Day 4: Barranco to Barafu
If an apprehensive vibe was felt on the first day of the hike, on the start of this day the nervousness was palpable. We knew we were waking up to the most physically demanding effort of the trip: First, we’d be faced with a climb up the Barranco Wall, a pitch that rises straight out of camp and gains 1,000 feet before you’ve even started to digest your breakfast. After that, the day becomes a long approach to high camp, dipping into the Karanga Valley for a spell and then soaring to 15,000′. Once arrive at camp, we’d be treated to a quick meal and a three hour nap before setting of on our midnight summit bid.
Climbing the Barranco Wall is very similar to Colorado’s Wetterhorn Peak: some exposure, a few hands and feet moves, but mostly fun stair-step type climbing. I’d consider it the most difficult climbing of the trek, if altitude was eliminated. Nothing more than easy class three makes it clear why so many people attempt this mountain each year.
Kyle, looking back from where we came. This was a really enjoyable section of climbing.
The porters impressed us further on this section, carrying tons of weight on old shoes and taking the most difficult path in order to get around us slow gringos. They’re amazing people.
Arriving at the top of the wall, we were blown away by the view of the peak. It was right there, in front of us, in all it’s majesty. Mt. Kilimanjaro, 19,341′ above sea level. And we were climbing it.
Boom. Thar she blows.
For the rest of the day, Kili loomed large above our heads. We dipped into the Karanga Valley shortly. Sean and I lamented the lack of a ladder bridge spanning the valley, which would have cut two hours and several hundred vertical feet off the day. Those Westerners sure can dream
..and regaining lost footage.
Topping out above Karanga Valley put us at Karanga Camp aka “Dirty Camp”. Because it’s gross. Lot’s of people get sick here, Sean said, and for this reason we made a quick lunch stop and kept moving. Onward and upward.
A quick break in the clouds to refuel.
We were working towards a ridge that seemed to get further and further away as time went on. I started to believe it was a mirage, but we finally crested it.
Dropping down the backside, we could see our work laid out in front of us. Camp was up on the next ridge, and we knew there was only one way to get there. Keep climbing.
Cairns on the final pitch.
After a long a tiring day we reached camp. We knew there were just a few short hours remaining before we’d have to get up and put in a solid physical effort once more, so each team member set to the task of making final summit preparations.
I made a few gear alterations and ate as much food as I could muster on an exhausted stomach. Terry told us she would not be accompanying us during the summit attempt as her health issues had gained the upper-hand. It was tough to learn our entire group wasn’t going to make it up to the top, but so it goes in mountain climbing. I deeply respect her decision and applaud her for having the strength to call it quits. More often than not, that’s harder than going on.
Sean took the opportunity to make a few people smile and break up the seriousness of the atmosphere by donning “Big Sexy”: a ridiculous outfit consisting of a red onesy (complete with trap door butt) and Soviet-style mad bomber hat.
I made sure to think about the reason I was up on the mountain. Survivors. I thought about friends. I thought about family members. I thought about those who didn’t survive. Most of all, I thought about my goal for the trip: to give just one current cancer patient something to look forward to. To let one patient know that he could do this some day. I hope I reached that goal.
I went to bed thinking about the climbs I’ve done in my life. Some were more difficult than others. I knew this one would be like nothing else.