Reaching the Summit! (Part 1)

As I did not summit, I asked a GLOBE teacher and volcanologist (and no, she does not have ears like Dr. Spock from Star Trek!) Jayme Margolin-Sneider who did, to share her experience and that of the group that did summit.  As some background, Jayme completed her undergraduate degree at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA and Auckland University, New Zealand.  She then completed some research as a Fulbright Scholar at Hokkaido University, Japan (Seismic Volcanology Research).  Her graduate work was completed at New Mexico Tech, with a field work component on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.  After completing her studies, Jayme worked as a Geological Education Specialist at Mount Rainier National Park, and as an education outreach specialist at UNAVCO.  Currently she is a science teacher at Westview Middle School, in Longmont, Colorado.  

September 27, 2015
After a cold night with little sleep at Lava Tower, we quickly headed down the Baranco Valley. It was a beautiful U-shaped valley (formed from glaciation) on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro.  We were walking through the glacial moraine and were decreasing in elevation. Our goal was to camp at lower elevation this coming night to help our bodies acclimate to the higher elevation. As we descended to 3,540 meters (Baranco camp elevation), we entered more of a V-shape valley (formed from glacial run off) with numerous creeks and waterfalls. This allowed for very unique vegetation in this valley. In addition to the high amount of water, the clouds would also roll in and out of this valley allowing vegetation to grow along the Baranco Wall.  After lunch in camp, we then tackled the climb up the Baranco Wall. This wall is a 300-meter thick lava flow that could be about 400,000 years old. As we climbed over the mafic basalts, we then saw a change to more of a granitic flow. Faults were visible in the lava flow, which symbolized that this African Rift Valley is a very tectonically active region.  Weathering and erosion were clearly visible as we scrambled up the wall.

Once we conquered the wall, we had to continue across the southern side of the volcano. The upper slopes became visible through the clouds and the fine volcanic ash was clearly coming from the summit and down these slopes in alluvial fans. We had to cross another deep V-shaped valley before reaching Karanga Camp. This stream was the last water source for the rest of the camps during our ascent. It was amazing to see the porters climbing out of the steep valley with 5 gallon water jugs (about 40 pounds or 20 liters) on their heads.  Right before entering Karanga Camp, there was an amazing outcrop showing compacted ash layers from previous eruptions. Also lapilli was clearly visible with the course material becoming finer and then a younger deposit of this same pattern on top of that layer. 

Porters carry large bundles up a mountain.
Porters carrying items (food, backpacks, chairs, tables, latrines!) up the 'Wall'

Once in Karanga camp, I finally was able to eat and sleep because of the lower elevation (back under 14,000 feet or 4,000 m). My blood oxygen levels were back around 97% and I was prepared from the gradual climb up to Kosovo camp. The entire team was feeling better and the Omani team was definitely in more positive spirit, as well.

Porters carry bulky and heavy items while climbing a mountain
This image gives you an idea of the weight being carried by the porters

September 28, 2015
The day was another long, slow hike as the air became “thinner.” Our route took us over to the southeastern slopes of the volcano and we were now into more felsic rocks. The Omani team in fact recognized some of the rocks as ones they have in Oman and use for tombstones. We realized the global connection of geologic phenomenon, trying to explain igneous (volcanic) rocks and the common sedimentary rocks that provides Oman with its wealth from oil production. We then discussed various uses for these different types of rocks. The specific geology terms were lost in translation between Arabic and English. Our day continued as we passed more faulting and metamorphism and then joined into the more crowded trails at Barafu Camp. There we met numerous nationalities all with a common goal – to summit the tallest peak in Africa. 

Once in Kosovo camp, I knew my body was not doing well with the elevation. At 16,500 feet (about 5,000 m), I had a very strong headache and had zero appetite. I was able to see the other members of our team also feel the effects of less oxygen. The end goal was still there, to summit, but it became more apparent that this challenge was all about the journey to the summit and not just the final goal. The 10 clients and numerous guides and porters had to rely on teamwork. We were very dependent on each other and needed to speak up if something was wrong. I was not the only one that had a headache. In fact, most of the Omni team members also had muscle sores. We were all very anxious about the climb to the summit.  

So... will Jayme make it to the summit? How will a volcanologist survive at this altitude?!!  Join us for the concluding part of this blog...

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