We expected that some (or all) of us would get sick at some point during this climb - just not so soon! James woke up in the middle of the night (not by Olga or the beauty of the stars), but with nausea. When he told us at breakfast that he had been throwing up all night, it was like a death sentence. He tried to sip porridge, but the look on his face was pitiful.
James started this train; climbing was his idea. Out of all of us, he was the one who wanted to make the summit the most; going so far as to make it clear that if any of us went down along the way, he wasn't stopping. While this is just James variety twisted humor, we knew how frustrating it must be to get all of the way here and then have a little food poisoning stand in the way.
Getting sick at all is like closing the book on Kilimanjaro since it's hard enough to make it up in perfect health. But since we are only on day two, there's hope that James will get better before the critical altitudes.
We set out slower than ever with James practically crawling. Venance carried his pack, and I took his camera, but he was still doubled over most of the time, inching forward and then sitting down, and then running to the bushes.
I don't know about the rest of you, but when they said you have to go to the bathroom along the trail, I went into mild panic. From pictures, it looked like only bare rock, how would you find a decent place to duck, especially with hoards of climbers all around. I was even thinking, can I go a week without using the bathroom, restrict usage to campsites?
Fortunately, it hasn't been awkward at all really. Hashim and Venance introduced us to some stylish ways of imparting your intentions to the group. They say either, “I need to go send an email or make a call" or "I'm going to go look at the buffalo," which don't exist on the mountain, in case you were wondering.
The porters streamed past us, along with everyone else. Wallace and Rome took off up the mountain, while Olga and I stayed back and tried to help James. Hashim was concerned that we weren't making any progress. He kept saying: twende pole pole, let's go slowly.
We slowly emerged from the rain forest and entered into thickets of draping lichen, moss and rocks.
Usnea filipendula or Beard Lichen
Venturing off the path was like entering into a world of Hobbits and fairies. On one buffalo viewing, I found a large overhang and despite my clunky gear, climbed it. On top, I had a view of the whole valley.
I could see the clouds creeping in; I could see the vegetation as it changed up the slope. I could see the mountain crouched like a gigantic sleeping buffalo on the horizon. It seemed alive, and I was compelled to ask for permission to venture into what will be wild arctic territory. It seemed one must have respect for it, after all, humans aren't really meant to be up there. I get irritated when I hear people say they "conquered a mountain," or anything in nature for that matter. You can't conquer nature. In my opinion, Edmund Hillary deserved a face palm after he made it back down from Everest. In reference to a sacred Nepalese monument he said, “Well, we knocked the bastard off!”
In literature they talk about one of the main conflicts of life and in art being Man vs. Nature. From this perspective the struggle is confusing, because man is part of nature, or in a way, man really is nature. The true struggle is not against animals or weather or elements, it is against dying. But unfortunately dying is completely natural; it happens all of the time.
Surviving outside of the urban sprawl lets us know how powerless we really are. Yet nature is not hostile or merciful, though we could perceive it as both. We are not loved, nor hated. I realized this more when we were observing the animals. Dying is not a sad thing in the wild and survival is just temporary anyway. To understand ones place in the physical and spiritual world is to flow with it and not against it.
So I ask myself why I am here? Why am I climbing? I had to think about it. There's much more to it. Conquistadors like George Mallory give climbers a bad reputation by callously saying, "because it's there."
Of course there are a million reasons to climb and I suppose they could change with any given person and any given mood. But as I dangle my feet off of the precipice, I think perhaps we want to climb because there is something special about venturing into places that are hard to get to, somewhere that you have to bring yourself to extreme physical and mental exhaustion to experience. It's as if these places are sacred, because they are not for the masses. We choose to break away from the pack and to venture into this wild terrain for an unparalleled peak at this earth. This unique perspective belongs to the mountain. It is her gift. Her gift to those who are willing to work for it. Up here you have the position to appreciate her beauty and the beauty of all that has been manifested on this earth.
If I make it to the top, I think it will be a collective effort; all of the stars aligning, it won't be by my will alone.
and then I fell off the ledge
I pried myself away from the perch and joined the group again. We stopped for lunch a few boulders up. Hashim was getting antsy, unsure if James' problem was stomach or altitude. Nausea is an effect of both. Eating would stymie the effects of altitude, so he wanted James to eat as much as possible. He said again and again, “Mr. James, try to force to eat.” James didn't want to eat, and was tiring of Hashim's persistence. But I couldn't help but love Hashim's turn of the phrase, "try to force to eat."
Raymond came back and told us that everyone else has already made it to camp; we weren't even half way there. They pointed out the route. We could see an almost imperceptible line of dots in the distance, rising over the horizon like lice on the beast. Are kidding me?
When we set out again, the terrain changed completely. We entered what looked like Scottish Highlands, the mysterious Moors. The clouds gathered with us and lay just below the plateau so it seemed like we were on one huge floating rock. It was as if we had just climbed a beanstalk.
Baraka and Bilas to the rescue
At one point Olga and I just looked at each other in disbelief. This is too awesome! In fact, had we been in line with the other climbers marching militantly up the mountain, we wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. Because we kept stopping with James and doubling back for him, we got to really appreciate the scenery. Unfortunately the silver lining of his misery was really only a benefit to us. But he later said that because we were in awe of everything, he was able to come out of the stupor for a little bit and realize where he was.
Baraka and Bilas came down from camp and re-situated everyone's pack, giving Hashim and Venance a break from James' gear. We followed them along the ridge at a faster pace, so we'd make camp before dark. I talked to Baraka and found out he was Hashim's younger brother!
Baraka has a really quiet way about him, he makes a point to call us sister and brother and really likes it when we call him brother back. He said that he didn't have any real family of his own. Most of the guides had a wife and children. Wallace said that Baraka was freaking him out because he was always hanging around our tents. That became really funny when we found out that B was just doing his job - security guard.
Bilas was practically running to camp, so I did too. We made it in no time. He disappeared into the cook's tent where it was warm. I was alone in the camp, so I wandered across the plateau to see if I could find Rome and Wallace.
Final Location: Shira Camp / Distance: 5.6 miles / 9 km / Elevation gain: 2764 ft / 860 km
I secretly relished putting my name into the registrar, but when I got to the hut, all of our names were already in there, blah. I was sitting across from two local guides when some climbers wandered in. They were trying to figure out where to sign their names and took the equipment book by mistake. One of the guides grabbed it back and snapped, "get your own book." That was harsh, I thought, but it turned out that this was their guide, and he just had a really deadpan sense of humor. I laughed, which made them all turn to me like who is this fool laughing at our inside jokes. It happens to the best of us. They all introduced themselves. The climbers were from New York; one was an NYPD cop and the other was his Uncle, an older man with white hair.
It looked as if I was climbing all alone. I told them that I'd lost my climbing mates. The guide proclaimed that he would take me with him, because his name was Noah and the whole mountain was his, like an ark. He was guiding two climbers, just like on the ark. A little bit of a megalomaniac, he went on about how he was saving everyone and this whole thing was going down. We must all follow him. The Uncle turned to me and said, "we love our guides." I don't know why but the tone and possessiveness of his comment got under my skin, like he was talking about a toy.
Holy Noah told me about a local guide from the Chagga tribe named Simon Mtui who set the record for climbing the mountain in 2006. He ran up the whole thing in six hours.
"How did he not get sick from the change in altitude?" I asked.
"Oh no, he threw up all of the way."
"Ah, wow. This whole thing will be a success for me as long as I don't throw up."
The cop was on the same page, and started listing all of the drugs he was taking: anti-nausea, diamox, pain medication. I told him about James, and he kindly offered to open the doors of his pharmacy. We got in a friendly discussion about marijuana legalization. He was in favor and admitted that he doesn't arrest people for possession in NYC, so if you are in NYC, smoke on Jason's block.
Back at camp the light was golden and setting behind us. I took pictures of everyone in the vicinity.
Ebrah, Raymond, Nemes, and Roman
Our camp was on the very edge of the plateau, so we had the feeling of being at the edge of the earth.
The view of the mountain was fairly clear from our position. We would be circling the mountain for the next two days. I asked Hashim why we couldn't just go straight up. Who you calling impatient? He said that the western side is just scree/gravel so it's not solid enough. Also the body needs time to acclimatize so traversing just keeps us busy while our brains adjust.
We were staring at what they call the Western Breach on the southwest side (in the picture). There is a direct trail to the summit this way, but it's filled with falling rocks. Several climbers died in 2006. He said you can climb off route, but you have to get a special back-country permit, and you need equipment, because it's technical rock climbing. No, I didn't think about it; besides I don't have any rock climbing gear with me.
*What's left of the Penck Glaciers and Western breach to the right
More on glacier depletion later
Olga enjoying a delicious mug of Instacafe by the château
It started to get really cold in the evening. I was sitting at the table and trying to pour the hot water and spilled it all over me. Luckily it was cold enough that the water cooled off immediate and it didn't burn, but my fleece and hiking pants were soaked, so I had to lay them out to dry. Meanwhile I was walking around camp in my long johns.
Dinner was again delicious; we had fried eggplant, minced meat, carrots and zucchini, celery soup and really tasty pineapple. Thank you Nemes!
The johns were equally as disgusting here, maybe more-so, if that is even possible. Olga and I spend a good chunk of time trying to work out the logistics of the interior; as in, how is that possible, that angle, the far reaches of the wall... how?