With two days already under my belt, I was feeling confident but knew things were going to get tough. I was already struggling to breathe while trying to walk at a normal pace at Shira camp. I was having to remind myself to take it slow, as just walking to the toilets left me breathless. Despite this, I was extremely glad to have got one of the steepest days out of the way, and was keen to get closer to the summit!
Day three was all about acclimatisation, and it was rough. Though not as steep as the previous day, by midday we were all feeling the effects of the altitude. That morning and all mornings after, I experienced bad nausea when thinking about eating the lime porridge – and with those memories clouding my judgement, I am more inclined to refer to it as gruel… I had to turn away when anyone lifted the lid at the breakfast table. Once that had been removed, I forced toast, sausage and egg down. My appetite was non-existent but if I didn’t get calories in me, I wouldn’t make it to the next camp.
When we left Shira at around 7am, I knew we had a long day ahead of us. We left the moorlands far behind and entered the alpine desert, which consisted of a whole lot of rocks. With the scenery becoming substantially less interesting (views of the summit not included!), I found myself getting quite frustrated that I couldn’t walk any faster. My breathing was already getting shallow and towards lunchtime, I began to develop a headache.
When we finally arrived at Lava Tower, our highest altitude for the day at 4,630m, it was roasting. Our porters had run ahead as usual and set up the mess tent to give us a very welcome hot lunch. I had managed to work up an appetite on our walk but others were feeling the altitude badly. Nearly everyone had a headache and some were battling bouts of nausea.
When we had eaten what we could and sat in the very limited shade, we passed through two large rock formations and dropped into the Barranco Valley. While it may seem counter-intuitive, climbing high gave our bodies valuable adaptation time while sleeping low allowed us to recover… and produce more red blood cells as a result.
Despite the difficulties during the day, Barranco Camp was by far the most beautiful camp in which we stayed. We had a stunning view of the summit to go with our amazing dinner – the highlight of the evening was a huge plate of chips! At 3,900m! We were later treated to an amazing night sky, which I made a vain attempt to photograph before I froze.
Day Four – Barafu
The summit looked beautiful when we awoke. The air was crisp, cool and refreshing.
I had been doing a great job of not thinking about the days to come but the Barranco Wall was not something I was looking forward to. I had built it up in my head to be a monster of a climb that would involve skirting along the side of a ledge overlooking a hundred foot drop.
It was nothing like that, of course. A leisurely scramble up rocks was what we actually faced. Now and then we needed some help getting up taller rocks and the trail did narrow in places (at one point we were hugging a rock just to get around it) but other than that, it was a very fun and exciting way to gain altitude!
Once we reached the top, we got a stunning view of the valley below.
After a water break and liberal application of sun cream, we dropped down into the Karanga Valley and returned to our normal trekking style. Up again to the other side, and we arrived at Karanga Camp for another wonderful hot lunch.
It was a very up and down day overall. We left Karanga and entered the next valley, which felt like a completely different planet. Devoid of plants and littered with rocks, we crossed over a slate field and began our final ascent to Barafu Camp.
The final hour walking up to the camp took its toll and it honestly felt like it would never end – a nice bit of foreshadowing for the following morning when we’d finally be tackling the summit. At 4,600m above sea level, Barafu Camp was our last pit stop before heading up to Uhuru Peak.
We sat down to a very early dinner at around 4pm. I was eager to sleep as early as possible because I knew the following morning was going to be very tough. I slept with my camera, head torch and an assortment of batteries inside my sleeping bag during the night to keep them warm and in working order. I had a touch of a headache as I drifted off to sleep, but I slept through the ‘night’ until our wake up call at 11:30pm. Go time!