Climbing Kilimanjaro: Reaching the Rooftop of Africa, Part 2

Day 4 – Barranco Camp (3,948m / 12,950ft) to Karanga Valley Camp (4,238m / 13,900ft)
The next morning my hands and cheeks were better – phew. We
still had to climb Barranco Wall, though. Many of the accounts we had read cited Barranco as being “almost impossible”, “requiring
significant climbing experience” and “perilously dangerous”. Understandably, we were a bit daunted, despite Godfrey’s
reassurances.

We set off and quite quickly realised this wasn’t going to be
anywhere near as hard as we had feared. Barranco Wall is steep and in
places a little precarious, but it doesn’t require climbing
experience! We walked nearly all the way up, with only a few points
where we had to scramble. Half way up we stopped for a quick
break. We looked to see a line of people behind us, all the way back to
the campsite – like a long line of colourful ants!

All in, it took about an hour and half to climb Barranco Wall. Over the final ridge we were met with a breathtaking view of
Uhuru Peak which all of a sudden, seemed a lot closer than it had before. After a short break to take in stunning views, we pressed on for another couple of hours until we reached Karanga Valley Camp.

We were now at 4,238 meters; we were feeling the effects of
altitude. Even just sitting up in bed made me feel breathless, let
alone the short walk to the toilets! I hadn’t yet had any headaches;
Paul’s were getting worse (although not constant).

Day 5 – Karanga Valley Camp (4,238m / 13,900ft) to Barafu Camp (4,634m / 15,200ft)
The walk to Barafu Camp was fairly short, probably only about 4-5
hours, and for the most part, fairly easy going. Barafu Camp though, is on
an exposed ridge and the last part of the trek was quite steep. About
half way up the ridge was when I first got a headache – a sharp,
stabbing pain all over my head – nothing that a couple of
paracetamol couldn’t sort.

We reached camp, had an early dinner, grabbed a couple of snaps of the
early evening sky and nervously went to bed – we would be climbing to
Uhuru Peak later on that night!

Day 6 – Barafu Camp (4,634m / 15,200ft) to Uhuru Peak (5,895m / 19,340ft) to Mweka Camp (3,000m / 9,840ft)

Neither of us slept very much – we were both too preoccupied with
contemplating the climb that lay ahead of us. What if we’d come all this
way and couldn’t make it!

One of the porters came and got us from our tent at 10:15 pm. We had a
hot drink, sorted out our kit and tried breathing deeply to calm our
nerves, (which, just for the record, is particularly effective at
4,600 meters). We were climbing as a foursome – Paul and I, Godfrey and one of the other porters. There were around 300 climbers at the camp that night. Godfrey wanted to leave early to give us a chance to get on the track
before the midnight rush started, also I suspected, because he
thought we were a bit slow! We left camp just before 11:00 pm.

We had chosen the timing of our trip to coincide with a near full moon
for the final ascent to Uhuru Peak. We had read that the moonlight
helps light the track which it certainly did, although
head torches were still a necessity in places.

Steep climb

Steep climb

The climb was very steep. I remember being quite glad it was
dark because you couldn’t really comprehend just how steep it was. As
we were walking very slowly (even slower than before), I tried to switch off from wondering how much
further we had to go, to just concentratoing on looking down and putting one foot in
front of the other. I had been a rower at university and knew all too
well the perils of wondering how much further the finishing line was –
it’s a physiological killer because you set your mind to getting to a
certain point and when it doesn’t arrive, it’s to keep going.

It was freezing,
definitely minus something greater than 10. I had two under-layers, my Paramo trousers, Buffalo shirt, Buffalo jacket, gloves and
Buffalo mittens. I wasn’t warm! A lot of the cold was due to wind
chill, a highly wind resistant kit is useful. It got so windy at times
that I was nearly blown over – no joke!

Many of the accounts about the final ascent dealt with the author not able to remember much of the climb because
of the altitude. Having now experienced it, I know what they meant.
It’s not like there’s a big memory gap, but it kind of blurs together because you’re not thinking straight from lack of oxygen. You know
what’s going on, quite third person and a bit surreal, capable of doing things but not making decisions.

We made it!

We made it!

There are two distinct parts to the final ascent. The
first, the longest and the steepest, is the climb to Stella Point, a
kind of plateau. From Stella Point it’s only 45 minutes or
so up a gentle incline to the peak. We eventually reached
Stella Point at a little before 5:00 am and had a quick rest. Even though
we were a little "out of it", we knew that we’d done it – the
last part was meant to be a doddle compared with what we had just
climbed. Sure enough, at 5:40 am, we reached the sign marking
Uhuru Peak – the rooftop of Africa! It’s pretty tough to find the right
words to explain what we felt, something along the lines of
relief, awe, disbelief and exhilaration. We actually
made it!

Whilst we were aware of what was going on, we weren’t quite with it, so
Godfrey organised us. He took off my rucksack, got my camera out of my
bag and told us to stand by the sign. We had reached the
peak before anyone else that night – think we surprised Godfrey a
little! This was great because it meant it was only us there. We heard it gets VERY crowded later in the morning, difficult to
get a picture that doesn’t include randoms. The downside to
this was that it was still pitch black, no view. To
be honest, this paled in insignificance against being there and
having made it to the top.

We were at the peak for less than five minutes – it was very cold and
Godfrey was keen to get us moving again to prevent exposure. As we
walked back to Stella Poin, we past lots of climbers, trudging
up from where we had just come. A few of them stopped and asked us how
much further it was – clearly no longer believing their guide’s
reassurances that they were almost there!

We got back to Stella Point as the sun was beginning to break on
the horizon. It was stunning but I was too tired and cold to get
my camera out and take a photo. Godfrey told us he had a "short cut"
for the way down, that we should be back in one or two hours. I soon
realised what he meant – we would be going straight down a shear face
of gravel, pretty much all the way back down to camp. We were
meant to "ski down" on the gravel using our walking poles. My
nemesis had arrived!

Paul picked it up instantly and was "skiing" down the slope fast, but I
just could not get it. I was scared of tumbling down. It was painfully slow. Paul and Godfrey were
patient for a while, but I could tell they were getting frustrated at the lack of progress. In the end Godfrey and the porter linked arms
with me on either side and ran me down. I was so scared I felt like I
was about to have a heart attack, but the alternative was that I
stayed on the mountain. I closed
eyes and hoped desperately that it would be over soon. It took well
over 2 hours to make the descent to Barafu Camp. I don’t think I’ve
ever been so relieved in my whole life! The
porters greeted us with hugs and congratulations. We were given a cold
squash drink – it hadn’t been iodinated but we drank it anyway, both so dehydrated
(our Camel packs and water bottles had both finally frozen solid before we reached the summit).

We then had a couple of hours of sleep before packing up and heading down to
our last camp. We set off again for Mweka Camp at about 11:00 am. The
first couple of hours were easy going, not too steep,
but after that, it got harder. I started to feel nauseous, had a
stonking headache, knees were hurting and I had a rather nasty dose of diarrhea. I started to estimate our distance from the
camp – needless to say, we were always further than I had imagined which
made the whole process even harder.

We reached camp and I crashed. Godfrey was very insistent on
trying to get me to eat, but I felt so
sick, I couldn’t eat. I went to sleep dreaming about getting a
bottle of fresh water – a sealed bottle,
no iodine and really cold!

If you want to see the photos that
accompany this article, check out Love & Cherish

Read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

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