This is part 3 of my Mount Kilimanjaro climb. If you missed part 2, you can read it here.
The sun warmed my face as I slowly walked across the barren volcanic landscape. The vast alpine desert of the Shira Plateau stretched out before me as I trekked up the rocky terrain of an old lava flow. This is a land of rocks and dust, with very little life apart from the odd clump of tussocky grass and stunted plant life that clings on to existence in the shelter of the lava rocks. I look up from the dusty ground at my feet to see the majestic snow capped Kibo Peak rising up above me, and now with every step I feel a little closer to my goal – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Today was going to be a tough day, trekking up to the giant Lava Tower at 4630m for acclimatization, before trekking down into the Great Barranco Valley at 3950m. With a total of 15km and 8 hours of trekking at high altitude, our G Adventures team was going to be tested.
As we hiked along the gradual incline of the lava flows, the barren landscape seemed to stretch on forever. With each rise we would pass, there would be another on the other side. The terrain was not steep, but we trekked on very slowly, keeping to our set pace.
Eventually we came to a point where we were looking across at the Lava Tower, with the huge Kibo Peak towering above it. The valley below was the halfway point and, more importantly, our lunch spot.
This is where our route (Machame) joins on with the Shira and Lomosho routes on the mountain, and we were soon being passed by porters from all three routes who bypass the lava tower on their way to Barranco Camp.
Slowly, we made our way down into the valley below the Lava Tower to enjoy a well deserved rest and hot lunch. Kibo Peak had never seemed so close.
Although it wasn’t bothering me, this is where many people start to feel the affects of the altitude. As we climbed up to the lava tower, many people on the track weren’t feeling the best. Headaches, weakness and lack of breathe were the most common symptoms, but this acclimatization hike was important to combat the altitude sickness that those symptoms can lead to.
We stopped to rest at the Lava Tower at 4630m, the giant rock monolith towering high above us. Perhaps the thin air was getting to me, but I felt overwhelmed by the beauty of this particular place. With the Lava Tower on my right and the massive snow capped Kibo massif rising up on my left, I couldn’t help but feel at the mercy of some greater force. This was nature at it’s finest. The pure force and power of the earth was there before me, and I felt truly privileged to be able to be here.
Picking ourselves up, we began the long trek down, hiking around the Lava Tower down into a steep valley on the other side, it’s steps covered in ice that wouldn’t melt in the shadow of the tower. Carefully, we made our way into the valley and up the other side, all the while the beautiful Kibo Peak remained on our left.
At this point I was starting to feel a little tired, but there was still a long way to go, and as I hiked across the alpine desert, the Great Barranco Valley soon came into view. Although it didn’t look that far and the end was in sight, there was still another two hours of trekking to go before we reached the camp.
The steep slope of the Barranco Valley was almost scree like, and I was glad to have my walking poles to take the pressure off of my knees. The views all around me were simply breathtaking, and the beauty could only make me forget about any tiredness in my legs.
Slowly we made our way down into the valley, and yet the bottom never seemed to look any closer. Soon, the camp itself came into view. Tiny dots of tents could just be seen below the Great Barranco Wall that rose up behind them. The path gave a preview of what we were in for the next day.
Although the camp never seemed to be any closer, I knew we were making progress. Every step got us closer, and as we came down into the shelter of the valley, the strange alpine plants known as Giant Groundsels began appearing, first only stunted, but then growing into huge tree sized plants as we came to the camp at the bottom of the valley. Kilimanjaro is truly full of surprises.
As we walked into Barranco Camp, we were all quite exhausted, and it was a relief to finally sit down for the day. Some of our group had not coped well with the altitude and exertion of the days trek, and basically collapsed into their tents to rest after arriving much later than the first group of us.
As the sun began to drop out of sight to the west of the valley, I walked out to the edge of the col that the camp was set on and looked at the view around me. It was simply beautiful. In fact, no words can really describe it.
As my eyes moved from the ice and snow capped Kibo Peak, they focused on the Barranco Wall before me. I could make out the rough line that marked the path up this seemingly impenetrable rock wall, and I knew that I was going to need all of my energy to tackle it. This was going to be another challenge, and I was looking forward to it. Tomorrow, I would tackle the Great Barranco Wall.
Read part 4 – The Great Barranco Wall to Barafu Camp
Mount Kilimanjaro Adventure Series
- Machame Gate to Machame Hut
- Trekking to Shira Plateau
- The Lava Tower and the Great Barranco Valley
- The Great Barranco Wall to Barafu Camp
- Conquering the Summit