Spending six days camping on Kilimanjaro affords one quite a different perspective than the climbs we had previously done in the Andes, where one can take a vehicle almost all the way up to base camp and descend the very next day after summitting at night. One feels a sense of communion with the mountain, becomes acquainted with its temperament – Kilimanjaro is a particularly moody mountain in the middle of November – and learns to appreciate its forbidding beauty in a way that is impossible to attain during the course of just one night.
Three hours on the trail was all we needed to reach Karanga Hut, where we spent our fourth night. We had considered changing our plans and hiking straight to the Barafu base camp from Barranco, thereby shortening our trip by a day. However, the headaches we developed at Lava Tower were a clear indication that we could use the extra night to acclimatize. Besides, it was a good idea to have two easy days prior to our summit bid, and doing two shorter hikes instead of one long one also greatly increased the likelihood that we could reach camp before the rain would start each day.
After four days of hiking, there was only one thing wanting from our trek. We had had plenty of adventure – and more than our fair share of rain – but we had yet to actually see the mountain we were climbing. We had had glimpses of its jagged, ice-covered southern face but had no conception of its overall size or shape. One of the greatest joys of mountaineering is seeing up close breathtaking landscapes that the vast majority of people can only experience through travel writing and the photographs of others. On this front, our trip was thus far sorely lacking.
It did not rain hard our fourth day on the mountain, but a persistent fog clung to the camp and we could feel the moisture in the supersaturated air every time we stepped out of our tent, as each gust of wind carried some fine mist with it. When our porter called us to dinner a little before 6pm, the fog had lifted in the west. The mountain remained shrouded in mist behind us but the setting sun shone brilliant red hues through fluffy clouds and we could see all the way down to the town of Moshi.
As we watched the sun slowly sink into a sea of rose-colored clouds, the wind picked up and the mists that had for four days hidden Kilimanjaro from view dissipated as if by magic. Our fingers were numb and our food a bit cold by the time darkness settled and we stepped into the mess tent to eat our dinner, but it was well worth it to see the massive slopes of Kilimanjaro so starkly revealed in the last light of the day.
The next morning we awoke to find the mountain completely devoid of cloud cover, its snows brilliantly gleaming in the sunshine. Alas, this majestic view would not last. By the time we finished our tea and packed our gear, Kili was shrouded in a dense fog once more. When we reached Barafu two hours later, the day’s first raindrops had already started falling.