Karanga Camp is precariously situated on a hefty slope. Hiking from one end of the camp to the other is a chore in and of itself, especially at 13,000 feet. At this height and without supplemental altitude sickness medicine, I was certainly feeling the effects of altitude. Though I was well acclimatized at this point, simple tasks like walking to the mess tent or taking an extended drink of water left me winded.
Fortunately, this was the most severe of my reactions to being so far above sea level, and would remain so for the remainder of the hike. Even on our summit push the following day, my oxygen saturation was still in the mid 90s and I felt as strong as ever. Oxygen levels dipping below 75 or so can be dangerous. I was fortunate enough not to be plagued with lightheadedness, headaches, tingles, or general sickness.
The views from this height make battling the altitude worth it. From our vantage at Karanga, we awoke on day 5 to a crystal clear view of the Kibo Summit as bold as ever. Behind us, we had an uncompromised view of Mt. Meru and the miles of sky between us and the world.
Day 5 is a two-parter. In the early morning, we made a quick ascent to our fifth and final camp, Barafu. From here, we rested for the remainder of the day in anticipation of the second leg: the summit push. Technically, the summit and subsequent descent can be classified as day 6, but because we start our attempt on the night of day 5, I consider it the same day. In either case, we first had to make our ascent to Barafu before we even considered the summit.
The path from Karanga to Barafu is steep, and by now the altitude makes travel more strenuous than usual. The climate here remains alpine desert, but the field is littered in sedimentary rock from previous volcanic eruptions of millennia past.
On day 5, we were met with our first real encounter with the constant beating of the equatorial African sun. At 3 degrees latitude, the sun here is vicious and unrelenting. Until now, our trek unfolded primarily under cloud cover, providing us safety from the majority of the rays. On this day, however, cloud cover was sparse and the sun was unrelenting at its mid-day peak. Our team had to stay covered, not because of heat, but because of the possible damage from the sun at this height.
Leaving Karanga at 9am, the team made short work of the trail to Barafu, arriving safely just after 12:30pm. This would give us time enough to rest and relax. In less than 12 hours we would be on the trail again for our final day of ascent, in hopes of surmounting the Uhuru Peak on the Kibo Summit at 19,341 feet.