The Terrifying Barranco Wall | Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route 5

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This is the fifth part of my day-by-day account of what it was really like to climb the Lemosho Route up Mount Kilimanjaro.  If you missed it, here’s Day Four or start from the beginning with Day 1 – Getting Started.

Today I’ll talk about the dreaded Barranco Wall.

Kilimanjaro Barranco Wall

Kilmanjaro’s fearsome Barranco Wall

How Hard is the Barranco Wall?

There had been a lot of speculation about the Barranco Wall (sometimes spelled Baranco Wall) in the days leading up to Day Five.  Several members of the group had read about its existence online and opinions had varied wildly about whether it was going to be a fun boulder-scramble or a terrifying ascent up a sheer rock face, clinging on with fingertips and toes to avoid tumbling to our deaths in the abyss below.

The cliff face of the Barranco Wall

The Barranco wall is the most feared part of Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho Route

And from a distance, looking up, it seemed like it might be closer to the latter!  But when you get closer you realise that it’s a lot less deadly than it looks, and you don’t actually need any technical climbing skills or equipment to get up it.

And to be honest, if you’re worrying about dying on Kilimanjaro, it’s not the Barranco Wall you should be afraid of.  By far the leading cause of death or serious injury on the mountain is altitude sickness (or AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness) – though if you take it slowly and follow the guides’ advice you shouldn’t need to worry too much about that either.

Climbers tackle the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

Climbers tackle the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

And anyway, I was looking forward to the challenge.  A lot of the walking on Kilimanjaro is just slow plodding, one foot in front of the other, for hours on end.  That does give you plenty of time to enjoy the impressive scenery, but all the same, I was totally up for something a little more adventurous.  Why else do you come to Kili, after all?!

How High is the Barranco Wall?

Although it can look terrifying from below, the Barranco Wall is actually only 257 metres or 843 feet tall.  That’s about 2/3 of the height of the Empire State Building or just a little bit smaller than the Eiffel Tower.

No problem!

Four climbers scramble over rocks on the Barranco Wall, Kilimanjaro

Four climbers scramble over rocks on the Barranco Wall, Kilimanjaro

Taking on the Challenge

So up we went.  Picking our way between rock formations, grabbing onto ledges and pulling ourselves up, all the time looking for the next place to put a foot or a hand.  It was pretty slow going, but more interesting than the usual walking because you had to engage your brain as well as your body.  And it was fun!

A close up of climbers going up the Barranco Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro

The steepness of the Barranco Wall can be a challenge for some

And even though for a long time it seemed as though the top was never getting any closer, when I looked back and saw how far we’d come, I did feel pretty chuffed.

Looking down at climbers making their way up the steep Barranco Wall

The Barranco Wall does look scary from above

But then I looked at the porters, and I didn’t feel quite so proud of myself…

Porters carrying heavy gear up the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

Porters carrying heavy gear up the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

These guys (and girls) are astonishing.  While we’re using all four limbs to scale the Barranco Wall, tentatively working our way up, and wearing backpacks that weigh no more than about 8 kilos, they’re doing it faster, carrying more than twice as much, on their heads, with no hands free!

Porters carrying heavy gear up the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

The porters on Kilimanjaro don’t even need to use their hands!

I’m not sure the photos really give you the full sense of how amazing they are, so here’s a short video:

Because the trail is so narrow, there’s no way for the porters to overtake.  So the climb does take longer than it should because you have to stop and let them pass.  I didn’t mind though: enforced stopping is great for photography!

A group climbs up Kilimanjaro's Barranco Wall

Our group climbs the last section of Kilimanjaro’s Barranco Wall

How long does it take to climb the Barranco Wall?

It took about 2 hours to get to the top of the Barranco Wall, and when we did, our efforts were well-rewarded by a splendid view of Kilimanjaro’s main peak, Kibo.

Mount Kilimanjaro with snow on top and giant groundsels in the foreground

The impressive sight of Mount Kilimanjaro’s Kibo Peak

And having gained another 300 m of altitude, we were most definitely above the clouds (though to be fair, we had been for some time!)

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Our guide Jonas poses heroically at the top of the Barranco Wall

The rest of the day’s walking was mostly flat or downhill, with one last, steep ‘up’ to reach the campsite.  When you can see that ahead of you it can be a little disheartening, and we’d already learned from the previous days that even when the end is in sight, it can often still take a really long time to get there!  But we made it eventually, helped along by some of the porters, who not content with having already done that last uphill once, came back down and helped some of the more tired members of the group by carrying their day packs for them. What heroes!

Mount Kilimanjaro's Lemosho Route with the path stretching away into the distance

The last leg of Day 5 of the Lemosho Route with the path stretching away into the distance

The Beautiful Karanga Campsite

With the terrifying Barranco Wall now done and dusted (and yay, no one fell off or died!), here’s our home for the night: Karanga Camp, right in the shadow of Kibo at 3995 m.  The large tents you can see in the photo are the mess tents, where groups have their meals together, and also the cooking tent where the magic happens!

Karanga campsite with Kilimanjaro in the background

Karanga campsite with Kilimanjaro in the background

I would say Karanga campsite is definitely the most scenic of all the Lemosho Route campsites.  From my tent, I had this stunning view of Mount Meru, floating above the clouds with the sun setting behind.

View from inside a tent on Mount Kilimanjaro, looking out towards Mount Meru sticking out above the clouds

View from inside my tent at Karanga campsite, looking towards Mount Meru

Obviously with that view I couldn’t just stay inside the tent, even though it was getting pretty chilly.

Tents pitched on Mount Kilimanjaro at sunset, with thick clouds filling the valley below

Karanga campsite on Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho Route is high above the clouds

Night Sky Photography on Kilimanjaro

And then the stars came out.  There isn’t a great deal to do in the campsite after it gets dark… well not for most people, anyway.  But if you’re a photography nut like me, this is when it gets really exciting!  I didn’t have an SLR with me, but I did have my new Fuji X100T* with full manual control, so I was still able to take long exposures like the one below, showing the campsite, the cloud base, and the Milky Way.

Kilimanjaro campsite with starry night sky

Taken on a Fuji X100T, f/2.8, 10 secs exposure

I’d left my tripod behind to save weight, so the camera had to be carefully balanced on a rock.  This meant getting the tilt and the angle right was a little tricky, but with a bit of horizon adjustment in the computer afterwards I was able to produce this: the campsite at night with the summit of Kilimanjaro behind.  Epic.

I took this on my Fuji X100T at f/2.8, with a 30 secs exposure.

Mount Kilimanjaro at night, with a green tent lit up and a starry night sky overhead

The incredible night skies above Kilimanjaro are something you’ll never forget

It was pretty cold but with the worry about the Barranco Wall now gone, I actually slept pretty well!

To find out what happened next, go to Base Camp | Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route 6.

Watch the video

If you want to see what it was really like to climb Kilimanjaro’s Lemosho route, here’s a little video I made of the experience.


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