Kilimanjaro Day 5. To Basecamp, Last Nap Before Summit (Part 2)

Day 5 Part 2. 1/4/20. 2:09pm, before nap.

My heart beat a little faster today. Partly because we were 10 hours away from starting to summit. Partly because we made another 600m (~2k ft) of ascent from Baranga Camp to Barafu Basecamp.

1/4/20 early morning. Me by my tent at Baranga Camp before departure.

Everyone was in good spirits, if mildly nervous, when we left camp without the usual song and dance this morning. Saidi led the way. We began to enter the Arctic desert zone. The first half of the day had some dry plants, the second half, only rock. The wind followed us with its wrath for the entire day.

With approximately 200m (600 ft) of elevation gain per mile of distance, we began to ascend immediately under the stately gaze of Uhuru Peak. It was beautiful beyond words.

Pole pole (“slow slow” in Swahili) we went.

I had “double” dosed on Diamox this morning as I’d been accidentally half dosing for the past 4 days. This translated to me feeling buzzed in a really good way. My hands were tingling through all of breakfast, and I was served a second portion of bacon before I could say no. At least I was carrying a healthy amount of protein and fat up with me.

When I thought about the day ahead: 3-hour trek, 7-hour nap punctuated by dinner, 7-hour trek to summit, I broke it apart as a 50km (run) day stretched across 10 hours and fully walked. This reframing made the process feel more attainable to me.

Between current time of writing to summit, which will begin at midnight, we are expecting to gain nearly 4500 ft (1300m) in a day, which is 1500 ft (30%) less than the gross elevation gain I ran on the Hong Kong Trail 2 months ago during a 50km day with Sarah. Again, manageable if we consider the first 2 hours of today as the first 10km segment.

I apply this kind of mental reframing for a lot of new challenges and it has worked to give me psychological comfort and self belief.

I had Taylor’s “I forgot you existed” song stuck in my head for most of this “10km” segment. I chatted to Alexa about her Ragnar Relay in New York.

I almost lost a glove when sneaking off-trail to take pictures. Ready to give it up to the mountain, I was embarrassed when our guide Alan doubled back and found the glove between some rocks. In hindsight, I was ever so grateful because that glove saved my fingers on summit night.

Get ready for the view beyond this windy ledge!

We finally crossed a ledge at the top. Now Baranga Camp was no longer in sight, replaced by clouds behind us.

Beyond the ledge was a breathtaking, mile-long landscape only seen in desolate scenes from Star Wars. One wispy white trail meandered over to the other side, like a brushstroke painting our path out of nothingness. We were about to cross!

Behold the final crossing for basecamp, located on the horizon in this picture. It was so windy that my friends had to lean diagonally into the gusts.

We weaved down brittle piles of rock to begin the crossing. The wind had picked up here. Nasty whirlwinds whipped up at every turn, infiltrating my face and the space between my sunglasses, neck and face with sand. When I reapplied chapstick, the wax came away covered in dirt.

There, I’ve done the walking for you. View looking back at where we started beneath those clouds.

But boy were we not ready for the even stronger gusts that greeted us around the corner at the end of the plain.

The other side was Barafu basecamp, the last “trailhead” before summit, a magical place above the clouds.

Looking back: Panoramic view of the final crossing before basecamp.
Turn 180 degrees: Panoramic view of Barafu basecamp, a vision above the clouds.

Campsites were strewn everywhere. I met hikers from California, Belgium, and more.

We took a short break upon arrival.
We set up next to this neighboring touring company. Notice the dots of people in the distance: that’s where we u-turned from after completing check-ins.

The wind was SO strong that it was incredibly challenging to walk. I used to think darkness would be my nemesis tonight, but now I believe it’ll be the wind.

While it was only daytime, I pulled my polar neck warmer over my nose up to my sunglasses, adjusted the back so that the sides covered my ears AND pulled my jacket’s hood over my head. Well-covered, I felt a ton better.

Familiar sight? A preview of the Covid-19 world of masks. All gear on deck while we stood in line to check in with our passport numbers.

The slightly frustrating part was having to hike up several crowded switchbacks, ascending another 300 ft in elevation, in order to check in with our passport numbers, before doubling back down to our campsite.

Our porters were working hard to set up camp for us when we returned. Seeing how the sausage was made, i.e. how two communal tents were spliced together to form our mess tent, and how the porters tied our tent strings to rocks and nails in the ground, gave me more reassurance that our shelters wouldn’t be ripped off by the wind tonight.

It actually gets very warm once you settle inside the tent.

I napped, journaled, slept, and counted down to summit hour in the tent on the far right.
It took a village to set up our usual mess tent in the face of such vigorous winds. Thank the universe for these experienced porters.

I thought we were going to have lunch straight away, but it seems everyone is resting for the time being. I’m going to catch a quick nap as well to get my 7 hours of sleep in (reality: 5). I won’t comment on how unsalvageable my hair has become.

By 2pm tomorrow, I will have summited and descended back down to this exact spot! I honestly felt so excited by this thought that I didnot know what to do with it.

Later, before taking our final post-dinner, pre-summit nap, we were treated to the most divine spectacle. The type that made us stop talking and just soak this all in:

How I will always remember the final hours before our summit.
Photo credit: Gaurav Bhogale.

You’ve made it this far in my blog. I’m so happy!

At last, I bring you my Kilimanjaro summit in the upcoming 2-part post.

Thanks for reading, and stay healthy,

Melissa

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