Wednesday 15 August

Sun breaks over the hills

The wind snapping at my tent keeps me awake for most of the night. The hours pass slowly and in the darkness in my semi-consciousness I fear that the whole tent is about to take off with me inside it. I remove my down jacket when I finally get too hot. I try to push it out of my sleeping bag through the small hole I have left at the top after tightening the drawstrings to their maximum, but end up nearly suffocating myself.

Morning comes as a relief. The wind has finally dropped and perhaps I caught an hour or two of sleep.

(magnify) Senecio Kilimanjari

We begin walking soon after breakfast, albeit rather stiffly, down towards the Barranco Valley. At first we are in the shadow of the mountain and it is bitterly cold, but presently the first rays of the sun break over the rock above us and we are bathed in dawn light and a thin warmth.

The pace seems faster today, and we have new scenery – somewhat alpine, with cushions of white flowers littering the ground and a profusion of Senecio Kilimanjari, a kind of giant groundsel. These strange plants grow upwards to a height of two or three metres, their thick rough fibrous trunks occasionally bifurcating. At the top of each trunk is a rosette of thick green leaves.

(magnify) Crossing te Barranco Valley floor

Next to the path a lively stream tumbles down the valley. This is the most enjoyable part of the trek so far for me, like a mini Shangri La.

We cross the river at the bottom and then begin our ascent of the Barranco Wall. It is not quite as alarming as the description on the ATR website had had me believe (“This is a steep and exposed climb of around 300m. The wall is near vertical, but the path cuts across it on a diagonal.”) but nevertheless I have endless admiration for the porters who make it up here with such unwieldy loads. As for me, hands are certainly required.

(magnify) Beginning the Barranco Wall

The worst bit is a short section of narrow ledge above a long drop, but it is only a couple of steps to cross it and there is an abundance of easy hand-holds to cling to. The view back down into the valley is beautiful. Distant on the far side a succession of waterfalls cascade into pools tucked into crevices in the rock. The patchy mist drifting across as if on cue just adds to the atmosphere.

Normally I would have loved this bit but I was having problems with my breathing – getting in enough oxygen, exhaling without feeling queazy, and a very fast heartbeat. I was really quite scared a few times. However, made it to the top.

High altitude desert

The climb eases and finally levels out onto a rocky desert. From there we pass through a couple more smaller valleys, with a bit more scrambling in places.

Mist precludes any long-distance views, but the variety of the landscape we are passing through is astonishing. We stop on a rocky outcrop to eat our packed lunches. Frank has brought us some soup!

(magnify) Karanga Valley

Finally we spy the blue tents, with just one more valley to cross. We have a steep and slippery descent, followed by a slow climb to Karanga Camp (4000 m).

This is a much more busy site, being one of the last before Barafu. There is constant background chatter of voices calling back and forth and the tinny whine of transistor radios. Tea, coffee, Milo, and popcorn are served in the mess tent, but no hot chocolate – we’ve run out.

It is also our last chance to wash before the summit, because there is no water supply at Barafu. Indeed, we have already passed a long line of porters ferrying water from the stream in the valley up to our campsite up here.

Rambo takes a break

There is plenty of time to lie and read. We gather in RL’s tent to do some Bible notes and then just chat. When I poke my head out of the tent I notice that the cloud and mist has lifted and Kibo stands majestic before us. I go off to fetch my camera, but while I am faffing about the cloud comes back in again. RL is more organised and gets a picture.

We made good time today and consquently we are here very early. (It’s now only 4 pm and we haven’t an acclimatisation walk today.) I imagine they’ll give us an early meal and get us to rest well before tomorrow night’s big ascent. Unsure quite how I’m feeling about that at the moment. Today scared me a little to say the least.

(magnify) Kibo emerges from the fog

I’ve decided to start taking Diamox tonight to see if that will aid with the breathing. Hopefully it won’t give me any nasty side-effects. Ian, Nicky and Alison wil be the only ones not taking it then!

After dinner the cloud has lifted again. There is a new moon, and the vast bulk of Kibo rises up in the darkness. There is a palpable sense of anticipation in the campsite. We gather once more in the mess tent to play Uno.

We are just preparing to turn in for the night when Nicky’s head appears at the tent flap. “Does anyone know where on earth my tent is?” is her plaintive cry.