Feeling: IN THE CLOUDS (well, above them really)
Awakened: oxygen at 97 per cent, pulse at 81, attitude at 110.
To do such a thing as hustle a climb of a very high mountain, you must get used to three things: 1. The stench of BO and sweat (your own as well as everyone else’s); 2. The stench of shit and urine and all other kind of bodily smells (your own as well as everyone else’s); 3. Wet wipe showers as a means of cleaning yourself (just your own – unless someone else leaves theirs lying around then you have to contend with that too). If you can handle that, you’ll be grand.
Breakfast (honestly, these people feed feed feed you), a quick stretch then on our way.
The path steepens.
Today we were only to climb 6km but all of it uphill. Going Pole Pole, it was remarkably ok; not once did I get out of breath or want it to be over. Again I would even go insofar as to say it was rather easy.
We passed the father and daughter duo that passed us yesterday in the first half hour (not that it matters of course) (very triumphant, “Jambo!” as I side stepped them on the steep stones though, I must admit). We had a stop at the same time they did and had a yarn; from a farm just out of Melbourne, they booked Kili at first thinking it was a day trip, then later finding out it was seven (they take an extra day than us). They knew precisely two people from New Zealand, both who came from – of all places – Waipukurau (The Pedaller’s little home town).
We went up up up and up again, then crossed the ridge to slightly lower down to Shira Cave Camp (3750m) for the night.
Literally nestled in the clouds.
Arriving by 12.30, we had the rest of the day to chill. I nutted right into my HeLa book; had a little moment of, Fuck about altitude and needed to lose myself somewhere for a bit – worked wonders.
At one point about 3.30 I looked up, taking a few moments to blink myself out of the life of Henrietta Lacks (sometimes I get completely immersed in a book and returning to my reality takes a second). I looked around at the mattress of pillowy white clouds just out ahead of me and thought, Well holy shit. This is something most people will never, ever experience.
Played some cards with the crew boys, (Last Card rules on Kilimanjaro are definitely very different to that of NZ – I still don’t understand why a Jack is worth 25 points? No matter; when in Africa!), a little 20 minute up, 20 minute down acclimatisation walk with Joshua, leek soup and vegetables for me for dinner, then bed at 7.50pm (wearing six layers on top – merino singlet, singlet, two thermals, jumper and my therma jacket, with a neck warmer, head warmer and beanie on, two pairs of socks, warm undies and fur lined tights all wrapped in my yak wool blanket in my sleeping bag) to read for a few hours.
Absolute. Fucking. Bliss.
(Nightly record: oxygen 95 per cent, pulse 85. “Excellent, excellent.”).
Oxygen: 97, pulse: 98 (amped, you see. We figured the pulse reading is quite high on the little finger reader, as Raddick’s watch had him at 79 while it stated he was 89).
A breakfast of porridge, papaya and boiled sweet potato (me) and porridge, papaya, sausage and omelette (Raddick) then it was merino singlet tucked into tights and on our way. (To clarify: my merino singlet tucked into tights). (Though Raddick may have done the same too for all I know).
Acclimatisation day: the idea that to get your body (and head) to adapt to the change in oxygen levels, you climb high then descend to sleep low.
So from our previous night’s base at 3750m, we were to climb up to 4600m, then retreat back to 3900m for the night.
Emanuel had told us that headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness were normal; it may start on the way up, at the top, on the way down or that evening. All normal, normal, normal and ok – as long as they didn’t persist.
Having been in altitude three times before, I have never really experienced altitude sickness. The first time I thought I had it and was certain I was going to die – but looking back, I think I actually talked myself into it and fabricated the feeling rather than actually having it. No, aside from some light headaches and spacey-ness, altitude has never really gotten me.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t; just because the first six times you haven’t, doesn’t mean the seventh is a sure thing not too. Altitude sickness certainly doesn’t discriminate; fit, less fit, unfit; big, small, medium; young, old, in between (though kids under the age of 18 are more susceptible); altitude sickness can strike anyone regardless of such factors.
The morning started out a little harder; a little more tired maybe? Combined with less oxygen? Plus the bloody period (perhaps not the best preceding word?) decided to arrive for the first time in two months (often Diamox – altitude sickness pills – can bring it on as it thins your blood). I was grateful for the Pole Pole. And it was so HOT – the merino singlet was out of the undies pretty quick smart and worn around the waist for the rest of the day. But 15, 20 minutes in I found my rhythm and again the rest of it was actually – I feel a bit like I’m being a bit up myself, but it’s genuinely the truth – pretty easy.
On the little breather breaks Emanuel often busted off and took selfies (each morning Joshua stayed at camp to supervise pack up, then trundled on to catch us up). Emanuel told me he was 36, but he definitely acts a lot younger – like the self-indulgent teenager. I don’t know, he’s ok, but I feel a lot more comfortable in Joshua’s presence.
At one point Emanuel pointed up ahead and said, “That’s our high point for today” and I couldn’t believe it – I honestly thought we had at least another 300m to climb. Three hours and 51 minutes and we were there at Lava Tower Camp (named so because there is literally a tower made of hardened lava). (Obviously hardened; I don’t think hot, running lava would take such a form nor would we be here should there be lava lathering around). We stopped and had lunch, then started the descend.
We arrived at camp about 1.30; after popcorn and tea, I – of course – read. And read and read and read. It reminded me of camping when I was a little girl, when I would always go into the family tent and just read, read, read.
Life has been so busy lately I haven’t really had the time to read a book. Correction: I haven’t made the time. If I have it’s for books to do with yoga or wellness or mental growth – never any thing light or fluffy or for any other reason than pure enjoyment. Having read more then three quarters of this Henrietta Lacks book in the past three afternoons/nights, I’ve remembered how much I love losing my mind in someone else’s world.
I really, really like Raddick. He’s such a gentle, softly spoken man and he says his English isn’t the best but we’ve had very minimal confusion. He has two sons with his “girlfriend” of 35 years – they feel they don’t need to marry and have the piece of paper to seal their relationship, which I rate (even though one of my main sources of income is being a wedding celebrant). I think lots of people think him and I are a father-daughter duo tackling Kili – you see other people smile and nod, then hear us speak and have a look of utter confusion on their faces; how does he sound like that, and her like that?
Its cool, he kind of takes on the dad role. I’ve always wanted to do something like this overseas with Papa Henio (we did the Tongariro Crossing two-and-a-bit years ago, and were – unspokenly – determined to be the very first and not at all be overtaken. The standard time to cross is about seven hours – we did it in three hours 56 minutes) but it’s never worked out to. So – it sounds really stupid – sometimes when we’re walking I pretend it is my Dad behind me as we trek.
I was just in my tent reading and doing some yoga stretches when Raddick called out and showed me photos of the clouds completely covering the peak beside us, then moving off so the whole peak was visible. We ended up standing there for two full minutes watching it happen again and documenting it in photos – it was insane. Then he went to the Mess Tent next door while I read again, occasionally checking on the visibility and calling out, “Raddick, the peak is back!” or, “Raddick, it’s gone again!”
Zucchini soup, vege stew stuff and potatoes for me for dinner (spaghetti bolognaise for Raddick) and bed at 7.20pm to read a little more.
I’d been holding out to wear my new Superdown jacket until it got really, really cold; I’d been wearing my Kathmandu Therma jacket to bed with all my layers and the Superdown as my pillow. But I decided this night would mark the Superdown being worn as a garment – it topped the merino singlet, singlet, two thermals and jumper and I made the Therma jacket into a lovely makeshift pillow, the case for it being the thermal I wore all day.
Oh the joys of mountain tent sleeping.
(I fucking love it).
Pulse 97, oxygen 95.