A shocking scientific discovery was made on the morning of day 5. Citizens of Earth, it only takes 5 days for my hair to dread. I’m not even joking. I woke up to the biggest, Bob Gnarliest dreadlocks in the back of my head. I guess that’s what happens when you subject your hair to five days of sweat, Kili dust, and never wash it. It didn’t help that I have naturally wavy hair and allowed it to whip in the wind before smashing a cap down over it. It took me 30 minutes to pick, pull, and eventually rake the dreads out of my hair. When it was over with, I had enough hair in my brush to make a bird a lovely, red nest. I hope the ravens of Kilimanjaro are happy in their new home. I’m sure the bald patch will grow in nicely over the next couple of years. *sigh*
Dreadlocks aside, I think the morning of Day 5 was one of the best. I slept well, stayed warm all night thanks to hand warmers, and woke up feeling rested and energized. Since I brought up the hair situation, let’s discuss hygiene on the mountain. There is none. Well, I mean to say there’s very little. The fact is, you’re so tired and so cold that it’s hard to get jazzed up about stripping down and washing one’s naked bod down with lukewarm water only to put half dirty clothes back on. Oh sure, I tried my earnest on Days 1-4 but by Day 5, I quit caring. All the porters reeked of body odor so I figured that so long as I didn’t smell, I was still ahead of the game. Also the dirt on Kilimanjaro is fine and it seems to get all over EVERYTHING. Like a parasite at the top of it’s game, it permeates every pore and settles into places you didn’t know dust could settle. Using baby wipes and the hot water “for wash” that Babu Sistusi brought every day, I did the best I could to stay clean but really by the time we reached Barranco, I was just trying to stay disease free. I tell you all of this, dear reader (both of you), that on this particular fine morning in Barranco Camp, it was COLD and all I could bring myself to wash were my face and hands as well as brush my teeth. In my journal I noted that “I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days but thanks to altitude, little smells. Thank God I brought enough underwear for every day. I tell myself that as long as I wear clean underwear everyday, I’m clean!” So you see, as Adrienne said, “Standards continue to slip”. On the weather predictions of Fido Dido, who said it would be warm at Karanga Camp, our next camp, the three of us decided that we’d give ourselves a thorough mountain bath there. The hike from Barranco to Karanga is a short day so I felt certain I’d have all the time and energy needed to really scrub myself clean. * This is what your English teacher calls foreshadowing*
In my journal I said, “I’ve prayed a lot on this journey and I feel closer to God.” Throughout the climb, my ego tries to pop up and crow about the accomplishment of even making it as far as I have but like a game of “Whack-a-Mole”, I smash it down and remind myself that on this mountain, as it is in life, the credit for glorious accomplishments goes to God, not me. Heck, I can’t even give myself a bath on this mountain – I’m certainly not in the position to take credit for much, right? Ha! I then went on to say, “This mountain is so enormous and can destroy a person in an instant yet God is the creator of Kilimanjaro which means he is far greater than all that. I am humbled to be loved by a God that powerful.”
The first half of Day 5 turned out to be my favorite day on the mountain! Our main task for the day was to climb the mighty Barranco Wall. Trust me when I say that photos of the wall do it no justice. The thing is HUGE and intimidating looking. It’s insane that someone ever looked at it and thought, “Yeah, I think that looks like a good way to get up the mountain!”. Chichi and Fido Dido told us that we would need to put our poles away for that portion of the climb. Fido Dido also said that today would be the day that allows us to actually claim we “CLIMBED” Kilimanjaro because we would be scrambling over rocks and pulling ourselves over them. Yah! I love rocks! We were also told we had to cross three streams before getting to the wall. Those certainly had to be the glacial streams I heard running in camp. Sitting in camp listening to all of this, I felt nervous but excited!
Before breakfast I once again had difficulty with packing my gear. My mind felt muddled and I just couldn’t figure out what needed to be packed first. It didn’t matter, which seems obvious now, but at 13,000 feet I just couldn’t get my brain to lock in on a decision. Once I finally got it all settled I walked around camp taking photos and watched the porters walking up from the stream with buckets of water on their head. Beast!
When it was time to leave camp and tackle the wall, I felt excited! In our usual line order (Chichi, Me, Arlette, Adrienne, and Fido Dido) we headed down the hill towards the streams and the base of the wall. Streams of porters passed by us. It’s always a happy moment when our own porters pass us and you can hear them coming because of the constant exclamatory greeting of “Captain Boola”. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in other posts but that phrase was some sort of inside joke between Chichi and the porters. Chichi called everyone Captain Boola and in return, everyone called him Captain Boola. We asked what it meant but when we did, they only giggled, smiled, shook their head and refused to answer. It only took a few days for the three dada’s to hop in on the fun and we often said it to the delight of the porters and guides. The other strange thing the porters and Chichi said was an odd little sing-songy noise that sounded something like “LalalaLElu”. You’d have to hear it but I often heard Magambo, the chef, and Chichi singing/calling out to each other using it. I digress….where was I? Ahh yes, our porters! I always loved it when our porters passed us. They’d smile and greet us. Babu always said, while carrying some massive bag on his head, “Pole-pole…no hurry Kilimanjaro” as he passed us. I love that man! I really do! I miss him so much!
As we prepared to climb the wall, Chichi took my poles and carried them for me. Thank you, Captain Boola! 😉 As we scrambled and climbed, I quickly fell out of breath and struggled to drink water AND breath at the same time. Occasionally, we had to push ourselves against the wall to allow porters to pass. It amazes me that they can balance 35 pounds on their head AND climb up a steep rock wall! At one particularly tight point, which I dubbed Muffin Top Pass, we had to turn sideways, suck in our guts, and squeeze through the rocks. Not too long after that we passed the infamous “kissing rock” or “hugging rock” (depends on who you ask). It’s a spot along the wall that requires you to hug the wall tightly as you dangle over the edge to reach the other side (that description makes it sound scarier than it is). As I passed, I gave the rock a kiss. Hopefully no one with herpes did the same just before me. Eeeew!
Along the way we passed several Americans, two of whom were from Florida. They seemed happy and appeared to be having a good time! We also passed other groups and their guides. Fido Dido was having a good time with his joke that I was his wife and Adrienne and Arlette were either his sisters-in-law or eventually his other wives/girlfriends. This made the other guides laugh and near the top I heard the word “shemedi” (or shemeji?…not sure which is the right spelling) and looked over at a guide who laughed. That word means sister-in-law and the other porters would call us that since Fido Dido called me wife. As I passed the guide laughing, he called me the Queen of Kilimanjaro. I loved it! I laughed and at that point, feeling pretty good, I sort of did feel like the Queen of Kili! *more foreshadowing, kids* When we reached the top, we stopped at a beautiful spot that gave us a gorgeous view of Kibo and we enjoyed some snacks and refilled on water. We shared some snacks with our guides, chatted awhile, took in the gorgeous view and discussed the distance to our next camp, Karanga. It was around this time that I noticed a slight headache. I attribute it to three things: not drinking any tea (caffeine) that morning, not drinking enough water (I ran out half way up the wall) and from breathing so hard coming up the wall. At altitude, breathing can easily dehydrate a person. The air is extremely dry up there. However, when we breathe, we are expelling warm, moist air. When this happens, the moisture is not being replaced by the cold, dry air being breathed in. So at altitude, when you do something that results in heavy breathing, like climbing a wall, you become dehydrated even faster. I would pay the price for all of that hard breathing. *oh look, it’s that F word again…foreshadowing*
The hike from our resting spot to Karanga camp is just a memory of suck. I hated it. The guides told us that it was a short day; however, they purposely (or so I suspect) failed to inform us that it was short but brutal. We descended and climbed several small valleys and that part wasn’t that bad. In fact, at one point, we looked across the horizon and saw Karanga Camp pitched on a rocky hillside and thought, “Oh great! We’re almost there.” That’s true…we were. But what we failed to notice was that a HUGE ABYSS separated us from the camp. We started a seemingly never ending journey down switchbacks covered in loose soil that caused us to slip and slide half the way down. Everytime I thought we were at the bottom, we continued to descend. It really made my knees hurt. We finally reached the bottom of the canyon and saw the stream the porters used for water. It turns out that this stream is the last place to gather water so porters must load up onwater – not only carry it up the canyon to Karanga camp, but also take it several more hours up the trail to Barafu camp. I can’t even imagine doing that. God bless their souls. Seriously. Anyway, when we reached the stream we stopped for a few minutes to rest and drink water. My head was really hurting and I suspected no one else felt tip top because no one was talking. I was too busy praying for God to send a dove with a morphine syringe to help with my headache. I don’t know what the others were thinking about.
When we finally made the last push up to the camp, I just wanted to go to gobble down some Advil and go to sleep (since the dove with narcotics was a no-show). But oh no! We had to go sign in at the ranger’s hut first. After signing in, I looked around for our tents but didn’t see them. I was then informed that our tents were at the very TOP of the camp. Ugh! We passed some South Africans along the way and I think I honestly contemplated begging them to let me just crash in their tent in exchange for 250mg Diamox or hand warmers (okay, not really…but kind of! lol). After what felt like the final summit push to reach Uhuru, we finally made it to our tents. I asked Babu which tent was mine and he said, “Shemedi” and pointed. Ha! I crawled into my tent and searched desperately for my first aid kit. I needed Advil. I felt much the way Renton felt in Trainspotting after scoring smack. If you’ve seen the film, remember that scene when the room kind of spins as he happily takes the heroin? That was me in my tent! Oh…and as for bathing? Forget it. I didn’t care if I got gangrene and died like Harry in Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway. I was too exhausted and in too much pain to consider it. As it turned out, I was NOT the Queen of Kilimanjaro. Not even close. Instead I was the Queen of Suckville, population: me.
I passed out for a while to allow time for the drugs to penetrate my gray matter but awoke to the sound of Tanzania winning the World Cup. Okay, well I know there’s no World Cup this year but that’s how jubilant the camp was. The place had gone absolutely mad! Porters singing, people dancing, birds squawking. What the Jiminy Cricket?! Maybe the morphine dove showed up while I was sleeping. I dunno….but the place was nuts! Unfortunately, I wasn’t feelin’ it. Though my head was easing up, my stomach felt horrible. I didn’t have nausea but I had some sort of odd stomach acid over production situation. Time to break out the Pepcid.
Karanga ranks up there with Moir/Mars Camp in total suck value. I fully attribute my disdain for Karanga to my headache but even when it went away, I disliked the place. First of all, it was really rocky and we were camped on an incline. This meant that I slid every time I tried to walk anywhere: the mess tent, the toilet tent, etc. Also, it was VERY windy! Fido Dido said that it stays windy in the camp and that one time all the tents blew away. Yikes! Here is what I wrote in my journal, “So it seems I associate my wellbeing with the camps. I hated Moir because I had a headache and now I hate Karanga because I am sick. Loved Barranco! I’m feeling nervous about tomorrow. I desperately want to summit but wonder if I can even make it to Barafu Camp? Fido Dido said I didn’t drink enough water so I am going to drown myself before my headache comes back.”
“Update- Water is God’s medicine because I powered down a litre and feel a lot better. Tomorrow I plan to drink at least three liters before we get to Barafu. “
During tea time we normally ate popcorn but in Karanga camp I walked in and saw some sort of nut. I asked Babu what it was and he said, “peanut”. Later we found out Karanga means “peanut” in Swahili. Really? This God-forsaken, rocky wasteland of a camp is called “Peanut Camp”? How did such a lonely, difficult place get such a cute, cuddly name? The three of us joked that the next pet we get we will call Karanga! Speaking of Karanga Camp, Arlette changed the name to False Hope Camp since so many climbers pass through Karanga and continue on to Barafu. That would make for an incredibly long day, particularly when you have to begin your summit the same night you arrive in Barafu. We talked about how horrific it would be to see Karanga in the distance, believing you’re almost at camp, only to be told you still have hours to go before you actually arrive at the other camp. False Hope Camp!
Last entry into my journal before sleeping: The weather here is cold and foggy. The wind is picking up. I hope I don’t wake up in Oz! My tent zipper keeps breaking and after 30 minutes of flipping out in the dark for fear of dying of hypothermia, I finally went and asked for help! Junior fixed it! You won’t believe it but he took two rocks, beat the zipper, and like magic it worked. He called them “African tools”. I died laughing. I’m tipping that guy extra. He is awesome! Love him too. Hoping for a restful night. Tomorrow night, if all goes well, we Summit. Very nervous. I don’t want to fail.”