Our guide was right when he said that today would be the hardest day of the climb. But it was “very doable,” he kept saying. We also found out why we’d had to sign waivers for the Western Breach back to Londorossi Gate. A couple of American climbers and a porter were killed in a rock slide in 2006 on the Western Breach.
The route had been closed for a while, but it is now open again. New National Park rules require climbers to wear helmets (this applies only to clients, not the porters or guides), although when we were halfway up, standing on ice, looking down, you couldn’t help wonder how much good a helmet was going to do.
Even looking up at the Western Breach from Arrow Glacier gives you a good sense of why it isn’t just a walk in the park. It’s not just that it’s steep–it’s certainly that. But this is a real scramble climb over scree, rocks, and ice. There are no ropes, and this still isn’t technical climbing. But until we reach the top there’s plenty of opportunities for things to go horribly pear-shaped very quickly, especially since we’re all definitely feeling the effects of altitude. A dizzy step on a loose rock or slipping on ice wouldn’t be pleasant–there’s nothing to stop a fall of several hundred feet down the Breach face. So we’d best mind our step.
We have to set off well before sunrise, using our headlamps, so that we can reach the top before the sun shines on the rock face. Once it does, the ice that’s holding the scree and rocks in place melts a little, making everything that much more hazardous underfoot.
Yet again, we’re in awe of our porters. They head up without a pause, carrying heavy loads on their shoulders, without helmets, surefooted the entire way. We’re using hiking poles for balance, but they don’t need them. And they make the top in about half the time it takes us. They make it look much easier than it is.
We’re well on our way by the time the sun comes up and we can turn our headlamps off. Stopping for a moment to take in the view, we see the sharp shadow of Kilimanjaro superimposed over Mt Meru off to the west.
Once we reach the top and climb over a ledge, we’re on the crater rim and it’s suddenly flat. We have thick ice glaciers to our left and the last segment of Kibo Summit above us to our right. It’s then a short, easy, flat walk across to where our tents are already set up at Crater Camp.
From here, we could do an afternoon walk over to the actual ash crater rim, but none of us has any energy left for it. A little lie-down and some hot tea sound much more appealing.
We’re now at over 18,700 feet, and each breath brings in barely half the amount of oxygen than our bodies are used to. At this point, we’re constantly exhausted. Our resting heart rates are elevated. We have nausea and headaches.
But tomorrow is summit day.
This is part of a climb diary I put together with photos from each day on the Lemosho Route. You can find the other posts below. I’ve also included some gear tips for climbing Kilimanjaro and some ideas on what to expect from your climb.