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Kilimanjaro Retrospective Part 5: Barufu

Day 5 of the climb
Karanga Valley Camp to Barafu Camp (4,550 m / 14,930 ft; 12 km/ 7.5 mi)

Today is the day before the big day—everyone is a little nervous. We set out after breakfast for Barufu Camp. The landscape is now completely barren. Lava rock, shale, scree, the odd snow patch, and only the ravens circling above. Despite being essentially devoid of life, the rocky landscape above the clouds holds a certain beauty. Much like the desert does. In face, this is a desert—an alpine desert. The views of the Kibo Saddle, and the rugged Mawenzi Peak are breathtaking.  These are both extensions of Kilimanjaro. And the air in thin at this altitude, which makes every step breathtaking as well!

Barufu – Swahili for Ice

We arrived at Barufu Camp around 1:30.  Early compared to the rest of the trip. This is the last stop before the actual summit bid in about 10 hours. People are still coming down from the summit of the mountain, so we have to wait for them to leave before we can set up camp. We wedge ourselves among the rocks and bask in the sun. Despite the spectacular views and the awe-inspiring feeling of being near the top of the world, this is an inhospitable environment.

Once the tents are up, we have lunch and nervously sort out our warm clothes for the summit climb. Then we try to nap for a few hours before dinner. Dinner is carbohydrate overload—pasta, beans, french toast, and fried potatoes. A crazy combination that would have Atkins turning in his grave.

The fatigue we are experiencing is somewhat offset by the excitement level. We try to catch a bit more rest before the climb.  So we crawl into the sleeping bags for a couple more hours and although we don’t really sleep, we get some much-needed rest.  We wake up at 11 pm to set out under the full moon to reach the crater rim—and the Roof of Africa— around sunrise.  It’s cold, dark and windy, making it even harder to get up and out of the minus 20° sleeping bags. But no precipitation now, so the summit bid is a go. Time for an “Alpine Start.”

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“Mountain climbing is comprehended dimly, if at all, by most of the nonclimbing world.  It’s a favorite subject for bad movies and spurious metaphors.  A dream about scaling some high, jagged alp is something a shrink can really sink his teeth into.  The activity is wrapped in exaggerated tales of audacity and disaster that make other sports out to be trivial games by comparison; as an idea, climbing strikes that chord in the public imagination most often associated with sharks and killer bees.

“People who don’t climb mountains – the great majority of humankind, that is to say – tend to assume that the sport is a reckless, Dionysian pursuit of ever escalating thrills.  But the notion that climbers are merely adrenaline junkies chasing a righteous fix is a fallacy, certainly on any high altitude mountain.  What we were doing up there had nothing in common with bungee jumping or skydiving or riding a motorcycle at 120 miles per hour.

“Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition in fact became an almost Calvinistic undertaking.  I quickly came to understand that high altitude was primarily about enduring discomfort.”

Jon Krakauer

To be continued…

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