Day 5: Wednesday 2nd October 2019
5:10pm – Barranco Camp @ 3,950m.
Last night’s dinner did not disappoint. Courgette soup followed by a veg stew, rice and fresh French beans with orange segments for afters. I had a pretty nasty experience with a long drop toilet last night. I had done a “reccy” to find the least disgusting toilet. Our “private” porta potti was already full and being British, we aren’t good at asking for it to be emptied. I thought I had found the best of a pretty ropey lot of toilets. On each site there are two or three modern concrete blocks which look decent from the outside. The older blocks are wooden huts with two tiled holes in the ground, roughly marked male and female.
Anyway, it was a pretty miserable and rainy evening so I wandered up to the block. It was getting quite chilly – my fault I wasn’t wearing enough as it had been warmer in the day. Anyway, I soon forgot the cold. These are squat toilets so you are very close to where other people have missed. Treading on the liquid you can live with, the solids not so much. There is also invariably used toilet roll around the holes so you have to kick this in. The worst thing is the pungent smell of ammonia which makes you forget everything else and try not to suffocate. Anyway, I survived!
Bed was 7:30pm. I brought a hot water bottle and the others thought this was good idea. With four layers on top, thermal merino leggings, two pairs of socks (one of which are heat holders), my hot water bottle and two sleeping bags (yes I brought two and glad I did), I actually managed a good night’s kip. I woke up at 1am thinking that was it but in fact I went back to sleep for another five hours.
We were told this morning that we had to get going by 7am. There was some delay yesterday caused by someone (me) having difficulty fitting two sleeping bags into my 80 litre rucksack. I have now given up and my second larger sleeping bag is being carried separately.
We were woken up at 6am with the customary cup of tea. Last night we were told not to let the (china) cups get dirty. The further up the mountain we go, the more volcanic dust there is which gets everywhere. In my efforts to adhere to the command to keep the mug clean, I managed to knock it over inside the tent; fortunately it didn’t go on to my rucksack. I went with my tail between my legs to ask for a cloth and was told in no uncertain terms that I must not clean it up and they would sort it. I apologised profusely; it didn’t feel right not cleaning up the mess.
Our walk today was to the Lava Tower Camp which is at 4,600m, then down to Barranco camp, only 200m higher than last night’s camp. At this stage the walks are designed to get us used to altitude. We were supposed to be out from 7am to 3pm, but we actually arrived at Barranco Camp at 5pm.
It was cold when we set off so I was in two pairs of trousers, fleece, raincoat, baselayer gaiters etc. It then got very hot so off came the layers and the factor 50 suncream applied. A little further up we were told to put on waterproofs and rucksack covers, then these came off and so it went on.
On this walk many of the group started showing symptoms of altitude (mountain) sickness. I felt fine (touch wood) though you really notice you have to breath deeper and I was sneezing quite a bit. As usual it was “Pole Pole” all the way up. I have been taking Diamox since before we set off and hopefully this will stop any altitude sickness. Several in the group said they lacked energy and “couldn’t go on”. A couple said they felt sick and another was sick. Us Brits are not used to altitude and it is a whole new experience. The guides and Doc were constantly asking if we were okay. The Doc was quite busy on this walk.
Despite having a breakfast of porridge and two pancakes at 6:30am, and a muesli bar on the way up, by 12:30pm I was famished. I remember watching one of the celebs on the Comic Relief Kili Challenge saying they had never eaten so much.
We were told that we would have lunch at Lava Tower Camp and then continue on to Barranco Camp. The Lava Tower is a phenomenally large rock which towers above the camp. On the way up the landscape changed from lava rocks with cactus like plants into a rocky moonscape with no vegetation. On the way up I spotted a gerbil like creature which I now know is an African striped mouse. There were also some sparrow like birds called rockchats. There is not a lot of wildlife up here unsurprisingly. On arrival at Lava Tower Camp I noted our mess tent was set up with the toilet tent beside it. We went into the tent just as it started to hail. It really was four seasons in one day.
There were hot drinks on the table ready for us and I thought perhaps we would be given a sandwich, but no. Michael, who seemed to have the role of head waiter, brought in mashed potato, pitta bread, chicken stew and buns; all cooked at 4,600m on a gas bottle which had been hauled up the mountain. My lunch (cooked especially for me) was a bean stew which was absolutely delicious. I think I overfaced myself so I need to calm down tomorrow.
The walk down from the Lava Tower Camp to Barranco camp was pretty fast. You can actually feel the air getting thicker as you come down. Those of the group who had altitude sickness said it just went away.
It hailed all the way down and felt like a normal Sunday walk in the Peak District!
On arrival at Barranco Camp everything was set up as usual. The porters get everything packed up and go ahead of us. They seem to skip across the mountain. I managed to spill my water in my tent this time. Michael gave me cloth to wipe it up and did not insist he sorted it. I will get a reputation for being calamitous at this rate!
Weirdly, the sun came out again and it was pretty hot. When the sun goes behind the clouds it becomes cold very quickly. I have learned a lesson today which is to put my waterproof rucksack cover on my main bag as a lot of my stuff was damp when I arrived. I can’t complain as some poor porter has been carrying my rucksack, set up the tent and deposited the bag in ready for me. It really is all inclusive!
We saw two female porters going up to the Lava Tower. They were carrying as much as the blokes on their heads and were extremely light footed over quite treacherous rocks.
Tomorrow is going to be quite heavy going. Although we haven’t had the full briefing yet, I understand that we will be climbing the Barranco wall which is currently above us. It looks like a sheer rock face but there is apparently a path which zig zags its way up. The walk will be 8 hours again and we go up to Barafu camp at 4,800m, have some dinner and a rest. At 1am or so we will start the ascent to the summit in the dark. Thursday night into Friday morning will be 14 hours. That will definitely be the toughest part of the trek. Jimmy’s mantra is “don’t think about tomorrow, just enjoy today”. Another well used refrain is “climb high sleep low”. This altitude business is a huge learning curve.
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