Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – The Great Barranco Wall to Barafu Camp

This is part 4 of my Mount Kilimanjaro climb. If you missed part 3, you can read it here.

I looked up at the huge imposing rock face as I slowly walked out of Barranco Camp. The shadow of the Great Barranco Wall kept the temperature low, the icy air numbing the exposed skin on my face. My eyes focused on the rough line that marked the trail up the huge wall, and as it disappeared high up into the distance, I knew that this was not going to be an easy start to my fourth day on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Crossing the ice covered rocks in the stream near the camp, we began hiking up the Great Barranco Wall. “Pole pole” we climbed, putting one foot in front of the other as we tackled the rocky trail, slowly gaining altitude with every step. At times the track would end, and suddenly I found myself climbing up bare rock faces, trying to find hand and foot holds to haul myself up. Our guides carefully made sure that we were safe and offered a hand when we needed it.

Climbing the Great Barranco Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Climbing the Great Barranco Wall

View of Barranco Camp from the Great Barranco Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Looking back down to Barranco Camp

The 240 meter high rock face was a challenging way to start the day, but the endless rock climbing was a lot of fun, and every step was rewarded with breathtaking views out across the Barranco Valley. Slowly, we kept on climbing, trying not to rest for too long at any one place.

Finally, after one last scramble up a steep rock face, I found myself looking once again at the majestic Kibo Peak, the morning sunlight glinting off of the snow and ice on it’s summit. I had conquered the Great Barranco Wall.

View of Barranco Valley from the top of the Great Barranco Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Porters climb up the last section of the Great Barranco Wall

After a short rest at the top to enjoy our accomplishment, we continued on with our trek, now slowly making our way down into another smaller valley. The alpine desert landscape was almost like being on another planet, with huge lava rocks littering the bone dry ground that supported very little plant life. The ever present Kibo Peak hovered on our left as we trekked through the barren landscape.

Alpine Dessert landscape on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The alpine desert landscape above the Great Barranco Wall. Our track goes down into the valley below and up the rise on the other side.

View of Kibo Peak near Karanga Valley on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Kibo Peak is always in view as the trail makes it’s way through the alpine desert

The lose rocks on the dry ground made for a difficult scree descent into the valley, but my walking poles kept me confident enough with my footing, and the pressure on my knees was easily ignored due to the stunning scenery all around. The track climbs up the other side of the valley before continuing parallel to the peak.

Our lunch spot today was at Karanga Camp, and we were now not far away, my rumbling stomach agreeing that it was lunchtime. The fairly flat trail was a welcome relief after the somewhat grueling trek so far, and the camp soon came into view, only between us and the camp, like a giant gash in the mountain, was the Karanga Valley.

Looking out across the valley, I could see Karanga Camp basically level with us in elevation, but the valley fell way down below, and I could make out the steep trail ascending up the other side.

Karanga Valley on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Looking across Karanga Valley to Karanga Camp

The descent down into the valley was tedious with water seeping out of the rocks and running down the path, the cold temperatures turning it into ice overnight. The path was almost as steep as the Barranco Wall in many places, except climbing down the steep rock faces is much more difficult than climbing up. I could even see porters standing around scratching their heads where there seemed to be no good path down into the valley. You had to either risk the ice covered path or scramble down over steep rocky drops. Most of the time, it was a combination of both.

Somehow, I managed to avoid falling over and breaking something, and after a long descent, we were finally at the bottom of the beautiful green valley. This is the last point on the track to collect water, and our porters would now have to carry all of our water from here to Barafu Camp. Looking up at the steep ascent on the other side of the valley and only imagining what the rest of the trek would be like, I had to take my hat off to them.

View of Kibo Peak from Karanga Valley on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Looking up Karanga Valley to Kibo Peak

My stomach was now almost ravenous, my body obviously needing to replace all of the expelled energy from the day’s hike, and after sluggishly hiking up out of the valley into Karanga Camp, I was well and truly ready for a well earned lunch.

View down the mountain at Karanga Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

View down the mountain at Karanga Camp – an endless blanket of cloud

A porter resting on a rock at Karanga Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

A porter resting on a rock at Karanga Camp

Karanga camp with Kibo Peak behind me on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Standing in Karanga Camp with Kibo Peak behind me

With full stomachs, we all tiredly got up to continue the trek on up to Barafu Camp. We would now be steadily gaining altitude from this point, and our guides set an incredibly slow pace to help us with the acclimatization. The trail climbed up a gradual incline above the camp, now heading up towards Kibo Peak – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

I focused my eyes on the person’s feet in front of me, almost going into a meditation like state, not worrying about where or how much further I had to go. But every time I looked up from my trance, I found that I was still amazed at the beauty of this harsh, but stunning landscape.

Alpine dessert rocky landscape on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The rocky landscape of the alpine desert – trekking towards Barafu Camp

Stopped for a rest with Kibo Peak behind on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Stopped for a rest with Kibo Peak behind

The climb had been fairly gradual on the way to Barafu Camp, but still very tiring from the long day’s hike and the physical exertion from the challenges earlier in the day. Eventually we stopped to rest at the end of a rise, and I could look out over a valley to see Barafu Camp sitting up on a jagged ridge on the other side. Our destination for the day was finally in sight.

Looking at the trail to barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Looking at the trail that leads to Barafu Camp (located on the far ridge)

With my goal finally in sight, I was ready to tackle the home stretch of the day’s long hike. This last stretch made one last descent into a shallow valley, before climbing up onto a steep exposed ridge where the camp is located. From this ridge, I caught my first glimpse of the third peak of Mount Kilimanjaro – Mawenzi Peak.

The moon above rocks on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The moon rises as we climb up to the exposed ridge

Mawenzi Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

View of Mawenzi Peak from Barafu Camp

Barafu Hut sight on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Arriving at Barafu Camp

When we finally stumbled into Barafu Camp at 4550m, we were definitely all done for the day, and I was looking forward to a hot meal and the warmth of my sleeping bag. But before retiring for the night, I climbed up to the top of the camp to watch the sunset.

Rugged up in four different layers, I sat on a rock on this exposed ridge, the icy air chilling my hands as I snapped some photos of the view and the mountain. The sun sank behind the huge Kibo Peak, now closer than ever before, and cast a pink glow on the blanket of clouds below. In the distance I could see the top of Mount Meru poking it’s head above the clouds, and ravens flew peacefully above me, seeming to not care at all about the chilly climate.

Kibo Peak from Barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Kibo Peak from Barafu Camp – the summit trail runs up the ridge on the right

Sunset from Barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Watching the sunset from Barafu Camp

Today, we had hiked for over 8 hours, ascending 600 meters in altitude over 13 kilometers, and tonight I would wake up at 11pm to begin trekking to the summit. Tomorrow morning, I would finally attempt to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Panoramic view of Kibo Peak from Barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Panoramic view of Kibo Peak from Barafu Camp – at midnight, I will follow the ridge on the right up to the summit.

Read part 5 – Conquering the Summit

 

Mount Kilimanjaro Adventure Series

  1. Machame Gate to Machame Hut 
  2. Trekking to Shira Plateau
  3. The Lava Tower and the Great Barranco Valley
  4. The Great Barranco Wall to Barafu Camp
  5. Conquering the Summit

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