Sunday, January 29, 2006

Africa blog part 2: Kilimanjaro Climb -- Day 3

Day 3: Shira Hut to Barranco Hut (12,800’)

Hike time: 5 hrs, Elevation change: 100 M
Estimated distance: ?, Final elevation: 3900 M

From Shira Hut hike to Lava Tower (15,000’) and then proceed to Barranco via the Great Barranco Wall. This route offers panoramic views of Kibo through Karanga Valley as we hike high and sleep low, dropping back down to Barranco after lunch. Today’s hike will take most of the day Barranco campsite located on elevation of 3950m.

View of Mt. Meru from Shira Camp in the morning

It got so cold at night that we woke up to slightly iced over tents, long ice crystals on the ground, and frozen rocks. The morning view -- amazing -- with the summit view on one side and Mt. Meru on the opposite side. It seems that so far, the mornings are clear and as the day grows on, the clouds roll in.

View of summit from Shira Camp and our frozen tent

Ice crystals at our campsite

The day started off with a somber note as Francesca had to go down due to medical reasons. She was kicking ass and taking names up to that point, a true character of a person to have around, and a trooper. God does that girl crack me up!!! Shira Camp was the closest camp to vehicular access, so if you had any problems up to now..this was a good place to descend from. It was really sad to see her have to go. She was such a good sport though, and gave me and Sean her iodine and neutralizer tablets (since ours were in the check in luggage). She was, in essence, our lifeline because water is *the most important thing* to have.

We started off the hike in the same direction where we came from the previous day, crossing the little valley and creek, then continuing on in a different direction and ascending. The scenary, dry grasses, short shrubs, and boulders everywhere -- I believe it is called the moorland. Again, I was carrying about 30 pounds (that's almost 30% of my body weight).

Sara, Deanna, and me beginning the day 3 hike

With each day, I take it more pole pole (slow slow). Porters passed me up, saying "pole", which means something to the effect of "I'm sorry for your suffering" or "I'm sorry to make you wait". And some would pass me saying "pole pole" which means slow slow. I would smile and say, "Asante, pole pole" (Thank you, slow slow) or "Ndiyo, pole pole" (Yes, slow slow).

On day 2, I had learned some slang Swahili on my many breaks while porters were passing me. I greeted almost everyone as they passed, saying, "Jambo" (hello) and smiling. One of the guys, a young guy probably in his 20's, stopped and taught me "Mambo" (what's up), "Mambo poa" (a response to mambo -- poa means 'cool'), and Mambo vipi (an informal, 'and you?'). He went on like a superhuman, while I took it pole pole. We caught up with each other later, and he taught me "Poa kichizi kama ndizi" (cool as a banana). And those were my new Swahili sayings. On another break, he taught me a hand thing -- make your hand into a fist, touch fists, put your fist to your heart, and then to the sky. It means peace, love, and something else I forgot. Whenever I saw him, he always made me smile.

With my new sayings in hand, I greeted the passing porters with "Mambo". Quite a few of them were really impressed that I knew a bit of Swahili. And then they would start talking to me in Swahili, and I would have to say a quick, "Sifahamu. Meme nafahamu Kiswahili kidogo" (I don't understand. I understand Swahili a little). Many would break out into English and say that I spoke Swahili really well. If they asked me something in English where I could respond in Swahili, I was eager to practice. We shared smiles and laughs on the way up the mountain. Porters, the backbone of our expedition, and truely amazing men.

I fell back to the end of the group with Madhu, Teresa, and Godlisten - an assistant porter. He was able to borrow a radio off one of the porters, so we had music for a little bit (see, it's good to be pole pole). I ended up picking up the pace a little bit as the clouds started to roll in and the terrain grew rockier and rockier.

Did a bit of hiking on my own. Sean caught me sticking my tongue out at the camera

The main group found an area full of boulders and designated it as a pit stop. I finally got there, joined Sean and hung out with Nickson. We hung out there for a while, rehydrated, peed (lots of big boulders around so great spots), ate snacks.

Nickson at the rest stop

And a few minutes later we were hiking again. The terrain grew even rockier, the plants grew sparser, and the cloud engulfed us at that point. We were ascending quite a bit so there was even more reason to take it more pole pole. Piles of arranged rocks marked the trail (easier to find the trail if there is snow) from here on. Nickson kept me company for much of the hike. We talked about travel, about mountaineering, about Kilimanjaro. Then we arrived at rest stop #2, where the plants grew even sparser and the ground turned to small rocks with large boulders interspersed.

Sean and me at rest stop #2, cold and in the clouds

It was getting colder, cloudier, and more bleak. I broke out the windproof gloves that I had luckily packed in my carry on bag. At that point, I think we were somewhere above 13,000 ft. Severe altitude sickness had not set it (thankfully), and I felt fine except for a little, manageable headache. Starved for food, I ate half of a Luna Bar to hold me over till lunch.

Breaktime was over and we headed off once more. I took it even more pole pole at this point, as I was starting to feel the weariness that altitude puts on you. From rest stop #2 to the lunch stop was a long hike. I did most of it alone, passing up Cristee and Adie every once in a while, and then being passed up by them. It was surreal, cloudy, like I was hiking on another planet. A little pathway surrounded by boulders, some covered with lichen like plants. The cloud was so thick which added to the desolation and the feeling of loneliness. So many thoughts went through my mind. "Am I actually going to make it to the summit?" "What have I gotten myself in to?" "Wow, I can't believe I'm doing this!" "So what did *you* do for New Years?" It's like I was going mad. Talking to myself in my head to keep myself company and keep myself sane in this surreal landscape.

Me hiking on the desolate trail up to the lunch site

Not too far from the lunch site, I caught up with Sean and Cindy. I grew wearier and wearier, and started to really feel the effects of altitude as my headache grew worse and my breath labored. We scrambled up and down a few boulders, hiked on for a bit longer, were greeted by a few of our porters hiking the opposite way, then continued on to find the lunch site.

First things first, bathroom stop. Then Sean and I joined the rest of the crew -- some lunching outside, some in a tent. Of course the tent was full so we lunched outside. My appetite grew weaker because of the altitude. Jonathan said that we were at 14,700 feet in elevation. And I felt like shit. I ate what I could, which was not much at all.

Post luch, we had two options -- 1) descend to camp or 2) hike to Lava Tower which is at about 15,200 feet (for better acclimatization). I wanted to do the Lava Tower hike but I knew it was a definite no-go at this point because I needed to descend from the lunch spot.

Sean joined the Lava Tower hikers, while I joined the descending group. Of the descending group, Ullrich was our guide. They said it would be a short hike...well, long story short, it wasn't. It took us, in general, longer to get to camp than it did the Lava Tower hikers. We took a really interesting path that took us down a pathway that looked more moonlike and foreign than any of the hike thus far, and on slanted land. The pathway descended down slippery scree, past a view of a waterfall and a huge rock wall. We ascended as well, then descended, and kept that pattern for a while. We ran into a porter of another group -- a group of Italians had to descend off the mountain, but the porters went on to the campsite. Their porters had no idea of their descent, until our group sent one of our porters to tell them. We ended up pretty high up. Ullrich pointed out Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier to us. Not too much higher than we were. But higher nevertheless.

Then we saw a large group of hikers on the mountain who looked like specs. It was the Lava Tower group. The '45 minute hike' turned in to some 3 hours or so. The Lava Tower group was trucking, descending. It looked like they found an easy route down the mountain, while we struggled with long steps off of rocks -- literally, I had to sit down on the rock and jump down a bit in a few spots. They trucked on to camp, while a few of us took it very pole pole.

The scenary

The scenary changed as we descended down into the valley. Rocky slopes on either side of us with interesting flora that looked like it didn't belong. We descended further and further into the valley until we finally reached camp.

Trees on the way to camp

I was tired, weary, suffering at that point. Someone, I can't even remember who, pointed me to the right camp spot. We were at Barranco camp, which was busy because it was a point where several routes joined. There were no good pee spots (tents surrounding everywhere), so I used the undesireable long drop. Then I rested for a while, took off my beanie to find my hair had gone wild and stuck out straight after 3 days of not showering.

Even though we had descended quite a bit from the 14,700 feet we were at, I still felt like shit. My headache was strong, I felt a little dizzy and nauseous. Sean and I went to the dinner tent soon after resting. I sat by the door because I was not feeling well. The sounds of the people, clanking, people grabbing for the thermos in front of all compounded and made me feel even worse. I took my diamox and my doxycylcen. God, I felt like hell. Jonathan had given me a coca tea bag, but there was no hot water. I had a little bit of soup, hoping to feel better. Only to come to a point where I could not take the sounds, the smells, the environment anymore. I stumbled back to my tent which was the furthest away, trying to avoid the other tent lines and boulders in a dizzying state of mind. It felt like I wasn't there. I made it to my tent, crawled in, laid down with my feet hanging out of the door, hoping the nausea and the headache would go away. I felt a little better, peaceful, quiet.

And then I rushed out of the tent, got down to my knees, and threw up the soup I hoped would be good for me. I threw up and threw up and threw up until I dry heaved multiple times. Tears streamed down my face as it hurt so badly. My enemy called altitude sickness had struck like it had struck me in Ecuador a year and a half ago. I am all to familiar with it. One of the assistant guides came to my side to ask me if I was okay. I snuck back into the tent and Sean came over. Jonathan brought me a cup of coca tea. Feeling the pain, I cried. I was for sure, contemplating going down the mountain in the morning if I didn't get better. And the way I was feeling, I didn't think it would get any better.

Donovan came over and talked to me. He said that if I descended from Barranco camp, it would be a very difficult, steep descent. If I could hang in one more day, the descent would be easier. But the thought of ascending any more didn't sit well with me, especially after seeing Barranco wall itself...

I called it an early night, stuck the earplugs in, and slept...


Blogger Dewdrop Falling said...

omg - what a cliffhanger! I can't wait to read the rest. You are very good at writing. I feel like I am there when I read your words. Sounds like such an interesting experience. I probably wouldn't be able to make it because of the headaches. Looking forward to the rest! N.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Francesca said...

Aw Marisa, thanks for the kind words. I'm just reading your blog about the trip now for the first time (what the hell took me so long?!). Your words brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how sad and frustrated and pissed off I was to have to leave. Looking back now I know it was a blessing in disguise but still...

You're a sweetie. Thanks again.

9:10 PM  

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