We began the day with our porters taking our packed gear to the next campsite.
These porters are amazing, how they can carry large such heavy bags at these
high altitudes. Our guides also have them ferry supplies from the campsites
and villages below to keep our group supplied and carry water from rivers
near and far to boil them for cooking, washing, and drinking. We at first
felt sorry for them, for every pound we had in our bags was a pound they
had to carry. But our second thought was that they are being paid to do this;
they agreed to carry them, and that's part of how they make a living, so
it's all part of the deal.
We headed up
the mountainside. The phrase of the day was "Pole pole",
which literally means "slow slow". Just one step after another,
making a little progress at a time. We kept a slow pace, as we should,
and one that is surprisingly slow looking back on the video. As the
hikers who were there, however, it seemed just as strenuous as if we were
trekking across any trail back home. After revisiting the base of Lava
Tower, we moved on to the slopes of Kibo. We soon encountered slopes steep
enough to justify the use of hiking poles. Such slopes didn't let up the
entire way to our next campsite.
Along the way I was surprised to discover the sound of water trickling
down the mountainside from the ice pack far above. It was even accompanied
by greenery, and flowers, on the soil nearby. This small creek, shielded
by ice in places, was making it possible for life to live in otherwise
harsh environment. I realized my clothing, including my thick fleece ski
jacket, necessary for the cold, and footsteps were obscuring the beautiful
quiet and stillness that surrounded me. So I took a moment to absorb the
sound of the water, the occasional cooler breeze, the view of the volcanic
mountainside buttressing against the clouds far below us illuminated and
warmed by the bright equatorial sun.
As we climbed
higher and higher, the trail became harder to see. Our group began
to stretch ahead and back, as each one of were proceeding at our
own paces while trying to track each other like distant links in
a chain. At one point, I thought we were to climb in the direction
of a ridge line. By the time Freddy behind me had caught up to that
ridge, Urassa came back and told me I should come back down and go over
that ridge. Freddy followed Urassa, and then I soon after.
Soon we arrived
at Arrow Glacier at an altitude of 4850 m (16000 ft). We camped just above
the height of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. Our campsite
was on a rocky sloped terrain, devoid of plant life, yet inhabited by small
spider-like insects. The base of Kibo laid below us, with clouds covering
the plains to the southwest. Above was tomorrow's route, the Western breach,
a seeming wall of scraggly rock patched with white ice obscured by cloud
cover at the top.
All five of us were feeling the effects of altitude sickness, Darrell
most of all. Whether or not Darrell could make the top was a legitimate
question. Even as the Diamox helped pump the water out of the other four
of us, thickening our blood, we felt our heads ache and our breathing labored.
After dinner, our
guides declared a meeting, preparing for the "Final
Assault" the next morning. The plan was to wake at midnight and embark
at 1 am, reaching the edge of the crater of Kibo at sunrise and then
the summit not long after. Only the two guides and one of the porters,
Lovejoy, would accompany us to the top, while the porters would take
all the other gear to our next campsite via another route. When we
go up, we keep going because it's more dangerous to turn back. Most
of all, Mohammed's instructions were to "wear all your clothes".
We prepared our gear that night so we could leave quickly.
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