Kilimanjaro Day 5 - Getting to Base Camp

Machame Route – 7 Days

Start – Karanga Camp – 13,300 ft

End – Barafu Camp – 15,331 ft – Total Elevation gain from start – 9,820 ft

*Chicago is at 573 ft above sea level. Sleeping at a point higher than any in the lower 48 states.

Distance – 2.8 miles – total distance traveled so far about 20.5 miles

Time – 3 hours and 20 minutes – total walking time so far 25 hours 20 minutes

Terrain – Alpine Desert

Gremlins – Lingering stomach issues and once at Barafu a moderate headache that I would rate a 7 out of 10.

Today’s morning routine would be the last for the next two days as we got ready for the short hike from Karanga to Barafu. The hike today would be short because our next one was to the summit!

Our short hike had the usual ups and downs but the trend was going up. We would be gaining close to 2,000 feet of elevation and going about as high as we had at any point so far in our hikes. The summit also loomed through the fog. I could feel myself getting closer which brought a nervous excitement to the morning.

The morning flew by because of the anticipation of what was to come that night! I recall the final 30 minutes being straight up and almost as crazy as the Baranca Wall. Physically, I was strong enough but catching my breathe was getting harder and harder. Putting on my boots took minutes - I would look for the right rock, to be at an angle, so I could lace them up more easily. It was getting to be that difficult to just do the little things because of the thinner air.

We got in to camp just before noon to another hot lunch and a short briefing. Today was also the day my “gremlins” reared their head. Other than a stomach bug I had felt fine the entire trip. I hadn’t lost my appetite and didn’t suffer any headaches until today. Once we got settled in to camp, I found myself overcome with a strong headache. It’s all because of altitude and there’s nothing I could do about it.

Because of my headache, I told my guides what was going on and kept them fully informed. I was told I could take an aspirin to help and I should relax for the afternoon - because it’s easy to relax at base camp, of the mountain you’ve been wanting to climb for a year! I laid in my tent that afternoon trying to regulate my breathing and ease the pain. Just laying down and trying to catch my breath wasn’t easy. I got a little nap in and the pain slowly subsided.

Side Bar

In the course of writing these trip reports up, I finally did a little research on success rates of Kilimanjaro climbers. The success rate to summit ranges anywhere from 44-85% depending on weather, altitude adjustment and basically who you ask. I think asking tour operators skews that number because they’re trying to sell you a trip. I’ve heard from a number of others who have done it that not everyone would summit from their group. I would guess the success rate to be about 60ish%.

Another interesting fact I found was that Everest Base Camps are below the summit of Kilimanjaro, 17,598 and 16,500 respectively, most climbers will take anywhere from 8-10 days to get there. Most people are going for the top of Kili in five day.

You typically don’t take aspirin with out telling your guide because you don’t want to mask the symptoms of altitude sickness and because of the altitude on kili climbers are susceptible to Acute Mountain Sickness (too high, too fast.) Your AMS symptoms go away after 48 hours after you stabilize your elevation. I didn’t have the luxury of that much time.

Not paying attention to AMS can be very dangerous and lead to two kinds of Edemas – Pulmonary and Cerebral.

Pulmonary Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Persistent cough bringing up white, watery, or frothy fluid
  • Marked fatigue and weakness
  • A feeling of impending suffocation at night
  • Confusion, and irrational behavior

Immediate descent of about 2000 ft is the best way to combat this and can be life saving when one is confused or acting irrational.

Cerebral Symptoms – are the result of brain swelling due to fluid leakage.

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Decreasing levels of consciousness
  • Loss of memory
  • Hallucinations & Psychotic behavior
  • Coma

This condition is rapidly fatal unless the afflicted person experiences immediate descent. Anyone suffering from HACE must be evacuated to a medical facility for follow-up treatment.

Being stubborn about your condition can be fatal and isn't wise to not share how you're feeling with your guide. We got to dinner and I was feeling better. Everyone in our group was short of breath and I was thrilled my headache had gone away. I can’t tell you how heart breaking it would have been to be told, “you can’t go” when I was so close. I had gone over that scenario in my head a few times in my tent that afternoon.

About 6:30pm, we were sent to bed after our briefing and needed to be ready for an 11pm wake up.  We would have about an hour to get ready, eat some food before beginning our summit. I went and got my gear packed and ready so I wouldn’t have to worry when I woke up. I slept in two pairs of long underwear, two socks, a long sleeve thermal layer and my fleece. The night I was very restless and somehow was in and out of sleep but ready at any moment for the wakeup call that would come.

Other Posts in this Series

Why Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

God the Save the Kili Porters

Kilimanjaro - Day 1

Kilimanjaro - Day 2

Kilimanjaro - Day 3

Kilimanjaro - Day 4

Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter or instagram @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at joe@chicagofoodsnob.com

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