Morning, December 31, 2010
I woke up this morning thinking that today marked the beginning of the end of our climb. The next two days promised to be the most difficult yet. We would spend most of the next 30 hours hiking almost 2,000 meters up to the top of Kibo Peak and then head back down to another camp. Before we stopped again we will have hiked over 25 kilometers, a tall order in any locale exacerbated by the fact that we would cross over one of the world’s highest mountains. Fortunately, my prayers for physical healing had paid off. I woke up feeling reinvigorated with little of the pain or exhaustion that had afflicted me the day before. I had fully expected to be exhausted after yesterday’s ordeal but woke up instead refreshed from a good night’s sleep. I wondered how long it would last and prayed for continued strength.
It was another bright, crisp morning. Fed up with grimy hair that I had not washed since leaving Arusha, I braved the cold weather and washed it with glacier water heated over a camp stove. Using a small bottle of shampoo pilfered from a motel, I rinsed the residue away in a plastic wash basin. My hair let off steam in the cold air as I wicked the moisture away with my hand. It dried fast in the intense sunlight. My companions chuckled at the vainly amusing sight as they did when I shaved with a cheap razor on the first two days of the trip. Contrary to that famous Billy Crystal SNL quip, looking good can make you feel good too.
Breakfast was the same as ever. By now our palates were resisting toast, eggs, bananas, and other food items served with unwanted regularity. To mix things up a bit, I asked the cook for some peanut butter I knew was stashed somewhere. After a few minutes of word play and hand gestures, he finally produced the jar. It spiced my breakfast up. After five days of mountaineering, even basic condiments bring simple joys.
We left Camp 30 Caves for the last time and hiked four hours to Kibo Hut on the same trail we had descended the day before. It didn’t hurt so much this time. The incline was steeper than I remembered while sliding downhill, but I didn’t mind in the least because it was a far sight better than what we had endured on the way to School Hut. Betty lagged behind with August, who by this time had begun carrying her day pack to lighten her load. Kay, Tom and I went ahead. Our spirits were brighter than they had been yesterday. We not only felt better but looked forward to the final ascent with anticipation. We stopped for photos, laughed and bantered, and mused about everyone who now seemed so far away. Kay danced to the classical rock blaring on her music player, and I dared her to try pole dancing. She fearlessly planted her hiking poles vertically end over end and began dancing around them. Tom and I laughed hysterically. The levity lifted our spirits. If you’re heading for one of the heaviest challenges of your life, you might as well make light of it.
Half way to Kibo Hut my cell phone found a signal, so I sent a text message to my wife. She was thrilled to receive my daily messages updating her on our progress. I let her know that we were OK and wished my family a happy new year. My family was safely ensconced miles away near another natural wonder of the world, Victoria Falls on the Zambian border. I’ve been told that cellular providers Safaricom, Vodacom, and Tigo work at various points on Kilimanjaro but was only able to pick up Safaricom a few times haphazardly. I never saw a cell phone tower en route, and the signal seemed to disappear at the most inopportune moments.
We made a pit stop an hour later behind the last big boulders in the area. There are no latrines in the vicinity; if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go behind rocks big enough to hide you and use the bushes. Bring toilet paper with you, or you’ll have to use whatever you can scrounge on the ground. We saw some soiled toilet paper littering the trail. Although the sight was disgusting, I presumed that it would soon decay and that even the most environmentally conscious climber would hesitate to pack-it-in and pack-it-out.
We arrived at Kibo Hut at 2:45 p.m. and rested in our tents until dinnertime. After yesterday’s ordeal, today’s hike was a breeze for Kay, Tom, and me. Betty, however, was not so fortunate. She struggled into camp about two hours after us. I gave up my tent to Betty and so she could extra rest before the final ascent. August had decided that Betty would have to leave two hours earlier at 10:00 p.m. in order to make it to the top by morning. Kay, Tom, and I begin our summit at midnight. Lamentably, Betty never made it to the top of Kilimanjaro. Stricken by altitude sickness and fatigue, she opted to end her climb and was evacuated from the mountain the next mountain. We wished her well and told her we would see her again as soon as possible.
To be continued…