September 22, 2007
Barranco Hut to Karanga Camp
Total Distance: 3.36 Miles
Total Ascent: 800 ft.
Total Descent: 1,000 ft.
Ending Altitude: 12,900 ft.
Maximum Altitutde: 13,880 ft.
I awoke having had a mixed night’s rest. I slept deeply early in the night, but awoke around 2:00 a.m. and had a hard time returning to sleep. Thankfully I had made a great move right before I left home. On a training hike I had dropped my iPod Nano out of my fanny pack and lost it on the trail. My wife tried to get me to replace it before I left, but it seemed too self indulgent to spend the money on a new one after all we were putting out on the trip. But she finally prevailed, and I ordered a new one from Apple. It turned out that that my delay was advantageous, as they sent me a notice indicating that they would be shipping me the updated model, not the one I ordered. This version, along with other improvements, came with a 14 hour battery life. In addition the new unit was $50 less than the one I had ordered. Serendipity! During the trek I found that listening to it helped me to get to sleep on restless nights. This turned out to be a big benefit since I wasn’t sleeping as well as I usually did on a typical backcountry outing. Since I only listened at night when I couldn’t sleep, the batteries lasted through the entire trip. On this night it helped me through the restless hours, and I slept better than if I hadn’t had it.
We had the typical tasty breakfast, and I soon had my gear ready to leave. As was typical, it was a beautiful clear morning. While we were gathering we could see that there was already a company starting the climb. In the morning sunlight I could see the outline of the trail better than in the flat light of the previous evening. From camp we watched as a line of climbers and porters snaked their way diagonally along the face. We gathered for a group picture before starting out, then turned to start our climb.
I soon found that there had really been nothing to worry about. The progress was slow, but like the rest of the mountain, the trail was well traveled. The incline was challenging, but our customary slow pace mitigated the effort. In some places the trail climbed through cracks and over ledges that required us to use our hands. But most of it simply wound through boulders and along ledges. For the majority of the climb the exposure wasn’t nearly as severe as it appeared from the bottom, in fact seldom were we facing a sheer drop. We scrambled along and soon found ourselves looking down on a largely deserted camp site. Below the camp, the stream we had followed the day before dropped over a beautiful waterfall that spilled into an emerald pool. It had an almost tropical appearance, and looked somewhat out of place in the barren, rocky terrain. Had I known the previous day that it was there, I might have tried to hike down to it for a photograph. From close up it could have been a beautiful image. On the other hand, I remembered being pretty tired rolling into camp, and I have to admit that I may have not made the effort.Finally after a couple of hours we crested the top and found ourselves on a raised slab of rock with clear views in all directions. To the northwest was a clear view of Mt. Meru surrounded by the vastness of the savannah. To the east was the looming summit rim. To the south we could see the trail winding into the distance toward Karanga camp. The weather today had so far been perfect, and it was great to be hiking in warm sunshine. We took the time to drink, snap some pictures, rest for a moment, and then we continued on.
From there the trail had a couple of mild undulations but the slope was not severe. Like yesterday we soon could see the familiar sight of camp in the distance. And also like yesterday it didn’t look far. But unlike yesterday we knew better. And soon we discovered why, as we found ourselves peering over the edge of a deep gorge that lay between us and our tents. It looked difficult, but by now I knew that no matter how steep the trail looked, slowly but surely we would get there.
As we started our descent into the canyon we could see a trail on the other side that traveled diagonally up until intersecting with our trail near the top of the ridge. From our vantage point we could make out groups of porters moving slowly back and forth along it. Kambona explained that this was the trail the porters used to retrieve water from the bottom of the gorge. As we got closer we could see that they were carrying five gallon containers full of water up the steep trail to camp, which was situated at 12,900 ft. Climbing up the side was bad enough, but they were doing it balancing 40 to 50 lbs of water on their heads. This was but another testament to the fortitude of the locals.
After a slow climb we neared the top and were again greeted by our porters. By now I understood that this ritual was part of the game. So, although I didn’t need or want to, I handed my pack to Adam and he carried it to my tent. We arrived early in the afternoon, still in time for lunch. And for the first time we arrived at camp with the sun shining, which felt wonderful. I unpacked my gear and hung some of my moist clothing out to dry. Several of our group took the opportunity to actually wash clothes since we had the sun to dry them. We had lunch, and then I returned to my tent for a peaceful afternoon nap.
When I woke up the sun was still shining and warm. I looked around and was surprised to see that a few of the ladies had decided to wash their hair. Diane had actually talked the guys in the kitchen tent into warming up some water for them – water that had to be carried up from the bottom of the gorge we had crossed. Using a chair and a plastic wash basin they were helping each other wash their hair salon style. It must have been quite a spectacle to the porters, who gathered in small groups to discretely watch from a distance, as they pointed and laughed amongst themselves. Kambona later told us that in over 100 trips up Kilimanjaro, ours was the first group have a hair washing party.
The weather remained fair the rest of the day, but as usual once the sun set the temperature dropped rapidly. When we walked out of the dining tent the dark, cloudless sky was brilliant with stars. I decided to try some time exposure shots, but the wind had picked up and I wasn’t sure if I could keep the camera still enough. I attempted a 20 minute exposure in the direction of the summit to see if I could create some star lines above the peak. But the wind was blowing stiffly and even though I had the camera sheltered behind the tent, the resulting photo came out blurry. I thought about trying it again, but the wind hadn’t died down. So I decided that I valued the sleep more than the photo, and put my camera away for the evening.