From hair washing to climbing vertical walls, uphills galore, ice and a new camp by lunch ~ A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro

Day Four

Wednesday, 11th July 2012

From: Barranco Camp (3950m) to Karanga Camp (3930m)

Altitude: From 3950m up to 4300m and back down to 3930m again

Habitat: Desert

Hiking Time: 4 – 5 hours

Distance: 5 km’s

Something extraordinary had happened last night…. I didn’t know it yet but soon after I stepped out of my tent, it would hit me.  My night in the tent had been the usual series of events ~ very little sleep and even colder than the nights before. I was running out of clothes to put on at night and the size of me by the time I climbed into my sleeping bag at night was at its limit ~ I really had become the Michelin Man! I could no longer turn around in my sleeping bag and I was learning fast that covering my face with my sleeping bag, buff and scarf was simply put ~ a no go zone!! Never mind it been hard to breathe, I couldn’t breathe at all! There was just no air going in my lungs and as the panic began to rise I would fight my way to the top of my sleeping bag (this alone took huge effort and a while to find the “light” at the top of my sleeping bag) and once my arms were free my hands almost frantically grabbed at my scarf and buff to move it away from my mouth and nose.  Not an easy feat when you have no room to move in your sleeping bag,  your hands down by your side and no air to breathe ~ everything just takes longer!

Our sleeping bags were just plain pathetic and it could have been a black bag I was sleeping in for that matter. I was ready to throw it over the nearest cliff ~ it was seriously not doing it’s job as promised! As Donna and I washed in our tent and started our morning ritual of trying to find our clothes and socks and hiking boots, we laughed at the laughter coming from the tent next to us. It felt good to be light-hearted after the strain of the night before. The laughter coming from the tent next to us was like their morning ritual.  You see every morning, laughter would ring out from the tent that contained Judi and Simon. Just hearing them laugh made us smile. It was a good way to start any morning!

Simon and Judi enjoying their early morning wake up hot cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate in their tent while taking in the beautiful views. Photo by Simon Bates

Thoughts of our late, long unexpected night hike was still fresh in our minds but as we climbed out of our tent for the first time we got to see Barranco camp and the great big magnificent Barranco Wall we would be climbing after breakfast.  I was excited for the new day ahead and couldn’t wait to start climbing this wall!

Our first sighting of Barranco Camp ~ We missed all this yesterday with our late night-time arrival into camp.

Watching the sun rise behind the summit of Kilimanjaro ~ such a beautiful way to start the morning! Photo by Simon Bates

Views from our tent overlooking the edge of campsite.

The great, vertical Barranco wall we would be climbing after breakfast! The small white dots are porters and hikers making their way up the wall.

Porters and hikers making their way up the Barranco Wall. Photo by Anthony Lloyd

Early morning in Barranco Camp. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Climbing out of our tent that morning, it was as if I was, for first time since I started climbing Kilimanjaro, noticing ‘things’ ~ really noticing. I  couldn’t quite put my finger on it, even though I knew exactly what it was. Suddenly everything was different. Not in a bad way, but in the most beautiful way. It was unexpected. It almost took what breath I had left away. I did double takes at times. Other times I just smiled. Yes, it was beautiful….!

I can’t tell you at exactly what moment as we walked the night before that something shifted in me.  I guess it didn’t really matter when anyway. All that mattered was that it had and on that cold but sunny morning, no words needed to be spoken.

The morning was abuzz with activity, as other hikers were leaving early to head up the Barranco wall, porters began breaking down their respective camp sites and in our camp site, Judi was washing her hair!  Yes you would be forgiven for thinking we were no longer on the slopes of Kilimanjaro but we were. It was Day 4, we were half way up and this women was washing her hair!  You see Judi had discovered ‘Dry Shampoo’ before she left Cape Town and decided this was a ‘must-have item’ for this trip. You see it doesn’t really matter that you are at 3950m above sea level, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.  So as Judi got into action, Simon armed with his camera on video took this, which makes me laugh every time I watch it.  This is just another typical day in the life of our South African & one Australian hiking team, high up on a mountain called Kilimanjaro.

Much to Judi’s disappointment, both Donna and I had no need for dry shampoo.  You see we had decided to keep our climb simple ~ hair tied back, buffs on and we were ready to go! Little did we know at this point though just how popular this dry shampoo of Judi’s would become on this mountain!

The laughter was flowing in camp as we settled and huddled to get warm in our mess tent over breakfast.  It was so cold I ate breakfast with my gloves on! Steaming hot porridge was up first followed by eggs, sausage, tomato, toast and a variety of other food to boost our energy for the day.

While having our breakfast Thomas checked our pulse and oxygen levels. Mine took a while this time for you see for I didn’t have a pulse! No reading at all. Zilch. Zip. Zero. Luckily I still had oxygen flowing through my blood and I was laughing so I passed the test as still alive and good to climb higher! Apparently, sometimes when a person is really cold and the blood doesn’t flow into your finger tips it can be difficult to get a pulse.  Perfect, I’ll just suffer from frost bite in the meantime then! :)

Even though I had no pulse, I was still laughing and alive and it was concluded I was still alive and well enough to continue!

Before heading out for the day our resident doctor, Donna, managed to squeeze in some work before we settled down for breakfast and gave Anthony a once-over to check how his flu was doing ~ he wasn’t getting any better.  Hilary, our waiter, was also checked over by the doc.  You see our late night hiking wasn’t the only drama of the night before. As we settled for dinner somewhere around 9pm, Hilary tripped and fell as he got to the mess tent and hit his head and banged his leg quite badly. Donna had patched him up the night before and now did a quick check and clean up of his wounds.  It’s handy having a doctor as a friend and we’ve used her a number of times before!

Dr McTaggart giving Hilary a quick check-up after last nights fall.

Porters packing up camp. Photo by Judi Kurgan

I hope if Ant ever reads this blog he forgives me for using this picture but this is life on the mountain ~ after breakfast you find a spot and brush your teeth! Picture by Simon Bates

To give you an idea of just how cold it was in this camp picture this… As we did every morning we gave our hydration packs to the porters who boiled water for us and while it was still warm they would fill up our packs and then leave them for us to collect again to put into our back packs.  After breakfast we got ready to head out and grabbed our filled hydration packs only to find the water had started to freeze! We weren’t even summiting yet and our water was freezing! On the bright side at least we would have ice-cold refreshing water as we climbed up Barranco Wall!

Our porters filled up our hydration packs with fresh water while we ate breakfast and by the time we came to get them the water was already freezing. It was cold, cold morning in Barranco Camp! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Finally tummies full, teeth cleaned and bags packed all that was left to do in Barranco camp was our Day Four photo.

We were all still standing ~ This was Day Four!!

In hindsight, after last nights unexpected adventure, this sign makes me laugh knowing that these were made before we even left Cape Town! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Leaving Barranco Camp we crossed over a stream before heading up the great big Barranco Wall.  Parts of the stream was frozen and rocks near by were covered with ice, ensuring we treaded carefully as we crossed in order that we didn’t stand on an iced rock and slip! Icicles hung from the embankment, giving everything in sight a magical look.

Parts of the stream running down from the slopes of Kibo were frozen. Picture by Thomas Schrick

Crossing over the stream we had to be careful not to stand on rocks covered with ice as slipping and doing damage to our feet now would just be disastrous! Photo by Simon Bates

Icicles hanging from the embankment.

Ice everywhere! Photo by Me and Donna McTaggart

Sitting on the embankment (photo on the left), not quite sure what I was doing (possibly taking photos) but yet another moment caught on camera by Judi. Photo by Judi Kurgan and me.

Treading carefully so as not to slip, our Day Four adventures were just beginning! Photo by Simon Bates

Icicles hanging from the embankment. Photo by Simon Bates

Crossing over the stream, we carefully made our way over to the Barranco Wall that loomed like a gigantic sheet of sheer mountain rock before us.

Only way was up! Onwards to Karanga Camp.

The Barranco Valley was filled with trees ~ These strange-looking trees were some of my favourite vegetation on the mountain.

At the bottom of the wall Judi, Donna, Dixon and myself getting ready to begin the climb. Photo by Simon Bates

Simon and Ant ready to begin climbing the wall. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Starting our climbing up the magnificent Barranco Wall. Photo by Thomas Schrick

I absolutely loved climbing the wall! An almost vertical wall that would take us up to an altitude of approximately 4300m.  Although the Wall is imposing and looks to be very steep, it isn’t actually very difficult to climb. The rock face is close to vertical in places, but a serious of cairns highlight a diagonal line that zigzags up the face to avoid the sheerest sections. Often we had to use our hands to scramble over rocks. A piece of cake for us and I often stood in pure amazement at the sight of the porters who scrambled over the rocks effortlessly as they scaled the Wall with huge loads on their backs, necks and heads.

The porters making their way up the Barranco Wall.

Porters carrying items on their heads, their backs and their necks ~ they climbed fast and accurately with little effort ~ pro’s at what they do!

It is a 300m climb to the top of the Wall and it takes approximately 1 – 1 ½ hours to get to the top.  It is a slow process going up the Wall. Not because it’s steep, and it is a constant upward walk, but because porters have right of way and we literally had a constant stream of porters walking up behind us.

Waiting for porters to pass with views of the Barranco Camp behind me. Photo by Simon Bates

Simon playing with those funky setting on his funky camera as we waited for porters to pass. Photo by Simon Bates

Judi and I having some fun while we wait for the porters to pass ~ Dixon, our guide, looking on from above at these two kichaa mzungu’s (Crazy white person’s) he is stuck with! Lol
Photo by Donna McTaggart

The banter flowed between us and the porters, Judi’s “Barceloooonna” rang out often and we laughed, joked and moved aside constantly to make way for the porters as they carried everything including the kitchen sink up to the next camp. We took photo’s, we checked out the amazing view from the ‘Wall’ ~ Spirits were high and we were in no rush.  Sean still not feeling well, had left ahead of us trying to get to the next camp so he could rest. The next time we would see them was at our next camp.

Donna, Anthony, Dixon and I making our way up the Wall. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Climbing the Barranco Wall ~ Piece of Cake! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Amazing picture of porters and hikers reaching the top of the Barranco Wall with views of the summit in the background! Photo by Anthony Lloyd

No sibling rivalry here, just brotherly love on top of Barranco Wall!

Reaching the top of Barranco Wall we all stopped to take in the views and have a rest before moving on. The views from the top were spectacular, reaching as far as the eye could see on one side and on the other side Kibo loomed even larger as we drew ever closer!  Although the sun was out, the clouds whisked down Kibo’s slopes and a cold wind blew.

Anthony and our guide Dixon on top of the Barranco Wall. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Simon, Dixon and I sitting on top of the wall! Photo by Thomas Schrick

On top we admired the views, took plenty of photo’s and just took it all in!

Thomas and the girls on top of the wall. Photo by Simon Bates

A couple of girls and a couple of boys ~ When we were up, we were up ~ 4300m on top of the Barranco Wall. Photo by Simon Bates (well his camera anyway!)

Altitude getting to us ~ Not a chance!

The magnificent view of the summit that greeted us at the top of the Barranco Wall. Photo by Simon Bates

Top of a vertical wall at 4300m ~ of course it was another photo opportunity that we couldn’t miss, plus Judi had a sign!

4300m or thereabouts ~ Judi got it right every time, we were upsolutely fabulous!! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Porters taking a well-earned rest at the top of the Barranco Wall. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Our team at the top of Barranco Wall enjoying a well deserved rest!

After a good rest, we made our way across the high alpine plateau, dipping and then climbing again to cross small gullies.  We walked long pathways of scree relentlessly heading up, we walked one foot in front of the other. The valleys were windswept and the stark beauty of the barren land that lay out before us reminded us where we were.

Leaving Barranco Wall we headed back down and walked the desert like landscape. Photo by Simon Bates

Leaving Barranco Wall we headed back down and walked the desert like landscape onwards to Karanga Camp. Photo by Judi Kurgan and me

Even at this altitude it was surprising to find these crows. Photo by Judi Kurgan

Nothing but sand and dust and soon even the trees that dotted the landscape disappeared.

Looking back, the trail showing where we had just come from.

Probably the last of the flowers we were about to see for the rest of our trip up.

As we walked, Kibo kept a close watch to our left as we moved our way around her slopes, ever closer to the summit.

The walk to the next camp, although not long, was slow with relentless uphills often walking on scree. I could feel the exhaustion but knowing camp was close I pushed forward. Walking on the scree was the hardest, you took a step forward and you slide halfway back. Painfully slow, one foot in front of the other, we continued to move forward.

Me, Dons and Simon on one of our breaks.

Man, we’re climbing Kili!!! :) Photo by Judi Bates.

Three peaks on a break! Photos by Judi Kurgan

This hill up was slow going and seemed to take forever zigzagging this way and that way. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Pole Pole all the way ~ At this point I don’t think any of us had the energy to go any faster anyway.

Slowly making our way to Karanga Camp. Photo by Simon Bates

The walk was steep going and with every valley we walked down, we had a relentless up on the other side.  Walking over the ridge that showed us where our camp for the next night was, was kind of bitter-sweet for us as before us lay a steep downward climb to the bottom of the valley before a ridiculously steep climb up to our camp at the top.

Over in the distance we could see our next camp! Excitement rose quickly but lasted only a short while because we hadn’t yet seen the steep descent we had to negotiate into the valley below and the ridiculously steep climb up to camp on the other side of the valley…! Today they were going to make us work for our lunch!

Our tents, giving colour to the barren landscape already set up by our porters on the other side. We were close and the thought of lunch at camp on the other side pushed us forward.

Judi and I ready to descent down into the valley.Photo by Judi Kurgan

Heading down the final steep slope was slow going. There was plenty of water running down the mountain side, making it incredibly slippery and often we crossed patches of ices as we made our way down, careful of our footing so as not to stand on a rock covered with ice.

The final descent of the day often had us walking straight down flat rock surfaces that were wet and covered in ice patches making it extremely tricky and slow to make it down in once piece! Photo by Judi Kurgan

The summit to our left, ever reminding us of the reason we were there! Photo by Thomas Schrick

It was on our way down that a porter passed us piggy backing a girl who had slipped and either broken her ankle or sprained it really badly.  We stopped as they as passed and I silently begged that my footing remained stable as I climbed down the mountainside, praying hard that something like that didn’t happen to me. I was so close now, it would just be cruel if something like that had to happen to one of us.

One girl from another hiking party hadn’t been so lucky and had slipped on her way down badly injuring her ankle. Here you can see one of their porters ‘piggy backing’ her down the slope. An unbelievable, amazing feat all on its own! Photo by Simon Bates

Slowly edging our way to the bottom of the valley we all re-grouped at the bottom and had a final rest in the sunshine before a final push up the ridiculously steep hill that lay before us.

The porters carrying the girl with the injured foot up the final steep ascent to camp. They took the path to the left. Donna, our friendly doctor, went to see if they needed any help while we all rested in the valley before the final climb up but they declined the offer of help. I am still amazed at the porters and how they climb this mountain and help hikers in need. Their true compassion and unbelievable endurance would still be shown to me personally but that’s another days story…!

We had two options to go up, one path to the left that was longer and slightly less steep as it zigzagged it’s way to the top or the path directly in front of us that was just vertically up all the way to the top. The path to the left is used by the porters as they carry water to the camp up above and on to Barafu camp as this is the last water stop. The thought of  just getting myself up to the top of this slope was enough and I couldn’t even imagine what the porters must feel having to carry heavy loads of water barrels to the top ~ let alone an injured hiker on their back! Many of the hikers took the path to the left too. We were so close to camp and all we wanted to do was get to camp and enjoy lunch and an afternoon relaxing, acclimatising and snoozing and doing whatever it was we pleased.  We were bold, maybe we were hungry too but the thought of camp so, so close had us taking the steep, relentless vertical path straight up in front of us.

As we were about to leave I made a bet with Thomas that we would be at the top for lunch at 1pm. I said “we’ll see you at the top at one.” It was already 12:30pm. He looked doubtful. I repeated, “See you at one on top!” We climbed slowly and at 12:55pm we made it to the top! We had arrived in camp and it was a good feeling to know that all that needed doing for the rest of the day was putting our feet up and doing as little as possible! Not to forget, we’d beaten the time I gave Thomas!

Karanga Camp ~ We had arrived!

Dons and I arriving at the top of the steep ascent into Karanga Camp ~ 3930m

Arriving in camp and choosing our tent, we didn’t waste much time and congregated in the mess tent for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate but the food was good to fuel our bodies yet again. My appetite had seriously dwindled down to nothing but I knew I had to eat so I nibbled on what I could. The hot cup of tea was always the best for me and I would have anything up to three cups at any sitting! We spent the rest of our afternoon doing mostly a whole lot of nothing, from snoozing, to writing in our diaries, airing out our clothes by laying them on rocks in the sun, and lazing on a sunny rock soaking up the glorious African sun. The team was in high spirits although Anthony and Sean were both still sick with flu, their determination was amazing as they pushed forward ever closer to the summit.

The afternoon was spent snoozing, charging solar panels and just doing as little as possible ~ resting our bodies as much as possible for the summit bid tomorrow night. Photos by Judi Kurgan

Airing out our clothes on the rocks and writing in our diaries ~ Just another typical afternoon the slopes of Kilimanjaro!

In the late afternoon Hilary was preparing our dinner table. Wine glasses too ~ if only we could be drinking wine in those glasses tonight! Photo by Judi Kurgan

This afternoon, I had plenty of time to send my “Dispatches from the slopes of Kilimanjaro” via sms to my best friend back home who would then put my messages up on facebook for my family and friends to read about our progress on the mountain. As I had missed yesterday’s dispatch due to our late night-time arrival at camp, these were dispatches from yesterday and today:

11/7/2012 @ 14:52  Dispatches from the Slopes of Kilimanjaro


“Yesterday we had a long day full of adventure! We walked above 4000m most of the day and our highest point was spent at Lava Tower at 4630m with amazing 360 degree views. We slept in Barranco Valley last night, as always, it was bitterly cold! That was Day Three. After spending most of the day above 4000m again today, we are currently having lunch at our next camp, Karanga 3930m. It’s been a great day with a number of steep hills to climb, which take your breath away. Literally! A few in our group have headaches, nothing serious and Donna and me are feeling fantastic! Tomorrow we camp at Barafu camp and at 11pm (10pm SA time) tomorrow night we will head off to the summit. Life changing experience!! Loving every single step, the easy steps and the hard! This is Day Four. :)

I too thought I would send some news of my learning’s from the slopes of Kilimanjaro to everyone waiting for news back home.  This is what I sent.

11/7/2012 @ 14:54
** Learning’s from the slopes of Kilimanjaro: **

1) Breathing at night is hard therefore do not cover your face with your sleeping bag to keep warm ~ by the time you find your way out you will literally be gasping for air!
2) You can only breathe through your mouth at altitude. Your nose is simply not big enough.
3) No matter how many clothes you wear when in your sleeping bag at night you will still be freezing. AND it makes it hard to fit in your sleeping bag when you look like the michelan man!
4) Trying to arrange yourself in sleeping to get warm will just leave you gasping for air again.
5) Lots and lots of Swahili, which we change around for our group of crazy Saffa’s. The porters love it and we always get a laugh out of them!
6) She is more beautiful in real life! (She ~ Kilimanjaro of course) and we sleeping on her slopes!!”

Natalie of course sent replies to my message and her messages brought tears to my eyes and brought the love from back home right up to me and Donna as we sat lazing high up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

11/7/2012 15:06


I had such a good chuckle at the learning from Kili info … And can practically picture the night-time ritual going on there lol! Posted :) Ursula sends her love and says you both are getting way too spoilt up there with all that hot chocolate and special treatment.. But that you deserve it!!  She says: “enjoy this day .. notice the views and know that you are my heros.. One step at a time. Sending LOADS of love, light and laughter.”  Yip .. That about says it all :)  Miss u buddy!!

A few more random sms’s between my best friend and myself and then we ended off with these.

11/7/2012 15:35


Glad to hear you don’t have headaches thus far at least. How on earth DO you charge your phone up there on the mountain??  Super excited about the summit and will be praying really hard for you girls to do well up there!

11/7/2012 17:35 Dispatches from the Slopes of Kilimanjaro


Glad you had a good laugh at that! If I had more air I would be laughing too!! :) Just read Dons Ursies message. We love all the support from back home and am so grateful for it all! It pushes us on the hard patches. Love you so much my friend and thank you for sharing it on my behalf! Wish you were here!! Gonna try nap now for a bit. Love & hugs!

At some point in the afternoon I headed to our tent in an attempt to get some sleep my body was so badly craving.  I managed about an hour, I’ll take what I can get. The sun was getting low in the sky outside, I ventured out and camp was quiet except for the porters who were laughing and enjoying a relaxing afternoon in camp.  I think most of the team was still resting.  I found a nice flat rock and spread out in the late afternoon sun looking out over the summit. I wasn’t quite on top yet but I was sitting on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. I sat there breathing in the thin cool air. I thought of Emma as the memories of times shared with her flashed through my mind. They made me smile. I sat there counting my blessing ~ I was living my dreams. In that moment everything was perfect. I smiled as I watched the sun as it continued to sink towards the mountains below illuminating the summit’s snow-covered peak in golden  light.

Sitting on a rock soaking up the last of the day’s sun overlooking the summit of Kilimanjaro ~ All was well in my world!

Donna roused from the tent and came to join me on the rock and we watched the sun dip behind the mountain reaching high above the horizon together. We were climbing Kilimanjaro and it was moments like this that made it all so real!

Another successful day on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Watching the sun dip behind the mountains.

Sunset from the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Photo by Donna McTaggart

As darkness enveloped the Karanga Camp we all headed to the mess tent for dinner. Spirits were high as we sat trying to get warm in the mess tent once again.  By candlelight we excitedly chatted about the day we had shared and about all that lay ahead tomorrow. Tomorrow was going to be a big day!

Dinner by candle light in the mess tent. Photo by Donna McTaggart

Dinner time in the mess tent! Photo by Judi Kurgan

The Three Peak girls! Photo by Judi Kurgan

After dinner we sat around enjoying our tea or hot chocolate before bed, laughter filling the tent as always.  I couldn’t have asked for more awesome people to climb Kilimanjaro with.  Slowly we started filtering to bed. I hoped for a good night sleep ahead, however, I knew the chances were slim.  A few hours at least would be good before the icy cold early hours of the morning would wake me again. It had been a hard uphill climb today, the going was slow but we all had a good restful afternoon in camp. I for one was ready for tomorrow!

At 3930m it was bedtime on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Goodnight Day Four! Amazing photo by Simon Bates

Tomorrow we leave for Base Camp.

Excitement fills the air.

I really am so close now.

My dream is alive!

~ All photos by me and my Kili team mates *Thanks Guys* ~

~ Video by Simon Bates ~

3 Comments (+add yours?)

    Oct 17, 2012 @ 16:20:01

    You are an. Inspiration, dear Lara!
    With much respect and. Affection – avril Kurgan


  2. Trackback: Finally, the end of the story! ~ A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro | Walking4Air

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