Monday, June 11, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Day 4

We had an awesome night sleep and we were feeling energized and ready for the Baranco Wall. We started out around 8:30. It was actually an enjoyable climb. A steep rocky trail intermixed with sections requiring hands and feet scrambling. An hour and half later we were at the top of the wall and were greeted by a Mars-like landscape. The landscape seems to change both as a factor of altitude and which side of the mountain you're on. The Machame Route moves almost 180 degrees around the top peak before the final ascent so even though we had already been at this altitude, the terrain was decidedly different on this side of the mountain.

The trail profile for Day Four is like a roller coaster. We had climbed to the top of the Baranco Wall but then immediately proceeded to descend into two more valleys before lunch and then another two after that. I realized after producing the map of our climb that we were essentially moving up and down the flutes at the base of the summit peak. On Mount Tamalpais in the Bay Area, the comparable trails typically stay at the same altitude and go in and out of the drainages… here we sort of traveling in a straight line vertically but going up and down. It was definitely more of workout. If you use trekking poles, you end up putting them away a lot as they definitely get in the way when you need your hands or are on the edge of something steep. But the variety of ups and downs makes the day go faster. The last ascent before camp is a long gradual up hill capped off by a final steep climb to 15,200 feet and one of the stranger campsites I've camped in.

Karanga camp is defined by a bunch of small, tent-sized clearings scattered on a hill that would otherwise be strewn evenly by large rocks. It would be a scree field if the rocks were a bit smaller. In one direction, you see the long side of the peak stretching away from you. In the other, at the far edge of the camp, you see Mewenza Peak, another eruption point of Kilimanjaro. It reminded me a bit of a much larger version of the Pinnacles in California with its strongly defines jagged peak and lava flow lines.

Day Four's hike is a long one so we got to camp late... just shy of sundown. We had about an hour and a half to get washed up and organized for the final climb to the summit. One key tip if you are reading this as advice for your own climb... lighten your load for the push to the summit. If you've ben carrying extra stuff that you really don't need on summit day, put it into your duffel bag so you climb as light as possible. I had our big camera, a small but still unnecessary first aid kit, poncho, travel insurance forms, etc. Collectively it probably added to more than 5 pounds. That's a lot for what may likely be the toughest day of your life. They tell you in terms of training that every extra pound you can get rid of will help on summit day and the same is true for equipment. Also, if you are not a serious camera buff and others in your group are, leave the big camera in camp. If I had the trip to do over again, I would have taken only a small point and shoot camera. They're lighter and easier to keep handy for candid shots on the trail which have proved to be may favorites for telling the story of the climb.

After getting organized, we had dinner. Most of us ate but some had lost their appetite. You tell yourself to eat anyway because you need the fuel. After dinner, Jonus our lead guide briefed us on what to expect for the final climb.

Here's my advice on optimizing for success on summit day…
Water: have 2 Nalgene bottles of water with you for the summit ascent… preferable both filled with hot water when you start. The temperature bottoms out around 4:30 in the morning and when its that cold you don't want to drink really cold water. I had 1 Nalgene bottle and a camelback. You probably will hear that camelbacks will freeze on summit day. This is true (actually, the hoze freezes). The Nalgene bottles can be stored upside down and insulated with a wool sock on summit day. I drank out of the camelback for the 1st hour and then switched to the Nalgene bottle. But the struggle I had was that after drinking out of a camelback all week, I was struggling to hydrate with the Nalgene since it was inaccessible and difficult to open with mittens. So if you are switching hydration methods on summit day, pay special attention to your hydration... its key the whole climb but never more than on summit day.

After dinner, we changed into our clothes for the summit save out boots, gaitors and shell. We laid down and slept for perhaps an hour or two.

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