Barranco Valley


Today we awoke to a long-lost friend: the sun. After two days of hiking through mist and rain, its light and warmth were a welcome sight. I went outside a couple of times last night to relieve myself and saw that the cloud cover was slowly passing overhead. I even saw three stars on the horizon on my second outing.

This morning found us looking down at a white carpet of clouds. Mount Meru was in the distance to the west, and Kibo Crater and the Western Breach loomed over us to the east. Beads of frost covered our tent flies as well as all the plants, rocks and dirt. As soon as the equatorial sun, blazing white, rose over Kibo Crater, the frost quickly melted. We were even able to dry out our wet clothes and equipment before we packed up.

The climb today was not as steep, but the gradual ascent still took us to about 15,100 feet. As we climbed, the cloud cover chased us up the mountain, engaging in a battle of wills with the sun. Once we were high enough, there was no clear victor, with each side losing, only to recover and beat the other one back.

There are scores of people on our route, and we leapfrogged with them for the majority of the day. Tomorrow many of the other groups will be continuing farther than we, since we will take two days to reach Barafu base camp, whereas they will reach it in one. That extra day for acclimatization will benefit us, as several members of our group are suffering from mild altitude sickness.

We lunched at a trail junction, and afterward those who didn’t feel well went directly to our campsite. The rest of us climbed another 600 feet to see the lava tower before descending into the valley and the mist to meet up with the others. The downhill was tough on some people, but we all made it.

On a sad note, this morning two of our porters had to descend because they felt so bad. Both had a lot of leg pain, and one was even suffering from a retracted testicle (um, ouch). The treatment of porters—or I should say mistreatment—is making me angrier day by day. Our guide Filex is a good man (feels weird to call someone three years my junior a man), and takes care of our porters. Our guide company does not. Apparently in recent years a rule was established limiting the amount of weight a porter carries, but other than that there is little regulation. Some companies give their porters backpacks to use, while our porters must carry large, bulky bags on their heads or shoulders. Zara (our guide company) doesn’t even give Filex a first aid kit to take care of the porters, so he has to borrow meds from us to treat them. Plus, many of these men have only cotton sweatshirts and tennis shoes. Most of us are contemplating giving the porters tip money exceeding the suggested amount, and we also may donate some spare clothes and equipment.

Tomorrow should be an easy hike of only three hours, as is the day after. The following day will be our attempt at the peak. The summit awaits.


Copyright Axel Schwarz 2005


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