Kilimanjaro Day 4: Lava Tower (4600m), Barranco (3900m)

Today we first began to encounter what the guy giving our orientation talk called “the hostility of the mountain.” We started from Shira II, which I hope I’ve adequately convinced you is an absolutely spectacular place, then started going up. And up. And up. The whole time we were looking down at the clouds far below- it was a cloudy day in Moshi, but not for us.

As we progressed up the incline toward lava tower, we slowly saw less and less life. The large bushes that we could find at Shira II gave way to rocks and dwarfed bushes, then eventually the only life around us was ourselves and the moss clinging to the stones. At times it felt like we were walking on the moon or another planet- such a stark contrast to the bountiful, healthy forests down below.

Going Up.. and Up

The mountain’s hostility took several forms. First, the altitude becomes punishing as you near 15,000 feet. Some people struggled with nausea, headache, and severe shortness of breath as we walked. The wind whips at speeds we didn’t encounter earlier in our journey, unhindered by vegetation. While some prior nights were cold, this was the first day where it became cool as we walked. I still didn’t need a jacket because I’ve proved myself to be a human furnace, as trained in Michigan, but if we stopped for too long I’d need to start moving around or I’d start to feel cold.

Our destination, lava tower, was formed by the same lava flows that destroyed half of the Shira crater and created the planes. It’s only possible to scale it with some technical rock climbing, but it was still a beautiful sight. It was especially beautiful when we actually got next to it. It seemed like for hours we saw rock towers (there wasn’t much else) that we all hoped would be our place of rest and lunch.


After that break (and a really spectacular bathroom, considering the location) we began the trek down to Barranco. The 200m net elevation change for the day certainly couldn’t capture the effort required. As we descended, we slowly became surrounded by plants once again, and eventually descended into a cloud where our next campsite was. We also saw the moonrise over Uhuru Peak (the highest point on the mountain), which maintained its majestic qualities but also became imposing up close. Another favorite moment for me was taking a moment of silence by a stream. All we could hear was the subtle flow of water- it was like a beautiful but powerful whisper next to the towering Kilimanjaro. On our way we saw a few cool birds (broad sunbird, alpine chat) but I didn’t have my zoom lens out so didn’t get great pictures. It was quite cold at our campsite.

The Descent to Barranco

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