Kilimanjaro (Part 6 – Karanga to Barafu)

22 September 2017 There’s real excitement in the air! All that is left before our summit bid is a 4 km (2.5 mile) hike up to Barafu Camp which sits at an elevation of 4 673 m (15 331 ft). It’s another gorgeous day on the mountain. The sun is out, the sky is blue and there’s not a breath of wind. At just shy of 4 000 m (13 123 ft) we are high-up on the mountain and the effects of the altitude are playing tricks on me. Everything happens a few clicks slower than normal. Deflating and rolling up my mattress and sleeping bag becomes a chore that elevates my heart rate into the low 110’s. Even an urgent call from mother nature fails to extract much more than a saunter.

Team C
The Group at Karanga – Uhuru in the background

At breakfast Mark breaks the news that Matt has decided to abandon his attempt to reach the summit. Matt’s been brave. He has been struggling for the last couple of days and gave it a proper go. Knowing when to quit is a virtue. We say our goodbyes and for old times sake pose for a group picture. Matt is the first team member to turn around and I wonder how many more of us would not reach the summit. In my mind I go through the list… Chris will battle. Mary hasn’t been feeling too well lately. Richard and Tracy has been going well and so has Simon. Eric would definitely make it. Gary has been quiet but I reckon he’ll summit. I have no doubt that Fanie and Anneke will reach the top. Can’t really tell whether Larissa will make it or not, her brother Julian will. Jedd is also difficult to call, he chose not to climb Cathedral Point, think it is not going to be easy for him. I really hope that Leonie makes it. She deserves to stand on top of a mountain with her arms in the air. Our pharmacy, her business, burnt to the ground a month ago to the day. It hit her really hard so I’m praying for her to conquer this mountain which will hopefully give her the courage to conquer the mountain that is lying in wait back home. The thought that I might not make it never enters my mind…

The day starts with a steady climb up a boulder strewn slope. On our left Uhuru peak towers over us. So close, yet so far. The “vegetation area” is listed as “Alpine Desert”. There’s literally nothing growing here. The scenery reminds me of the area south-west of Namibia’s Brandberg, the “Gobobos” as the locals call it. Suddenly I miss home. Are the kids OK? The dogs? I know Elisbe (our daughter) is praying for us. She wasn’t that keen on the both of us going on this trip.

After a three hour slog we reach the top of the slope. The flat ground is a welcome relief and it feels a bit awkward walking upright. As the heart rates calm down the chatter picks ups. Everybody is in good spirits. Across the valley we can see the trail climbing steeply up to the camp and the sight of camp sends a spurt of energy through the group. The landscape in front of us looks like a scene from Star Wars – Tatooine in Tunisia where they filmed a piece of Star Wars – a New Hope. You expect Luke Skywalker and Ben Kanobi to jump out from behind one of the boulders we’re walking through at any second. It also reminds me of the Kaokoland, a remote corner of Namibia’s north-west, an area I guided in for close to ten years.

Barafu is the final camp before reaching the summit and is at an elevation of 4 600 m (15 092 ft). We’re in camp well before lunch with the idea being of getting as much rest as possible before commencing our push for the summit later that night. The camp is very rocky and much like Karanga there’s not a flat spot to be found. We kill the time by lying on our sleeping bags, chatting inside the tent. I’m thinking about the Desert Dash, a 24hr single stage mountain bike race crossing the Namib Desert. The race covers a total distance of 369 km (230 miles). I’ve completed the race twice before, both times in a two-man team but this year I’m entered in the solo category. It takes place two months and bit after we return from Kilimanjaro. My thoughts are interrupted by someone coughing his lungs out. High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a condition caused by AMS. Fluids build up in your lungs, you start coughing like crazy and if you don’t descent quickly enough, you die.

Eventually the sun sets and the temperature plummets. Leonie and I decide to get into the clothes we’ll be wearing up to Uhuru Peak. First I pull on my last clean set of thermal underwear. Then my green pants that I’ve been wearing since I left the hotel in Moshi a week ago. Over that I’ll also wear waterproof trousers which I will put on later. My feet is covered in two pairs of socks. I pull on a two-day old t-shirt, a long sleeve fleece, a light down jacket, a thick outer layer and I’ll add my waterproof hard shell jacket  when I get out of the tent. I’ll cover my hands in two pairs of gloves. A thin warm pair stuck inside a pair of waterproofs. I’m also wearing a beanie and have a buff around my neck which I’ll pull up to cover my mouth and nose if the need arise. I put my headlamp (with spare batteries) and climbing poles on top of my backpack. Jagged Globe gave us a “summit pack” with assorted energy bars, a mars bar and other goodies to snack on. I stuff most of it inside my hard shell’s pockets. I’m ready. Leonie gets cold easily and to me it seems as if she’s pulling on every piece of clothing she can get her hands on. She still has a headache which worries me. There’s a lot going through my mind. I’ve read that summit night on Kili is tough. Approximately 6 hours to Stella Point and from there another hour to Uhuru Peak. If everything goes according to plan we’ll start out at eleven, reach Stella at 05h00 and be on the summit a little after 06h00. The going will be very slow and it will be cold. For the first time on the mountain I wonder how my body will respond to the cold and the altitude. Up to Barafu I felt really good. No headaches, no sign of nausea and felt strong overall. Leonie has also been doing well, except for the headache she’s been strong. Earlier the year on the Brandberg (Namibia’s highest at 2 574 m) she kicked my butt. Now, with the advantage of hindsight, that was a sign of things to come…

There’s still 5 hours before we’ll get the wake-up call. It’s a battle to fall asleep, or so I thought…





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Professional dad, prone to accepting random challenges of endurance. Novice writer and would-be mountaineer. Firm believer that you can burpee your way to hapiness. I'm not taking myself seriously and neither should you. Trying each day to make less mistakes than yesterday.

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