I woke in the middle of the night and could feel my legs had got a workout yesterday. So this morning when I properly woke up (early again!), I went to the toilet, enjoyed looking at the stars since it was a clear sky (I will say, the stars were just amazing, you could see the Milky Way. Always being near light pollution, I had never experienced anything like it). Camp was peaceful, just the cooks were up, you can hear them moving around, but they’re very quiet and aren’t disturbing our sleep. I did some stretching in the tent to relieve some of the dull aches from the day before.
I have a really sore throat, so I think I was snoring last night (Lucretia assures me that it was just a little snore that didn’t keep her awake). The dust from the moorland was… dusty! It was flying up from us trudging along and I was at the back of the group inhaling it all. Thankfully Lucretia had brought some cough drops/lozenges which was so helpful (she had thought of everything and I was very grateful for her knowledge).
Camping is getting easier. But not anymore fun. This morning my sleeping bag felt wet (on the outside), but it was just the cold and maybe condensation? I have no idea!
The Great Barranco Wall
Since I was up early and packing is getting easier and quicker, I had time to go up to a rock that had internet access. I was able to call Shawn (he was still up - thank goodness he’s a night owl! It was around 12:30am for him, 7:30am for me) and then I called mum and dad and hoped they didn’t hate me for calling them at 5:30am their time! They were very happy to hear from me. The thing with the internet, was I could see messages come in on What’sApp, but then I couldn’t reply because the internet just wasn’t strong enough. So they could see I had read messages but weren’t getting replies from me. Plus, there were a lot of messages and I just didn’t have time to reply to them all. And, I was enjoying being off the grid a little!
I did manage to get one text in, to a woman called Robyn. Mum had met her at one of the PD carer groups that she belongs to. Both of Robyn’s parents have PD and she graciously let me call her for an hour, prior to the climb to chat about her experience, as she had climbed Kili a few years earlier (for fun, not for MJFF). She happened to send me a text while I was on the “Reception Rock”, so I told her that I hadn’t been feeling any altitude sickness and that we were at Barranco Camp and she said “Whoohoo! That’s amazing news! Ah, I loved the next part of the climb - just awe inspiring sitting above the clouds! Enjoy every moment 🤗”. So I was happy to get that message and was looking forward to the day.
I took a video of Barranco camp, you can hear how labored my breathing was - and I was just talking, not doing anything else!
Of course, speaking to Shawn and Mum and Dad meant that despite being up early, I was late again for breakfast (of course I was). I must have been up there for about 45 mins, Mathew was also on the “Reception Rock” and told me to go to breakfast. I could quite have easily skipped breakfast, I wasn’t all that hungry. Apparently the altitude bloats you, so you’re not hungry, but you must eat to keep up your energy, even when you don’t feel like it. My fingers were cold from holding the phone to my ear, but I was able to warm them up at breakfast.
I found out later that mum had been dreading this day for me (climbing the Barranco Wall), she had read that people die on the wall. And as it happens someone did die the day we climbed it.
I seem to have been feeling the cold less than everyone else, I’ve been putting on lighter and fewer tops than the others and that seems to have worked for me (so long as my ears are covered, I’m ok). I guess growing up in a household where you put on another sweater instead of the heating was good practice for 30+ years later! I’m hoping that summit night I will appreciate the two more layers that I haven’t used yet.
Since it was misty when we arrived at Barranco Camp the night before, we didn’t take a photo at the camp sign, so we took one on our way out of camp.
Our obligatory group photo at each camp
We are starting 30 mins later than normal today and we will be at our next camp for lunch around 2pm (it was 2:50pm when we arrived), so a solid 5+ hours of hiking.
Once again we were the last to leave camp, I think this was strategic on Abel’s part, that’s why we left 30 mins later than we had been leaving camp on previous days. We were slow and I think he didn’t want us to hold up any of the other groups of climbers. There’s no over-taking on the wall!!
So we headed off, over a crystal clear stream, its source is the melting glacier from further up the mountain. This was one of our water sources. It may be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning, there’s no running water supply on the mountain. The 4+ liters of water that we were required to drink every day (x9 of us and 33 guides and porters), plus cooking water, washing water, porta-loo water etc were carried from camp to camp depending on where the water was. So for example, there was water from this river close by at Barranco Camp, but for Barafu Camp, it had to be carried 4km/2.5 miles from Karanga Camp. In fact, th river by Karanga Camp is the last water source on the mountain (depending on your route), so it serves Karanga, Barafu, High Camp/Milenia Camp and Mweka Camp. That’s a really long distance to travel with 100s of liters which all needs to be boiled to be sterilized. I remember there was one day that we were running out of water in the morning to wash our hands, but we were heading out, so it didn’t really matter.
Keep the water sources clean
So, if you listen to the video above (the one of the camp), I say how beautiful it is, and passing the river, that was lovely because we hadn’t passed too much water along the way, so it was nice to see some signs of the mountain being alive and not just a desolate landscape. I’d spoken to my family and Robyn had said how she’d enjoyed the Barranco Wall day, above the clouds, so I was in a great mood and optimistic about what a nice day we were going to have.
I realized very quickly that the cliff face that we had been camping under was the Barranco Wall and we were climbing that today. It was basically vertical.
If you listen to the audio on the video below, you can hear the point that I realize what is ahead of us, as Abel proclaims it to be “The Great Barranco Wall”. “Oh shit” was what was going on in my head when he said that. I’d watched videos prior to the trip and they mostly show the kissing wall, they don’t show you the wall from below. If you look closely you can see all the tiny hikers and porters and guides climbing the great expansive cliff face. It was a bit daunting. One mis-step and you’re injured, or worse…
We had a very stark reminder that we needed to be careful when a porter from another group was brought down, right past us as we were we’re heading up, on a stretcher. He had slipped and fallen and broken his leg and had to be airlifted out.
While we were taking photos at the sign, our porters were already on their way up, ahead of us. Not only was January one of our guides, he was also Camp Manager and the safety of the porters is his responsibility - they’re like family to him and he uses the same porters and guides on all his trips up the mountain. Unknown to us, he had been notified that a porter had slipped, so he ran up ahead to see if he was one of ours. Thankfully he wasn’t, but January stayed to help them and walked down with them til he met us on our way up. I remember being (silently) horrified as the porter was carried past us by 4 or 5 people and not for the first time (or last), wondering WTF I had signed myself up for. Why was I doing this? Was it worth it? I imagine we were all thinking the same thing. When I say during these blog posts, that the porters and guides were simply amazing, I mean it. Our lives were literally in their hands and we had to trust them implicitly. So if January told me to give him my backpack, or (spoiler alert) begged me to go down the mountain after I summited, I was going to take his orders seriously and do whatever I was told to do.
The porter from another group being carried down on a stretcher
If you had any fear of heights, there’s no way you could do it. Because we had our backpacks on which were weighing around 20lb or more with all our water, snacks, wet weather gear and first aid kit etc, we had to ensure that we were careful to lean toward the rock. There were three or four times where it was really difficult, you had to just hold onto the rocks with your hands to help pull you up. I mean this was mountaineering without the ropes. A lot of the rocks were worn down where climbers had been before, so you knew where you had to put your feet and hands, but the guides were also excellent and they helped to show us the way and pull us up when needed. I took off my wedding ring, I wasn’t wearing gloves and I didn’t want to scrape it on the rocks.
Climbing it was not easy, at all, it was exhausting. So imagine now having to do that with all the camp gear, tables, chairs, toilets, tents, cooking equipment, mattresses, our duffel bags and all sorts of things I have no idea about. That’s what the porters were carrying up, there were no shortcuts (“short cuts are wrong cuts” as one of our guides told us) we all took the same route.
About 2 hours in to our hike, the helicopter arrived for the injured porter, I don’t know what time he fell, but we were taking photos at the sign at 9:15am when January got notified and they passed us on the stretcher at 9:45am, the helicopter arrived at 11am. We watched as the helicopter took a pass round, it didn’t land first time around because of all the dust that was getting blown up by the propellers. Once the dust had settled they were able to land at 11:01am. They got the porter into the helicopter were off at 11:06am (thanks to the time stamps on the photos and videos I know exactly the times). The whole process took just 5 mins.
Recently I asked January what happened to that porter, this is what he told me:
“When i got down from mountain i would like to know his condition and then they said he passed away, they said he got injured in his head and the helicopter delayed”
The Kilimanjaro Porters Association (KPAP) was set up in ?2003. It brought in regulations to an industry that was not regulated previously. Now, Porters are not allowed to carry more than 20kg (our duffel bags were weighed at the gate and could be no more than 15kg). They cannot be paid less than $10 per day as a salary. This has drastically cut the number of porters that die, previously they could be carrying more than 25kg. Some companies would not pay the porters for months after the trip, or not at all, but now they get their salaries and tips as soon as they’ve finished the trip. It costs $5 a year to be registered and in the tragic event of loss of life, the family gets some money (though how much I don’t know) from KPAP.
The porter wasn’t the only death on the mountain the week we were up there, two climbers also died because of altitude sickness. Thankfully we didn’t know this until after we got back to the US. It probably doesn’t help with motivation when you have possible death in the back of your mind.
After the helicopter left, we continued on, scrambling up the rocks, my quads got a good work out that day and while I would say I was in good shape, I still struggled. There was one part where we all went up separately, I was second to last with Laura behind me. I was being careful with my footing, but I was slow and I hadn’t got to the top before Laura was right behind me!
Almost at the top of the Barranco Wall
The kissing wall (named because you have limited footing space so you have to get close enough to the wall to kiss it and kind of shimmy passed) was fun. We went one by one and a porter was there, making sure we didn’t fall, everyone got a cheer as they kissed it! The camaraderie from the group (not just the 9 of us, but also the guides and porters) was great, if we weren’t a team before this, we certainly were now. We were all looking out for one another and giving motivation when needed.
We still had another 2 hours to get to the top of the Barranco Wall and finally arrived at 1pm.
Finally at the top of the Barranco Wall
We stopped for a few photos and a packed lunch that we were given at breakfast, which consisted of biscuits/cookies, a chocolate bar and a juice box. We took a moment to appreciate the view, high above the clouds. Being so high up and away from the hustle and bustle of life, disconnected from the internet, friends, family, being alone with your thoughts, just the sounds of heavy breathing, boots trudging through the sandy/rocky terrain. And every now and again one of the guides shouting Guide: “One Team!”
Us: “One Dream!”
Us: “To The Top!!”
Guide: “More Water”
Us: “More Fire”
Guide: “More Fire”
Us: “More Water”
Or “Oyo oyo oyo”
Or “sippy sippy” to remind us to drink our water
Or “pole pole” (slowly slowly)
It took us 3 hours to get to the top and then we had to cross some ravines, up and down to get to camp which took another 2 hours. Abel and I were bringing up the rear and the others soon went on ahead of us. There was one point when I looked around and there was no one in sight, Abel and I literally had the mountain to ourselves. I did have a brief moment of panic that if anything happened, who would be there to help us, you know a jackal or something coming out of the woods 🤷🏻♀️.
We were still in the moorland and we could see the remnants of the torched trees from the wildfires they had on the mountain in 2022. There are flowers in the Moorland called Paper Flowers, they’re also known as the Ever Lasting Flower, they’re very dry, but not brittle, and as you would expect, are like paper and somewhat translucent.
There hasn’t been any rain, but the terrain on the moorland was slippery with the volcanic gravel and I fell and cut my hand. Nothing bad, but I needed to clean it up and put a couple of band-aids on.
The torched trees from the wildfires
I fell and cut myself on the arid landscape
We soon caught up with the rest of the group and we could see the camp ahead of us, though it was far away and I could feel that I needed to send a fax.
So, there’s code words for peeing and pooping. If you need to pee, you say you need to send an email because you don’t need paper, if you need to poop, you send a fax (because you do need paper). Clearly those terms were created by men, because I use paper when I pee! Justin affectionately called the toilet that’s at camp “The Business Center”. Speaking of using paper when you pee, the mountain has a Leave No Trace policy, which means any toilet paper you use on the trail needs to come back with you to camp to be disposed of there. So Lucretia gave me a top tip, using sanitary pads to soak up the pee after you squat, instead of using toilet paper. And I have to say, it worked a treat! I thought I was being smart bringing ones with wings, but turns out they chafe your inner thighs when you’re walking so much, but thankfully Lucretia had packed extras of hers so she gave me a few 🥰
I managed to hold in my poop til we got to camp and I successfully had another day without pooping on the trail!
At Karanga Camp
When we got to Karanga Camp at around 3pm, we had another warm welcome by the porters, as always, and our gaiters and boots got a good dusting off. Then it was to our tents for the ritual of unpacking and getting our tents ready for bed. The porters knew whose duffel bags were who’s, so they were already in our tents. Then it was dinner time and bedtime. We never stayed up late, after dinner was eaten we always retired to our tents, exhausted from our day of hiking.
My phone battery is running out and I didn’t get to charge my solar panel the last few days, so I don’t know how much video and photos I’ll be able to take tomorrow.
Karanga Camp in the clouds
We have put together a GoFundMe (read some of the porters stories) and Amazon Wishlist for the porters so that we can get them the hiking and camping equipment they need to keep them safe and uninjured on the mountain. We would love your support.
Day 1: Morum Barrier Gate to Shira 1 Camp, Wednesday August 9th, 2023
Day 2: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp, Thursday August 10th, 2023
Day 3: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower, Friday August 11th, 2023
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp, Saturday August 12th, 2023