Part two of four in a series of blog posts written by Deborah King of how she conquered Mt Kilimanjaro this year despite the challenges she faced along the way due to Usher syndrome.
Day 3 – It was a little chilly this morning but a t-shirt and jumper was fine to keep us warm enough. As we opened up the tent we were greeted again with a bowl of warm water for our morning wash. Soon we had food in our tummy and bags packed, and we were we ready for day three. During our morning brief, we were informed that we would be eating our packed lunch and resting at lava tower. We will be spending a little time there to get used to the altitude and help our bodies acclimatise as we would be at four thousand six hundred feet at that point.
Every day the inclines got steeper and this one felt like it was never going to end, there were no trees anymore just rocks. Even though it was more of an open space we still walked in single file. I had my pole and was still concentrating on Gavin’s feet to lead the way. If I were to do this again I would make him wear something colourful or pretty rather than black and boring, if I have to spend a lot of time looking at his feet it should at least be something nice to look at. Almost at Lava tower and the weather took a turn and got a lot colder very quickly, then it started raining really hard. By the time we reached the lunch stop we were soaked through, now it wasn’t just raining it was hailstones and snowing too! I had my hood up and I was trying to keep in good spirit as we were only half way to the camp where we would spend the night. Finding a large rock to shelter under was hard as most were taken by other people. We squeezed into an empty sheltered spot and ate our lunch whilst we watched the rain, hail and snow pour down in front of us.
The bad weather and altitude was starting to take its toll on us as we were soaked and pretty tired by this point. Despite the original plan to spend some time at this altitude to get used to it, Omari our guide made a decision that we should press on because of the weather, at this point we had only been here for around twenty minutes. So, we packed up our things and off we set again, no one complained as I think we all now wanted to reach the camp and get changed in to some dry clothes as soon as possible.
Off we went, only not uphill this time but downhill and it wasn’t really a hill to be honest. The decent was a steep and a very rocky downward climb. At this point I just wanted to cry, as it was steep and wet and thought I might actually slip and get hurt at this point. We all helped each other out the best we could as we were climbing down and jumping over a few small running streams created by the heavy rain. When we reached the bottom and it levelled out a little, we looked back to see what we had just climbed down and I honestly don’t know how I did it. After walking for a little longer, we looked back again to see the top of Lava rock in the distance, we were amazed to see it was now all covered in snow so I think we were lucky we had such an experienced guide, otherwise getting down might have been a whole lot harder than it already was. We finally reached Barranco Camp (3,900 meters) and were very happy to see that our tent was all set up and our bags inside, as I couldn’t wait to take my wet clothes off. Yes, we did have waterproofs on but after six hours in heavy rain they weren’t that waterproof anymore. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have anywhere to dry our wet gear as although it wasn’t raining anymore, it wasn’t warm enough either and no fires were allowed on the mountain. We hung our coats and waterproofs in our dinning tent after dinner to try and dry them out, and the rest of the clothes that weren’t quite as wet we put into our sleeping bags with us to try and dry them out using our body heat. This camps toilet experience consisted of another wooded shack, well let’s just say that I was lucky as I don’t think Gavin would have bought me home after this one. It was so muddy as the weather has been awful that when I walked in to the toilet I slipped and slid across the floor, fast approaching the hole where everyone does their business. Luckily, I managed to stop myself just in time, but the hole was pretty big and yes, I nearly ended up down there. I remember Gavin shouting “watch out” as he watched my sliding toward my impending doom, but after I saved myself we both decided against this particular toilet and opted to walk a little further to the slightly nicer toilets up the hill. Dinner was very much appreciated tonight as were our dry clothes. In the tent, it was hard to see what I was eating as it was very dark, we had a candle near my plate to try and give me some light, we were trying to preserve our head torches for the final climb so this seemed like a good idea. I decided not to try and help dish up dinner though as it most definitely would have turned into a nightmare; I could just see myself knocking over the candle. Because of the poor light, it was very hard to see Timo and Sharon as they sat opposite us and I couldn’t lip read them at all either as it was so dark in the tent. I did wonder if they might have thought I was being a bit rude and not pulling my weight as I still hadn’t told them about my condition. I am sure they must have suspected something, but perhaps didn’t know how to ask as I hadn’t said anything. An early night was definitely needed tonight, saying that it was still a little after nine before we got into our sleeping bags. The ground conditions seemed to be getting harder at every camp and our tent floor seemed to be becoming rockier too. The porters do their best to rake away the loose rocks before putting the tent up, but I guess there is only so much you can do when the ground is basically one big rock. The porters even made a little moat around our tent to divert the water around it should it rain that night as there was more bad weather predicted. Ears out, head torches off and sleep. I got right down inside my sleeping bag that night as it was getting colder, the wet clothes in my sleeping bag weren’t helping either.
Day 4 – Morning came and it was good to see that the rain had passed. We washed our faces, packed our kit and sat down for another tasty breakfast. Every day was so different on the mountain. Today it would start with a steep traverse up the Barranco Wall, and to me the path ahead looked almost vertical and would require a lot of energy and some serious nerves to make it to the top. The Barranco Wall was very scary for me, as one slip could be detrimental. Just when you think you were reaching the top you realise in fact it wasn’t the top at all and it just seemed to keep on going up.
Half way up this never-ending rock climb the rain returned to join us once again and just started coming down harder and harder as the day went on. It was so much harder to see where I was going in this weather, I was squinting and straining my eyes a lot more to try and watch and negotiate each footstep safely. I fell behind a few times and had to look around to see where I was and who I could see. Working out where to place footsteps and knowing that it was in the right direction was hard and took a lot of energy. At one point, I stepped down from a rock only to be hit in the leg by a root that was protruding from the side of the path. It really, really hurted but I never complained, well not out loud anyway. At this point, there were a few tears rolling down my cheek, and I was questioning why I was even doing this muttering to myself that it was all Gavin’s fault.
Today was a long day on our feet, the plan was to stop around half way to have a cooked lunch prepared by the team chef. When we reached the lunch stop I so wished it was where we were sleeping. We were now just so cold and wet, and had so many layers on just to try and stay warm but yet it still just wasn’t quite enough. After an hour or so huddling together in our food tent and eating warm food we were off again, even though none of us had any energy left by this time yet no one complained.
We had looked at what the porters had to carry and considered ourselves lucky that we only had our day bags. The porters carried our tents, all of our luggage bags as well as all the dinning tents, chairs and the cooking equipment. At one point, we saw a few of the porters collecting fresh water that was cascading down a rock face on the side of the mountain This was to be used for cooking and drinking at the next camp. The water was also used for topping up our drinking bottles as we each had to carry three litres of water with us each in our day bags every day. Back on day one I remember being told that the porters had to carry as much water as possible up with them as this was the last point that we could get fresh water from the streams.
On we went with our hands cold from being in wet gloves, we were even wearing two pairs but this still didn’t really help at this point, our clothes were still pretty soaked so we had to get walking to generate some body heat to keep warm. I don’t remember much of the next four hours as I spent a lot of time looking down and following Gavin’s footsteps, and just trying not to cry. I was cold, wet and starting to get really tired now, I just wanted to reach our camp for the night, get changed in to some dry clothes and get some sleep. We reached Barafu camp around seven that evening. The rain had finally stopped but it was foggy and even colder up here, there was even snow and ice on the ground.
I really did want to cry when we realised that due to the weather we had beaten our porters to the camp and that until they arrived, we had no dry clothes to get into or no tents to rest in. We got to wait inside a wooden hut where some of the guides and porters sleep. There was no heating in here that’s for sure, by now the temperatures were dropping and we actually considered that hypothermia could be a real possibility. Gavin tried to cheer us all up and keep himself warm at the same time by doing star jumps which didn’t last long as he had no energy left. We were now at five thousand six hundred and eighty meters above sea level and I think, we were all feeling it now. We were held up in a dark room surrounded by a few bunk beds, I couldn’t see hardly anything at this point, Gavin hugged me tight until our bags arrived. When the bags finally made it to camp, I stripped off my wet clothes as quickly as I could, I didn’t care at this point I couldn’t see anyone so I went with, if I can’t see them then they can’t see me. Our fresh clothes weren’t that dry as the rain has got into the luggage bags but they were a lot dryer than the ones we had on. Our tents were finally up and ready after about half hour of the porters arriving in camp. I must admit though this did feel like hours. I tried to organise myself and my kit ready for the final part of the walk to the summit that we would commence later that night. It was now dark and I had my head torch on. I was cold, extremely tired, and getting stressed out at this point. I really was crying now as I said to Gavin that we can’t possibly go on as we have no dry clothes and we just can’t get warm, “we could actually die of hypothermia” I said to Gavin. I hadn’t suffered with any kind altitude sickness this far so I had been lucky in that respect. Gavin had a few headaches and a bit of dizziness but nothing too serious. Still in our tent trying to get warm, most of our kit was either soaked or damp, and it was minus degrees outside so nothing was going to dry now. At this point I had my thermals and PJ’s on and was wrapped in Gavin’s coat. We finally had our dinner around eight-thirty, where we sat in the food tent shivering and trying to get some warm food down us. We wrapped our gloves around our tea mugs in an attempt to dry them out. After we had eaten and the food was starting to digest and replenish some of our energy, Gavin said to me we didn’t come this far to quit now! I knew what he was saying was right but we had to be sensible too. We were hugging to keep warm in the food tent and trying to come up with ideas on how we can get dry clothes to carry on. I suggested converting my sleeping bag into a coat but still needed it intact for one more sleep. We decided we had to try and get some sleep as we now hadn’t slept since breakfast and we were meant to be ascending the summit through the night in just a few hours. We would need all of our energy to even attempt the final climb. The plan was to start the final accent at midnight. Laid in my sleeping bag trying to sleep with wet clothes in there with me (one final attempt to try and dry them out a bit). I also stuffed my left over sanitary towels in my boots to try and absorb some of the moisture whilst we slept. Knowing that I had just two hours to try and sleep and then we would be walking up the steepest part of the mountain in the darkness, which was a daunting thought at this point. I didn’t even have any energy to find the toilets so Gavin just found a space outside the tent for me to go. Trying to sleep was a nightmare as it was a deep breath in followed by a shaking breath out from the shivering.
Will Deborah reach the summit? Find out in part three here >> Conquering the Mountain (part 3)
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