DAY 3 - IT'S A PROCESS
I learnt this the hard way today…but we’ll get there.
The day started bright and early with a yummy omelette breakfast. Actually, we both awoke at 1130pm the night before and 130am, with intermittent sleep thereafter. I guess I snored a bit, so maybe a bit better sleep than I thought. It was a crisp and clear day and ‘pole pole’ (pronouce: pole-lay) was the theme of the day. Today would be a very important day for acclimatization. First stop was the Lava Tower at 4600m (which is where some longer trips stay for a night) and then back down to our camp at 3950m (Baranco).
|Our wonderful toilet in the distance. Is this getting weird how much we love it? You would be the same if you saw what we used for 6 days.|
The day started ‘joto’ (hot) or ‘joto sena’ (very hot). But we trusted Daniel when he told us to wear long johns as a base layer. The hike itself was a very gradual ascent with an interesting landscape of ‘Alpine Desert’ – lots of lava flow rocks and lots of boulders. We passed many groups on the way up, mostly because we were consistent about the ‘pole pole’ and did not require much rest as our breathing was steady and without effort most of the way. Stops also created muscle cramps, making the hike more challenging and I always got a headache with the stopping. We pushed until 4200m when we took our first break. It was there that we saw the groups from Shira Hut heading towards our first trail junction of the day.
|Porters heading out to our third camp.|
|This is the junction that joins two other trails…the majority you see are porters! Crazy site.|
The first junction had probably a few hundred people in our sight. Tons of tourists and even more porters were now running along the trail. When the paths merged, we continued to traverse across a narrow path with some boulders and technical sections. A few hundred meters away was the second junction, where the porters headed down and around, while the hikers continue their ascent to the Lava Tower.
|It was raining at this point, hence the crappy photo quality.|
Our next vertical ascent was slow and busy! We passed a group of Quebecois hikers (young students) who had a travel medicine doctor along for the ride. One of the boys carried a Montreal Canadiens flag for the top – boo…go Canucks go! This vertical gain was long and tedious. We both started to feel the altitude. The Lava Tower however was in sight, as was lunch for some much needed energy, as well as the toilet. Our legs grew heavy and I began to feel pressure in my chest with the breaths and tingling in the finger tips. Bryan tried to carry my pack, but I was too proud. Silly Jen.
As we neared the point, I scurried to the toilet and struggled to get my pack back on from the breathing issues and fatigue I felt. Ben was close by to help out a bit and Chepanzul took my bag and helped us to our lunch site. There were campsites set up but we sat on a rock and ate. Ben scarfed down what he could and I had a bite of an egg, then scurried off to vomit. Yup…the altitude finally took its toll on my body. I immediately felt better. Daniel kept a close watch and I was able to muster the stomach strength to eat fruit and drink some of the juice.
|The dreaded Lava Tower (4700m). This was our pre-acclimatization (lunch stop). Jen puked, I had a severe headache. We wanted to get the heck out of there! |
|Lava Tower looking in the opposite direction. My grimace after Jen's puke|
|Jen eager to head down….and quick. Next camp would be at 3950m.|
The winds then began to change after about an hour at that altitude, Ben started to develop a gradual headache and we needed to get down from the elevation. We loaded up the packs and took some photos as we headed down the hill. The initial part of this trek was steep, rocky and very slippery. It was familiar landscape for Ben and I and so we took off quickly, keen to drop the altitude as quickly as we could. The area was so scenic with large and beautiful rocks with a deep oranges in them that formed a canyon. To our left, a few hundred meters up, there were rocks and cliffs that resembled the Canadian Rockies. Ahead, it resembled Ireland with fog and lush green slopes. As we continued down the hill, a significant number of Senecia trees lined the pathway and the adjacent creek. We loved these trees. This is when we felt like we were hiking in Africa. Beautiful, majestic and a bit surreal.
|Nice and symmetrical.|
|Jen's little fall. She bruised her knee, then laughed it off because man…what a day haha.|
|Almost to camp!|
|What a lovely site. Camp 3 @ 3950m. We were soooo ready to hit the hay…even with our headaches. |
DAY 4 - UP THE WALL, ALMOST HIT THE WALL
Today would be defined as a tough day, and technical. We were the third group to leave the camp, which was roughly 6:30am. We began the ascent up the steep Baranco wall, which included some scrambling here and there. This had Jen a bit worried, but I knew it wouldn’t be as aggressive as our familiar Canadian scrambles we’ve done together. The first hour or so had us crossing several rivers. It also had us gaining elevation extremely fast. We were reminded, “pole pole” and wouldn’t you know it, we were first to the top of the wet Baranco wall (a small cheer inside of me went off). We were greeted by a thick, dense fog, that showed absolutely no sign of wind (which seemed odd because we were on a high exposed peak). This was finally the first time we started to see snow scattered here and there as well. From now on, we knew elevation would be a key factor with every step we took.
|Baranco Camp 3 in the distance…on our way up the Baranco wall.|
Overall, the weather worked out for us yet again. It was quite hot initially but things started to chill down as we climbed higher. Fog persisted yet again but held off long enough for us to look down the 150m wall back on the camp. The ongoing silence in the air was amazing, as was the lack of wind blowing in our ears at this elevation.
|Jen loved the wall…not. This picture shows us about to pass a group.|
We thought that reaching the top of the wall would give us the reprieve we needed, but this was not the case. Daniel and Bryan had mentioned the night before that there were many valleys to cross, which meant a lot of ‘up – downs’ today. They did not disappoint. The valleys were lush at times, while a desert feel other times. Every stream crossing we passed, the porters would be getting their drinking water and cooling off until they set off to pass us again, at a rapid pace. The most memorable valley was called Karanga Valley, and it was the final valley before the last pitch into Barafu camp at 4600m. Before diving down into the valley, our porters had set up a temporary camp for lunch. We were so relieved to see they had made us some familiar foods…french fries, salad, and chicken. I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, so I didn’t eat much, and reluctantly swallowed another Tylenol for some much needed relief. Jen seemed fine at this point and cleaned her plate (I was jealous). 30 minutes later, we were off for the final valley to the dreaded Barafu camp.
|getting closer! Lots of rivers to cross on this day.|
|Some cool volcanic walls|
After what seemed to be a quick decent down to the valley base, we were faced with our final test of the day…the last ascent to Barafu camp. While it was nice to visualize the camp above us on a cliff, the switchback pathways upwards were a bit daunting at this point. Jen particularly liked the toilets that seem to hang mid-air over the cliff edges. This last push seemed like it would never end. Once we reached the top of the ridge and back into the fog, we thought we made it just in time before the altitude began to take its toll, but nope…our porters chose a nice high location for our tent high on the ridge. This was one hell of a kick in the balls. 20 minutes later we made it to the wardens cabin to sign in. We noticed our heart rates were accelerated, and breathing was more difficult now. This is why people take a 7th day I guess! We collapsed on the Barafu sign for one last picture before heading into the tent for one shitty restless night so to speak. Wake up call tonight would be midnight. Let the fun begin!
|The edge of camp 4. You can see the far drop toilet on the cliff. This was our least favourite camp due to elevation! We we so exhausted at this point.|
|The last pitch to camp, and it couldn't come soon enough!!|
Side note: Jeremy our waiter told Daniel he thought we were running up the mountain most days because they didn’t have enough time to set up camp before we arrived. It was always a panicked rush to beat us.
|Made it…4700m…and we have to sleep here tonight, ugh!|
|Check-in at Barafu…please just get me my bed!|