Distance: 6 km
Altitude: 3,995 m
Date: Jan. 31, 2018
The sounds of the rain dances on the top of our tent while the angry skies yell from above. I look over at Sieu, who is completely defeated by this weather. After trying to line the bottom of our tent with garbage bags, in an effort to keep our sleeping mats dry, he has now given up and is lying in his sleeping bag with a blank stare. I have worked hard, these past few days, to keep his morale up about the rain but today, there is nothing left. A river of water runs under our tent, with no sign of it letting up. The only thing that we can do now is to try our best to keep our gear dry so that we will not be summiting with damp gear tomorrow night. As we lie quietly in our tent, waiting for this day to end, I decide to pass the time by writing today’s adventures in my Midori travel notebook …
The morning begins as usual. We receive our wake-up call at 6:30am, enjoy our morning coffee, and then slowly get our stuff ready for the day. Once everything is neatly organized in my 95 L duffel bag, I crawl out of the tent and am struck with awe. I can’t believe my eyes! Mother Nature has removed her cloak of thick, grey fog to finally reveal her masterpiece. I look around and try to take it all in. We are surrounded by these colossal mountains that had seemed so far away just a few days ago. The bottoms of the mountains are speckled with green tuffs of grass, along with these peculiar trees that we had seen yesterday. My eyes slowly make their way up the charcoal trunks of the mountains to their snow-covered tops. The snow drizzles down from the peaks like melted white chocolate poured on top of a chef’s stunning creation.
I enjoy the crisp and refreshing morning air as we begin our hike. Since the sun has not summited the 360 degrees of mountains that we are surrounded by, the temperature is still cool. I embrace this and take a deep breath in, excited about today’s hike. Today is not only a hike, but a climb too, as we will be conquering the Baranco Wall.
As we near the edge of this stone wall, I look up at its magnificent rock face. I can’t help but wonder how the porters are going to carry our gear up and over this vertical obstacle. Assessing the landscape, there appears to be no other way than up. While I stand there trying to figure this out, Albert instructs us to pack away our hiking poles as we will be needing both our hands AND our feet for this scramble. Yes! Let’s do this!!
Welcoming the challenge, I begin to look for foot placements and rocks to grasp onto with my hands, in order to pull myself on top of some of the boulders that line the trail. While doing so, San and I begin to plan a climbing vacation for all of us to go on next. He is an avid climber so I knew he would be onboard for this kind of adventure!
Like ants marching in a line, we continue to ascend the winding, narrow path up the Baranco Wall. Looking ahead and then looking behind me, I notice how the wall is speckled with tourists and porters from various groups. I also notice how our porters, who were packing up our campsite when we left, have now caught up and are veering off of the semi-groomed trail to pass us. Their strength and agility continues to amaze me.
Nearly half way up, we come to a sudden stop. I look ahead and see that we have finally reached the famous “Kissing Rock” of the Machame Trail. I had read about this and am excited to see what all of the hype is about. How narrow could this pathway possibly be? Well, I finally got my answer. It’s pretty darn narrow! Our guide, Paul, stands split-legged and is balancing carefully between us and the unforgiving drop off the ledge. One-by-one, we hug this cold stonewall and shimmy along its narrow edge. Sieu is in front of me. I watch as he hugs the wall, gives it a little kiss for a photo op, and then continues to carefully slide to the other side. Planning my first step, I look down at the worn rock ledge, that has been stepped on by so many climbers before me. I am not scared of heights but I can understand how some may become paralyzed with fear from this restrictive pathway.
As we near the top, the illusion of sun escapes us as the clouds crawl in. This makes for an eerie arrival at the peak of the Baranco wall. While taking a quick break, I notice an older gentleman sitting with two guides near our group. He is Caucasian with bright blue eyes and is the oldest man that I have seen on the trail yet. I am curious about his story so I gradually approach him. “Hi, how ya doing?” I ask. “Good, thanks!” he replies. Ah ha! He speaks English! Throughout the hike, I have noticed the vast amount of diversity along the trail and often overhear so many different languages being spoken daily. He tells me that he is from the United States and that he is climbing Kilimanjaro with his girlfriend, who is much younger than he is. As I am talking with him, my husband comes over to join in on the conversation – he has a way of asking those questions that we are all too shy to ask. “Excuse me, sir, if you don’t mind me asking, how old you are?” “I don’t mind at all”, he replies, “I am 78 years old”. Wow. I am speechless. I shake his hand and wish him the best of luck.
So what goes up, must come down. As we continue our hike, we descend down the other side of the Baranco wall; however, it is much more gradual and forgiving than the ascent. The fog remains thick and the air remains cold. Although it is not raining, the air is damp so we put on our rain gear to keep dry and for added warmth. Once we reach the bottom, a thin worn trail scurries off into the distance with no apparent ending. There is nothing in this new landscape. No birds. No plants. No porters. Not even any other hikers. Just us navigating through this uninhabited, grey landscape through the thick, white fog.
As we quietly continue forward, the vegetation begins to re-emerge from the gravel flooring and the scenery, once again, looks less grim and desolate. Upon reaching the edge of a canyon, with nowhere else to go but down, we stop for a break. Albert tells us that our campsite is on the other side of this deep abyss. He continues to tell us that we will have limited water supply at this campsite since the only water source is in the belly of this canyon, as he points down.
We carefully walk down the winding path of this final steep descent. Once we reach the bottom, we cross a small stream and then begin our final ascent. Tired, we all drag our feet as we continue to zig to the left and then zag to the right all the way to the top. Our guides chat the entire time, without any signs of fatigue or shortness of breath. This is like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park for them.
As we finally reach the top, we are greeted by the warmth of our G-Fighters. Every day when we arrive at our new campsite, Willie greets me with a kind handshake from his rough, worked hands. Every day I look forward to this as he looks so proud to see me summiting this mountain, one campsite at a time. During this time, we are also greeted by a gust of wind that blows the tent for our port-a-potty off the top of this mountain . We laugh as two G-Fighters chase after it and joke about how funny it would have been if someone was using the potty at the time!
As we settle into our campsite, we enjoy a late lunch followed by a quiet and relaxing afternoon. During this time, the other G-Adventures group, which we’ve been leap-frogging with over these past 4 days, is continuing past our campsite and straight to the basecamp. Since we opted for the 7-day hike, as oppose to the 6-day, it gives us more time to rest up before our summiting night. Tomorrow is our turn to hike to the basecamp, nap in the afternoon, and then awake at 11pm to summit.
After lunch, the mess tent alarmingly shakes from a thunderous boom and then the rain begins. And when it rains, it really pours! The skies open up and are dumping buckets of water on us, which is pounding violently on the canvas of our mess tent. We all decide to wait in the mess tent for the rain to let up before going back to our tents. In the meantime, San pulls out a deck of cards and one of the G-Fighters teaches us a Tanzanian card game. We speak loudly to be heard over the hammering sounds of the rain. With all of this rain accumulating from the persistent rainfall, a small stream begins to flow straight through out mess tent. Since I am wearing Crocs, I leave them on the ground and fold my legs up on my chair. After a while, Sieu decides to brave the rain and go check on our tent. I bring down my legs to put on my Crocs and join him but one of them is missing! The stream carried one of my shoes away to the other side of the tent!
We bolt for our tent to see what kind of damage has been done. Similar to the mess tent, there is a stream of water passing under our tent as well. The bottom of our sleeping mats are damp as our tent can only sustain so much from this cruel environment. We line the floor of our tent with garbage bags and then secure the remainder of our gear. We sit together in silence, listening to the rhythmic drumming of the rain on our tent.
The rain finally stops in the evening. Perhaps Mother Nature’s way of telling us to rest up before the journey ahead? Regardless of the reason, we had a quiet afternoon of hiding from the rain. After supper, we have our nightly debriefing. Everyone is feeling well today, with no complaints of the altitude. Even my saturation has drastically improved from last night and is now 94%! It is very reassuring to see everyone happy, motivated, and rested, ready to conquer the summit tomorrow night. People are even beginning to entertain the idea of doing Everest Base Camp next year. We are not sold of this idea just yet but we will see …
As we turn in for the night, I fill my water bottle with hot water and head back to our tent. The humidity from the rain has made the night air comfortable. I admire how clear the night sky is, since all of the clouds are resting below us for the night. The lights from Moshi, a nearby city, sparkle similarly to the stars in the sky. The moon is full tonight and illuminates our surroundings; we planned our trip around this so that we would have good visibility for summiting night. There is no way of fully capturing this moment but I do feel slightly immortal, like a Greek God sitting upon Mount Olympus and looking down on the mortals below.
To Be Continued in…
Conquering Kilimanjaro (Day 5: Barafu Camp – Base Camp)