MACHAME ROUTE DAY 3: SHIRA CAMP TO BARRANCO CAMP
Another big day with a lengthy up and down hike out of Shira Camp. The first 5 hours of the climb traversed open, desolate terrain with little in the way of vegetation or animal life. For the most part the trail was not excessively steep but quite long, a total of 15 km for the day.
Our first objective was to reach lava Tower, an impressive rock formation, for lunch. Surprisingly and rather miraculously our mess tent had already been set up by the time we got there at 12:30P and lunch (soup and sandwiches) with chicken and potatoes, was served shortly afterwards.
After lunch, we made a quick descent (2 hours) to Barranco Camp where we would spend the night. Right opposite the camp and clearly visible on arrival, is the daunting Barranco Wall, a steep cliff which we would traverse the next morning. We could see the deserted switchback trail which we knew would be thronged with climbers, porters and guides the next morning.
Barranco Camp is a pretty spot, with the wall on one side and a valley on the other. As usual, our tents were clustered together in one spot, not far from each other, with a convenient toilet tent ( ‘the helicopter’) nearby, and a mess tent some distance further. Other components of the camp were a kitchen tent as well as tents for the porters, chefs, camp assistants and guides.
Barranco is the prettiest of the campsites we have seen this far. Almost surrounded by mountains, it feels like a large rock island suspended among the hills.
Dinner was again served at 6:30P to enable us to get a good night’s rest. This time around, it was garlic bread, zucchini soup, spaghetti with ground beef.
Cell phone coverage (Airtel) is good at Barrranco, particularly along a rocky ridge which bisects the camp. Several people could be seen out and about, either in conversation or staring intently at a small screen. Different setting, same behavior.
MACHAME ROUTE DAY 4: BARRANCO CAMP TO KARANGA
On this day we tackled the Barranco Wall. For some reason I had the completely wrong idea about the size of this natural barrier which constitutes one of the Machame Route’s biggest challenges.
It is not called a wall for no reason. Essentially a cliff face more than 800 feet high, the trail up the Barranco Wall is a test of strength and agility and is not for the faint at heart. The mix of tight switchbacks, ledges, solid rock slabs and narrow gaps is formidable indeed. Two areas are a test for practically anybody except the youngest and most agile among us. The ‘kissing rock’ is one of them. At a certain point I found myself with all my weight on the tip of my left boot, having to swing my right leg around a gap of a good 5 feet or so. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but in the actual situation one slip could have a disastrous outcome.
After about 2 hours we reached the summit of the ridge where we – and a bunch of other people – relaxed for a while to enjoy the achievement and marvel at the views.
I hadn’t mentioned it up to now but believe me the views on the Barranco Wall and specifically from its summit, are among the most spectacular of the climb. To the east the peak of Mt. Meru (15,000) could be seen emerging from a cloudy basin. While to the north-west, the Kilimanjaro massif could be viewed clearly, its side streaked with two large snow glaciers.
We posed for some pics, got some more water and enjoyed a light snack and then continued. The descent on the other side was a test too: steep and gravelly in parts, one had to be extremely careful not to slip and take a dive.
The trail ended at a stream where many porters could be seen refilling water containers.
After another brief respite we carried on by negotiating a very steep, yet thankfully relatively low hillside, leading directly to Karanga Camp. The altitude of this camp (13,066 feet) is about the same as Shira Camp which we had left 2 days ago. The overnight at Karanga added a 7th day to our trip, the better option compared with the 5-night trip which skips Karanga, continues on to Barafu (another 4 hours) and culminates with a summit attempt that very night.
Spending the night at Karanga enables one’s body to better adjust to the high altitude and improves the chance for success on the final ascent, quite significantly.
The next day we were going to push slightly beyond Barafu to Kosovo Camp. By the time we reached Kosovo we’d have completed a short but punishing section of the final ascent route. So the following day would be the big day: Early out of Karanga and on to Kosovo where we would try to get a few hours’ sleep until a midnight departure for the roof of Africa, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,300 feet.
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