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The climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro  
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Day Three - On To The Mountain

   

Up To Moir Hut!

2/21/10: Today, we would hike closer to Mt. Kilimanjaro. After breakfast, we would gather our gear, and hike across the Shira Plateau, gradually increasing in altitude as we went. Joshua explained that it would not be a steep ascent, much like yesterday was. So that was some refreshing news.

Based on where our camp was situated, it just seemed we’d be basically just walking across a desert plain. I had reggae music bouncing around my head for pretty much the past two days. Maybe it was the Swahili accents, maybe it was just being in Africa or possibly just my love for reggae music, but I had this Bob Marley soundtrack playing in my head the whole time. This alone inspired me to break out the Ipod and crank up the tunes for this seemingly easy jaunt across the Shira Plateau.

Seen here I am sharing my Ipod with Joshua during a rest break. We were listening to Bob Marley,
"Stir It Up! Little Darlin', Stir It Up..."

Riz and Joshua listening to the Ipod

mount Kili in the morning
This is what we were heading towards, as the sun came up from the East. We would head over that ridge to the mountain, very far away.

Shira Camp One from our walk away towards the mountain

This is our camp that we were leaving, Shira Camp One...

Mount Kili in the morning

...and this was where we were heading, the mountain.

The trail to the mountain

As we neared the mountain, the reality of what we were about to do in the next couple of days became clearer and clearer. The mountain got bigger, we got smaller and the air got thinner.

The excitement was intoxicating however, and my curiosity for what that great beast actually was going to be like when we got up close lured me like a siren on the shore.

Though it didn't seem like it, we were also climbing in elevation. Once we neared the mountain however, things did change and the climb became much more apparent.

Two of the highest mountains I ever climbed.
Angie on her way
Angie and Tim on route to the mountain
Still looking strong at this point. All of the gear was functioning properly and the Ipod still had a charge.
You can see the trail, and the distance in this shot. Though some of the previous shots seemed much closer, I was utilizing my zoom lens. At this point was still had a decent hike ahead of us.
the mountain again
the mountain
the climbing party takes a break

I took an opportunity to take advantage of some mountain spring water. I did not drink it, as I would have needed to utilize my water purification tablets, but it was refreshing to splash on my face. It was very cold though, obviously.

angie takes a break

Angie takes a break while some porters pass by. We were blessed with some totally awesome weather. Every day was as fantastic as the next. Cold in the morning and hot and dry in the day.

One minute the mountain would be there, the next it would vanish.

We had to hike up this incline to find our hot lunch awaiting us.

Riz sleeping
I learned a valuable lesson this day however. Since I had the Marley cranking in my headphones, a seemingly somewhat subdued impression of our journey and I was feeling good caused me to set out with an extra spring in my step and bounce in my walk. Of course I had my day-pack loaded down with my rain gear, among the other necessities. So we hiked, Kili kept getting closer, we all took many photos, amazed by the mountain as we all became more acquainted with her. By the time we were nearing our lunch stop, I was feeling somewhat exhausted. Our lunch stop was up on a ridge that we had to climb so once getting there, I was zapped. The combination of my cold/flu, and starting out so strong, had totally zapped me of all energy. I remember closing my eyes at lunch and falling asleep in the chair. Of course every time that happens the guides wake us up and say, “Don’t fall asleep!” This was probably the beginning of when everyone started taking pictures of me sleeping. Bruno caught me taking a slight nap on my back pack, I know Barry got a couple shots of me as well.

I was fading, and fading fast. I remember after lunch, which I struggled to get anything down, I was loaded and ready to go, a little dazed and “out of it.” I saw Barry mention something to one of the guides and then both of them looked at me. I know what he said, in my mind he said, “Watch that guy, he doesn't look good.” And I didn't look good, nor did I feel good.

As we left our lunch camp, we were once again going up a pretty steep ridge. This took every bit of energy I had. I fell more to the rear of our group, which always ended up with two guides hanging back with the last few stragglers. I was dropping back but I kept my feet moving. Breathing was becoming harder for me. Our destination was Moir Hut, at the base of the snow-capped mountain. As we pushed over the ridge, I saw the triangular wood hut, built by a Spanish man with the last name Moir, but long abandoned and inhabitable. I could see it, but like all other things I ever saw during this hike, it was way far away. Not only did it look far away, I knew it was really far away. That is why sometimes I did not even look up anymore. I did not want to know, just let me get there.

As we breached the ridge and began to head back down into a valley towards the hut, I noticed a series of ridges we needed to climb over. As we walked along one ridge, the landscape was basically dry, barren, with little life. The ground appeared to be starved for water, and if it by chance got some, would have no chance of absorbing it. It was hard, rocky and dry. Luckily we carry our own water cause good luck finding a drink here I thought.

Throughout this hike, I was constantly amazed when I saw caves. I wanted to explore a cave, and felt this need to hike to one every time I saw one. Our trail followed the bottom side of a ridge, and it had caves. This kept my interest and took my mind off of my failing strength. I mean, I was on autopilot at this point. This was my bad day!

We came upon I guess what you could call a cave. It was big, open and it had a nice surprise in it – Water! This cave had water coming out of it, a spring no less. Inside the cave was water, grass, cool air, life! I hiked up into it, to soak it in. It was really a beautiful cave, I could see myself living here. It had water, it had comfortable grass to lay in, a great view, I felt good in this cave. Nathalie clicked off a photo of me in this cave and it appeared on their website with the comment: “Tim’s Cave.” I like that, Tim’s Cave. Yes, this is MY CAVE!

This photo was courtesy of Nathalie and Bruno. On their site they named this Tim's Cave. I'll take that, thank you!
Tim's Cave, photo by Nathalie

In this photo, our destination was that little spec you can maybe see in the center of the photo. That was Moir Hut. Needless to say, we had a little ways to go.

Once my renewed focus had been reinvigorated, I turned to look down the trail and see Moir hut just off in the distance. It was closer now, reachable. “I can do this,” I thought. Head down, get hoofing. We’ll be there soon. And we were. Now the porter’s constantly passed us up each day on the trail. They hike faster, more efficiently, carrying upwards of 40 pounds plus their pack containing their living gear, sleeping pad, etc. Usually, we get up, eat, load up and head out. They tear everything down, pass us up midway on the trail, get to the lunch spot, set up and cook lunch including bringing the loo with them just in case, we always had our loo close by. Then after lunch, we head out, they tear down the camp, pass us up again and get to the campsite and set everything up for the night. I supposed the crew that carries the overnight camping supplies might go all the way to the overnight camp spot without stopping at the lunch site. Each porter carried the same packs each day, they all had their responsibilities and they seemed to stick to them quite well.

Angie and I arrived at the Moir Hut campsite, our tent was set up. We climbed inside, opened our sleeping bags and took a big, long nap. We heard Joshua say that they were taking a side-hike up to the ridge for acclimatization and the view. We couldn't make it, I had to nap and Angie had nausea. I had been on this flu medication all week. I wasn't sure if I was coming or going at this point. But the rest did feel good.


Photo Bruno & Nathalie

We assembled for dinner, I felt better except I was sad and jealous that I did not get to make the acclimatization hike. I really wanted to experience it all. Joshua was so cool, he said he’d take us up there in the morning. So in the morning several of us hiked the same route they did the night before. I got to get my view, thanks to Joshua. Turning back to dinner, I remember feeling down, really down. I kind of opened up my emotions in front of the group, and as we discussed the mountain, in a tearful voice I said, “I cannot believe I am not going to make it up this mountain, and I feel totally embarrassed with this website up and now I will have to tell the world I did not make it.” The whole group chimed in and said, “Oh, your going to make it.” At that point, I truly did not think I could or would make it. For one thing, it did not seem I could even catch my breath.


Photo by Bruno & Nathalie from the ridge above during the afternoon acclimatization hike.
For more of Bruno and Nathalie's great photos, check out their site now!

 

The best I can explain the feeling is, it is like taking the biggest, deepest breathe I can, then not feeling nourished with air as I have lived 49 years being accustomed to. Then panic sets in, and I take another big, huge breathe, only a little faster now cause I didn't get the air I needed in the last one. Still no more oxygen, then I find myself forcing several big gasps, one right after the other, pretty much in a hyperventilation mode. It’s like swimming in the ocean when you realize that the undertow is pulling you out, and the harder you try to swim into shore, the further you get swept out to sea. At some point, it feels right to just give up! I was experiencing my first real lack of oxygen. Maybe it was my greed for oxygen that I was experiencing, maybe I was not getting what I wanted, but there was enough of what I needed. Maybe I was making myself crazy? I wasn't thinking too clearly at this point. I had this chest cold raging, the medication from that was strong, I was tired, and I could not breathe. Yea, I was about to panic in a big way. I came clean with the group, told them I did not think I could make it. But their combined tone of, “You are crazy, your going to make it,” actually brought me back to reality a bit. I really appreciated their words. Maybe they could see what I could not. I mean they all seemed to be functioning on all cylinders. Then I thought of my friend Hartmut’s words in his strong German accent, “Vat about za altitude? Do you have any altitude experience?” Well I did, like when I was a kid maybe. Been to the top of Wiamea Canyon on Kauai a bunch of times, I think 14,000 feet maybe. Been a few other places but I couldn't really give him a solid, “Yes, I have high-altitude training” answer, so I fluffed the question off. Well as you run out of air, or imagine you are running out of air, things like this bounce in and out of my head. “Hartmut, he was right, drats!” Or, “I’m not going to make it, what about the website,” or the last one, “I don’t care about making it anymore, just get me down!!!” This last thought would not come to me until the middle of the night, and it stayed with me until morning.

I did feel better after dinner, both from our group’s comments and the nourishment of a hot meal prepared by Solomon. One thing was constant on this mountain, Solomon kept us fed well, kept the menu different and enticing, and provided us with all of the food we could handle. I had learned this was the difference between the lower priced guide services and ours, which I would classify as a mid-point guide service expense wise, top-notched service-wise. The difference being first, hot meals on the mountain, and second, fresh and unique menu items on a daily basis. We never had the same meal twice. I mean, every meal started the same, with soup, but the soup was different every time. We had all kinds of soup, each one as tasty and interesting as the last. One day, I abandoned my spoon and just drank the soup out of the metal bowl. I could get it faster, more efficiently and with less slurping sound. Who knows what my European counterparts thought of me. I mean I was an obnoxious American anyway, on the side of a mountain, drinking my soup from a bowl. Hey, that’s how they do it in Japan. What’s the big deal? Besides, my lack of manners, Barry said, “It was expected.” Glad I didn't let anyone down. Really, I say all this in jest. We were adhering into quite a group at this point, everyone drawing and providing energy for the next. We were jelling I guess you could say!

So following dinner, we turned in for the night. I am not sure if I fell asleep right away or not. In my mind I was awake all night. I kept gasping for air, hyperventilating. I remember waking up in the middle of the night just starving for some air. I kept breathing rather loudly in and out, in a most desperate fashion as well. I thought I was dying, suffocating. And it seemed to me to go on all night. I remember once getting up to relieve myself and going out side, just looking up at the stars and gasping for air. As I said, I was not sure if I was dreaming or actually living this but I remember thinking, “I am just going to pack up my stuff and head down the mountain.” I reached the point where I did not care about making it, I just wanted to go down. I remember thinking, “The heck with that website, who cares what people will think?” Then my next thought is what made me think later I was dreaming, I thought, “I am going to tell Jackson, Jeremy, Johnny, whatever our head guides name is, that I am going down.” I could not remember Joshua’s name. So either I was experiencing altitude sickness, I was asleep and dreaming, or just out of it, but I couldn't remember his name. The next morning I told Angie I was up all night and she said she thought I was sleeping, though she did hear me periodically throughout the night breathing heavily. She said that she was up most of the night as well and did not hear all of this commotion that I thought I was going through. Maybe I was dreaming!

Meanwhile, Angie was going through her own struggle in that she had a resting heart rate of 180 beats per minute. She was up all night as well, finding sleep very difficult. She explained that she stayed very still out of some fear of not wanting to further increase her heart rate. She was very glad however that her nausea had cleared.

Early morning, they always wake us up with tea, coffee, cocoa, whatever our preference, followed by hot water for washing. This morning was different. Joshua came to our tent and asked permission to enter. When he came in, he sat down very serious, and said he’d heard me throughout the night. He was worried about both of us. Angie hadn’t been doing all that well at this point either, but I was so wrapped up in my drama that I did not really notice. Joshua did, and that is when he suggested I go on the Diamox. “Wow, I never thought of that,” I remember thinking.

Now the Diamox is a big argument fought all around the climb of Kilimanjaro, probably by every person ever attempting to reach Uhuru peak. I have been back and forth on the Diamox issue. I mean, I didn’t even want the yellow fever shot, which is recommended but not mandated anymore for people arriving from the U.S. In the end, a week or so before the trip, I got the shot. My mom researched Diamox, even found out that the pharmacy offered a generic brand, and called the local CVS by my home and suggested I pick it up just in case. I told her what I read, what I thought, maybe I should save the money, etc. Well her urging, and Joshua’s recommendation basically saved my climb, and it was the single most important factor to me actually standing on top of that rock.

Joshua sat in our tent and said, “I want you to start on the Diamox.” He suggested a half tablet twice a day for me, and a quarter tablet once a day for Angie because she has chemical sensitivity. The thought never crossed my mind but now it was front and center. “Yea, I’ll try the Diamox, what do I have to lose?” There are side effects, but at this point I couldn’t remember what they were. One was tingling fingers, I did get that but I could breathe now! I was saved. You see, Diamox works in some people, and some people it doesn’t. I was lucky, it worked in me. It did not agree with Angie however in that is caused her to have poor balance for the next day and a half. She had to walk slower and if she stood still she had to have a three foot stance. She was unable to turn her head while walking or she would lose her balance. She ended up not continuing with it. It worked awesome in me. I was back, I was strong, I could breathe, and as long as I kept taking it, though I had tingly fingers, I had no signs of altitude sickness.

Immediately I began to feel better, I came back down to earth, my thinking cleared. As I would learn later, one of the signs of altitude sickness is the crazy thinking, reality kind of leaves you. I experienced this, remember I couldn’t even remember Joshua’s name?

In the morning following breakfast, our guides lived up to their promise, and took Angie and myself, along with everyone else from the group minus Bruno up to the point they hiked too the day before. For time purposes, we didn’t climb the big rock cliff at the end but we did hike way up to the top of the ridge, gaining acclimatization and getting some good pictures of the mountain and our camp below, along with miles and miles of foothills. Bruno, who was not feeling too well at this point had cut back on his food intake, a clear warning sign of altitude sickness. Having his own difficulties he had decided to forgo the hike up there again in that he had made it the day before. He, along with another guide, had straddled the Shira ridge and headed for Shira Camp two, which was our destination for the night. We would meet with him later. Nathalie, his partner, had made the hike the night before and upon descent had a sudden and severe incident of nausea which cleared by morning allowing her to join us. This was her second time up the ridge. Everyone else in the group was doing well as far as I knew. Barry had even given me a crash-course in proper pole procedures. I admit, I had been doing it wrong all along, they did not come with any instructions is my excuse. Once he showed me the proper way to utilize the poles though, I gained much more benefit from having them both on the ascent and descent. It was good advice and I never shy away from an opportunity to learn something. Thank you Barry!

After reaching the ridge, high above the Moir Hut camp area, we hiked back down and through our camp. We then proceeded up the other side to eventually descending into Shira Camp Two and met up with Bruno. It was a comfortable day of hiking. One might ask why hike up high, then descend back down? One friend said, once I get up there, I’m not coming back down until I reach the top. I hear you, and I understand your sentiment but acclimating is tricky business. Team Kilimanjaro constantly talks about climbing high and sleeping low. They recommend these side acclimation hikes in the latter part of the day after our destination hike is completed. The purpose is to get the body to that higher altitude briefly so it can say, “Hey, I need oxygen for my brain, I better make more red blood cells,” kicking the body into gear. Then going back down, our bodies are able to repair and continue to manufacture the red blood cells we need. Then the next day, our bodies already know we can go to the altitude our side hike provided, and we are able to push even higher, signaling more blood cells to be called upon. So we go even higher, then back down to rest, sleep, eat, then the next day, we push even higher. This is the all important process of acclimating. These side hikes are very important! Bruno had his GPS with him so we had a running account of how high we were at each point.

Day three for me is the day I almost did not make it. It is the day that I wanted to quit. I could see myself quitting, I had all of the justifications in place, take me home! Angie teases me as I had shown interest in her nausea and said, “If you want to go down, I’ll go with you in case you need help.” But it is the day that I also got to know myself better, I experienced a wet cave, I bounced between dream and reality, and I learned what it felt like to suffocate. It was the day my group supported me and gave me what I needed when I needed it, and the morning after was the day a very experienced, polite and consciences guide saved me and my climb. This day and night was pivotal. All of the time people ask me, “What was the best part of this whole experience?” I cannot answer that, and I have not been able too. It was ALL the best part of the experience, and it was the worst part as well. Day three was my hell, but it was my awakening, and my struggle, and my triumph. It was the day I really got to find out who I am, and what I am made of. So I do not know if it was the best part, but it was a significant part. Does that answer the question?

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