Fourth day on the mountain: Victory over the Great Barranco Wall!
Sound Community Bank CEO Laurie Stewart faced the Great Barranco Wall on the morning of the fourth day of her climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. The nearly vertical climb was daunting to contemplate, grueling to accomplish, rewarding to put in the past tense. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley, www.fhcrc.org/about/ne/events/climb).
Last night, banker Laurie Stewart and her party and support team camped in the shadow of the Great Barranco Wall. But Stewart had entered Barranco Camp after dark, as recounted in the previous installment. The next morning, Stewart and her fellow climbers had a clearer view of their challenge of the day.
“I’m sure that as I looked at it, that my mouth fell open,” says Stewart. “I just couldn’t believe that you could climb that. But I did.”
Not so quickly done.
While most of the Kilimanjaro climb proved strenuous, the Great Barranco Wall was just that, a nearly vertical challenge, with packs for the climbers and even bigger burdens for the porters.
“We couldn’t use our trekking poles there,” says Stewart. “It was more of a scramble, as they refer to it.”
You can’t fully appreciate the challenge of the Great Barranco Wall in a straight-on view. Above, members of the team making their way up the Wall. Below, a member of the team’s support group not only ascends the Wall, but hoists some of the party’s goods and equipment as well. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley.)
“You put your hand on this rock, and you put your foot on that rock, and then you lift yourself up,” says Stewart.
Then you do it again. And again.
“It was not fun,” recalls Stewart, “but it was beautiful.” The party topped out at 14,500 on the Wall and enjoyed the view they had well earned.
• Listen to a 1.5 minute podcast of Stewart’s latest satellite phone voicemail [Advisory: Satellite transmission noise is heavy in spots on this message]
Rewards of beating the Wall
To hear that Kilimanjaro is one of the “Seven Summits,” the highest mountain in Africa, and the fourth highest in the world can be absorbed as facts. It is quite another to experience those facts. (Kilimanjaro is the most underestimated of the Seven Summits, according to the party’s guide service, Alpine Ascents International.)
There’s nothing academic about the Wall. The formidable wall is hundreds of feet of exhausting climbing.
At the top, the team appreciated the vista, and then headed on.
Not long after having beaten the Wall, the team had to give up height, scrambling down 1,500 feet to cross a river, and then scrambling back up about 1,500 feet.
Along the way, the party viewed the Breach Wall, passing before the looming feature, known to climbers as “The Icicle.” This feature is the largest ice and rock face in Africa, and wasn’t climbed until the 1970s, according to the party’s guide service, Alpine Ascents International.
It’s a tough ascent, but one that pays off in a tremendous view, when a climber takes on the Great Barranco Wall. It is no idle requirement that the guide service’s brochure advises that climbers be in “excellent physical condition.” (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley.)
Past the Wall, the “Icicle,” and into Karanga Camp
The day is winding down, now. Having attained 14,500 feet, the party will sleep at Karanga Camp at 13,000. This is part of the continuing process of acclimatizing to attitude. While at times discouraging to give away height worked so hard for, it’s considered the safer method than pushing harder for a shorter climb.
The party was welcomed to their latest camp by the porters songs and dances. It’s the end of a tough day.
The views from Karanga Camp are beautiful, according to Stewart, and the main peak and its surrounding volcanic cones can be clearly seen. But, as before, this is no place for bodily comfort.
“It is bitter cold,” says Stewart, “and our tents have a crust of ice even before we call it a night.”
Animals on the Kilimanjaro climb
When most of us think about Africa and its wilderness, we think of animals. Anyone who grew up on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” Walt Disney, “Daktari,” and more American media staples would expect things to be one long safari.
Indeed, Kilimanjaro International Airport, which serves Arusha, Laurie Stewart’s starting point, bills itself as “The Gateway to Africa’s Wildlife Heritage.”
There are animals galore elsewhere—after the climb Stewart spent four days on safari with a relative—but Kilimanjaro was sparse. Monkeys the party saw frequently in the rainforest on their climb, but not in other strata. On the other hand, birds were plentiful.
“We had crows at every camp, which is just like hiking elsewhere,” chuckles Stewart. “Crows know where food is.” These crows were a good fifth larger than those she’d seen in America, though, and had splotches of white on their throats and by their wings.
Also keeping the climbers company were small gray-brown “chirpy chirpy” birds that Stewart never did get the name of.
What gear did Laurie Stewart need on this climb? Check out the suggested gear list provided by Alpine Ascents International, the party’s guide service.
“They’d be the first thing you’d hear in the morning,” recalls Stewart, “until we reached high camp. They weren’t there.”
The ubiquitous species, Tourist Horribilus
One animal Stewart says she could have done without was inconsiderate humans. The guide company her group used insisted on an environmentally friendly climb, making no natural fires, etc. The rule was, anything you carried in, you carried out.
“But it was clear that there are many guides that don’t enforce that kind of discipline,” says Stewart.
“I was shocked how much litter there was,” Stewart continues. “Our national parks in the U.S. tend to be very clean. There were gum wrappers, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and other trash, especially around the camps.” (Climbers camp in designated places on Kilimanjaro.)
The authorities aren’t happy about the litter. Stewart says she heard while at the mountain that there is now talk about penalizing guide companies caught not cleaning up their campsites, or allowing their climbers to litter.
“We were behind a group where, I swear, you’d find candy wrappers every five feet,” says Stewart. “If I were in a park at home, I would have stopped and picked up that trash.”
On this climb, that wasn’t practical. Stewart says the exertion required to make the climb, and to keep on pace with the other members of the team made it necessary to leave the trash where it lay.
“You just had to keep going,” says Stewart, with regret. “There was just no way you could stop to pick it up.”
We leave Laurie Stewart for now turning in at Karanga Camp, contemplating the climb to High Camp the next day, and the final challenge of the ascent: Kilimanjaro’s Summit.
Tired climbers make it to Karanga Camp, by the Karanga River, where they receive an enthusiastic welcome from the guides, cooks, and porters of their support team. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley.)
As the sun sets, it casts Mount Kilimanjaro’s main peak in yet another light from those of the daytime. As the team begins to thinking about turning in, the cold grows bitter. There is already ice on the tents. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Lashley.)
< < Back to main page
< < Previous installment
Seventh installment >>
Have you traveled to Africa? Climbed one of the “Seven Summits”? Climbed any mountain? Taken on a physical challenge? Share your comments below.