Day four started off with me being filled with terror about what was to come. Luckily I had a restful night and stayed warm thanks to adding a liner to my bag. Temperature in my tent was 38.6 when I woke up. When I crawled from my tent and walked to the toilet tent, I became breathless. It was a 10 foot walk and it freaked me out a little to be so out of breath after spending 12 hours at this altitude. Having suffered with a headache the day before at 13,000 feet, I felt pretty certain my head would explode at Lava Tower where the elevation is 15,000 feet. I had read so much about how other climbers suffered terribly at Lava Tower and I worried that a bad day at Lava Tower would spell the end of my climb.
Fido Dido had said that those who don’t do well at Lava Tower don’t end up doing well on the summit but not to worry! Ha! I love how chipper and care free Tanzanians are. Everything is hakuna matata. I love that and it can be quite motivating but when you’re wondering if cerebral edema is in your future, you really just want some straight talk, yo!
My journal says, “Sistusi will bring tea soon but I don’t want it. I’ve lost my appetite for all this stuff. Bring me a Dr. Pepper!” Sounds about right! When he brought the tea he told me he was a little cold last night. I decided then and there that I would give him my bag liner as a token of my gratitude for all that he was doing for us. He was absolutely the sweetest man in the world and my favorite member of the crew!
Trying to summon the energy to pack was difficult that morning. All morning I had thoughts of, “What have I gotten myself into?” Another journal entry says, “I am enjoying the experience of Kilimanjaro but the constant fear of failure is stressful. I desperately want to make the summit but I don’t want to kill myself doing it. I pray God allows me to summit but that he removes vanity and ego from me.” I wrote that because I found myself praying to God constantly, asking Him to allow me to summit. But then I wondered if it was wrong to ask God for something like that. Was it just vanity and ego? It was on this day when I shifted my prayers from “please let me get to the top” to “let me accept whatever happens”.
I also noted in my journal that I was starting to tire of being sweaty and dirty. As Adrienne said, “standards are starting to slip”. Ha! True that! I had so much dirt under my nails and despite my best efforts to scrub it all out, it was a futile battle.
Other than taking my 250mg dose of Diamox, I don’t remember much about breakfast or the time immediately after. But I do remember walking out of the Martian/Lunar landscape of Moir camp and being glad to go. Such a bizarre place, truly. As we hiked out and over the ridge, I remember developing a strategy of drinking as much water as possible. I knew that staying hydrated was the key to fighting altitude sickness so my plan was to drink at least three or four liters before we got to Lava Tower. In our briefing we were told we would have lunch at Lava Tower before heading to Barranco Camp. So based on my calculations, by the time we arrived in camp, I should have consumed at least 5 liters of water.
The day was overcast and we hiked slowly across the ridges towards Lava Tower. With each step, the summit of Kili loomed closer and closer and the glaciers more visible. Still, given that we were now on day 4 and thousands of feet below the top, it seemed impossible to make it to the summit in the time we had left. So much of the day leading up to Lava Tower is blur in my mind. I think it was because I spent so much of the morning in deep meditation and prayer as we hiked – I was THAT fearful of failure.
Thanks to the massive amounts of water I was drinking, bathroom breaks were numerous on this day.I tried to sip everytime I felt the inkling of a headache coming on. Everytime we stopped for a snack or pee break, the ravens appeared, taunting us with their “never summit” cries! As I mentioned in a previous post, bathroom breaks aren’t light hearted (or fainthearted) matters. Finding a biohazard free spot to do your business is next to impossible, which is shocking given the enormity of the mountain. I want to believe it’s because everyone has the same idea about what would make a good outdoor bathroom. Still, it can’t be ignored that humans are really mucking the place up. It’s filthy and disgusting and shame on every climber who left behind toilet paper and baby wipes instead of packing them out. I digress….During one potty break, surprise, surprise, guess who rolled up? The Dads and Daughters. According to Arlette and Adrienne they made numerous inquiries about Dave and wanted to know where I was. They told them I was peeing behind a rock. Most people would appreciate that peeing behind a rock requires a level of privacy but not these guys…I had just pulled my “britches” up, as we like to say in the South, when I saw them and heard one say “Oh, there she is!”. Duh! Where did you think I was? They just told you I was behind a rock. Peeing. *rolling my eyes* They asked me about Dave and annoyed, I just explained he did what was best for him. I know they were probably just trying to be friendly but they seemed to delight in Dave’s return and that bothered me. After a short exchange, they moved on, leaving us to drink water and eat some snacks.
Until now, the Dads and Daughters were the only real group we had met and with whom we’d had much contact. That changed on the way to Lava Tower. As we walked a group of young women passed us and in a thick, slightly hostile Russian accent asked, “Where you from?” to which we replied, “We’re American!”. They nodded and smiled and I asked, “Are you Russian?”. They nodded and said yes. Not sure if it was Arlette or Adrienne, but one of them dubbed the women “The Olgas”! Hahaha – I still giggle about that one!
When we reached Lava Tower I felt ecstatic! No headache, felt good…and I was at 15,000 feet! I couldn’t believe it! There were several mess tents erected at the base of Lava Tower so it was confusing at first to find the one that belonged to us. We finally found ours and saw our porters and our wonderful waiter, Babu (Sistusi). After a bathroom break, a few photos, and hand washing it was time to eat! I was excited to see grilled cheese sandwiches! It was a wonderful, cheerful lunch and we really enjoyed it. Afterwards, the three of us hunted a spot to potty but due to the crowds, it was impossible to find a rock that offered privacy. At this point in the game, I no longer really cared if anyone saw my white butt; however, I felt it unfair to subject unsuspecting climbers to that sight. Then again, they may have just thought it was another glacier! Fido Dido and Chichi said there were drop toilets near a camp that was on the other side of the trail. If you read Day 3 post, you know the horrors that awaited us in those things. I’m not sure of the physics involved in such a thing, but someone managed to get poop on the walls. As for the floor, well lets just say it looked like a Whitman’s Sampler of poop. All sorts of sizes, shapes, colors….even some with nuts! (Yeah, I went there!Ha!). Eeek! I used half a bottle of hand sani after that (mis)adventure.
Walking back to the mess tent, I saw a pack of white dudes with hellacious sunburns looking at us. Maybe they were waiting to see if we had contracted Ebola from the toilets? I stopped and asked them where they were from and they said the UK. I should have known – only British people can turn such a vivid shade of scarlet! We told them we were Americans and then I asked if they were staying in the camp across the way. They said yes so I asked if it was because they were planning to hike to Arrow Glacier. To my surprise they stated they were climbing the Western Breach! For those unfamiliar, the Western Breach is a treacherous but from all accounts, amazing, route to the summit. For awhile it was closed after some climbers were killed in a massive rock slide. It’s open now but not many people go that way. If I ever go again, I’d definitely consider it as it’s the most direct route to the summit but offers some of the most interesting views. So back to the Limeys…I told them how impressed I was that they were going the Western Breach and one particularly red fellow jokingly said, “Yeah…hardcore!” to which his friend replied, “There’s a fine line between hardcore and incredibly stupid.” I laughed and said, “Well, I didn’t want to say it but since you did…”. I think we exchanged a few more words and we all wished one another luck before setting off. Despite only talking to them for a few minutes, I liked them. They seemed adventurous (obviously) and had a good sense of humor. Also they were British. 😉
After filling up on water, we threw our packs on and headed towards camp. We would be sleeping in Barranco Camp which is in the Barranco Valley, one of the most beautiful sections of Kilimanjaro. My mood was great after surviving 15,000ft! As we entered the valley, we saw our first Senacio trees. Words can’t describe them so just check out the photo! They were so strange and added to the other-world feeling I already had about Kilimanjaro.
We pushed on and finally arrived at the ranger’s hut. As usual, poor Adrienne made a beeline for the toilet instead of signing in. Because we always hiked in the same order, she was always the last to sign in and when ya gotta pee, the signing in process can feel like FOREVER. It sort of became a camp tradition that Arlette signed both in while Adrienne ran to the bathroom. While signing in Arlette and I checked out the log to see who was in camp and where they were from. We saw Americans, French, Brits, and Canadians. We also noticed that many people had unusual occupations. We saw whale breeders, concert pianists, crab farmers, etc. Arlette joked that she was going to sign in and state that she was a flea trainer.
After signing in we went to our tents and rested for a bit. While I was in my tent, I heard some British people pass by our tents. Arlette and I later died laughing over the one girl who quite loudly and in a very thick British accent said to her guide, “Babu, is that the toilet?” You had to be there, trust me…but it was hilarious! In good fun, we mocked this phrase for the rest of the trip. I also heard another girl with a similar accent say, “Is that garlic I smell?”. Again, I know this means nothing to anyone but Adrienne, Arlette, and me…but I have to document it because it was a priceless moment!
Barranco Camp is gorgeous! This, without any debate, was my favorite camp on Kili. Photos don’t do it justice but it’s just breathtaking (literally and figuratively) to stand above the clouds but still be so far from the top of the mountain. In camp you can hear several glacial stream flowing and of course, looming large above us is the famous Barranco Wall which we would have to climb the next morning.
The night was very cold. I stuck hand warmers into my socks to keep my feet warm but work up some time later feeling as if my feet were on fire! Later that night, I came out of my tent and looked up to see the snows of Kilimanjaro literally glowing in the dark! It was stunning! Even higher up the stars, including the Milky Way, were shining even brighter than any night I’ve seen before or after. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful but exhausting day. So many of the fears I had washed away. More than ever, I felt confident that I just might make the summit!
Some photos from the day: