Thursday 7 November 2019

6. Kilimanjaro Challenge: Lemosho Route - Day Five - The Great Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp 3995m

Jambo Jambo!

Good news! I made it to Day Five along the Lemosho Route on my Kilimanjaro Challenge, after a tough Day Four falling victim to AMS I was so grateful to have awoken the next day with a clear head, being knocked out from the double dosing of painkillers and had recovered from the blinding headache to continue my attempt up Kilimanjaro. Thank God!  

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a lottery in my opinion. I did in my case have the disadvantage of being sleep deprived and missing out on the first acclimatisation walk on Day Three which may have affected me. Unless you are seasoned in experiencing high altitude environments previously or can afford the full altitude preparation training at a place like the The Altitude Centre (which might help you) it really could be down to your biological make-up of how your body handles the extreme height and whether you are going to be susceptible to the affects of higher altitude. I was also told that athletic people may be more prone to AMS because of the lack of oxygen they need to process and that even professional athletes had tried and failed to reach the summit (Anna Kournikova as one!). I knew I was in peak physical condition after 6 months of hard training, going the slowest in the group, staying hydrated by drinking 3 litres on each leg of the route and taking Diamox pills - but I still got it. I was lucky however that the worse suffering I had was a headache and a bit of nausea compared to the extent AMS could be so it may have been worse if I had not done these things. If you don't get it - you are very blessed! 

Still, it was all 'part of the game' getting through the challenge of Kilimanjaro and I was fortunate I could continue.      

Day Five was going to be another toughie, at this altitude my appetite was strangely still not increasing and it wasn't going to be getting any easier for everyone as unfortunately the mountain gods still had it in for us. The wet weather had not moved on and could not see any view of the Western Breach and the mighty Heim Glacier! We waited until 9am to see if the mist was going to move away but we had to crack on onto probably the most talked about and intimidating part of the climb - the 300 metre near-vertical scramble up The Great Barranco Wall     

The Great Barranco Wall, can you see all the colours of the climbers on the route? We were going to have to go up and over and down the otherside in torrential rain.

This was going to be the first time in the five days where we would be packing away our walking poles and be scrambling up, which made a change from the 'pole, pole' trudge we'd been going at so far. Except, with the amount of people setting off at different times, the Lemosho, Umbwe and Machame Route we would all be funnelling into the wall with the porters trying to overtake somehow on the narrow trail carrying all the gear!   

    Photo: Dave Swierczek

'Like the M25 at rush hour or waiting for the dole' I would joke, 

I soon realised that everyone around me were Tanzanian or American and had no clue what Britishness I was talking about! Our gloves were still soaking wet from the previous days downpours and with trying to get them dry for the sub zero temperatures of summit night, the majority of us would have to use our bare hands to haul our selves up and over the boulders scaling the wet cliff face.

Having gone up the Barranco Wall (in the pouring rain too!), although challenging and potentially dangerous, I don't think it is intimidating as we allow ourselves to believe. We were standing in line on the narrow path most of the time with many people in front of us and many people behind us, I found myself having a conversation about Star Wars whilst standing next to a porter with a portable stereo bizarrely playing former pop princess Britney Spears 'Born to make you Happy' track on repeat! Hey its Africa after all. Not sure I can hear that song again without thinking of the wall!

When things did get moving and the traffic lights turned green, our guides pushed us on through the rain which was still showing no sign of leaving us alone as we slowly clambered higher and higher through the drench. You do get a feeling of 'false summits' after a time of climbing where you think you've reached the top of the wall and then see through the mist you still have more to climb! It would take us a good couple of hours to gradually reach the top of the wall, passing over the infamous 'kissing rock' which you have to intimately grab hold of and hug to pass over what used to be a sheer drop and within the year had been filled in - all the stories about it came to nothing. In fact, most of us didn't even realise we'd passed by the big kissy wissy rock in our hectic and robotic 'following the leader' mentality and were in shock!

'Sal, Sal'. I hear Robert my guide saying to me, just as I was standing with my fellow climbers after passing 'the rock' having not realised we had just passed over 'the rock'.
'There is a cliff next to you' he calls. He was right, about two metres behind me was the cliff edge and he was calling to warn me. Yikes. Have mountain insurance kids! (I recommend Dog Tag)

We pressed on, again robotically just going blindly up the wall, finding the cracks and crevices with our toes like rock climbing for a while longer. We were not able to see a thing in front of us apart from the faint figures of passing porters in the mist and we all made a conscious effort not to drink too much (especially with me being on Diamox) as there wasn't really anywhere you could go if nature called over those two hours along the narrow rocky trail! 

We eventually reached the blank white canvas of the flat top which finally marked the true summit of the Barranco Wall and we'd all managed to ascend its 300 metres without any of us falling or slipping off - quite a kick really! I CONQUERED THE BARRANCO WALL!!! IN THE RAIN!!!

And when we all turned to look at the view of how far we'd come, the Heim Glacier and its splendour - we saw ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!!
    Photo: Dave Swierczek

So at the top of the Barranco Wall we had ascended back up to 4,200 metres the same altitude as third camp Moir Hut. The plan was now to traverse over scree on a gentle descent into a gully to Karanga Camp at 3995 metres beneath the icefalls of the Heim, Kersten and Decken Glaciers, that's if we could see them!

During the route down into the Karanga Valley, there was a high pass which was a short-cut straight to the Base Camp at Barafu and used to be open for porters until an avalanche on the mountain closed the path off to everyone, forcing all the porters to take the route to Karanga Camp. Yikes. Kilimanjaro is still a dormant volcano and natural disasters were still possible to happen.     

We pressed on though through the rain still into mini-valleys, then into barren desert slopes, down rock and mud paths into the lusher zone of the Karanga Valley and then up again to the next campsite. Our shoes were still getting soaking wet with pooling water numbing our toes and were glad to reach the camp to take them off. My £200 Meindl Bhutan boot didn't even keep the water out! But on the plus side they had given me no blisters! 

Bring an extra pair of dry socks and another pair of shoes in case this happens.  

The Karanga Camp! Our fifth rest stop of the journey at 3995m deliberately letting us sleep lower. 'Karanga' meaning 'peanut' in Swahili - can't imagine why as the campsite was above the Karanga Valley not within it, so strange how it got its name after nuts which clearly don't grow up here! When we arrived, the rain was really pouring and we had to take refuge in the mess tent already set up and be escorted by umbrella by our 'tent guys' to our own tents once they were ready, bless them. They were already here in the downpour trying to set them up for our arrival and did well to get here before us, especially squeezing past on the Barranco Wall. 

Karanga Camp, feeling very much like the atmosphere of a refugee camp with all the coloured tents sprouting out of the ground like giant mushrooms being hemmed in by the clouds. Everyone had wet gear and for a fleeting period of the afternoon, the sun teased us by showing its rays through a patch of blue sky to help us desperately dry out our soaking clothing, gloves, sleeping mats and boots! 

Video diary from Karanga Camp....

But, as the video showed, the rain made a return over Kilimanjaro and with just one day away before we were scheduled to reach the Base Camp and arctic glacial temperatures, some were apprehensive about catching hypothermia and falling ill with our wet and damp clothing. Of course, our Kandoo guides would not let us fret and radioed further down the mountain for an order of dry jackets and gloves to be brought all the way up to camp by porters - amazing! 

Fortunately in my North Face Duffel Jacket I found an extra pair of woolly gloves I had unintentionally left in the pockets! Usually people get excited to find a fiver they've left in their pocket and forgotten about, but for this survival situation we were in, finding some dry gloves up on Kilimanjaro was elation. The cooks offered to hang our down and waterproof jackets up inside the kitchen tent to try and warm them out as they were cooking, offering any sort of solace for drying off our moist clothes and putting our shoes near the warm Propane gas bottles. We exchanged ideas amongst each others experience - even sticking hand warmers into the toes of our boots and stuffing them with used dry socks to try and get any moisture out. Anything to get them dry!      
So this was our predicament, we had made it to Day Five, had wet clothing and were about to head to the base camp of Kilimanjaro before the biggest night of all....summit night. 

Thanks for sticking with me folks and all your support so far, if you would like to please send me a donation at my Just Giving Page for 'Action For M.E' to help sufferers living with 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome' like my sister, I'd be extremely grateful for your support through this difficult journey!

Equipment and clothing I used were from Ultimate Outdoor and Cotswold Outdoors

Meindl Boots
North Face 
TYTNY Walking Poles
Regatta Outdoors 

Asante Sana   

Day Ascent Distance : 300 metres (984 ft) ↑ ascent and 205 metres (672 ft) ↓ descent 5km

Total Elevation (Day 5) 4,200 metres amsl (13,779 ft)

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