Kilimanjaro Day 5: The Barranco Wall And A Bucket Of Tears

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Start: Barranco Camp 3900m (12,800 ft.)
Stop: Karanga Camp 3995m (13,106 ft.)
Distance: 6.4km (4 miles)
Gain: more than 300 ft.

Barranco morning below Kili

If you don’t want to stand in line for hours, then you’ve got to hit the wall early. That’s the Barranco Wall, where you ditch your trekking poles and use your hands and legs to scrap your way up. We manage to leave camp at 650am and it’s all hands on deck. Normally only two guides leave with us in the morning but this time it’s Ignas, Future and Caspar too. Immediately there’s several icy stream crossings. On the last crossing Mama Simba steps exactly where Ignas stepped but her last rock rolls out from under her foot and is now submerged. Obviously, I’m not going to step on that rock and I make a hop to the creeklet’s bank without incident. Caspar takes all of our poles from us as we start moving hand over hand up the wall. They guide us up the wall, giving a pull or hoist when necessary. I look back at Barranco Camp and can see the masses just now leaving as the long line stretches away from camp. Porters zip past us with their loads like it ain’t no thang.

We stop for a quick break and then the next thing I know, just about everyone is getting some pointers/critiques from Caspar. Mine was hopping. I’m definitely caught off guard and the frustration bubbles up in me because I’m making every effort to be as safe as possible. Before I know it my eyes are filling with tears. I put my sunglasses on and force myself to calm down. But it doesn’t work and the more I try to push back the tears, the more I can’t control them. Of course, I’m trying to play it cool like it’s just another sunny day on the Barranco Wall. We start hiking again and just as I think I’ve got it under control I’m silently blubbering again. Will they just think that I’m having a hard time breathing and not really crying? Hiking at this elevation and crying is a damn tough combo. My burning throat constricts itself and I can barely breath. Suddenly Caspar is right next to me and I’m so afraid I’m going to get in trouble for crying. As the rest of the wall passes in a blur, it takes ever ounce of mental strength to pull my shit together.

Topping the Barranco Wall nets stellar views of Mt. Meru and the towering Kilimanjaro behind us. But I’m still pissed. Pissed that I wasn’t doing a good job and pissed that I was crying. I’ve been taking these birth control pills so I wouldn’t get my period on Mt. Kilimanjaro and they make me way too emotional. People are getting fun jumping pictures taken but I’m not in the mood.

We work our way through the deep fingers of Kili and each descent and ascent is progressively steeper. My brain rolls and rolls through the frustration and I begin to second guess my every step. I trip many times which only serves to piss me off further. Eventually Karanga Camp is on the horizon and I’m wishing for a suspension bridge straight across to the camp. But no, we must descend into the rocky canyon before climbing up the other side. There’s a short break at the bottom and then one last push. Weighted down with my thoughts, you can not imagine my joy when I see Reison coming towards me. He’s come almost the entire way down to get my pack. He grabs mine first and when I look back, he’s stacked on another three.

Future leading us down into the ravine. Look closely for the trail leading up the other side to Karanga Camp.

We get to Karanga and we’re told that we have 5 minutes to get ready for an acclimatization hike. Dump pack, grab rain jacket, grab water and one trekking pole. There’s no time to pee before we’re headed up and away from camp. It should be easier with no pack but the pace seems a little faster than usual so I’m breathing hard and starting to sweat. Porters push past us carrying jugs of water up the mountain. The ravine we’ve just hiked out of has the last water for the next few days. The porters haul all of our water for drinking, cooking and the toilets not only to Karanga but also up to our next camp Barafu. I think we hike about 30 minutes and then sit for a break. Luckily we don’t sit too long because I’m getting really cold. Then back to camp and time for lunch.

Can you find the arch?
Moonrise over Karanga

I spend some time in the tent before going to hang out in the mess tent. Toto and Mama Simba are both there as well. Tent master Joseph pops in and I ask him about my tent set-up. I can tell he’s not understanding me and then Caspar gets involved to help convey my request. But the exchange is jarring and the next thing I know I’m in tears yet again. Man, I’m a mess. We do group health checks and then I go out to wait my turn for individual lung check. The weather is clear despite clouds hanging atop Kili. Toto Simba points out an arch that can only be seen from Karanga as the moon peaks over the horizon.

Caspar checks my lungs and then he asks me to sit down. Oh no. He starts to explain about this morning’s incident and that what he wanted me to do was to take Ignas’ hand at the icy stream. I try to explain that I was frustrated because I didn’t understand him and that I cry really easily. I try to explain that my birth control pills make me super emotional to which I start crying again. We talk it through, wipe my tears and I immediately feel better, happy to have clarity.

After a wonderful dinner the moon shines brightly against the star-studded sky. And for the first time I can see the lights of Moshi blinking far below Kili.