A Walk Above the Clouds: Kilimanjaro by the Machame Route

By Jerry Fine with comments in italics by Lee Waite

Day 3 -- Tuesday, July 29
As usual, I was just getting in some rest, when, oh no, get up time. I sat outside watching the sunlight begin to flood the Shira Caldera. This morning, as every morning, the guides brought around a cup of hot tea to start the day. It was fun to sit on a rock, idly drinking the tea, and contemplating nature at her grandest. The clouds were far below us, looking like a carpet, colored delicately by the rising sun. The shadows on the folds in the earth stood out sharply.

Breakfast that day was the best yet. Scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and sausage links, along with crepes. At 8:45 we started out hiking. I had to rush to catch up with Lee, Sarah and Geoffrey since I was saying goodby to the Spaniards. They were kind of clueless about the route they were supposed to follow, and we never saw them, or the Germans either, on the mountain.

Figure 5: Jerry and guide Geoffrey below the Western Breach

The path was very gently sloped upward, leading us straight up a ridge towards the left side of the Western breach. It was almost a perfect path for making good time, and we did, but the porters were passing us. Typically, they had a heavy load on the head, and some also wore rucksacks. Those head loads never swayed, but stayed rock steady, no matter what kind of ground the porter was crossing. It was impressive.

For the first mile or so, the trail led up a broad gently sloping ramp, which seemed to be taking us straight up towards the Western Breach. It gradually bent to the right and carried us to the top of a low rock ridge bordering the ramp, and let us to a vantage point where we could see a long stretch of the trail ahead, with the groups of porters spread out along it. By now the vegetation had diminished from the alpine heather at Shira Camp to just a few isolated mosses and lichens. Lee's altimeter said we were now pushing 14,000 feet above sea level.

Following the trail as the morning progressed, we began a gently climbing traverse beneath the Western Breach. We descended into a number of shallow valleys which fan out from the base of the breach, and climbed out of them again, gaining altitude until we topped out around 15,000 feet. There was now no vegetation, just sand, ash, and scree, with some nice sized boulders, about as big as a house, thrown in.

We stopped for lunch between 11 and 12, sitting for a long time in the pleasant sunshine. It was hard for me to believe that the weather and the mountain were being so kind. Chip had caught up with us, and we all felt pretty good. We were laughing and joking, and we all were talking to Geoffrey.

After lunch, at the bottom of a valley we were crossing, there was a little stream with some nice grassy areas. Here the big groups porters had set up an incredible looking spread for them on their picnic table.

We crested a final rise, and could see the southwestern side of the mountain in front of us. A very prominent feature is the Grand Barranco, a deep defile leading from the foot of the vertical wall at the end of the Western Breach down into the remote lowlands. It looked like it may have carried a glacier at one time in the past, but was now just scree surrounded by steeply sloping walls.

We now started to descend into the Barranco, and it got steep in places, but we really made good time. We got to the bottom, and after a short hike reached Barranco Camp. It was 2 pm, and we had dropped back down to Figure 6: Guides and porters beneath a giant senecio at the Barranco campsite

12,800 feet above sea level. The camp was on the opposite side of the valley from a stream which we would have to cross the next day. Speaking of the next day, we wondered how we would get out of the Grand Barranco, since the opposite side appeared to be a vertical wall nearly 1000 feet high. The answer that Geoffrey gave us was that we would climb the wall.

Descending into the Barranco, it is hard not to be affected by the sight of the Barranco Wall. From our vantage point it was quite imposing having a completely vertical appearance. Intellectually, you can tell yourself that it isn't vertical, that it's just a steep hike, that thousands of tourist climb this wall every year . . ., but emotionally it is nearly impossible to not be intimidated by such a spectacular sight. It would turn out that climbing the Barranco Wall was not nearly as scary as climbing down into the Barranco while looking at the Wall.

The rest of the afternoon was a repetition of the day before. Reading, snoozing, chatting, and gazing up at the mile high Breach Wall, into which our wall, the Barranco Wall blended. The Breach Wall consisted of a couple of significantly tilted ice fields or glaciers sandwiched around vertical cliffs. We could see gigantic icicles hanging down from the upper ice field all the way down the cliffs. Wow! It was too far away for us to hear the rush of melting water, and the rumble of falling ice and stones as the afternoon heated up. Wouldn't want to be up there right now.

Since Kilimanjaro is very close to the equator and at the same time, very high, it has a very unusual climate. It has been said that you can experience all four seasons each day on Kilimanjaro. On this day it was becoming more obvious to us. Since the atmosphere is very thin the radiant energy from the sun has a very strong effect. As we hiked in the sun it felt like summer and shorts and T-shirt were very comfortable. At the same time, the ambient temperature was actually fairly low since the altitude is so high (temperature usually drops approximately 3 F per 1000 feet increase in altitude). As we stopped in the shade we felt very cool and reached for a sweater or jacket. After the sun went down, the temperature dropped rapidly and we found ourselves in winter clothing in a matter of minutes.

Supper was good: It consisted of steaks, somewhat tough, smothered in gravy, and potatoes. The tea swilling continued. Jeffra had come in late afternoon, and she was obviously feeling better than the previous day. Having that extra day at around thirteen thousand really helped us. We were definitely feeling good.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at lee.waite@rose-hulman.edu

Copyright 1997 by Lee Waite and Jerry Fine
Rebroadcast or any other use of this document, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball or the authors, is prohibited