Sunday, 27 November 2011

Kili - Day 4

Day 4 was planned to be a short walk from Barranco Valley to Karanga Valley campsites. But the plan was changed for a few reasons. Dave and I were very strong on the walks but we were very weak when it came to getting as good night's sleep in the tent on an uncomfortable gritty surface! With this in mind, Daniel our head guide, decided we should cut the walk down to 6 days and head straight to Barafu camp from Barranco (a 6ish hour walk). Then we would attempt the summit a day early commencing at 3am. IF we had to turn back for any reason, we would then theoretically have a 2nd attempt at midnight the following night. Dave and I thought this over for about a minute, then agreed that it sounded like a much better plan involving a lot less lounging around at uncomfortable campsites.

We set off at the usual time of 8am and hit the Barranco Wall. I'd heard of torrid tales of tailbacks and gridlock and bottlenecks, but we had none of that. Just one small holdup whilst a very nice American Lady got herself past a tricky section! The views back into the valley were tremendous as we climbed upwards.

It must be said that the Barranco, or Breakfast Wall, is not particularly exposed or tricky in any way. It is very easy scrambling indeed. Looking up at it before we started, I had expected something akin to Tryfan's North Ridge in terms of difficulty - but there's no comparism. It was fun but very straightforward. If you are reading this and considering a Kili trek but are put off the Machame route because of this wall, think again.
We got to the top after around an hour and ten minutes. Then we had a drag through rocky valleys and ridges to the Karanga Valley. It started to rain in earnest for the first time on the trek (apart from the overnight deluges) so we donned our full waterproof gear and photo taking was down to a minimum.

We arrived at the Karanga Valley campsite, somewhat oddly named because you climb out of the Karanga Valley to get to it, for lunch. Both of us were glad that the original plan to sleep here had been shelved. Firstly, it was on a real slope! Secondly, it was dull and uninteresting and bleak. We sheltered in the Rangers Hut whilst lunch was prepared and until the rain ceased.

When it did, the sun shone once more and the day brightened up. After lunch we headed directly up a gradual wide ridge among more lunar like rockscapes. Despite taking a slash in the long drop 4 times in the hour we stopped for lunch (yes, that''s 4 times! - either I was drinking more than the recommended 4 litres per day, or my body was acclimatising faster to the altitude than hoped, or my bladder is the size of a quails egg, or all of the above) I didn't feel the need for a bowel movement. Enter Sod and his law. Just 20 minutes after leaving the camp my bowels decided they did need moving! (Too much infio and all that, I know, I'll get to the point). The guide said to just find a convenient spot between some larger rocks off the trail. I did this and found every nook and cranny plastered with toilet paper and mess. Either this was a popular 'unloading' spot, or the whole mountain is covered in a trail of lavatorial debris like this. I can't imagine how much worse it might be in busy season!?

Anyway, we veered East and headed across a wide valley towards Karanga camp. On the ground, I suddenly noticed a familiar sight...

Mounds of lovely slate, making this Welshman feel very at home, despite the fact that I live 200 miles away from where all the slate is found in Wales.

It didn't seem that long before we reached a (very windy) Barafu Hut Campsite.

Our tent was busily erected whilst we wandered around taking photos of Mawenzi, Kibo and the campsite in general. The huts are pretty ramshackle and there are apprently plans to erect new, state of the art (Tanzanian state of the art that is!) Huts at all the campsites on the mountain.

Mawenzi is one handsome peak.

The long drop toilets at Barafu are pretty good, and the drops are LONG!

Tomorrow's target looms overhead.

We still felt great so two of the guides took us for a short Acclimatisation walk up towards Kosovo campsite. After that it was just a matter of bedding down in the tent for some rest prior to our summit push that would commence at 4am the next day. Daniel, our fantastic lead guide, came to the tent for our usual prep talk at dinnertime.

Despite being advised to wear many layers for the nights rest, I ended up stripping right down to my keks, because I was so warm! The wind battered the tent endlessly throughout the night and neither of us got much in the way of sleep.

Day 5 - Summit Day - coming soon!!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Kili - Day 3

Apart from the summit day, this was the highlight! Why?? Because of the flora and atmosphere of the amazing Barranco Valley. I am reliably informed by my bro-in-law, that Barranco means 'ravine' in spanish, so this is the Ravine Valley (which is apt). No other wild place I have stood in on earth, which admittedly isnt that many, has left such a memory.

We started off from Shira Cave camp at 8am. The first destination was Lava Tower at 4600m, then we would drop back down through the Baranco Valley to 3900m, just 100m higher than the starting altitude. This is an acclimatisation walk that will benefit trekkers on the Machame Route.

The intial walk was a gradual ascent over a rockscape that could pass for the surface of the moon.

As we ascended, we got teasing glimpses of Kibo amongst the clouds. The first real views we'd seen since leaving Moshi. There was a good dusting of snow between the Glaciers.

Soon we were walking across a light dusting of snow ourselves as we approached lava tower.

And then we got there. The highest point on the trek so far - 4600m ASL. Lava Tower is a large tower made of lava rock. There is a campsite there called Lava Tower campsite. Predictable this, aint it!

The next section of the walk was a real rugged path between two large buttresses of rock following a stream down. Quite a change from the gradual even slopes we'd encountered so far.

Then we started to descend into the Baranco Valley. Dave described it as Nirvana. PRetty good description in my book. Parts of it were only 'Foo Fighter' standard, but there were areas that were pure Lithium and Polly!
The main reason, if you're botanically inclined, are the Giant Groundsels and high alpine Lobelias. Dendrosenecio kilimanjari ssp cottonii and Lobelia Deckenii. Fantastic, alien looking plants that simply only grow in a few small nooks and crannies of this floral planet. They are something else to behold, even if you're not into plants, and add a certain mystique to the amazing scenery.

Some of the Dendrosenecios were incredibly large and incredibly old!

The Lobelias are pure symmetry - Mother Nature at her most...err, symmetrical!

I took literally hundreds more photos of these amazing plants....apologies for those of you yawning and yearning for more mountains, rocks, glaciers and vistas! Day 4 gets much less floral.

We finally reached the Baranco Valley camp beneath the towering Baranco Wall and spent an enjoyable hour or two exploring the surrounding groves of cabbage trees (an unflattering common name!). Long live the Baranco Valley! (and it probably will.....)

Day 4 (almost plant free) will be along soon!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Kili - Day two

Day 2 was a short trek. Well, to be honest, none of the days except the summit day were what I would call long days. The guides told uis that we were strng walkers and made it from camp to camp in very good time. This wasn't because our walking pace was too fast - we walked at the same 'pole-pole' rate that most people walk at - we just didn't take many breaks at all.

From Machame Hut up to Shira Cave is a fairly steep, rocky trail, surrounded by heather growth smothered in moss. Pretty atmospheric and totally different to the previous days trek through the forest.

Some of the more interesting plants we had looked forward to seeing, like Lobelia deckenii and Dendrosenecio kilimanjari, started to appear on day two, but more about those later. I don't want to bore you to sleep yet.

When we reached Shira Cave camp it was totally different to Machame Hut. A large open expanse of dark ground, on a slight slope with amazing views to the west. Amazing views as soon as the cloud had cleared that was. Mount Meru was the star of the show.

We took a short acclimatisation walk with Aloyce, one of our 3 excellent guides. Shira Cave is not as impressive as we'd hoped. It was probably the only geographical feature on the mountain that disappointed.

In fact, on this occasion, some man made features outshone mother natures efforts. The whole mountain was dotted with small cairns and towers of stones, built by tourists in some spiritual or other effort to leave their small impression on this enormous volcanic landscape.

Day 3 coming soon!!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Kilimanjaro 2011 - Day one

What an experience! I know some people pour scorn on Kilimanjaro these days because it's 'too popular', 'too easy' or too 'too expensive'. It's none of those things - it's an amazing mountain and one hell of a trek!

We arrived in Moshi on November 12th ready to commence a 7 day Machame route trek on the 13th. We had hired Daniel Ngowi of Tro-Peaks - a small company I had read about in a lonely planet review. It was a bit of a gamble booking a company that you didn't know a lot about but they turned out to be some of the most professional and hardworking people I have had pleasure to meet.

Day 1.
The Machame Gate was deserted. This was to be a sign of things to come and the decision to choose to trek in the rainy season when it was quieter, turned out to be inspired.

It took about 45 minutes to sort out the formalities and after posing with the crew, we set off at around 9am.

The rainforest is a great place to start the adventure. Not to cold, not too hot, fairly easy terrain, and a multitude of interesting plants to feast your eyes on...if you like that sort of thing!

Treeferns were abundant. They were all Cyathea manniana as far as we could tell.

Lobelia gibberoa was impressive!

As were the porters. Incredible stamina and strength!

I think we took around 4 hours to reach the first camp, Machame Hut, which is on the edge of the heath and moorland zone. A strange and moody place, quite unlike any other I have visited.

Day 2 to follow.