Wednesday, December 26, 2007

at 5000 meters comes the madness....

mark and i are down from kilimanjaro, and back at the internet cafe with the deeply problematic shift keys.  i haven't the energy to do the blog entry the 8 days on the mountain deserve, but i'll start it out.

most importantly, we are both back and safe.  the claim that 50% of climbers make it to the summit proved true in our case.  mark made it to the top, but i did not.  igot pretty sick on the evening of day 4, at barranco camp.  not altitude sickness, but some sort of stomach parasite which still has my a bit laid out.  i also got mountain sickness at the upper reaches of the climb, but i knew from nepal that i was prone to that, so i had planned my itinerary around more acclimitization than average to try and avoid the problem.  i might have been alright with the altitude sickness, but the stomach problems led to pain and dizziness that pretty much took me out just short of the summit.  on the final night climb, i had to turn back at 3:30 am, while mark continued on to reach the summit less than two and a half hours later.  i was very close, but just couldn't marshall my body to do it.  (a wise choice -- it took me a full two and half hours to get back to camp at dawn because i was having so much trouble walking, meaning mark ascended the last 2000 or so feet in the same time it took me to descend that far.)  on a side note, i did make it about 2000 feet higher than our guide, who didn't feel well enough to even attempt the night ascent.

the trip, even feeling as lousy as i did, was amazing.  the mountain is beautiful.  i'll write again about it soon.  for now, here is a little recap.

day 1 -- the day it didn't rain -- a lovely day through the rainforest, and it was indeed the only day it didn't rain.  i'll dwell on weather more in the future, but on day 2 it rained all day, so we had to build tents, eat meals, everything in a driving rain.  on day 3 it was raining as we climbed, so at a certain altitude the rain turned to hail, and as we kept climbing turned to snow -- the middle couple of hours of the day was in a blistery and window snow storm.  on day 4 it merely rained, and not all day.  on day 5 it rained, and then hail at night.  on day 6, that's right, rain.  on day 7, it was fantastically beautiful for the night climb, although bitter, bitter cold, and for the daylight descent it was the most powerful rain yet, which turned to a painful hail, even through our gear, and on day 8, we made it to the basecamp and the jeep early enough to miss the rain.  but trust me, it is raining there now....

day 2 -- the day eligi became ill -- a steep climb (in pouring rain, yes) that mark and i hit hard and took without pause, so we could get to the camp in the afternoon and enjoy ourselves, plus do some extra climbing to acclimate.  in the middle of the day, i commented that our guide was going slowly -- and while i know a slow ascent is crucial on kilimanjaro and all the guides do it, i said to mark that i thought he couldn't go faster even if

day 3 -- the day with the good bathroom -- a good bathroom, in the context of this trip, means an outhouse that looks like nothing more than 3 and a half foot square closet with 5 inch square hole in the middle of the floor.  consider for a moment what constituted a "bad" bathroom....  one bit of genius that set this particular bathroom apart from the rest was the inclusion of a door.  i'll let you imagine the other innovations other bathrooms lacked.
day 4 -- the first day crossing 15,000 feet -- beautiful and snowy, i wish the weather had been nice enough to allow for more photos.  by the end of the day i had a clanging headache informing me of the altitude, even though after spending time at 15,000 feet we dropped back down to camp at just over 13,000.
day 5 -- the first day craig didn't eat -- in the morning, the headache was gone, but so was my stomach.  i wasn't able to eat anything all day, except for a few slices of cucumber.  our guide company estimates trekking kilimanjaro burns 5,000 calories a day, mark and i think that is far north of the real number, but i'm pretty sure it requires more than the 74 calories i was able to stomach.  also, i'd love to attach a photo here, but this computer lacks usb, so you will have to imagine "the breach wall."  our itinerary was planned out pretty carefully.  each obstacle of the hike was estimated to take a certain amount of time -- an hour or 3 hours or 30 minutes -- and then all of those added up to the estimation of the length of the day and when we would reach our next camp.  the first 40 minutes of day 5 was allocated to topping the breach wall: an 880 foot rock face rising nearly straight up from the campsite.  first we had to descend into a small valley, to assure that we had to climb the entire 880 feet, and then the wall.  i'm not even going to try and describe it beyond saying the term "wall" is 100% accurate.  it is absolutely not a hill.  the night before, as mark and i surveyed the wall, we couldn't see how it was even possible.  i have to say, i suspect more people get harmed climbing kili than anyone admits, and i think it starts at the breach wall.  when we reached camp that night, we heard of a porter who fell while carrying a tent for a large 12 person group that shadowed most of our trip.  i was told the porter was "ok," but when i asked if he was good ("zuri") i received only a shadowed glance.
day 6 -- the short day -- the campsite from the fifth night was easily the most desolate campsite i have ever seen, and we hiked through wastelands for only about 3 and a half hours before reaching before reaching what is now the most desolate campsite i have ever seen.  the location, our only campsite above 15,000 feet, is known as "barafu huts" which means "ice huts."  there are no huts, by the way.  ice, yes.  waking in the morning our breath had crystallized on the ceiling of the tent to make a hanging frost.  i wasn't able to eat any breakfast, but i managed a bit of lunch when we reached barafu, and then climbed another hundred meters to try to acclimate as much as possible.  i wasn't able to eat much dinner, unfortunately, but did have some vegetable soup and a few noodles.
day 7 -- the day of the death marches (also known as the second day craig didn't eat) -- i don't know how else to entitle the day, which was really 2 days.  from midnight to ten am was time to climb the last 4000 feet from barafu to the summit, and return.  mark stayed on the summit less than five minutes before having to flee the cold.  i was struggling on the side of the mountain, knowing that a full ascent was unlikely in my condition but having to take a shot at it since I was so close.  at 3:30 my stomach became unbearable.  i would have liked to wait it out, and then continue my ascent, but in the sub-freezing temperatures at 17,500 feet in the snow, sitting and waiting wasn't an option -- constant motion was all the kept you warm enough.  so, unable to go up, i had to begin a slow and methodical descent.  that, unbelievably, was only the first death march of the day.  eleven am to 5 pm was set aside for another 5,000 feet of descent.  5,000 feet down in less than 4 horizontal miles.  incredibly steep, and the rain and hail never let up.  an unbelievable misery.  my told descent in that 24 hour period was 7,000 feet, and mark's was 9,000.  our knees are knackered.  at reaching that night's campsite, we thought of ourselves as "off the mountain," even though we remained at over 10,000 feet in elevation.
day 8 -- the day we returned -- we hiked down the remaining 5,000 feet, this time over 6 miles, to the jeep that brought us back to moshi.  i managed to feel a bit better and enjoyed some breakfast, and now, in the evening, am feeling sick to my stomach but little worse than that.  the hike down i tried to take slowly, to enjoy our second journey through rainforest and colobus monkeys, but we were both so ready for a real bed (mark) and a real bathroom (me) that we covered the 5,000 feet and 6 miles in under 2 hours.  that included stopping for photos....
I hope everyone had a fabulous christmas eve and christmas day.  i was shivering on the side of a very tall mountain, but somewhere in the middle of that i thought of you all.  or i think i did.  i meant to....  in any case i am thinking of you now.  merry christmas.
now i'm going to enjoy a bathroom that involves fixtures.
with love,


Blogger Janet said...

Oh Craig, you crazy man, I'm so glad to hear that you and Mark are safe and done climbing that mountain :) I am so proud of you! I know you have been wanting to do this for a long time. I can't wait to see all of your photos. So what's next on the list?

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I don't want to make this a pissing contest, but on Christmas Day, I was in Denver, Colorado where it snowed all day (11 inches) and the temperature never reached above 8 degrees.

I don't even want to get into the details of the bathrooms in my parents house...

Re: your tale... HOLY. SHIT.

9:06 PM  

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