The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

Climbing Kilimanjaro-Part 3

We woke up to a cloudy cool morning. After the usual hardy breakfast (I was really getting used to the daily porridge which was doing the trick for me each morning) we were off to tackle “the wall.” The famous Barranco, or “Breach” wall. It stood in the way of our summit. Even though it started to rain, we were all pretty pumped up to get up this 300 m climb. As the photo shows, this is way more than a hike uphill.

In fact much of the rest of the day was spent on Class 3 rock, I had really only been on class 2 before this. That meant scrambling, often using hands and feet, and occasional exposure. At times I thought I’d rather be on a rope than just scrambling on this stuff. You don’t want to fall since  getting seriously hurt was a real possibility. I’m glad I got this experience under my belt. Our guides were fantastic and even though we had to make huge efforts at times to find good holds, and there were often switchbacks that proved a bit tricky, we all made it up the wall no problem.

We rested for a few minutes on the top of the wall. Here Alan A. and I are wearing matching Patagonia R1, no accounting for the color!

Little did I realize that the rest of the day was also spent on wet, slippery rock. All of this meant that you had to be careful of each step up or down. Tedious work. But also really satisfying. It was a slow day of hiking, and longer then we thought, made longer by fog and rain much of the day. We did not have great views of much other than our muddy boots. Still, we reached Karanga Valley at 13,000, and it was glorious. A bit smelly perhaps, but you really felt now that you were on a big mountain. The summit was in clear view. One more long day tomorrow to high camp.

The next day dawned sunny and cool. We could see the peak of Mt Meru in Arusha clearly. Kili was now right infront of us, actually behind me in this photo. We packed up after breakfast-it was becoming a nice routine. We were off to High camp at the eastern ridge line of Kili at Barafu Camp. We now joined the summit route. This was my my personal favorite day, the hike was as expected, and you could see the trail all the way up the climb, and up to high camp. We were crossing through a bit of snow now, and back at an altitude that you could feel.

We were huffing and puffing on the final ridge up to the camp, which was an enormous place. IMG porters had secured a really nice location on the edge of the plateau, looking straight at Mwenzi. It is an other worldy peak, one of the three ancient volcanoes that make up Kili.

This is in fact the third highest peak in Africa (behind Kibo-the main peak of Kili, and Mt Kenya), and a much more serious climb. It looks near vertical and no doubt it’s a pretty challenging rock climb. Pretty impressive to look at, and we would be looking at it for the entire next day as we ascended the summit ridge. We were happy to be in camp after six hours of so of hiking. We knew the next 24 hours would strange, wonderful and challenging. After an early dinner, we got our summit gear ready, arm clothing, headlamps, food, very warm gloves etc. We were supposed to sleep till 10:30 PM, eat breakfast and be on the trail by midnight. A bit like a bike race, with odd sleep pattern, forced eating and toilet break when you don’t feel like and so on. But I was really excited to be on the final push. This felt like mountaineering to me. Needless to say there was not a lot of sleeping that happened. I had some good music on the ipod and I relaxed in the tent. AT 10:30, I got up and got dressed. It was chilly outside, but a still and beautiful evening. We were divided into two climbing groups. One group was to leave at 11, and the second at around midnight. By 11 or so, you could see a string of headlamps heading out of camp. An amazing site. I was part of the second group, and we left about 12:15. I felt good, and excited. I was not hungry at breakfast but I forced down toast and jam, and porridge. The climb began almost right away. You have to scramble over big rocks leaving Barafu and that took about an hour. We were gaining altitude quickly, the lights of Moshi were in clear view, as they would be all evening. We reached the main trail up, and from there is was a straight shot, well……lots of switch backs, and steep scree. The group was moving slowly, and it was hard to stop since we were standing on steep ground. If you looked up you could see now a huge trail of headlamps, like an unfurled pearl necklace illuminating the dark all the way along the ridge. It was a reminder that we had to climb over 4000 feet up from high camp. Always in the back of my mind was the fact that today, summit day on Kili, is one of the longest days in mountaineering. We planned on an 18 hour day! We had to go from high camp to the summit, and back down to Mweka camp at 10000 feet. That is more than 13000 feet up and down. One step at a time. We took several breaks during the ascent. At 17500 a bit of Vertigo kicked in, but it lasted five minutes, and I was back to feeling great. The sun was now rising over Mwenzi, we were well above it, as we took our last food/water break. I got my camera battery from my warm pocket and put it in the camera so I could take a few snaps.

It was breathtaking, and I felt like we were about to really accomplish something. It was steep, but the summit ridge was in sight. We kept moving up, and reached Stella point at 7:15. If you reach this point you are considered to have summitted. But I wanted to see Uhuru. “Where was that,”? I asked myself. Then I saw Alan dashing across the crater rim. AH, he was heading to Uhuru. Off I went in chase. It was another 30 minutes or so, and 500 vertical feet higher along the rim. Then it came into view. Uhuru. The highest point in Africa. 19340 feet.

It was a bright sunny morning. Virtually no wind and mid 30’s. Amazing feeling to be on top of Kilimanjaro, an historic mountain in the heart of one of the most important places in human history. There were about 30 others there, not as crowded as I thought. The famous glaciers of Kili, soon to be just a memory, were in view, and quite a beautiful site. The landscape of east africa was beneath the cloud deck, so we could not see much beyond the beauty of Kili herself. We remained at Uhuru, chatting and taking photos for about 30 minutes, high-fiving and feeling very satisfied,  before heading down to Stella Point and a brief lunch. I knew the day was only half over…..actually only one-third over! Adventure was still to come.

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