It was 6am and Zed had literally to shake us out of our sleeping bags on day five, as we tried to catch that extra wink of sleep, exhausted from the previous day's climb. The great Barranco Wall which stood before us was an imposing sight, but seemed trivial compared with the challenge that lay before us at midnight - our ascent to Uhuru peak, the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.
We were keen to get going because we knew there wouldn't be much time to rest after we had climbed up to Barafu camp. Barranco Wall was similar to Lava Tower, though much steeper, and we soon found ourselves climbing with hands and feet, as there was no special equipment. There were no glaciers in sight, but the climb up was very slippery from the continuous stream of glacial water making its way down the wall. Kilimanjaro is actually an inactive volcano with two extinct cones and one dormant.
Our landscape on day five was scattered with igneous rocks in different shapes and sizes. In fact, it is said that molten magma lies just a few hundred metres beneath the dormant cone, Kibo, on whose rim we'd find the mountain's summit, Uhuru Peak. We began our descent down Barranco after a short break, jumping from rock to rock. Our knees hurt more than the day before, but Zed motivated us to continue. The track ahead would take us over the ridges below the Heim Glacier and on through Karanga Valley.
Karanga would be not only our last water stop of the day, but also the last chance for anyone who had second thoughts to change his mind. A turn to the left would lead up the ridge to Barafu and a turn right, down to the Mweka descent camp. Although we were weary, there was no doubt about which we were going to take. We soon found ourselves climbing up the ridge to Barafu camp. At 4,550 metres, the camp itself was higher than most mountains and we soon learnt that it had been named Barafu for a reason: the word means ice in Swahili, and that was all there was to see.
It was five in the evening and we were exhausted by the time we reached the camp after the 13km hike. At seven degrees below freezing and with gusty winds, the area was inhospitable, to say the least. We put on our thermals as the porters pitched our tents on a narrow, icy ridge. Even under a clear, moonlit sky, the area was prone to being blanketed by cloud and one step in the wrong direction could mean a fall to certain death.
We had an early dinner and quickly prepared the equipment for our 1,345m climb to the summit starting at midnight. I double-checked my torch and made sure that I had enough water in my thermal flask. We made one last trip around the area to familiarise ourselves with the terrain and retired to our sleeping bags. Follow more of Sheikh Mohammed's adventures at www.musafir.com.