This page describes the last four days of a Kilimanjaro climb on the Machame route, Shira or Lemosho route.
Those routes have different starting points, but all share the same trail over the last days.
Today, first thing in the morning, you will tackle the Barranco Wall.
There are stories about the Barranco Wall "requiring significant climbing experience", being "almost impossible" or "perilously dangerous". That's not true I find.
It is strenuous to climb because the air is already so thin and it is very steep. And if you never set foot on any mountain in your life it may in places appear a little precarious. But in no way does it require climbing experience!
The wall is exposed and you will use your hands to steady yourself, but you can pretty much walk all the way to the top. Only at a few points do you need to scramble. (And you don't need experience to scramble.)
Don't forget to turn around every now and then and admire the views, including the line of climbers/ants behind you.
The wall takes about an hour and a half to scale, and as you come over the final ridge you are met with a breathtaking view of Kibo, which all of a sudden looks a lot closer!
You'll have a short break to enjoy the stunning views, and then it's down again on a much gentler slope. From here it's another couple of hours over volcanic scree and through several small, sheltered valleys until you reach the Karanga Valley Camp.
The narrow and steep Karanga Valley is a green oasis, albeit a cold, windy one. The camp is on the other side of the valley (another climb...) and you can spend the afternoon resting, exploring, or chasing that perfect picture of one of the iridescent, malachite sunbirds that live here.
The walk today is short. You leave the Karanga Valley on an easy but steep path, through an increasinlgy inhospitable landscape, with the Southern Glaciers looming to your left. The path keeps getting steeper until you reach the Barafu Camp for lunch.
This is the benefit of having the extra night at Karanga in your schedule. You have plenty of time to eat, rest and recover, prepare everything for the summit attempt, maybe even go on a short acclimatisation walk, eat some more, and then have an early night. Tonight is the night.
Barafu Camp has an otherworldy feel to it, perched on an exposed ridge in a bleak and barren landscape. Do familiarise yourself with the area before the sun goes down! It is quite possible to simply step of the edge if you have to stumble around in the dark to find the toilet...
I hope you arrived at Barafu Camp early enough to get plenty of rest. (Climbers on shorter treks skipped the Karanga Camp and may not have.).
Your day pack should be ready with everything you will need tonight: rain gear if you aren't wearing it anyway, enough water, hand warmers, balaclava... You should have fresh batteries in your head torch and camera and you should already be wearing the right clothes. Make sure everything you are wearing is bone dry!
This day will likely go down in your memory as the most physically challenging day in your whole life. Likely it will also be one of the earliest starts you ever made...
Your guides will wake you up some time between 11 pm and 1 pm. There will be some hot drinks and maybe some food, but mostly it's a matter of crawling out of your sleeping bag, putting on a few more layers of clothes, your boots and your head torch. Grab your day pack and off you go...
After an initial little scramble over some small cliffs to get out of the Barafu Camp, the path becomes easier to follow. But it doesn't take long and you reach a sharp turn to the left. And then it starts, the endless succession of switchbacks, snaking back and forth, back and forth, up the steep slope of loose, volcanic scree that is the side of Kibo Peak.
As steep as the slope is, due to the many switchbacks the path itself isn't all that bad. However, the scree is lose and you keep sliding down, and nothing's easy without oxygen. The air is incredibly thin, getting thinner all the time.
You may feel horrible. Don't push yourself too hard. Take all the time you need and for goodness sake don't let anyone pressure you into moving faster than you feel comfortable to. Steady, steady, one tiny little step after the other.
Other groups overtaking you? Let them go!
It doesn't matter if you reach Uhuru Peak or even the rim in time for sunrise. It only matters that you reach it and that you will be able to get back down safely! You can not move too slowly on Kilimanjaro.
The people who do not feel the effects of the altitude are few and far between. Hopefully the worst you have to deal with is a headache and the occasional wave of nausea. Throwing up is not as uncommon as you might hope and is no reason for concern. It's only awful.
It's impossible to have long breaks in these temperatures. The cold starts creeping into your hands and feet first, then into your whole body.
When you cross a frozen stream and notice some boulders you are very close! It's about 30 minutes to the rim from here, but that last bit of slope is cruel, the steepest and hardest part of the whole night... But you won't be giving up now, right?
It takes most people five to six hours to reach Stella Point. If you are among the slower climbers, don't worry. The break of dawn invariably provides a much needed boost of energy for those last metres, and before you know you will be up there, admiring the rising sun from 5752 m/18871 ft.
Congratulations to you, for you have done well!!
The park authorities will reward you with a certificate, even if you decide not to continue along the crater rim past the glaciers to Uhuru Peak.
The good thing about reaching the crater rim at Stella Point rather than Gilman's (like the Rongai and Marangu route would): it may be harder to reach the rim, but from here to Uhuru peak it's only 45 minutes. A piece of cake... (Not!)
Even though most consider the climb up to Stella Point the hardest part, the walk around the rim can prove challenging, too.
The more time you spend at this extreme altitude, the more you will feel it. The path rises steadily. It may not look steep, but by now every step uphill can be a battle.
(Mind you, for other people it's a breeze, but it's certainly better to be prepared for the worst and find it easier than expected, than the other way around.)
Congratulations again. What you just accomplished is truly impressive and no matter what you expected, the reality of it will be totally different. Some people get very emotional, some are on a big high, some are so dazed, they barely take any notice at all. There is no way to describe or imagine the experience of climbing to nearly 6000 m altitude.
It's time for hugs and photos. There won't be time for much else, because it will be too cold and also too dangerous to remain at this altitude for more than a few minutes.
You probably don't have the tiniest little bit of energy left now. Well, guess what? The day has only begun and it's another long day...
You now have to drag yourself back to Stella Point. From there it's nearly 1100 m down, down, down... Until you get back to Barafu. The descent is cruel on the knees and you will appreciate the walking poles!
If you scree run then this isn't too bad. It's actually quite fun. And fast! But pity those who have to stagger back down the same way they came up, switchback for painful switchback.
Lunch should be waiting for you at Barafu. You just want to collapse and sleep; you can not imagine getting up from that chair again. But after what you have done to your body today it is not safe to remain at this altitude. You have no choice but to pack up your gear and keep going, the sooner the better. Down and down you go, for several more hours, to Millenium Camp or Mweka Huts, whichever your tour company chose.
What will happen now is something of a miracle. Because as you descend further there will be air again. Oxygen! Lots of it!
Oxygen is life and that is exactly what will be injected back into you. You may not believe this now, but there is a good chance that after this additional descent you may feel better and have more energy than you did at lunch time.
Dinner is often a much livelier affair, with everybody's eyes shining as they recount the experiences of the day. And I have no doubt that you will sleep well tonight!
After beakfast you set off, down, down, down again. It's your last day on the mountain and you may have trouble getting enthusiastic about your surrounds.
What you will probably notice more is the fact that the path is rather steep, and that the steps on the steepest sections are hell for your abused knees.
The day takes you through some really pretty forest with lots of birdlife. Try to muster some interest. It may distract from the pain.
Once you get to the gate you'll have to endure some more formalities, but eventually you will say good bye to your guides (a sad and emotional moment), climb into the vehicle waiting for you and be whisked away to your hotel for hot showers and cold beers.
More about All Kilimanjaro routes