Walls, Perseverance and Barry

Day 5 on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Today we conquered the Barranco Wall. It looms large on most Kili hikes as it stands 850 feet above Barranco Camp, and it’s the first thing you do after breakfast and heading out. It’s primarily a scramble, working your way over rocks and boulders via a number of switchbacks. You use hands and feet to pull yourself up at some points and slowly make your way to the top. We go slowly—”Pole! Pole!” in Swahili—and it’s great preparation for the pace to the summit.

Noah, Barry and I at Karanga Camp with the Kili summit in the background. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

While Noah and I had a blast—it reminded us of the Beehive Trail in Acadia—others not so much. Especially Barry.

Barry came to climb Kilimanjaro to give him something to work toward, an inciting incident to use Donald Miller’s language (see A Million Miles in a Thousand Years). He turned 70 during our trek and wanted to lose weight in order to be more healthy and see his grandkids grow up, so he signed on. He walked miles and miles around New York City to prepare and even though he’d never slept in a tent before, he loved the climb so far.

Except for rocks and boulders.

Barry and the guides knew it would take him time to scale the wall, so they split out the group to give him support. He left before our group and when we came up to where he was we all shouted encouragement to him. He looked up briefly, thanked us, and then a steely determination appeared on his face.

After we made it to the top, we saw that Barry was about a third of the way up. We had a brief snack, commented on Barry’s resilience, and then continued on toward our next camp. We descended and climbed a few more hills along the way, and then arrived at the Karanga Valley for one last climb to our camp for a late lunch. As we ate grilled cheese, soup and fruit, some of the Tusker folks came in to put together some food and send lunch to Barry and those with him on the trail.

With the shorter hike, Noah and I played cribbage and wrote in our journals. The weather had grown nicer over the day, and the views of the summit were exquisite.

Late that afternoon Barry made it to camp. We all congratulated him and sat with him as he got something hot to drink at the mess tent. While he was tired and hated those dang boulders, he still had that fire in him. He never even considered giving up. He just stayed at it, putting one foot in front of the other, and climb that wall.

We shared a wonderful dinner tonight—schnitzel! mashed potatoes!—and great conversation. And tomorrow we’re on to base camp. Barry’s determined to make it. And I’m so glad he’s here with us showing us what determination and hard work are all about.

Daily Totals: 3.6 miles, 850 feet of gain and 600 feet of loss.

Trek Totals: 25.6 miles and 6650 feet of gain.

Elevation: 13,200 feet.