Kilimanjaro: Day 8
The Barranco Valley
Friday, October 1
What's with the GD water? After dutifully pinning the Camelbak hose up high there is still water on my side of the tent! Note to self: Camelbak hose must be held high, and Camelbak must not be in a position where one can roll into it and increase the pressure enough to squeeze water out of the elevated hose.
We made an early start this morning. The route was fairly long (a picnic lunch is planned again) but also there are slow-going stretches, in particular the Barranco wall.
To my distress, but doubtless even more so to Wayno's, his usually cast iron constitution seemed little better today, and several times he had to stop until the pain subsided. This is not good. It is hard to attribute it to altitude sickness, but it is hard to find anything else to blame. Surely more of us would have an issue if he'd picked it up from the food, and since he's the ring-leader of caution and care, it is unthinkable that it's a lapse in his personal hygiene.
About one hundred thousand years ago a landslide took away part of the external crater, creating Kibo Barranco, or the Barranco Valley.
The glaciers were also behind the formation of the valleys and canyons, eroding and smoothing the earth into gentle undulations all around the mountain, though less so on the northern side where the glaciers on the whole failed to reach, leaving the valleys sharper and more defined. But we're not on the northern side, we're on the southern side, and we spent the whole of the day climbing and descending the valleys and canyons. I didn't see no "gentle undulations."
The most distinctive plant in the moorland zone—indeed, on the entire mountain—is the Tree Grounsel, or Senico kilimanjari, a local variation of a common mountain plant also seen on both Mount Kenya and Ruwenzori.
Groundsels tend to favour the damper, more sheltered parts of the mountain, such as right here in the Barranco valley as well as other, smaller valleys and ravines.
The second main floral features of this zone are the Giant Lobelia, or Lobelia deckenii, a curious plant with an otherworldly structure and occasional gigantism thanks to high rainfall and intense tropical solar radiation.
The main plant has leaves that grow upwards like an artichoke, but the flower also has a leaf structure, with smaller leaves that point down. Hidden and protected by these leaves are the actual flowers.
Here Calvin is pulling the leaves back to show us the flowers. In the right margin he and Andrew are posing by the plant, and you can make out the large flower structure on top of the upward-pointing leaves.
Mountain and augur buzzards are regularly spotted hovering above the Saddle. These are impressive birds in themselves though neither is as large as the enormous crowned eagle and the rare lammergeyer, a giant vulture with long wings and a wedge tail.
We were definitely moving a little slower now. The cycling glasses made a huge difference to my eye aches, but I also noticed for the first time that speeding up was a significant effort, and that it did not take long to get out of breath, and that once that happened, a headache was hot on its heels.
Sorry, but this was one of those places where there are just too many pictures and not enough words. As usual just click on them if you want to really see them.
But really, who wanted to speed through this beautiful place? And I think it was warm too. It certainly gave off a warm vibe. So we ambled along, stopping every few seconds to take yet another picture. Plus I for one was in no hurry to reach the Barranco Wall.
The Barranco Wall
By late morning we were approaching the Wall, the other major feature of the Barranco Valley. About a quarter mile out I was studying it to see if I could make out the path up when to my horror I watched a huge boulder, two or three feet across, bounce and crash its way down the mountain."Sunday! What the f*%k was that?! I thought this was the no-rockfall route! Where are you taking us?"
On later reflection, that was pretty obvious because by this time of day all the other teams who had piled up at the base to overnight at Barranco Camp were up and over, leaving the wall clear for us—another excellent piece of planning on Thomson's behalf.
By the time I'd figured this out, Sunday had disappeared. Further reflection on the life expectancy of the porter who had dropped the load was pretty grim. With nothing to carry, he was little use, and since by definition we were not carrying any surplus baggage, he'd lost something important to the expedition. We made our way across the little stream that marked the absolute bottom of the valley, and came to a halt at the huge rock at the base of the wall where we were to take a water break.
As we hoved to, the loadless porter was also there, and the look on his face made it very clear that he'd drawn exactly the same conclusions as we had. F-Doug felt so bad for him that he dug out a bar of chocolate and gave it to him.
But at almost the same instant, Sunday reappeared carrying the load! He'd shouted to the porter to come down, then gone on ahead, down into the gulley, and found the lost load. Obviously we do not know what he said to the porter, but it was the single most impressive act of leadership I'd seen in a very, very long time. You can tell from the picture what his general demeanor was. The porter ate the chocolate while he and Sunday talked, then he hoisted the load and set off back up the wall. He'd dodged a very large bullet indeed. A shell perhaps, not a bullet.
Now it was our turn. The Barranco Wall is one of the most famous features on the mountain, one of the reasons we'd come this way, and was talked about in every log we'd read. An even more important feature of the mountain in my book was that no climbing is involved—even to reach the summit is still just a trek.
But the Barranco Wall pushes that definition to the limit, and therefore pushes me to a similar place. If I have to use my hands, if it is possible to fall off the side, then it ain't walking, and I ain't interested. There's a lot of hand-holding on the Wall. Spencer was following me. "Wow, this looks hard man." "No, you are in the unfortunate position of following me. I make it look hard." We came to a point where the path scooted around a ball of rock about eight feet high.
Sunday called it the "kissing stone" because as you tried to shuffle around without falling off backwards your lips were an inch from the rock. Trying to prevent my binoculars from banging into it put me in even greater peril of peeling off.
"How the f*%k are the porters supposed to get around here?" (Stress and F-Doug's influence were taking a heavy toll.) It's a wonder we only saw one load bouncing. "They help each other."
Next we must climb up with our right shoulder against the mountain, then spin around on our toes to face the other direction and step across the last big gap. I'd just performed the pirouhette when Wilson called up to me to wave while he snapped a shot "for my memories." Wave my $ss. Sunday is at the top of the photo giving inch-by-inch instruction.
One step later and Brian was there to capture my safe passage. The photo is deceptive: yes, the folks below are only about 15 feet down, but in turn they are on another cliff edge: the second band of vegetation behind them is 50 feet further down, and that is another cliff, the grey behind that is on the other side of the valley.
It was nearly another hour to the top, but the worst was now over. It took about two hours bottom to top, and it was well passed lunchtime. But the views were stunning, the weather excellent, and there was an overall feeling of well-being that we'd all put this major obstacle/attraction safely behind us.
At the top was another cell phone hotspot and we stopped for a well-earned hydration break while all those with phones tried to use them. There seemed to be an instinctive urge to stand at the edge to maximise the signal strength, but somehow Brian looks like he is still waiting. Sunday could be talking to his wife though.
Then onwards, and in less than half an hour we came around a corner, and there was lunch. Sorry, picnic lunch. The view this time set a new record, and coupled with the warmth of the sun, plus the elation of completing the Barranco Wall, seemed to put everyone in a celebratory mood, including the cook who surpassed himself by offering up that superstar of high-calory delights: french fries!
Then even more bizzarely came this unique section. Just a couple of hundred yards of rock-free, silky-smooth dust. A second-grader who saw one of my presentations said "it looks like someone dragged a giant rake over it." I think that is probably exactly right. A glacier rake slid by. Then down into the steep gully of Karanga Valley, and finally up the other side to the camp.
This morning you will descend into the majestic Great Barranco Valley, amidst the forest of giant groundsels, between sheer cliffs with brilliant hanging glaciers. After lunch at Barranco Camp, you begin a scramble up the steep ‘Barranco Wall’. You then traverse up and down the slopes of valleys, which have carved their way into the mountain’s southern face. Kibo’s glaciers loom above to your left, and the jagged peak of Mawenzi appears just over the southern slthe Karanga Valley at the end of this day.
As we crested the ridge to Karanga camp, Bruce was standing over us snapping away as each of us crossed the finishing line. (Although CHI-D actually took this shot, a little shy of the top.)
While of course any and every situation is perceived differently by each person experiencing it, Bruce's actions somehow brought it into sharp relief. On the surface was the obvious difference in camera use. I have a very definite leaning towards landscapes and very rarely take portraits. Wayne takes more portraits than I do, but his specialty is detail (surprise) and so in the past I've often relied on his exquisite "miniatures" to bring these travelogs to life. So we'll often go the whole trip with only a couple of portraits. And while Bruce just seems to take pictures of everything, it is his portraits that I have admired the most.
CHI-D is another good all-rounder. But this is scratching the surface. My real point is that I'm so inwardly focused on willing us to the top that it would never occur to me to strike up conversation with simba. I might take their picture if they happened to be in the right place at the right time, but again, to make a point of greeting them at the finishing line? Not a chance. Go over and join their card game one night like Paul? Never!
Another photo in here just for the fun of it. The angle of the horizon shows Danken's challenge in, as usual, finding a level piece of ground to pitch our tent, and the perky cock's feather flag identifying the location of one of the rival gangs is a nice focal point.
Copyright © 2010 Richard Thomson