Part III : Mid-Mountain Routes
The Umbwe Route ends at the Barranco encampment. From here, you take one of a number of 'mid-mountain' trails to get to the start of your desired 'upper route'. Encircling the mountain at roughly the 13,000 foot level is a circuit trail (called, on the south side, the 'south summit circuit', and on the north side, the 'north summit circuit'). There are a number of short spur trails off of this circuit path.
This writeup describes an Umbwe/Western Breach ascent, so the next thing to be described is the route from the end of the Umbwe route, at Barranco, to the start of the Western Breach route, at the Arrow Glacier campsite.
Day 4 - Barranco to Lava Tower Map
Ascent to the Lava Tower Campsite
The Western Breach route starts at the Arrow Glacier Campsite. The route we took went from Barranco to Lava Tower Campsite, and then from Lava Tower to the Arrow Glacier Campsite. Although a little longer, this allowed us extra time for acclimatization.
If you've ascended the Umbwe route, you are probably camping at the southwest corner of the Barranco campsite (and its kind of a nice and secluded little corner, too, far away from the main mass of tents). If you look uphill from here, you will notice a fairly prominent rock outcrop just above the tent sites. The trail to Lava Tower leads up from behind this rock outcrop.
The trail ascends stee[;u upwards through upper moorland, over rocky and bouldery terrain. In a relatively short time, you will have gained 1000 feet and the crest of the broad rounded ridge above. The views become increasingly grand, and you can see in all directions (again, provided the clouds haven't rolled in and ruined your view).
Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier
At about 14,200 and 1.5 km uphill from Barranco, the gradient of the trail lessens quite a bit, and the footing becomes very nice and flat. The air is starting to get pretty thin up here, though, and even though the trail is easy, the going may still be hard. The landscape changes from Moorland to high altitude desert, and the terrain is a vast spread of boulders scattered over sandy, gravelly ground. The trail winds its way between the boulders, and so the footing is quite good. It is from here that you get your first glimpse of Lava Tower, away ahead in the distance.
The trail continues gradually uphill, getting closer and closer to Lava Tower, until, at about 3.5 km uphill from Barranco, you top out at 15,000 feet. There is less than 500m to go until the Lava Tower Campsite. Unfortunately, there is a deep ravine that must be crossed first, losing a bit of elevation, and then, on the other side, climbing a very steep chute up about 150 feet. The exit at the top of this chute brings you right to the flats of the Lava Tower Campsite, right at the very base of Lava Tower. This last bit of steep trail is tough when you are struggling to extract the oxygen out of the 15,000-foot air!
Chombo and Caroline and Lava Tower
Ravine just before Lava Tower
The Lava Tower campsite is superb. The area is nice, smooth and flat, and there is lots of good campsite space. The area is bordered by low rock walls, offering some wind protection. Lava Tower itself towers practically over your head, and adds a dramatic dash of scenery to the already very scenic locale. The upper mountain, including the Western Breach, is nicely in view from here, as are views down the mountain towards the Machame route.
Frosty morning at Lava Tower
Lava Tower from a distance
Day 4 - Barranco to Lava Tower
Elevation Profile over Distance
Barranco to Lava Tower
|Start Altitude:||13,000 feet
|End Altitude:||15,200 feet
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Barranco Camp to Lava Tower Camp - click map to view
Day 6 - Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier Map
Ascent to the Arrow Glacier Campsite
The next step to getting to the base of the Western Breach is to climb from Lava Tower to the Arrow Glacier Campsite. The way is steep but short, and the footing is generally very good.
Leaving on the obvious path leading to the north/northeast, the trail to the Arrow Glacier Campsite first leads on the level, then across the same ravine that had to be crossed in the last segment (although you are higher up at this point and the ravine is not nearly as deep).
The view northeast from Lava Tower
Smooth track to the Arrow Glacier
After the ravine, the trail heads very steeply uphill, but the trail is very well defined and smooth (although this might not be obvious if there is snow covering it - there wasn't for us). You will likely be taking lots of slow, short steps in the thin air (and if not, then the pace-setting of your guide likely will make you do so!).
After about 800 feet of ascent and about 1 km of distance, the trail contours around some morainal debris, and in a few places is steeper and a bit rougher. Immediately above this, the Arrow Glacier campsite is reached, at 16,100 feet. Take a deep breath!
The Arrow Glacier campsite is a slightly sloping area immediately below the Great Western Breach. The Breach is a 30-to-40-ish degree slope, bounded by cliffs on either side. The slope leads right up to the crater rim. Near the upper reaches of the Breach are a series of stepped cliffs. More about the Breach and the route up it later!
Tent and Loo above the clouds
Campground and Western Breach
The setting of the Arrow Glacier campsite is just as spectacular as Lava Tower, but for different reasons. There is a good chance you'll be above the clouds at this point, and the view of the sea of clouds below you is breathtaking. Looking upwards, the vertical cliffs of the Breach Wall (not to be confused with the Western Breach) tower over you. over 3,000 feet almost directly above them is the very summit of the mountain!
Day 6 - Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier
Elevation Profile over Distance
Lava Tower to Arrow Glacier
|Start Altitude:||15,200 feet
|End Altitude:||16,100 feet
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Lava Tower Camp to Arrow Glacier Camp - click map to view
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