Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kilimanjaro

1


I watched the sun rise from Africa’s tallest mountain.

How did this happen?

Four years ago I was contently living in Laguna beach enjoying a life of dinner parties, nights filled with friends and wine on the balcony, weekends full of farmer’s markets, cooking, and surfing. Here I am – “partnerless” on a deck on an island off the coast of Tanzania – Africa… looking at the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen.

Four days ago I stood on the highest point on this content. I watched the sun rise. I did a dance. I said a prayer in my heart – a prayer of pure thanks.

What a gift.

Our trek to the tip top of Africa took 7 days; Three nights of camping somewhere between 10k and 13k feet and one night at just over 15k feet. Each camp bringing new perspective of the mountain, the team, our guides, and ourselves. I loved it.

At one point at the camp on day four, I walked out of the mess tent to use the restroom and Janine stopped me on her way to bed. “Turn off your headlamp.” After following her instructions I looked up to see the prize (one of many): A sky so full of stars that I had to search to find the darkness. And when I did find the darkness, it was the silhouette of the tallest mountain in Africa, and our destination.

Magic, magic, magic – gifts abound.

Each day on the mountain brings about a thousand new experiences per minute. Laughter, singing English songs, singing Swahili songs, questions about life in Africa, questions about life in the US, Australia, Uganda, the UK, Luxemburg, questions about the mountains and a million answers, pure joy, pure frustration, exhaustion, tears, and then again – pure joy. I speak for myself when I say that I laid in my sleeping bag each night (with two pairs of tights, a thermal, a t-shirt, a PUFFY JACKET, a hat, two pairs of socks, gloves, a sleeping bag liner, a sleeping bag, AND a hot bottle of water – to keep warm) exhausted, but wide awake trying to soak it all in.

I walked mostly in the back of the group on Kili. There was no reason, other than I needed a little bit more space. I’m used to living alone – not having to constantly interact with people. I put my headphones in for the first time on the first day of Kili. Old music reminded me of old times, magnifying how far I’ve come physically, mentally, emotionally.

By day 3 our youngest member of the team (which really has nothing to do with anything), Lyndall, was sick. Not a bug, but altitude sickness. She turned into a zombie in front of our eyes at 14,000 feet. Literally, not moving anything but her feet, not saying a word, clearly struggling to get enough oxygen. Our lead guide, Ema took her bag, called for more porters to come from camp to help in getting her from point A to point B – a large hill, a large (mean) valley, and another large uphill climb. She made it to camp, but was very sick. At that point, most of us were sure that we were about to lose our first team member to altitude. I was seriously bummed – we’d bagged the first two peaks as a team of 11 women. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t get them all.

On our “short days” – any hike less than 8 hours – Ema would take us on an acclimatization hike. The point of these little two hour hikes was really just to keep us awake until dinner. Apparently you take in less oxygen when you sleep- he didn’t want us doing that in the middle of the day. On day 3, Lyndall slept and missed the acclimatization hike but was her normal, bubbly self when we returned to camp.

We were all shocked when Ema told us on day four that Lyndall would be making the summit attempt with us at midnight.

We may have slept for two or three hours before the “Simba Growl” woke us up at 11pm. Most of us already dressed in our warmest clothes for summit attempt, we piled into the mess tent for whatever we could muster down our bellies, water for the camelbacks and last minute packing. By 12:20 am we were on trail – stuck behind the traffic of 40 (FREAKIN SLOW) Brits wearing reflective vests (WHY!?!?!? Were they going to get hit by a car on Africa’s highest mountain??? SO LAME!!!!!) Right – so it took us a while to get going…

I stuck my headphones in right away (thank you, Airborne Toxic Event for guiding me up!!!), turned my headlamp off, and looked up. Stars. Everywhere. The dipper, Orion, Venus, Jupiter. MADNESS. No moon. Only stars and the headlamps pointing up, up, up.

Magic again.

Lydall was not well. I love the kid. It was Australia day. For some reason, I felt compelled to get her up the mountain. So every 45 minutes or so I shoved some kind of frozen cliff bar, jelly bean, shot-block, or electrolyte substance down her throat. She was not well. Christie – our other Aussie also started to feel the altitude about an hour into the hike – before I knew it I was holding one of two hands as we trudged up the mountain. I kept reminding them (really, to remind myself) “LOOK UP! THIS IS THE PRIZE!!!” It was. All of it.

Lyndall bounced between being latched to me, Ema, or Daniel the entire hike. At some points she was latched to two or three of us. Somehow, the girl locked into a pace and didn’t waver once. No alternative- she was going to get to the top of the mountain.

To be clear how amazing the Amazing Lyndall is:  At one point I asked her if she needed to cover her face from the intensely cold wind and she said yes. When I handed her her buff she looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again and said “I can’t get it over my head.” I took her hat off, looked at her watery, tranced eyes, put her buff on, kissed her forehead and said, “Look at me,” she did, “you do NOT have to do this.” She nodded. I put her hat on, and off we went. She will always be a symbol of strength for me. Using her brain to overcome the physical limitations altitude pressed on her.

When Christie felt sick for the second time I was told to go on without her. So I did. It was only about 10 minutes before I realized that despite the fact that it was probably 5 degrees out there, I was HOT. VERY HOT. Sweating hot. Suffering. I was absolutely going to barf. I looked at Mbise, behind me and told him “I have to stop.” He was shocked, he didn’t understand what I was saying until I stopped and sat at the nearest rock. I wasn’t willing to cry, but prepped myself to throw up. Suddenly Daniel was running down the mountain towards me “Are you OKAY!?!?” Yeah, yeah, I just need a minute to barf.” I didn’t barf. They made me move on. I felt better. (I needed food.)

It happened once more before I bounced back completely. Those guides will never really understand what role they played in our success. We absolutely would not have cleared any summit without their assistance. Amazing men, they are.

About 5 hours after we took our first steps, we saw our first sign of natural light. When she rose, she exposed the plains I’d dreamed of seeing for so long. The altitude and the view battled for my oxygen. I just watched. I said prayers of thanks.

Why am I so lucky to have this experience?

Soon after the sunrise came Stella Point. From Stella Point we could see the summit – not too far off, and not too far up. I told Lyndall that she was going to make it. She sobbed and sobbed. I cried. Ema watched. I saw him mouth the words “the Amazing Lyndall.”

Sunscreen, a break, and soon enough there was Christie – a few steps behind with the last three guides. We screamed. Each of us that had attempted summit were now within reach. We got this.

Lyndall needed to pee. So did I. There isn’t much to hide behind at 19,000 feet. We walked around the rock. I took off her gloves, and undid her pants for her. I stood and held myself as a brace for her. When she was done, I went. Literally, as I’m peeing, I look over and see Lyndall standing like Frankenstein with her pants undone – in total view of all the hikers going by. She looked at me and said, “I can’t do my pants.” I laughed, hard. Finished my business, buttoned her pants, buttoned my pants, and off we went.

We held hands for the last hour to the summit, finally reaching it 8.5 hours after our first steps behind the annoying Brits with the reflective vests. We took turns crying there. Enjoying our success. Lyndall taking turns collapsing on to us. I’m sure part of the reason I was so emotional was because of her success. The Amazing Lyndall. What a stud.

The summit was quick. I developed a headache the size of – kili, but was hell-bent on making sure I enjoyed every second of being on the roof of Africa. I took jumping pictures and smiling pictures. I took video. I stopped. Did my best to breathe it all in. The prize.

Getting down was fast. It took us 8.5 hours to get up and then, the final prize for the day – they let me RUN DOWN THE MOUNTAIN!!! 2 hours to get down through the deepest scree I could have imagined. HEAVEN! Mbise and I tore it up going down. I laughed the entire way. By the time we reached camp again – 11 hours after the start, I was pooped and had a gnarly headache.

I fell asleep halfway inside my tent-halfway outside my tent with my tights, hiking boots (no socks) and a tank top on. Our camp manager, Simba found me this way and took my shoes off, helped me clean my feet. Opened the tent to let more air in, and tucked me into bed for the well deserved nap.

The crew, the guides, the porters, the cooks, the team, the animals, the music, the mountains. All of them have created my version of this place I call Africa.

Gifts abound. I have fallen in love.

1 comment:

  1. You are AMAZING!!! WOW!! You did it!! There isn't anything that can deter you now that you've achieved THIS!!
    Congrats!! What's next?
    Denise :-)

    ReplyDelete