August Adventures – Kilimanjaro, The Climb (Day 4)

A little more than five hours – five hours of beautiful,

uninterrupted sleep. It was the longest consecutive slumber I’d had since
arriving in Africa.  I was able to
check the time from my freshly charged iPhone.
Each night upon arrival at the camps, every climber must
check in at a registration booth and sign their name, statistics, guide’s name,
etc in a large ledger in order to help all park personnel keep track of who
makes it to where within the massive confines of Kilimanjaro National Park’s
652 square mile circumference.
Last night’s camp booth, Barranco, had electrical outlets
inside.  Mark had his iPhone cord
and I had a dead iPhone – perfect ingredients for cellular resurrection.
Our guide, Harold, did the negotiating for me with the
workers in the booth and managed to get a 10 US dollar quote for a full
charge.  Had I requested it on my
own, it would have been double that due to the ‘skin tax’ – a term I’d never
heard before.
Right before retiring, I hiked back to the booth and
retrieved my phone.  Inside were
upwards of 40 phones spread out over a cot with electrical cords running every
which way.  What a business!  If this night were any indication of
how every base camp population’s electronic needs might be, then these guys
were highly successful at generating multiple streams of income.
My phone read 3:13 AM.
I’d fallen asleep somewhere around 10 PM.  For the next three hours, I tossed, turned and pondered our
upcoming morning’s adventure – climbing that wall, navigating narrow ledges,
ascending higher and higher.
Someone once joked, “There are old climbers, there
are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers!”
  Oh, the things I sign up for.
Hours passed, morning routine completed, and we were headed
toward the towering cliff.
It is straight up, hiking poles abandoned, so that hands are
free to grab onto rocks for leverage, balance and hoisting.  Porters eek by with massive loads upon
their head and I can only wonder how and why.  I am humbled yet again in realizing that I cannot be doing
this – experiencing this climb at the basic level of comfort which I am
offered, without their help.
Someone is carrying my tent, someone is carrying my duffel of supplies,
someone is carrying our food source…..I have my backpack of minimal essentials.
(This video found on YouTube shows a porter scaling the
I find I have no problem with the height.  In fact, I love the rests that allow me
to turn around and see a far-reaching vista on this clear, cold morning.
The zig-zag nature ascending the wall continues and I find I
am able to manage without too much difficulty.  Even the point known as ‘kissing rock’ where one must press
their body completely against the ledge to maneuver higher, doesn’t feel
paralyzing in the challenge.  What
is taxing is the endurance part of the scramble. We are climbing, climbing up
the ‘wall’ for several hours.
About half way, second-in-command John notices a leak in my
daypack.  Sure enough, the bottom
is wet and water is seeping down my backside.  Investigating, the camelback pouch had somehow ‘manifested’
a strategically placed hole in the bottom center where the insulated water
container is.  A yet unknown object had pierced
through the outer canvas casing and into the inner water pouch.  My daily ration of water now trails
behind me.
“How on earth did that happen?” I pondered.  Was it from leaning my back against a
jagged rock?  No, it seems, the
culprit was from a pencil point.
Somehow the sharpened pencil in my bag had shifted in such a way that it
created the perfect aim with perfect pressure towards the center bottom of the
pouch.  There was no way to patch
the leak now or to keep it from continuing to flow out all over me, I drink
what is left and depend upon the others to share.
Every now and then I can hear shouting, as climbers finally
make it to the crest at the top of the wall.
“Great!” I thought, believing if I can hear them then it
must be close.  But in the vast
mountain air, sound travels quite far.
On and on we ascend, my wet tush getting a bit muddy with every rest
By late morning, Barranco Wall is history and we entered
into more similar terrain as the days before.
I am starting to feel remarkably weary.  Maybe it is from the tense anticipation
and the enduring hours on the wall, maybe it is the ever-increasing altitude,
but I am ‘spent’ and we still have to pass the Karanga River and campsite and
then continue even further to Barafu to be on schedule.
Not having water made me think of water and the not
having of it
– funny, how our minds do that.  I humbly ask for sips from Mark and
Harold.  Upon arrival at Karanga,
we fill our containers from the river.
We are told it is the last source of water until after the following
days summit. Even the porters now have to carry a day and a half’s supply.  I am given an empty plastic bottle to
use. Water purification tablets are dropped in.
An extremely rocky zone lay before us.  Very little vegetation is found as the
terrain becomes more inhospitable.
Boulders of every size imaginable litter the fields around us.  The wind is picking up and my lined
fake-fur cap, purchased on sale back in the states, becomes my prized
possession and is permanently pulled over my head and ears.

We arrive at Barafu.
The skies are blanketed in thick fog and mists and the wind has a
high-pitched howl.  It is more
crowded at this stop than at any place along the journey.  It seems multiple trails intersect here
in preparation for summit day.
Tent lines criss-cross one another and I have to raise my legs over the
stretched cords to get to Mark’s and my entry way.  You can hear multi-language conversations battering against
one another in sound waves of excitement and anxiety.  Tomorrow is the day.

We have a briefing in our dinner tent.  Harold explains about the custom to
leave at midnight in order to hopefully make it to the summit by sunrise.
We are full of questions.
Do we have to stick to custom?  Are all of these people leaving at midnight?  Can you even see the sun at the
summit?  Does fog preclude the
view? What are our options?  And on
and on.
We all agreed that we did not need to summit with the
sunrise.  If we broke custom, there
would not be some ancient curse befall us. If we left, say at 3 AM, the
majority of the other climbers from camp would long be ahead of us and it would
mean less time climbing in the dark with only headlamps for illumination.

I am not hungry nor can I sleep.  It is barely 9 PM and the cacophony of voices circles this
portion of the mountain with a swirling typhoon of conversation. Mark and I
just look at each other and laugh.
We smell. With so many layers of clothes, down jackets and such, we are
a cross between the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Michelin Tire Man.

We reminisce about walking the Camino four years ago, our thirty year
friendship – anything to take our mind off what is next.  And slowly, camp talk settles, albeit
for a brief time.