Friday, 14 January 2011

[Tanzania] Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

See Part 1 of the Trip Report here.

Day 4 of trekking: Barranco camp (3950m) -> Barranco wall (4200m) -> Karanga camp (3995m)
Landscape: heath/alpine desert

The day starts with a steep bout of trekking and a lot of scrambling up the Barranco wall. Not as bad as lava tower, but definitely not for those with a fear of heights! It is all too easy to fall off or stumble and end up with a sprain so I remind myself to go slow, avoid the breathlessness and be cognisant. We then descend into glacial valleys to Karanga camp. Our appetite is clearly still very good because we are ravenous and have a massive lunch; the tent gets real hot in the afternoon because of the greenhouse effect, but barely a few minutes later it gets really cold. As night falls, the sky is awash with stars and beneath us are the glittering lights of Moshi town while Kilimanjaro lies behind us half shrouded in cloud. I find out that the Swedish guy's son (from day 3), along with 2 Polish climbers, have made their way down the mountain - whether carried on a makeshift stretcher or on their own i do not know. Apparently a helicopter was almost called in to evacuate the Swedish guy's son because he was in such bad shape.

{Scaling the Barranco wall}

{Catching a glimpse of the gorgeous K}

Days 5 and 6 of trekking: Karanga camp (3995m) -> Barafu camp (4600m) -> Uhuru peak (5895m) -> Barafu camp (4600m) -> Mweka camp (3068m)
Landscape: alpine desert/arctic/moorland 7:00am and the sun is out, but it is 4degC and we lie huddled and shivering in our sleeping bags. Clearly the tent doesn't provide much insulation... today we head to the final campsite before the summit: Barafu camp. Barafu means ice in Swahili but there is actually no water at this camp. The last water point was in the Karanga valley. Along the way we pass by an ill porter sitting on a rock clutching his head. Dickson gives him some medication for his headache and I silently hope he sorts out his acclimatisation problems soon. We reach Barafu campsite at noon to find our tents perched on a narrow, stony and wind-swept ridge, with the toilets located right beside a drop and it is all too easy to step off the edge if you are not careful. We have lunch, nap for 2 hours and take an acclimatisation trek to 4700m, then its dinner and packing our bags for the summit push and we are in bed by 730pm.

{Slownee, a porter}

We rise at 11pm. It's unbelievably difficult having to put your contact lenses on without a mirror and with shivering hands. After some tea and biscuits we shuffle off into the night on our summit attempt wearing fresh socks and clothes (prevents freezing). I am finally using my Ipod, and boy am I glad I've got some music with me. As we ascend past 5000m i am reminded that with every step i take i am bringing myself to an altitude I have never been. It is incredibly windy, cold and dark and the loose volcanic scree makes it easy to stumble or slide backwards. I've been using a platypus hydration system with an insulated cover for the hydration tube and I've been blowing back into the tube with each sip I take, but the tube still freezes so i give up trying to take deep breaths to suck up the water. Drinking less water just means I don't have to worry about going for a toilet break... and what with the 3-4 litres of water I've been drinking daily over the past few days, i should be pretty well hydrated by now!

As we make our way up we pass a porter leading a climber by both hands. Turns out the climber isn't blind, just dizzy from the altitude, and he had started walking at 9pm! At 5500m I switch off my headlamp and head behind a boulder for a toilet break. We reach Stella point (5756m) at 5:30am and take 40mins to walk to Uhuru peak, reaching the summit at 6:20am. As we traverse the crater rim towards Uhuru I find the energy (and breath) to run about 100m. Also Dickson has timed our trek perfectly so our summit attempt coincides nicely with the sunrise! We take a few quick pictures and my hands are shaking so much from the cold that many of the pictures turn out blurry, but the sky looks gorgeous and the glaciers are stunning. As we head down we bump into 2 porters carrying 2 climbers down the mountain to safety. The descent route is steep and full of loose scree and I mutter out loud that I prefer walking uphill any day. Dickson takes my hand and we each grip a trekking pole as we make our way down the mountain. On the way we bump into 3 more porters on their way up to rescue 2 more climbers. By the time we reach Barafu campsite it is 9:00am and we have been on our feet walking uphill (and downhill) through the night for close to 10 hours with nary a break (because of the cold and to prevent fatigue from setting in)!

{Sunrise over the crater rim}

{Roof of Africa}

{How life's like on the summit crater}

{Gorgeous sunrise}

Upon reaching Barafu campsite we nap for 1.5 hours before we have to hurriedly pack our bags and grab lunch to make room for the new crop of climbers streaming in. we make our way to Mweka camp, our last campsite for the trek. The route is rocky and i seem to have caught a chill from arriving at Barafu after the summit attempt, when i shed my summit clothes and stupidly changed into shorts because the sun was out. Dinner today is great, because Dickson gives us Tanzanian brandy and some local food!

Day 7 of trekking: Mweka camp (3068m) -> Mweka gate (1640m)
Landscape: moorland/montane forest

We wake up amidst lots of plants (oxygen!!!) and leave Mweka camp. We are feeling incredibly energetic today and make the descent down to Mweka gate in 2 hours instead of 3. For the first time we actually pass porters along the way and they all look surprised to see us going past them! My porter count is 10... after registration and receiving our certificates we climb into the van which takes us back to the hotel for a good bout of rest.

{Descending the slopes of Kilimanjaro; the day I walked/ran faster than not one, nor two, but 10 porters}

{With Rafael, Natalia and their guide}

{Vital stats: O2 represents the amount of oxygen in my blood and Hbb means heartrate. If I were at sea level and had had 73% of O2 in my blood I'd be in the intensive care unit by now}

{From Spaniars to Singapur. We shared all that awesome, awesome jamón with the Norwegian couple Knut and Ann}

Post-trekking and concluding notes: 
- On being in Africa: we spent 2 hours in Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi trying to change our flights so we would bypass Hong Kong altogether and head straight to Bangkok and then to Singapore, but to no avail because the staff were being incredibly dodgy about the whole thing.
- Crossing 4 countries (and 3 time zones) in 24 hours is no joke. Singapore-Hong Kong-Thailand-Kenya-Tanzania and back...
- On Diamox: my sister's friends had strongly advised me to take Diamox before starting the trek. I would have heeded their advice if not for the Tanzanian guides explicitly telling us only to take Diamox if and when we needed it. So I ended up not relying much on Diamox at all, taking 1 tablet on day 3 (for my slight headache) and half a tablet on day 5 (to help me sleep better in the afternoon to prep for the summit attempt - taking sleeping pills lowers your respiratory drive so you shouldn't take them at altitude...)
- On equipment/gear: having the right gear is crucial. I'm glad i ultimately bought (and not rented) most of my stuff. Lesson learnt with the sleeping bag.
- We met 2 Australians on the shuttle to Nairobi, who had taken the 5-day Marangu route and reported seeing a girl carried down by porters on a makeshift stretcher. they told us how one of the porters sent up to the summit (to rescue any climber should the need arise) stopped breathing when he reached the top and had to be put on a drip.
- That being said i still think Kilimanjaro is very doable. The most important thing is adapting to the altitude by sleeping well, eating well, avoiding dehydration and climbing the mountain as slowly as possible. Then again altitude sickness is unpredictable and can hit anyone regardless of their fitness level or how well they try to adapt, so I was extremely lucky to have climbed with very minimal discomfort and a very healthy appetite.


  1. Was it a hard climb? I saw the rock scaling part, it looks steep! Just came back from Mount Kinabalu and planning my next, which likely to be Kilimanjaro. I wanted to do Machu Picchu initially but seems like it won't happen at the moment.

    1. I didn't find Kilimanjaro hard, because I went really, really slowly, did all I could to rest and eat/drink properly and I was fortunate to have acclimatised well. Between Kili and Machu Picchu, I'd aim for Kili first. Go for it!

  2. Nice images, especially you've shown on how hard for everyone to climb Kilimanjaro. Nice blog and descriptions on step by step process of climbing.

    Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro