It was very windy the night before but I was able to sleep. I had lots of strange dreams though. Not sure if it’s the altitude, the Diamox, or just the anxiety. I dreamed about one of my oldest friends, Chris Sink. I can’t recall now what the dream was about. I also dreamed of Blaire Flowers, my friend from work. I clearly remember the dream because it was absolutely absurd: I was at a movie theatre and searching for theatre 26. I went up to an employee and asked if they knew where theatre 26 was and when the employee turned around to answer, it was Blaire! She said she didn’t know where it was but she knew where I could get popcorn. I remember thinking, “Poor thing, she must be new!”. How bizarre!
Felt pretty good when I woke up. My goal for the day was to drink 5 litres of water- 3 on the hike and 2 in camp before bed. The plan for the day was to leave Karanga Camp and head to Barafu Camp, which is the summit base camp, and arrive around lunch time. After lunch, the plan was to take a nap then get our summit briefing before gearing up and going to bed for a few hours. We will wake up at 10PM, do a final gear check, eat a snack, then head up into the darkness at 11:00PM for our march to the summit.
My journal entry: “TERRIFIED!!!!!!!!!!! Terrified of AMS, HAPE, HACE, and worst of all, FAILURE.”
My next journal entry says: “It takes a LOT of effort to stuff a sleeping bag at 13,000 feet. “
After packing up and eating breakfast, we did our usual last minute bathroom run and final pack check. I told Arlette and Adrienne that I had promised a friend that I would film myself singing “Africa” by Toto with Kilimanjaro in the background. Arlette kindly filmed me while I made an ass out of myself dancing and singing the wrong words to Africa. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t record so all I have is a video of me dancing around like an idiot with zero context. I look like I’m having a seizure.
We headed up the mountain and out of Karanga. We eventually reached a level spot in the trail where many people passed us. There were several mule trains of Brits who passed us as if they were trying to qualify for Rio 2016. That’s okay…we would later see them suffering near the summit and would pass them (take that!). Adrienne and I needed a potty break so we took off in search of cover. It was hard to find any at that elevation. We did find a place near a cliff that would have to do. While waiting for Adrienne to do her business, I saw a mouse scamper around the scree.
After peeing in precarious places, I looked ahead and saw Barafu Camp. Yah! I also saw the horrific, steep climb we had to make to get there. Boo! I also noticed a drop toilet at Barafu that was perched on the edge of a cliff. Precarious pee place indeed! Never was I more thankful to have our own toilet tent than when I saw that. Well that’s not true. I think the Whitman’s Sampler drop toilet made me most thankful for our private toilet (and my typhoid vaccination). Still, it was a scary sight and I feel sorry for anyone who had to stumble their way across rocks through the dark and wind just to pee. One wrong step and you’d easily fall off the cliff. That would suck.
We trudged along, following the Brits we encountered earlier. One of them had a terrible asthma cough and sounded pitiful! We found her sitting on a rock gasping and coughing away. Adrienne, who has asthma, asked her if she needed or wanted to use an inhaler. The Coughing Brit said, “No, *cough* I’m *cough* fine *cough*!”. Really? Have it your way! We continued on towards the camp. Finally! We reached the top of the ridge and this time, hallelujah, unlike Karanga, our tents were the first ones we came across! Yippie! Unfortunately for us, the stinkin’ ranger hut was further up the mountain so after dropping our packs Arlette, Chichi, and I huffed and puffed our way to sign in. Adrienne wasn’t feeling so good so she stayed at the tent and asked Arlette to sign her in.
When we arrived at the station the park ranger made a point to tell me he was selling Coke’s and Snicker’s. I really wanted one (or both) but all my cash was in my tent and there was absolutely no way I was going to go BACK DOWN to the tent then come BACK UP to the station just to buy one. I didn’t have the energy for all that. While signing in I scanned the book to see who was at camp and where they were from. It was the standard American/British mix with a few sprinklings of Danish, Canadian, and French. Later, I saw Israelis and South Africans in the camp. While Arlette signed in and checked out the occupation list (any Seahorse Jockeys?) I said hello to a young woman who just walked up. I asked her where she was from to which she replied, “Durham, UK”. I said, “Awesome! We are from the United States.” She excitedly said, “Oh I want to move there!” and I chirped, “Oh really? That’s cool. I want to move to the UK!”. I thought all of this was lighthearted conversation but apparently I hit a nerve because, in reply, she snarled, “Why?! It’s boring and there’s nothing to do!”. Frankly, I can’t remember what I said or if I said anything at all. She seemed so angry about the prospect of anyone liking her country that, rather than argue the merits of the UK and why I find it charming, I decided to instead stagger back down the slope to my tent. It seemed a better use of energy.
When we got into Barafu, I had a headache so I took some Advil. It went away but I still had that strange, lingering feeling that the headache was just hiding behind something in my brain and was ready to pop out, yell “SURPRISE!” and continue to bother me. It was lurking in the shadows, so to speak. During the briefing I mentioned this to Fido Dido and his response scared me more than any conversation we’d had yet. He said that if the headache is too bad, I’d have to turn back for fear of HACE (that’s High Altitude Cerebral Edema).
Here is an excerpt from my journal to give you some insight: “In all honesty, I don’t think I will make summit. I think AMS or HACE will turn me back. I’m really scared. Have I come here for nothing? Reality is, it’s not up to me. It’s up to God. Maybe he has another plan. I’ll be devastated. “
As you can see, I was really on edge. Again, it was never the fear of AMS or HACE. I never feared the physical ramifications, the potential for serious injury or even death. It was failure. Our briefing didn’t put me at ease. For the first time, Fido Dido seemed matter-of-fact instead of his usual “hakuna matata” self and for the first time, I was desperate for “hakuna matata”. We were advised to go to sleep right after an early dinner. We were to wake up at 10PM and prepare to leave. After a light snack of toast (we were told no porridge as it results in more vomiting – joy!) and tea, we’d leave at 11PM American Time, not African Time. Whew – that sounded serious! We would climb all night long with as few breaks as possible. They explained that it would be so cold that stopping for long could be detrimental. Our guides anticipated we’d reach the summit around 7AM or so. So imagine that for a moment: walking in total darkness (other than our headlamps) over rocks, up a mountain, in zero (or sub zero) temperatures ALL NIGHT LONG! Needless to say, all of this weighed heavily on me as we were sent off to catch some sleep.
I think we all went to our tents around 7PM. With all of my gear layed out, I cozied down into my sleeping bag and prayed for sleep. I was going to need as much rest as possible given the fact, in three hours, I was going to wake up and try to summit the world’s tallest free standing mountain and the tallest mountain in Africa. Lying in my tent, cold and nervous, this seemed almost ridiculous! I wanted to be excited but the F word continued to haunt and nag me – failure. I closed my eyes and drifted off.
When my eyes opened again, it was 10PM. I don’t know if I woke up because I heard Babu or if I just heard commotion in the camp. I gathered my gear, checked, and double checked. Then I prayed. Then I realized that I had lost the lock I kept on my duffel. Fudge. This meant that I had no way of securing the gear I left behind in my tent. That was a problem. I wasn’t worried about any of our guys stealing anything. I trusted those men with my life! I worried about other people who were wandering around in Barafu Camp. Barafu is notorious for thievery. All the climbers head up the mountain at 11PM on summit night which means anything they leave behind is unattended for nearly 8-12 hours. This made me very nervous because I had approximately 750,000 Tanzanian Shillings in my bag for tips (that’s approximately $450 USD). I really didn’t want to have to cut someone for stealing my porters tips after a hard night of slogging up to the summit so I decided to carry it with me. That made me nervous too! Not because I thought I’d get mugged on the way to the top but because I know myself and I could just envision stupid me pulling out some gummy bears from my pack and not notice that I had left wads of cash on the ground. Money aside, that still left hundreds of dollars worth of gear unsecured in my tent. I decided my best course of action was a booby trap! Yes, folks…that’s what 15,000 feet will do to your brain. It convinces you that you’re freakin’ McGyver and that you can rig a booby trap out of a luggage tag and some hair bands. Don’t ask for the mechanics involved but just know that I felt certain I’d teach someone a bloody lesson if they messed with my stuff and worse case scenario, I’d at least know if someone attempted to nick my gear!
With my booby trap in place, I exited my tent and headed towards the mess tent for some toast and tea. Everything we talked about or did during this time is a blur. We talked a bit, readied hand warmers, took our “precious” aka Diamox. In Adrienne’s case, she bumped up to 250mg. Arlette and I were already on full octane. Adrienne told me before I heard from our guides that our beloved Babu Sistusi was going to go to the summit with us. This was a shock to me for many reasons. First, during dinner I jokingly asked Babu if he wanted to go with us to the summit and he laughed, shook his head, and said, “Noooooo” in a sort of “you’re out of your freakin’ mind crazy white girl” sort of tone. Second, Babu was much older than Chichi or Fido Dido. Third, in my mind it meant they felt that at least two of us might not make it to the top and they wanted to ensure there were enough guides to help the sick/injured/defeated back down the mountain. While I was excited that our sweet Babu would be going with us, the realization that our guides didn’t necessarily think we’d all make it was a crushing blow to me.
Finally, it was 11PM and time to go. Chichi and Fido Dido said, “Twende” which means “let’s go” and I think we answered back with “Sawa” (okay!). And just like that, we turned on our head lamps and silently headed into the cold, the darkness and the unknown….