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Pu takes his medicine
Loud birdsong and another clear morning greeted me as I awoke in the tent. I was quite looking forward to today's hike. The route would lead up out of the heavily forested zone and into the moorland zone, where all sorts of giant and weird plants were reported to grow. I was also curious to see the upper part of the Umbwe Route, which the guidebooks described as on a narrow ridge with several very steep sections.
Mossy, beardy trail
Breakfast was shortly arranged in the much the same fashion as dinner the night before. It was a very tasty combo of fruit, some fried egg, a hot dog, toast, and hot chocolate. I have to admit, it was quite nice to have hot food prepared for you (instead of having to do it yourself!) after camping out.
Yi and Old Man's Beard
Chombo had wanted us to be away at 9am, and we were more or less ready right around that time. We left our tents for the porters to pack away, and started up the trail. Chombo had prepared us for a slow climb by mentioning pole, pole many times the night before and this morning, and he certainly delivered. We crept very slowly up the mountain. Suprisingly, it did not take long for me to notice a change in the terrain and vegetation. Within perhaps 20 minutes, the vegetation changed into this strange low forest, with small, thin-branched trees draped with acres and acres of old man's beard moss. The way the trail wound up through this stuff was quite magical, and there were many pictures taken. Unfortunately, with the bright sun, it was very contrast-y, and only a few of the shots came out well enough for to me to show on this page.

The Umbwe ridge did indeed narrow down to quite a sharp point. I could see that off to the right it dropped away very precipitously into the valley to the east. This valley is known as the Barranco gorge. Higher up, the Barranco gorge is the land feature left behind by a massive collapse of a portion of the southwest side of Kilimanjaro. In fact, the upper part of this collapse created the Western Breach, our summit climbing route.
Another Kili Flower
Lower Barranco Gorge
Lower Barranco Gorge, central
In any case, I like trails that wander along ridgelines, so I was enjoying this part. We came to the so-called very steep step at around mid-morning (and at perhaps 10,200 feet). It _was_ steep, but really it was just a short (perhaps 20 foot high) rock step, surrounded by shrubs. It was really no worse than the typical scrambly step that one has to surmount on a steep trail in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. This fact allowed me to 'calibrate'; the trail descriptions I'd seen for this mountain to my own internal scale, and I realized then that this route up the mountain would not really present any technical difficulties to us.
courtesy CDoucet
Chombo and giant plant
Clouds had begun to swirl around the mountain, and by the time we got to the first of several awesome lookouts on the trail, the upper mountain was hidden from us. There were still excellent views in other directions, though, including a nice view down on the ridge we were climbing. I could see it flatten out lower down, melding into the gentle lower slopes of the mountain, and, farther in the distance, the plains at its base. The various drainages coming down the mountain here had carved distinctive and deep gorges into the gentle lower slopes.
The Kilimanjaro Moorlands
The moorland zone indeed does have wonderful foliage. The trees of the forest melted away, and strange and exotic-looking Senecio and Lobelia plants replaced them. We had entered the clouds at this point, and the combination of plants and mist created a very otherworldy type of feeling. The land was more open, and one would be able to see out in most directions in conditions of good visibility.


Video: The Climb To Barranco, Part I
This video clip covers our morning at the Lower Umbwe Cave, and part of the hike up to Barranco (as far as our Lunch stop). (1 minute, 54 seconds)
I made a mess of a plastic bag, trying to cut it up and fit it over my pack as a light rain started to fall. I gave up and trusted that my MEC daypack's internal coatings would do the trick. I was learning about Kili's weather patterns, and this cloud and rain at mid-day was completely typical, if a bit unwelcome.
Upper Umbwe Cave
Porters pass us
Annotated picture of lower Umbwe Route
We hiked for a while, until about 12:30pm, at which point we reached the upper Umbwe caves (again, just an overhang in a lava flow, not really a cave). Here we had shelter from the rain and had another tasty box lunch. During lunch, many of the porters passed by, and I watched as my MEC duffle bag was expertly carried up the mountain by a well-adapted and fit porter. Strange to see your own gear being carried by someone else -- this was a new thing for me.
Senecios in the Moorland
Picture captures video
Ascending an easy rock rib
It was another 1500 feet or so until the altitude of the Barranco camp. We started to diverge into separate pace-groups, and Chombo seemed more agreeable to such a split-up, at one point even suggesting that I could go ahead to the Barranco. This I did, along with Peter and Caroline, although I can't quite remember. The altitude was indeed noticeable here. I felt a distinct lack of energy, and a slight pain-when-the-heart-beats in the temples. Definitely altitude effects.
Caroline and clouds
Pu and one of the last trees.
Chombo awaits
At about 3:30pm shapes formed out of the fog, quickly transforming into tents and people. This was the Barranco Camp. It seemed like a relatively small number given the major crossroads nature of this particular spot. What I did not know is that the clouds were preventing me from seeing the main body of the camp at the far side of the valley. This campsite, unlike the Umbwe Campsite, was very open and had a large number of good flat spots. We were nearing the upper end of the moorland zone here, and only the very occasional senecio plant rose above low shrubs. We were up in the high country now.
A tired Pu reaches Barranco
Barranco Camp
Barranco Camp, small section.
20 minutes, perhaps a half hour later, and all of us were in camp. Several of our group were feeling some noticeable altitude effects, ranging from some nausea to lethargy. (In fact, Pu recounts how he feels in many of the video clips on these pages). Pu was feeling especially grateful about the cough syrup, though, as it was definitely helping him get the sleep he needed.

Given that we arrived in the afternoon, we had lots of time to organize our tent contents. Again there was a little 'exchange' about the where our tent would go, but overall things went smoothly and soon we were all set up. Good thing, too, since it started to rain again after everything was set up. At this altitude, it was mixed with hail, and soon there was a bit of a slushy mess. I discovered that we had better be more careful about staking out the tent in these sorts of conditions, because the soggy fly was coming into contact with the inner tent and making a wet mess. A trench around the base of the tent would be a good idea, too!
Video: The Climb To Barranco, Part II
This video clip covers the second half of our climb to the Barranco Camp. (2 minutes, 11 seconds)
Clouds clear away at sunset
We had evening dinner earlier that night, and it was, as usual, quite tasty. I was pleased that I still had my appetite, because one effect of altitude can be a loss of that, and it is critically important to eat and drink to maintain one's body's energy level, hydration level, and heat-generation ability.
Markus and Mike talk
Milling around camp, we met Ramon, a german student, and Mike Persson, a Canadian from Red Deer, Alta. He was in Africa for an extended period, doing humanitarian work, and had taken a break to climb Kilimanjaro. We'd be seeing a fair bit of him over the next few days, as he was climbing the same route as us.

The next day was to be an acclimatization day. Part of our attack plan for the climb was to ensure that we got a couple of extra days in that would help our bodies adjust to this rapid ascent. We would stay at the Barranco camp for the entire day tomorrow, leaving only for a short acclimatization hike.
Kilimanjaro post Sunset
Late in the day the clouds finally cleared away, and the grandeur of our campsite was revealed. Above us towered the upper summit, with the steep and imposing Breach Wall directly in front of us, tendrils of snow and ice smeared across its face. Across the valley, I could see now the main body of the camp, which consisted, it seemed of hundreds of tents. I was glad we were over here in this little 10-tent fragment on the other side of the valley. Above the multitude of tents rose the huge Barranco Wall, a major feature on this side of the mountain. The standard route up to the top climbed this feature before continuing around on the south summit circuit to the east side of the mountain. Our route, however, went left, up towards the now-visible western breach. It looked pretty do-able from this angle, and my only concern was whether or not the snow conditions would allow the ascent.
Video: Clouds at Barranco
A 30-minute long time-lapse sequence (compressed down to 14 seconds) from my Digital Camera captures captures the thick mid-day clouds at Barranco Camp.
Day passed into night, and the vault of the night sky above us was magnificent. Orion lay tilted weirdly on its side (weirdly, that is, from a northerner's perspective!), and many stars off to the south were completely unrecognizable to me.

Later that night, the stillness of sleep was interrupted by an attempted rapid exit of Markus from the tent. He did not quite make it, and proceeded to violently vomit up his food into the vestibule (fortunately missing most of my duffel bags). This immediately awakened Chombo and the porters, and there was a flurry of activity outside the tent as Markus was attended to.
Analysis, Day 2 : [Lower] Umbwe Caves to Barranco
  Start End Delta
Time 9:01 AM 3:40 PM 6h 38m
Altitude 9,700 feet 13,000 feet +3,300 feet
Distance 9.6 km 14.1 km +4.5 km

Average Speed (including all stops) 0.7 km/hr
Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco
Elevation Profile over Distance
Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco
Elevation Profile over Time
Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco Map
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco Camp - click map to view
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