Friday, October 3, 2014

Tales from Tanzania - Day 8 (Kilimanjaro summit)

So here we are - summit day.  Or more precisely, summit night.  Because this is a long, looooooooong day that basically carries on through the night and into the following day.  We left the Karanga camp (13,106 ft) in the morning and carried on up to the Barafu camp (15,331 ft) and it only took us about three or four hours at a gentle pace, so in spite of the serious altitude, I felt great at this point.  I don't know why, but I was feeling so much better than I had for about three days, I was really pumped to get this thing done.  We were supposed to have lunch, sleep, then have dinner, and sleep again until they woke us at 22:30 to get ready to head for the summit, but really, who could sleep???  I hadn't slept since we left Moshi, it wasn't likely I was going to nod off before summit night - far too exciting!

But 23:30 finally arrived and the nightmare began.  They tell you that you have to go up at night so that you can arrive for sunrise at the summit, but I have another theory: they take you at night so that you can't see the ridiculous impossibility of what you're about to attempt, because if you could actually see it, you'd run away screaming into the night.  Even the first five minutes were insane - suddenly we were scrambling up this sheer rock face (sparkling with frost, I might add, just to make it extra slippery) with nothing to hold onto.  I had to stop at the top of that section for a minute just to catch my breath - partly from the lack of oxygen, partly from sheer terror.  And then it settled into a bit of a routine: scramble up, slide back, try to breathe the extremely limited oxygen, pray that you won't take that one false step that will send you off the edge to a painful, broken death.  People seem to think that just because you can get to the top of Kilimanjaro without specialized mountain-climbing equipment that it's some sort of easy stroll, complete with rainbows and unicorns.  Well, it's not.  It was the most terrifying, most difficult ordeal of my entire life and there were moments when I was utterly convinced that I was going to slip and fall to that aforementioned painful, broken death.  And having one ignorant, selfish person in my group who kept stopping because she basically wanted the guides to baby her up the mountain while the rest of us were risking exposure and frostbite made it all the more exhausting and difficult.

I wish I could describe it better for you, but basically, your whole world shinks down to the small circle of light from your headlamp, the pain of your fingers and toes freezing (and they will freeze, no matter how many layers you bury them in), trying to follow your  guides up the "path", the agony of trying to suck in air that just isn't there (I hyperventilated three times on the way up and that was not a pleasant experience), the sheer exhaustion of carrying on upwards and then more steeply upwards and then even more steeply upwards.  The cruelest trick of the whole ascent is that the very hardest, steepest, slipperiest part of the trail is the last slope up to Stella Point, when you are already on the very last molecule of energy and willpower that you've ever possessed in your entire life.  Everyone goes on about Uhuru Peak - yeah, yeah, it's the tallest point, whatever.  If you survive the revolting ordeal of getting to Stella Point, then spending another 45 minutes wandering over to Uhuru Peak is nothing.  That's the easy stroll.  Of course, at that altitude it's too dangerous to stay there for long and of course there's still next-to-no-oxygen, so even the easy stroll is no picnic, but I can't imagine not doing it.  My personal reserves of everything (energy, willpower, guts, whatever) were completely gone, but I still dragged my sorry arse over to Uhuru Peak and applied lipstick before my photo at the sign.  Yes, that's right - I was filthy, smelly, and exhausted.  I had eyes nearly swollen shut and a nose that was constantly oozing blood-streaked, khaki-coloured mucus that was the consistency of wet cement.  I had hair that was so tangled and dirty that it was basically one big dreadlock.  But goddamn it, I still had standards - there was no way that I was getting that once-in-a-lifetime photo at Uhuru Peak without hiding my cracked, chapped lips underneath a layer of Revlon's finest.  And the fact that my pink lipstick happened to match my pink jacket?  Well, that was coincidence, but certainly a happy one... 

No comments:

Post a Comment