A week of acclimatization~now getting ready for the climb tomorrow to Camp II !
Taking chemo is like stepping into the unknown~Acclimating at high altitude while climbing; it’s amazing how our body’s adapt to surviving in these conditions. Not everyone does well and you never know if this is the expedition you get a bad case of HAPE or HACE and are evacuated off of the mountain.
Remembering back to the first time I climbed Kilimanjaro and my first altitude experience~After arriving and settled into our cozy hotel in Moshi, Tanzania, we sat at a bar drinking our first of many ‘Kilimanjaro’ beers (important to consume as many calories as possible for a climb;), a group of climbers who had just finished their expedition joined us. I asked how they did at altitude and they said, ‘you’ll see many people on summit day vomiting, stumbling and retreating’. Due-to-the fact that there is on average 100+ people summiting Kili per day, makes sense that shit goes down up there.
A week later, we were well on our way up the big volcanic peak via the popular Machame route. From my experience, the only reason this route is most popular; it’s a quick turn around for the guiding companies. It’s smelly, crowed, dirty (trail is full of litter and the outhouses…well you can imagine). The fact that the hight camp ‘baraf-u’ has rats and birds running around at 15,000 ft above sea level, goes to show the amount of expeditions that come through there. Though it is one that offers a midnight summit bid and sunrise at the top.
At about 11pm I was woken by my guide to gear up, grab a snack in the dining tent, and get ready for the night of climbing. I didn’t get much sleep, partly due to the hours of gale force winds hammering at my tent walls and of course, the anticipation of the big climb ahead. Emerging out of my tent, almost blown off of my feet, I made my way to the outhouse. First of all, at altitude, if you walk at a normal pace you are out of breath in two steps, the wind made it extra hard. Secondly, this famous outhouse at Barafu camp sits, no actually hangs at the side of a massive cliff. Squatting over a 500 foot drop in hurricane winds pushing cold air up your ass and blowing the toilet paper out of your hands is an interesting way to try and relieve yourself. I just prayed the outhouse wouldn’t blow off of the cliff with me in it.
Headlamp on, backpack on, camelback water hose in position, off we go. Despite the wind, the night sky is beautiful, full of twinkling stars and the full moon lights up the exposed hill we are about to climb.
It’s becoming quite evident that the 100 summiteers per day are all on the Machame schedule tonight. The various expedition teams are starting around the same time and only half hour in, a bottle-neck has begun. Okay, it’s not Everest’s death zone, but sure gave me a perspective with the crazy wind chill, lack of Os and the many headlamps lighting the long route ahead.
Drinking a lot of water helps your body deal with the altitude, which also provokes a full bladder, often. I go for my first big drink from my water hose…POP! …the end flies off and no where to be seen. Water is funneling out like a garden hose all over my gloves and jacket, I quickly pinch it off and look for the end. Three generous porters help me scour the ground with our headlamps, one porter says to me in swahili ‘poa poa’ which means ‘be cool’, I guess he didn’t want me to panic…another yells out…’got it!’ Phew. I strap it back on the hose with some tape and hope for the best. I change my gloves and move on to catch up with the group.
Pushing my way through the bottle-neck I meet up with my team who are stopped for a break. We have our first issue, one of the girls has the beginning stages of frostbite. Not a surprise considering the temps and wind chill in addition to altitude which decreases your circulation. They fix her up with some hot packs (which need O2 to work properly..hmm) and she continues up with the group (not sure why, she should have retreated back to camp).
Off we go merging back into traffic. Moving at high altitude is a challenge and very slow, but when the line is stopped, it makes for an increased risk of getting frostbite etc. The group at the bar where correct, other team members are vomiting, falling over, and retreating back down…it was a shit show.
One foot in front of the other, my headlamp lights up my boots and the next step. Waves of ‘oh, think I’m going to shit myself…oh maybe not…oh, think I am going to vomit…maybe not..oh my headache is back..can’t feel my toes…oh maybe I feel them again’ a repeat vocab that runs through your head as your body adapts to the higher elevation. Moving on I pray for the sun to rise earlier and warm me (though knowing full well that at this altitude, the sun doesn’t turn the temps into the tropics).
Many stops and hours later we made it to the false summit ‘Stella Point’ this is a summit for some people as it is the crater rim. The true summit is a pinnacle, highest point on the rim. Break time and half the group left to go back down, including the girl whos toes were now white and stiff. The rest of us head for the summit.
~Years later on a second expedition, I went with a different company, Berg Adventures, and we did the Lemosho route. Wayyyy better trail, views, clean and hardly anyone on it. Highly recommend it! We had a special permit to camp above Barafu, away from the smell and rats, also an early but casual morning start. Waking out of the tent at sunrise fully rested was a much enjoyable experience. ~At midnight I was woken by the Machame climbers walking past my tent going for their summit bid. I was smiling, cozy in my sleeping bag, and happy not to be with that group.