Picking up where from where I left off in the previous article, the journey was only 30% or so complete in terms of what we had accomplished so far. We readied up to face the next challenge in our journey which many are unable to complete and one that we were faced ‘pole pole’ (or slowly slowly as it goes in Swahili).
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
Elevation: 3950 mtrs to 3930 mtrs, Distance: 7 km (~4.4 miles), Time: 4 hours, Habitat: Alpine Desert.
Waking up early with the target to set out by 8:15 am, we were faced with the Barranco Wall. While it looked a lot more ominous than it turned out to be, little to no technical climbing skills were needed except basic foot placement techniques in order to scale the wall.
With an elevation of just under 260 meters, we took small stable steps making use of all four limbs for balance and avoid using our trekking poles as they could get in the way as well as obstruct/hit other climbers.
Mind you the wall is crawling with climbers, porters and guides and it all seamlessly came together like the traffic in India – everyone found a way to move ahead.
We had to be well covered for the cold as despite the sun being up, it’s rays were still hours away from covering the wall. Unpredictable as the weather was, half way up, the wall was hidden by the clouds and we never really got to see the sun until much later in the day.
Needless to say, upon reaching the top, we were all in dire need of a break – with the lead guide telling us we were too slow up. After our break which basically involved us munching down nuts, bars and gulping water, we split up into two groups with the first group speedily heading on towards camp.
Apart from stopping along the way once to put on our rain gear, I think we pretty much fast-walked to the foot of the cliff above which Karanga Camp was located. We did get to see a bit of greenery and a few streams in the valley before the clouds quickly engulfed the view. There was a long queue of climbers climbing up the (not-so-steep as Barranco wall) slope to reach the top (and the camp).
About 20 minutes later we reached the top, signed in our names and took pictures at the camp sign before calling it a day. Karanga camp was located on a slope and hence it was a bit windy. The second half of our group reached an hour later and we all had dinner as well as our blood pressure and oxygen levels measured. The night sky was amazing – with Mt Kilimanjaro behind us shining even brighter thanks to the moon’s reflection on the snow. Not a spec of clouds and the whole camp slept quietly through the night.
Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp
Elevation: 3930 mtrs to 4600 mtrs, Distance: 4 km (~2.5 miles), Time: 3 hours, Habitat: Alpine Desert.
This was an easy day – relatively speaking – with us pretty much just walking along dry rocky paths to reach the base camp. By now, our bodies have acclimatized to the high altitude and luckily no one encountered severe effects of altitude sickness. (acute mountain sickness)
Effects such as headaches, feeling pukish, loss of appetite, body ache are some of the symptoms that give an early indication of AMS and can become dangerous if not addressed early. There is a helipad at every camp after 3800 mtrs incase someone has to be rushed off the mountain and back to sea-level.
We did see a rescue helicopter fly off from what we figured was Barranco camp towards the town of Moshi – and mind you those are not cheap. One flight alone costs $3000 – hence signifying the importance of having the right insurance before you make the journey.
As a side-note, it is always advised to check with your health insurance if they offer coverage in situations such as this where –
1. You are in a different country
2. Climbing a mountain/ involved in adventure sports/activities
3. Altitude upto 6000 mtrs (~height of summit)
As per our guide, 80% of people suffering from severe AMS experience it when they climb Barranco Wall – and all of us having crossed it with no issues – was a good sign.
Upon reaching Barafu camp, we could see the mountain peak even closer and the camp itself looked arid – like the Sinai Desert. The office – where we had to sign-in was another 25 minutes up – which was annoying needless to say. We slowly made our way up the rocky terrain only to experience powerful winds at the top.
The temperature might have been 8-10°C but felt closer to freezing because of the winds.
That afternoon we were advised to get as much sleep as we could because we would be woken up at 5PM for an early dinner. During dinner we were briefed, medical checks conducted and told to get as much rest as we could, because in 5 hours, we were going to begin our ascend to the summit.
When 4600 mtrs high up, we were a lot closer to the sun and unless it was windy/cloudy, we REALLY feel the heat burn down on us. Keeping our tents closed, we’d honestly have cooked inside. Temperatures in the tents reached 45-48 deg C when the sun was shining down with the absence of winds or the clouds to protect us and 5-10°C when the sun was hidden.
We still tried to sleep – nervous, excited, anxious about the long night ahead. And boy was it the biggest challenge of my life – both physically and mentally.