September 23, 2007
Karanga Camp to Barafu Hut
Total Distance: 2.29 Miles
Total Ascent: 2,300 ft.
Ending Altitude: 15,200 ft.
The morning routine was a humorously unique aspect of trekking Kilimanjaro. Morning was the most energetic part of the day, consisting of a hurried execution of a long series of tasks that were necessary to get ready to depart. The routine of the climbers was only a small part of the bigger spectacle as cooks and porters efficiently attended to their duties preparing breakfast and breaking camp for the day. The climbers’ routine included a multitude of unremarkable activities such as eating breakfast; attending to personal hygiene; packing up sleeping gear; divining the appropriate layers to wear; loading packs with appropriate items for the day; filling water bottles; putting on sunscreen; and an array of other mundane things necessary to be ready to set out. This all occurred within the larger commotion of a large and fully equipped camp being hastily collapsed into a collection of waterproof green duffels.
Finally, after a couple of hours of hurried effort and built up suspense, the climbers, eager to depart, would energetically gather – only to slowly shuffle up the trail “pole pole”. The contrast always struck me as amusing.
This day was another short day, but one that would carry us back up to 15,200 feet. Many groups go directly from Baranco to Barafu, bypassing Karanga camp. Our strategy was to add an additional day at altitude in order to increase our acclimatization and improve our chances of making the summit. The majority of the day’s vertical came in the first mile out of Karanga and the last half mile of the day. The rest of the trail was mostly a gradual ascent through the moonscape of the alpine desert. This section was wide, well worn and relatively smooth. The last stretch of the trail climbed diagonally up the side of a ridge, then turned back to follow the spine straight up to Barafu. The altitude makes this last stretch a grunt.
During the climb out of camp, I noticed a porter from another company that I had seen several times throughout the trek. His load consisted of a backpack and a large stack of plastic lawn chairs. He had passed me on the Baranco wall, and I had felt sorry for him having to balance the heavy stack of chairs while climbing that precarious portion of the trail. But today, as we climbed out of the Karanga Valley, I saw the benefit of being the designated chair bearer. As we rested near the top, I noticed that he was stopped at the top of a long hill, resting comfortably on his stack of chairs. We arrived early at Barafu early, and uncharacteristically some of our tents, including mine, had not yet been pitched. The rugged terrain provided limited spaces for tents, and our guys were trying to score the best ones. But a group that had left for the summit that morning had not yet returned to strike camp. So we were left to wait for that group to return and clear out of the area.
Without a tent to rest in, I killed the time exploring the area and taking a few photos. I climbed a rocky formation and gained an impressive view of Mount Mawenzi and Hans Meyer Peak (16,896 ft) to the east.
The weather was threatening to return to its customary temperament, and the clouds were quickly rolling towards us. As I hopped among the rocks I was encouraged that I was feeling well at this altitude. The wind started blowing snow pellets, so I got inside the dining tent and waited for my tent space to be vacated.
In the early afternoon we met in the dining tent to plan for the summit attempt. We wanted to try to time our ascent so that we were all on the summit at the same time. Kambona broke us into three groups (Tad being his own group.) The first would leave at 12:30 a.m., the next at 1:00 a.m. and Tad would leave at 1:30 a.m. This strategy would allow each group to go at their own pace and hopefully converge at the summit at roughly the same time. We discussed the gear that we would wear to start out, what we would take with us, and our plan for photographing the banners at the top. He told us we’d get a wake-up call at 11:00 p.m. My tent was finally ready, so before dinner I organized my gear, and laid out my clothes for the next day. I emptied my pack of all unnecessary items, put fresh batteries in my headlamp and filled my water bottles and bladder. I kept a set of clean clothes just for summit day, and I laid them out for morning. We had a short dinner then hit the sack around four or five o’clock.
I quickly found that it was very difficult to sleep with the anticipation of summit day running through my head. Fortunately I had conserved my iPod battery. I put on the earphones and listened until I finally slipped into a light sleep. Throughout the night I drifted in and out of sleep, half dreaming half thinking of the tough day ahead. But it was an exciting anxiety, and I felt ready to go.