded by a 360 view of the surrounding areas and a crow’s nest perspective of the activity below.

As the day progressed we started running into moreinexperienced trekkers. One couple asked us for sunscreen. They started their trek without any and one was showing signs of a bad sunburn. Another couple had to stop and ask for directions. Running ahead of their group they weren’t sure which path was the correct trail. We saw them occasionally throughout the day as they waited for their group. A poor strategy since stopping meant getting cold. The group of college students may have been the worst. Some wearing sweat pants, others wearing make-up, all of them looking like the could collapse at any moment.

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Barranco Camp is large and crowded.

We spent the remainder of the day losing the elevation gained before lunch. Barranco Camp was a mere 91 meters higher than Shira 2. The camp looked more like a small village. The college students had an accompaniment of nearly a hundred porters and their site was sprinkled with dozens of tents. There were tents as far as the eye could see and we got a good view of the next day’s challenge, the Great Barranco Wall.

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Tiny people climbing a big wall. Best picture we’ve got…it’s foggy.

The Great Barranco Wall, also known as the Breach Wall or the Breakfast Wall (it is usually tackled right after breakfast), seemed nearly vertical. The climb brought us up around 300 meters over a distance of only 800 meters. We mere mortals had to put away our trekking poles and use our hands to help in the ascent. The superhuman porters, on the other hand, strolled past casually balancing their sacks on their heads and rarely needing to steady themselves.

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Maybe we are alone. Maybe we just can’t see through the fog.

After we passed a couple of groups of Brits and Canadians we were essentially alone for the rest of the day. We descended down to Karangu Valley. This geographically pretty area was littered with garbage. Stopping for lunch on a windy ridge we watched in shock as a young porter passed by, wearing socks for gloves to warm his hands. This was one of the more striking examples of just how underequipped the porters were. Underpaid, many of them are unable to buy even the basic gear to keep them warm and safe on the mountain. Should you choose to visit Kilimanjaro, or any other such place, please make sure that your tipping takes this into account.

Half a day earlier:

Luke: How long will it take to get to our next camp site tomorrow?
Saumu: Well, we have about 3 hours to Karanga Valley, then 3 more to Barafu Camp.
Sharon: But Barafu tomorrow means only 7 days on the mountain?
Saumu: Yeah, that’s right.
Sharon: We were supposed to do 8. Look here’s our itinerary. It says we’re supposed stay at Karanga tomorrow.
Saumu: Hmm…Well we only have enough food for 7. But, I guess we can send porters down to get more supplies.
Luke: Send porters down? That’s crazy. We can’t make them walk all the way down then back up.

And thus our 8 day trek turned into 7.

Going right through Karanga Camp, we spent the rest of the day gaining about 700 meters to Barafu Camp. At 4662 meters (15,295 feet) this was the highest we had ever been before. By this point, our route had merged with yet another, Umbwe. The camp was even more packed, and our tent was set up right behind the ranger hut. While providing easy access to the outhouses, this also meant that for the rest of the night the Red Coat college students would relentlessly trip over our guy lines.

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Wind, heavy fog, and freezing temperatures make for interesting ice formations.

Barafu is the usual staging area for summit bids. Most start their climb at midnight and, if they can, summit around 6 or 7 am. Dozens of people awakening in the middle of the night, combined with our developing headaches made for very lousy sleep. We didn’t have to wake up until the morning, since our next stop would be the high camp in the Kibo Crater.

To Be Continued…

Next time on Destination Isolation. Will the two manage to set foot at the Roof of Africa? Will they die of altitude sickness? Will the scree send them tumbling to their deaths? Will the glaciated fields mean the end of them? Will giant crocodiles eat them alive? Or will they be chopped into millions of pieces by mutant ninja ravens?

Hint: We’re still writing this blog aren’t we?