Distance: 3 km
Altitude: 3,900 m
Date: Jan. 30, 2018
I pull back the door on the mess tent and what do I see? PIZZA! Hot, fresh, mountain pizza! My appetite kicks in to overdrive and my mouth begins to salivate as its aroma fills the air. Out of all of the meals that I had expected to eat on the mountain, pizza was not one of them!
I take a seat next to Sieu and look down at my plate to admire my slice of pizza before devouring it. It’s loaded with toppings! Tomatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and possibly other things that I don’t even know of! I dive in! The first bite is incredible!!! The warm dough, the melted cheese!! I take another bite. Oh man, this is really good ol’ fashion comfort food!
As I quickly pass my plate up to the front for seconds, I notice that Nicole is not eating. She’s quite pale and doesn’t look very well. When I ask her if she’s okay, she says that she has a headache and is quite nauseated from the altitude. I had been too busy enjoying my pizza to realize how the remainder of my group was doing. I look around at the rest; for the most part, everyone appears to be doing well. Even Nhung, who was looking ill earlier, is looking better. Her appetite seems intact but she says that she still has a pressure in her head. Although these two do not say very much, you can see a discomfort in their eyes.
At that moment, the idea of our tightly knit group not summiting together starts to become a reality. This thought gives me knots in my stomach. Nicole and Nhung are both in top shape and are very well conditioned for this trek; yet today, they are feeling the effects of the mountain. The altitude does not discriminate and there is no way of knowing if your body will be capable of acclimatizing, asides from experience. Honestly, this was what worried me most about this trip. I knew that I could handle the hike, since we often cover less than 10 km a day; however, I have no experience with being at high altitude so the affects on my body are unknown.
After lunch, we hike down a rocky slope, which is carved out between two twin towers of stone. Once we reach the bottom, there is a wall of clouds that awaits us up ahead. It looks similar to a smoke screen that precedes a ferocious forest fire. As we continue forward and enter the gates of the clouds, we hear an angry thunderous boom in front of us. We look at William, who was leading us today, for reassurance. He instructs us to continue on. We then receive our second warning: hail. William gives us the signal to put on our rain gear. As we proceed to dress for battle against Mother Nature, we are ambushed by rain. From the beginning of this adventure, I presumed Mother Nature to be a foe with her cold nights and rainy days but I am starting to wonder: perhaps she is a friend trying to warn us about what lies ahead. What does lie ahead, I wonder. I shake that thought. Whatever the reason for this symphony of elements, we persevere forward on this wet mountainous descent to Baranco Camp.
I walk with my eyes to the ground, in order to choose my footing carefully on the wet rocks. A twisted ankle could certainly put a quick end to this adventure, despite spending an entire year mentally and physically preparing for it. I look up briefly in an effort to try to take in the foreign scenery. I don’t want to miss a thing, as it changes so quickly. There is an eeriness to this landscape, as the fog slithers along the ground and decreases our visibility of what lies ahead. To the left of us is a creek, hidden in a deep fissure of the rugged terrain. Due to all of the rain, there is an abundance of water racing down this narrow slope. Something then catches my eye through the fog. It’s a massive tree. As we get closer, the silhouette of this tree becomes more detailed. This tree is like nothing that I have ever seen before and resembles something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It looks a 10-foot tall cactus, with a toupee of leaves on each one of its tree appendages. I am fascinated by this odd tree and look for more as we continue toward our camp.
I finally spot a cluster of brightly coloured tents off into the distance. “We are about 45 minutes away”, William reassures us. William continues to lead the way hidden under his green-and-white striped umbrella. As we near Baranco Camp, which is named after the river that flows nearby, the rain eases up but we all leave our rain gear on since the air is still damp with mist.
Upon arriving to our camp, Willie, the G-Fighter assigned to my gear, finds me. He, too, is wearing a poncho but his is worn and repaired with patches of duct-tape. He leads me to our tent and then takes my poncho to go hang it to dry. My heart is filled with warmth and appreciation for Willie, as he is such a kind and gentle person who works hard to ensure my comfort during this trek. We have a few hours before supper so Sieu and I take our time to get settled in and organize our gear. Another successful day and another camp site closer to the summit!
We reconvene in the mess tent before supper for some tea and popcorn. This is the first time that our entire team is not in the tent for our post-hike tea party. Migual and Berite are still settling in to their tent, while Nicole and Nhung are trying to nap off their altitude sickness.
Nicole and Nhung return to the tent for supper. They are looking better but Nicole says that she had gotten a nosebleed earlier and still has a headache. She expresses doubts about being able to make it to the summit as she is really having a hard time to acclimatize. Paul, our medicinal guide, brings us two thermoses of ginger tea. He says that it will help settle our stomachs and combat any nausea that we may have. Everyone seems to love ginger except for me. Even while hiking when I offer our guides a choice from my impressive selection of candies and they always seem very excited about the ginger ones.
After supper, we begin our nightly debrief and William measures and records our saturation levels. Our group has turned this into a game – oh, the things you do when you don’t have wi-fi! As he works his way down one side of the table, the average range is mid-to-high 80’s. Then it’s my turn – he places the monitor on my finger and it reads 83%! WHAT!? Ah man! I try to take a couple of deep breaths to reoxygenate my blood but it is too late. He removes the probe and moves on to the next person. My saturation is the lowest of the night. Even lower than Mark’s, who was batting in the mid-80’s the night before. The winner of tonight’s saturation battle is Fabie with 95% and Sieu in close second with 91%.
After our debrief, I walk back to our tents with my hot water bottle. The night air feels comfortable, unlike the previous bone-chilling night. I looked around at the clear, night sky. Absolutely stunning! The nearly full moon is so much larger than it is back home. It feels so close. I take a deep breath to feel the cool, refreshing air in my lungs. As I stare at the silhouette of Baranco Wall, I reflect upon my day. Today, we reached an altitude that was only 1,385 m below the summit. I chuckled to myself. Who knows. Maybe Sieu and I will actually be able to pull this off after all.
To Be Continued in…
Conquering Kilimanjaro (Day 4: Karanga Camp)