Kilimanjaro: Day 9
Summit Eve. What Else to Remember?
Saturday, October 2
Now this was beyond a joke. Camelbak in good position, hose elevated, and as is now usual, there's GD water on my side of the tent. Final note to self: electrolyte pills are effervescent enough to drive the water out of the elevated hose. I'm not even going to mention the GD gaiters.
"Here in the Saddle we're in the alpine desert, where only three species of tussock grass and a few everlastings can withstand the drought conditions and put up with both inordinate cold and intense sun, usually in the same day. By far the most common flower is the Asteraceae, crisp, dry everlasting daisies, a perennial favorite in pot pourri, and again a species common to most tropical highland regions of Africa."
We're seriously closing in on the goal. It does not look nearly so high now (but it's still 3000ft higher). The altitude was clearly taking its toll, and nowhere is this more clearly apparent than in the way we're comfortable plodding along in each other's footsteps. But Nick is getting further behind.
Also check out the light in the photos now. I had one shirt with thumb holes (so the shirt covered the backs of my hands when my thumbs were through the holes) and I wore it every day to prevent the sunburn which was extremely easy to catch at this altitude. The light was a warning sign, the contrast markedly sharper as these photos show, and of course it will only get more dramatic from here.
At a water break, once again the guides were singing and dancing. Even Antoine joined in, without even unhitching his 70lb load. Someone: "You guys are crazy!" Calvin: "You have to be crazy to climb Kilimanjaro!"
It was a short walk, and as planned we rolled into camp in time for lunch. So although all of the pictures are basically before lunch, most of the action worth reporting was after lunch.
A good moment to tell Sunday's story. Brian asked him about his arm and this is what Sunday told him. When he was an infant, his father's brother died, and as was the tradition, his father married his sister-in-law so that she would be cared for (even though he already had one wife of his own). But she was a witch capable of some very potent sorcery, and one day in a rage, without even needing to be in the room, she lifted young Sunday into the air and cast him into the fire. His mother heard the screams and came running, but not before Sunday had become seriously burned. She grabbed him out of the ashes, ran from the house and carried him to the nearest hospital. But the nearest hospital was three days walk away. The doctors were able to save his life, and most of his arm, but he lost several fingers and pretty much all of the use of the arm.
Barafu Camp. Barafu is Swahili for ice or hail. A perfect name for this miserable camp.
We were back to a camp with a ranger station, so we had to check in. This was not as easy as it sounds. The camp was large, rocky, and we were at the bottom, while the ranger station was of course at the top. Add to that the 15K altitude that seemed to have suddenly knocked the wind from our sails, and it was a twenty minute shuffle to the hut, through by far the worst conditions we'd smelled. This was the Kili we'd read about in many blogs and once again I gave thanks for how shielded we'd been from this experience. Perhaps this is a good moment to pause and discuss the issue.
These passages from the excellent Henry Stedman book are so good I have just quoted them verbatim (with the kind permission of the author).
"There is great romance in planning and setting off to climb this great mountain. [...] Less romantic are some of the fundamental human functions that need to be taken care of in a natural environment through which thousands of sundry people tramp annually.
"The standard of service available at Shira 2 Camp, for example, at the point where Lemosho Route and Machame Route merge is very high. [...] However, far more commonly, services are offered in crudely built and shallowly dug "long drop" potties that are heavily utilized and that offer a less-that-delightful aroma if your porter happens to site your tent downwind.
The good news is that these amenities are regularly circulated so that the build-up of atmospheric toxins is ameliorated somewhat. There are also usually quite a few of them available at any one camp, so one can be selective about which among the many to visit. What is unavoidable, however, is that they are almost exclusively squat toilets and a degree of dexterity and accuracy are required to use them effectively. Sadly, evidence abounds to suggest that these skills are surprisingly rare in the climb fraternity.
Most of the higher-end outfitters nowadays offer a version of the portable sailing toilets that are carried skyward up the mountain on the heads of local porters. For women in particular these devises are a godsend and the extra few dollars they cost are definitely worthwhile. It is easy to overlook this when considering price options for your climb, but remember when the day comes that you have to stand in the freezing wind, toilet-roll in hand, looking at a dozen possibilities, each one less inviting than the last, you will without doubt appreciate the extra expense."
A brief inspection of the long-drop at Forest Camp was all I needed to convince me of the wisdom of choosing a "higher-end outfitter" and we only used the one here at Barafu because it took us at least 20 minutes to get here and with CHI-D's runs and my quick-on-the-draw bladder, neither of us was going to make it home in time, and though the route up smelled as if others did not hold our high standards, there was no way we were going to go rock-hopping in the middle of the camp.
On a more positive note, popularity brought with it commercialism, and folks bought coke and I think cigarettes—gasp—pun intended.
The post-lunch briefing was a long one as was fitting for the big day tomorrow. First off, to minimize the number of porters we needed, each tent was only allowed to bring one bag to the summit. So each pair needed to consolidate their combined essentials into one bag, and leave their combined non-essentials in their other bags.
No surprise, even though we were not planning the most-of-the-night-get-there-at-dawn summit attempt, it was a really early start: 6am, before light. Nick chose Calvin as his climb-buddy, and they would set off an hour before that. We would need headlamps and extra batteries, other toys needed to be kept under as many layers as possible, and we should wear as many layers as possible. We were advised to carry at least three liters of water, one of which needed to be warm. All of which was pretty sobering.
More of a surprise is that true to his word, Andrew is able to produce a new pair of gaiters for me. Luxury! Another huge brownie point for Thomson (and Andrew!).
That night CHI-D, F-Doug, Spence and I had one of those chats that shoulda, coulda, woulda been around a camp fire with cigars and a good single malt. But here we were in the mess tent with cocoa, high on (altitude) drugs and low on oxygen. Oh well. It seems F-Doug had actually been engaged, and had signed up for Kili shortly after dissolving the arrangement. Coincidence? I think not. While I suspected that CHI-D and I are both extremely happily married, this was not the time or the forum to admit that, so instead we focused on why F-Doug might struggle in one-on-one formation. Before you crush yourselves in the stampede to get your voice heard on the subject, believe me, we got you covered. No sugar-coating here. As his own Facebook page notes: "[F-Doug] is not god's gift to women. Women are gods gift to [F-Doug]." We were unstinting in our criticism and mockery of his character and outlook, but naturally he took it like a champ. It was great having Spence there too. As a much younger man, and also single, he provided some useful and insightful balance.
But eventually the tables started to turn. I guess because it seemed incredible to me that someone could take on a trip of this magnitude when it wasn't even on his radar screen three months before take off, we talked about that, and how it contrasted to my 45 year quest. CHI-D: "Back up the bus. What is a ten-year old doing with a bucket list? And what else was on it?" I did not, and still do not, have an answer for the former question. I guess I thought every ten-year old had one. As to the latter, there were three things on the list at that point: spend real time in America—not just a vacation, but really come to know it well; marry someone both pretty and pretty smart; and climb Kilimanjaro. As a kid who hadn't been outside the UK since he was old enough to walk, and a pudgy wallflower to boot, in their own ways the first two items were mountains just as high, distant, and insurmountable as the last. Looking back, they all seem like excellent, huge, stretch goals for a young man, and I realized at that moment that without really being conscious of it on a day-to-day (or even decade to decade) basis, I had quietly, step-by-step, climbed two of those mountains, and here I was on the eve of potentially achieving the third.
As you begin this morning the trail turns steadily uphill. The temperature will grow colder and the landscape more sparse as you near Barafu Camp. Barafu Camp is set on an exposed ridge and is the staging point from which you will make your way into the arctic summit zone tomorrow morning. Our cooks will help you eat and drink as much as possible before retiring to your tent for rest and sleep.
Copyright © 2010 Richard Thomson