Reaching Above 15,000 feet!
Last night I was able to eat some toast and felt that by today I would be sufficiently recovered to rejoin the team on the quest for the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And this morning I felt about 80% recovered. I was able to still eat only toast and was concerned that I might not have enough strength for the upcoming day.
I slowly packed my bag, dressed and put on my climbing boots a bit afraid of what the day would hold and hoping my stomach would be up to the task of the day. Our plan was to climb from Shira II up to Lava Tower around the northern side of the mountain and up at over 15,000 feet. From there we would drop back down to about 13,000 feet. There is a maxim in climbing that says “Climb high, sleep low” to better acclimate. In this way you minimize altitude sickness but end up climbing many more thousands of feet to reach the summit.
We set out in overcast weather and within the first half an hour I knew I wasn’t as healthy as I had hoped. The knot in my stomach was ever present and my strength almost non existent. Our lead guide, Honest Minja, took my pack from me and said if I could keep going he would carry my pack. I felt like a sissy girl, but ultimately was grateful for his assistance.
Our route took us up above the tree line and across lava fields that more resembled moonscapes. As we reached upwards of 14,000 feet halfway through the morning, luck continued to elude me as the rain began to fall again in torrential sheets. I could see the rest of the team ahead of me on the next ridge and hoped they would not wait. I stopped to put on all the rain gear I had. Doubled over with stomach pain and fighting a cold and windy rain, I continued upward.
Finally about 11:00 the rain began to let up and we could see the amazing silhouette of Lava Tower in the distance, a massive rock outcropping which can be seen from many of the lower camps. Stopping to rest my complaining stomach every 20 feet or so, I finally made it to the tower at over 15,000 feet. Our porters had set up the mess tent for lunch as the rain again came down in buckets. We huddled in the tent, sipping on tea and Milo, shivering in the cold. Our cooks had thankfully prepared hot soup but I was unable to eat it, mainly just drinking something hot to warm up.
But from here it was downhill another two to three hours, back to 13,000 feet to our camp at Barranco. I knew I would be able to make it from here to the camp. The team seemed to split up from here as some preferred to race the rain to camp while others took their time coming down the steep slope back into the trees.
As I peeled the soaking wet and muddy clothes off me and collapsed into the tent, I realized that tomorrow night was our attempt at the summit. If I had a chance of making it I was going to have to get better quickly and begin to eat.
The rest of the team are doing fine but the rain is taking its toll. Most of our clothes and boots are wet and muddy and at least mentally this makes climbing more difficult but they are a determined group. Tonight they broke out the cards and had some rousing games of Uno in the mess tent. I fell asleep hoping no one else would become ill and that I would be fully recovered for the two big days that lie ahead!