Saturday, 19 January 2013

Kili 3 - Shira Plateau to Barranco Camp

Day 3 - Shira Plateau to Barranco Camp (3,950m)
The mystery of the dead butterflies. Music on the mountain. I am Poncho challenged. Lava Tower and a flurry of snow. We talk again about bladders.

There is frost on the ground and the porridge is most welcome. The plate of flattened fried eggs and cardboard toast is not quite so appetising. The coffee is beginning to taste almost human – but this maybe because of acute mountain sickness attacking my taste buds.

Polystyrene rocks
Once again a pole pole snails pace is set, and once again it takes 15 or so minutes to get into rhythm and once again once you’ve got it you’re invincible – in a modest sort of way.

The sparse vegetation is quickly left behind and we are now walking through what appear at first to be boulder fields but are probably heavily weathered lava sheets. It is possible to identify distinct strata of between half and two metres thick. In places the rocks are sculptured into groups of fantastic standing stones – so fantastic they could absurdly be moulded from polystyrene. Small white and yellow flowers shelter in crevices – scant relief in an otherwise very desolate landscape.

Here, and at higher altitudes there are dead butterflies strewn across our path. They are universally white with symmetrical brown markings on their wings. Why are they here? Have they been blown up, or have they voluntarily flown up and been destroyed by altitude and cold? What ever the answer we mysteriously never see a live one.

A Porter with a tent on his head, and 
a Daughter with a flower pot on hers
It is quiet up here, largely because the conversation on the lower slopes has dulled as we concentrate on walking and breathing.  In the windy silence distant music can be heard. It comes closer. A brief flash of anxiety from the fear of an aneurism or worse – this is not however the onset of an early death but a porter swinging by with an aged radio strapped to the back of his pack, and that is also a recurrent theme. It is impossible to have a clear and unencumbered walk for more than about ten minutes before the word “Porter” rattles up the column like a Chinese whisper and we step aside to let past some of the fittest and most badly shod young men in world. These guys carry the lot, often on their heads. It is also on this stretch that one of our own porters succumbs to the altitude, collapses and has to be rushed down the mountain on the back of one of his colleagues.

We luncheon (in our hastily erected mess tent) at a col near the base of Lava Tower which is an ancient volcanic plug. This is a most desolate place where everyone should be bouncing around at one tenth gravity in large white suits and silly helmets and calling each other “Buzz”. A grey, brown and dusty moonscape.

Lava Tower with moon walkers
There is a threatening patter of rain and we all reach for our ponchos. I dive into my economy-priced green number which instantly rips down the front. Fortunately someone is far more prepared than I am and a duct-tape repair is effected. Much relieved I gingerly don the thing again - and the hood tears from brow to nape. Chinese industry may be exemplary, but their rain-wear sucks.

As we walk up towards the rear of Lava Tower the rain becomes tiny hailstones, and as we walk down from Lava Tower we experience for the first time snow which is light, fleeting and does not settle.

The long march up to Lava Tower is an exercise in acclimatisation, because from this pinnacle of 4,600m we then descend to 3,800m through a fascinating valley of broken rocks and mysterious caves. Leopard tracks were last seen here 5 years ago. The vegetation is colossal, with Senecio of between three to four metres tall and giant Lobelia. Through the clouds we glimpse Barranco Wall which is 500m high and at the base of which is Barranco Camp.

Gigantic Senecio with a small guide
Today has been the most varied and spectacular day so far.

Once again the primary topic of conversation at supper was matters of the bladder, and horror of horrors one of the party presented for inspection a device to enable ladies to wee from a standing position. I am not the squeamish sort but when this device is being brandished around the supper table and all I've got to defend myself is battered banana in one hand and a leg of fried Rook in the other I start feeling unsettled and vulnerable.

A mysterious and primordial valley
Next Day


  1. Why no photo of the ladies' wee apparatus?

  2. it is not possible to hold a battered banana and leg of fried rook in one hand and a camera in the other; the hand is not steady enough, and I am very pleased about this. For anyone interested I can send an appropriate link pertaining to the offending device . . . .


If you would like to comment - and I would welcome that - please do identify yourself as someone other than "anonymous"!