Mt. Kilimanjaro & Prouty Mountaineering – Karanga & Barafu Camps on the Machame Trail

Mt. Kilimanjaro & Prouty Mountaineering – Karanga & Barafu Camps on the Machame Trail

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Karanga Camp and Barafu Camp

8 miles, 3,995 meters & 3 miles 4,605 meters 582 mb pressure

The Prouty Mountaineering Program
(the first Prouty Challenge Event benefitting Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center)

December 18, 2012

Wes Chapman

Lava Tower at Sunrise

Sunrise at Lava Tower Camp

The descent from the lava tower follows the Barranco Valley directly below the Window Buttress and the spectacular hanging Arrow Glacier. This valley is caused by a large collapse feature (a major fault) that leads directly down to Barranco Camp and the entertaining Barranco Wall. Additionally, the descent moves from the alpine desert ecological zone back into the moorland – with a resulting bumper crop of some of the stranger flora endemic to Kili, including the giant lobelia deckenii – another plant refugee from Dr. Seuss.

A giant Lobelia Deckenii in the Barranco Valley

The trail down to Barranco camp follows a stream down the valley floor; around .25-.50 miles back from the base of the summit cone of Kilimanjaro. This affords some spectacular views in the morning, before the predictable diurnal clouds roll up the mountain by 9-10:00 AM.

Hanging glaciers from the Barranco Valley

Today was billed as a long day – 7-8 hours – without a hot lunch. Over the past couple of years the Park Rangers have taken to selling cold boxed lunches along the trail, and in the transparent abuse of their power have prohibited the guides from preparing hot lunches for their guests along the trail – who needs the competition. We refused to be bullied into doing business with these guys, but as a consequence, it was a long way between meals on the trail. Our team is comprised of a bunch of good eaters, and we did not tarry long at the Barranco Camp – focused as we were on a nice late lunch. We hustled up the Barranco Wall, and across the next couple of valleys to reach the Karanga Camp just as the rain set in. We enjoyed two full meals in three hours, and settled in for a long night’s rest.

Kapanya scrambling on the Barranco Wall

Kapanya & Kelly climb Barancco Wall

Kelly on the wall in her signature climbing pajamas

Climbers on the Barranco Wall

Porters (barely visible) climbing the Barranco Wall

Kilimanjaro at dawn from the Karanga Camp

We awoke to a clear cold and breezy morning at the Karanga Camp. As you can see in the photo above, the wind was blowing hard off the Indian Ocean and piling clouds up on the windward side of the mountain. This is clearly a sign of bad weather, and I was worried about our ability to get pictures of our yellow ribbons for cancer victims, survivors and care providers at the summit. Our friend Seke Godson of East African Voyage had suggested, “The Mountain has many summits Wes, don’t wait for the last day to take pictures”. The wisdom of this advice was becoming more apparent as the storm threatened, and we decided to do a complete run of all of the yellow ribbons, in case it proved to be impossible at the summit due to weather or altitude sickness.

Audrey on Kili

A yellow ribbon for Audrey Prouty

We had planned a one person – two camera format to ensure at least one good picture per ribbon. We got set up and started the shooting, and as you can see in the photo sequence below, the weather degraded rapidly, substituting a gray cloud backdrop for Kili. As the photos progressed, the sheer number of ribbons, and the stories of the people that we knew gradually became overwhelming. All of us had some ribbons for victims that we did not know personally, and somehow the anonymity of their suffering piled on the emotion of the moment in a way that none of us expected.

Brad Yellow Ribbon

Brad remembering a friend – as the mountain vanishes into a cloud

I had watched Saving Private Ryan in the plane on the way over, and as the porters gathered around to watch, the similarities to the famous “dog-tag scene” flared up. The porters were discussing among themselves the strange proceedings – gradually figuring out what was going on – coached by the head guide Kapanya.

Jeff makes a simple but powerful tribute

Kelly with a yellow ribbon

Kelly with a yellow ribbon as the Mountain vanishes

Two days later I learned in a very simple and direct fashion the impact that the yellow ribbons had on the rest of the East Africa team, and how much these guys bought into the message and the purpose of the climb. It turns out that due to both environmental factors and better diagnostics, the apparent rate of cancer in the local community is skyrocketing. Cancer impacts these guys as much as it does us – and the growth of diagnosed cases is terrifying. Before we left Barafu Camp, the local team insisted on a photo with our banners and the Tanzanian National Flag. There is nothing better for building a team than a truly shared mission.

A unified team with a shared mission

The entire experience at Karanga left me emotionally drained, and in need of clearing my head. Once we got packed up and the team ready, I took off up the trail – as fast as I could go. I really needed to blow off a little steam, and the trail to Barafu beckoned into the mist.

Cairns on the trail to Barafu

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

4 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    December 24, 2012

    Wes, what an amazing trip this has been. Thank you for your leadership, inspiration, heart – and photos! It has been wonderful to share from afar the experience of the whole team. The last photo is incredibly moving. Thank you to Rick, Jeff, Brad and Kelly for working so hard to make this first Reach for the Peaks possible. Happy New Year to all.


  2. Avatar
    December 24, 2012

    Touching account of the team’s shared experience. We are all team members, even if not able to “play” this trip. Thanks Wes, Brad, Jeff and Kelly. -Gary


  3. Avatar
    December 24, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your climb, I really enjoyed reading about the team and your experience!
    Great, great pictures,


  4. Avatar
    December 27, 2012

    Great blog Wes, as always. Pictures were spectacular. I’m looking forward to hearing anecdotes, particularly as they pertain to Dr. Morse. Hope you brought him home.