Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 3 – Horombo to Kibo; 4700 m – Into moon country (drugs made me do it)

Another disadvantage of being allocated the girls’ dorm is that I get banished outside into the cold when it comes to wash time. But I am still grateful for the good nights sleep. Yet another great breakfast (how do they make pancakes up here?); yet another photo faff, a motivational talk from Lazarus, and eventually we are off.

Full faff mode with added panic in the chick's dorm

Team faff and I with Charles in front of the chick's dorm (its safer here)

We are under no illusions as to the fact that this is where the big game starts. It’s a big hike to Kibo and the final ascent starts at midnight tonight. Now more than ever we have to conserve energy.


Start of day 3; Horombo camp in the background

The vegetation changes dramatically now. Some scrub and succulents and still flowers. It is also markedly colder than previous days and the fleeces, beanies and buffs come out. It was suggested that we wear the under layers that we would use for the ascent tonight, because it would be too cold to change once we get to Kibo. But we decide it’s not cold enough for that yet and brave it.

All along the route, at appropriate intervals, there are toilets (or pizza huts as Lynne called them) but not enough to limit the toilet paper trail, now becoming exposed because there are few rock outcrops and even less vegetation as we pass Mawenzi peak and enter the Alpine desert. There are also dedicated lunch spots with picnic tables and seats. At these locations, even up here at 4300 m, there are mice and crows that feed on the human waste and buzzards that feed on the mice. None of them would be here were it not for the Kili climbers.

The group splits up into several smaller segments. We (Nettie; Tessa; Kirsty; Lynne and I together with front guide Elias determining the maximum pace) are up front on the saddle, now almost completely devoid of vegetation. It is getting very cold and after a while it starts to rain. There is a mad scramble for rain gear. The wind also gets worryingly strong.

Rain gear panic

Its not too far to go now and ultimately Kibo camp comes into view. We are very aware of the effect of the altitude and cold. Nettie is in trouble and starts shaking uncontrollably. I have a terrible headache and just can’t seem to get any air in as much as I try hyperventilating./ Finally we reach Kibo – a grim and barren place with toilets straight out of Trainspotting (I will spare you the photos). Nettie is in deep trouble now with bad nausea. Hypothermia is also threatening and right away she crawls into her sleeping bag. Kirsty the rescuer cuddles her to try warm her up. It works and after a while she is able to join the rest of us for some hot soup. The food is once again great and despite beginning to experience altitude sickness, I am able to eat a healthy amount.
What we did not need to see: an injured climber being evacuated down on a one wheeled strecher.

By this stage most of us have used lots of medication. I’ve been taking ½ a diamox twice a day and several panado for the headache. We have been warned that diarrhoea is a regular effect of the high altitude and took an Imodium also. I am happy to report that as a result, I did not have to get too closely acquainted with the trainspotting toilets of Hell.

Back to the dorm, we begin the preparations for tonight. Start dressing so we don’t have to faff too much in the middle of the night. Head torch and spare batteries (and spare spare batteries) ready; camera and spare batteries (and spare spare batteries) ready; all clothing sorted, nutrition organised…

It is desperately cold up here at Kibo (4700 m); even in the dorm. It is a big base where several routes merge for the final ascent and it is rather busy. Several other groups are here and most cannot be accommodated in the dorms and have to sleep in tents outside. Wearing most of the ascent kit, we crawl into ours sleeping bags for a bit of rest, not expecting to sleep. In our minds is the apprehension and nervous anticipation; in our bodies the violent resistance to being forced to operate out of its design conditions.

Some of the team express doubt about whether they will continue tonight. Nettie is keen, but not in good shape. Nonto is exhausted. Outside, the wind is howling. It’s not looking good. Surprisingly, I drift off into an uneasy snooze.

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