Monday, 5 July 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 5 (Lava Tower Camp to Karanga Valley)

Lava Tower Camp : 4550 m
Karanga Valley : 4000 m
Ascent : 300 m
Descent : 850 m

This was the first night I didn't have a good nights sleep I put this down to both the altitude of 4550m we were now at combined with the constant pitter patter of rain on the tent throughout the night.

It turned out that the pitter patter wasn't rain at all but was in fact snow, when we woke up and surfaced in the morning, the setting was stunning with blue skies and the dazzling sun reflecting off the snow that covered the mountainside.

Lava Tower Camp after snow

The camp surrounded by a dusting of snow

After breakfast we left the lava tower camp where the normally grey Kilimanjaro moonscape setting that we'd become accustomed to in the last couple of days became more green as we descended the 600m into the Barranco valley bottom. Initially the grey dustiness turned green with grass and plants which became decorated with small trees and flowers. For some of the guys this descent came as a welcome respite from the altitude sickness, for others it was a bit of a frustrating loss of height.

Lobella on Kilimanjaro

Our head guide in front of a giant lobella

Towards the lower reaches we came across the giant lobella which are resident here and look quite like triffids in this surreal, other worldly setting. The group were continually stopping to take photos at as a result the guides had to have a word and a mild telling off as this caused for us to be behind schedule for the day. As we descended into the valley the enormity of our task reared up in front of us by means of the Barranco wall. This is a near vertical wall that ascends 300 metres from the valley bottom. From a distance we could follow the multicoloured zig zag of porters and hikers ascending out of the valley in the direction of Karanga valley camp.

Barranco Wall

Barranco Wall

As we got into the valley bottom we could see behind us the Barranco Valley camp which was used by hikers embarking on a shorter route to ours. The streams that we followed down into the valley were now considerably more than that and looked quite inviting for a dip although I did refrain - I've made this mistake before.

After a breather at the base of the wall we psyched ourselves up for the climb into the heavens.

We climbed the wall in Spiderman fashion (although for more haphazardly then the costumed one himself) on hands and knees due to the incline. As the floor started distancing itself from us the cloud closed in and the thunder started shouting at us in surround sound.

Climbing the Barranco Wall

Climbing the Barranco Wall

All of a sudden our gingerly, considered climb took on a sense of urgency. With no reference point as the valley bottom was only known to be down somewhere through the cloud we had no idea how long it would take for us to hit the deck in the event of a wrong footing ,whichever way it would certainly be sore. At one point one of the girls couldn't reach her foot over a gap we had to cross so a guide got hold of her foot and pulled it over ensuring it did.

We managed to climb over the wall top in the dry with the thunder still ringing in our ears and the lightning now flashing around us, the view into the valley bottom being none existent as it was totally obscured by clouds.

Packed lunches were handed out at this point by the guides whilst we were all fighting our waterproofs on in anticipation of the pending storm. We were given soup to go with the lunch and the guides took any opportunity to ensure that we were still taking on the recommended volume of fluids.

As we all chowed down on lunch the first specks of rain could be felt. Knowing that this wasn't the full extent of things everyone started filling their faces to get rid of the lunch box before the heavy stuff kicked in, which it did in no time.

Walking towards Karanga Valley Camp

Walking through rain and hail towards Karanga Valley Camp

The following two and a half hours of the afternoon was spent covering Kilimanjaro's undulating mountain wilderness with hail and rain pattering on our hoods as we pretty much looked at the floor for the duration covering the ground in order to keep the weather out of our faces.

As we finally turned the last corner (or so we thought) Karanga Valley camp came into view, which was such a relief after a pretty miserable afternoon. As we came closer to the came it became apparent that the mosey into camp wasn't going to be as straightforward as first expected. There was a 200 metre deep gorge that had to be crossed before we could call an end to the wettest days walking we'd had yet.

The saving grace was that the final ascent saw the end of the rain and allowed us to slog our way in in the dry. This was a relief as we'd pretty much had it at this point and the arrival in camp saw most of us head straight into our tents for a lie down. We could see how much rain there had been at the campsite as the porters had had to dig channels around the tents to keep the water away, the ditches were still full of water. This campsite was pretty rocky and was on a fairly steep slope. It was pretty busy with more groups than we were used to but this was the campsite that was located on a few of the ascent routes so had a tendency to be much busier than the camps on the quieter routes we'd been benefiting from.

Karanga Valley CampKaranga Valley Camp and the valley before it

As the light faded we were treated to an awesome sunset with Mawenzi silhouetted in front of an awesome panorama of yellows, oranges and reds. What a pleasure. The 600 metres of altitude we'd lost since the previous day helped marginally with the breathing, any assistance with this was a huge bonus.

Mawenzi SunsetMawenzi silhouetted by the sunset

One of the guys sleeping bag had been soaked during the days trek so he mentioned it to the porters who took it away and within 20 minutes it came back absolutely bone dry - how on earth they managed to do this on the side Kilimanjaro I am not quite sure, this will remain a mystery.

Today was Robert the chefs birthday so after our dinner we all sang happy birthday and he had a cake which had been brought up the mountain with fresh supplies. We all had a slice which brought ourselves and the porters closer together and was great for morale all round. Although it was a brief celebration it was great to have us all celebrating it together.

I slept well this night which was in the main part I think due to the lower altitude we were at.


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