Friday, 17 January 2014
Camp 2 – Camp 3
Hiking Time: 4 Hours
Altitude: 5500m – 6000m
I wake with a jolt that has me sitting straight up in the tent in pure panic. I am trying to gasp for air but no air seems to be going in. Judi is fast asleep. My body feels frozen and I can’t move but my mouth is open trying to get air into my lungs. All that I can hear is my own gasping as I desperately try to get some air to fill my lungs.
I feel like I am suffocating.
Judi is still sound asleep on her side of the tent. I want to wake her to help me but nothing comes out of my mouth. I feel like I’m about to pass out yet I can’t scream for help, the campsite is dead quite.
With the overwhelming sense of the walls closing in around me, I fumble desperately in the dark and I burst out of the tent and gasp in the cold night air. My lungs expanding enormously as I gulped in the ice-cold fresh mountain air. It is still snowing outside as my entire body starts to shake. Camp is dark and quiet, everyone is still sleeping. I have no idea what time it is. I take in deep breath after deep breath. Slowly my body begins to relax. I have never been so scared in all of my life.
I don’t know how much time has passed but my breathing has finally slowed and I climb back into the tent and zip up the flap, leaving some open to give me some fresh air. I’m nervous as I lie back not quite sure if that was a panic attack, altitude problems or what it was. All I know is how scary it feels not to be able to breathe and I’m worried it is going to happen again. It is a sobering reminder about the need to be humble in the shadow of this mountain.
As morning rolled around the memory of what happened a few hours ago is fresh in my mind and I share it with Judi when she wakes. I find out that at some point during the night the exact same thing happened to Judi, she woke up unable to breathe and wondering who she could call for help. Soon we were to find out that we were not alone in our nightmare of no oxygen during the night for other members of our team had experienced it too.
It wasn’t long before we all realised that during the night we had such heavy snowfall that the snow had literally snowed us into our tents, in the process covering all our air vents and trapping any fresh oxygen getting into our tent leaving us breathing in deadly carbon monoxide, which was slowly beginning to poison us. The consequences could have been tragic, but that night, sleeping high up at 5500m, God had definitely been watching over us.
Grateful to have survived the horrors of last night, we watch as other teams begin to dig their tents out of the heavy snow that had fallen overnight.
Today we are packing up Camp 2 and moving up to Camp 3 called Camp Colera sitting up at 6000m, our final camp before our summit push. As if last night wasn’t bad enough, the morning is off to an emotional start once again. One of our team members has been taking a pain tablet and our lead guide has just found out about it and he is not very happy at all. There is some shouting and tears. It’s awful to watch. Emotions are high. Apparently there is an ingredient in the pain tablet that is dangerous at altitude. Our team-mate must stop taking it immediately. Angel’s anger, although seemingly harsh, is understandable, he has our best interests and heart and we are his responsibility and he wants to ensure our safety. We learn. We adjust. We keep moving forward.
Today’s climb will take me to the highest altitude I have been to yet. Kilimanjaro is 5895m, the highest I have been, but tonight we will sleep at 6000m.
As we packed up our tents, Simon offers to go and get us fresh water again. The stream’s iced over top had been broken open and everyone is urged to go and get water before it froze over again. The glare from the snow was blinding and everyone had to ensure they had their goggles on or reflective sunglasses on to prevent snow blindness.
A sticky oats breakfast filled our tummies and soon it was time to be on our way. We had missed load carries (acclimatisation days) and rest days now and this time tomorrow we would be on our way to the summit. I can hardly believe it’s here!
After the night a number of us had had, it was good to laugh and play around. My chest infection is getting better ever so slowly. I feel so much more human than I did three days ago, the antibiotics are working well. I feel stronger and ready to face what lies ahead. Steady does it I keep reminding myself, my dream is only hours away.
The climb up to Camp 3 was a slow climb with the team walking together the entire way doing the rest step. Whenever my mind began to wonder I would bring myself back into focus by saying my mantra as I walked the rest step. Cure. Cystic. Fibrosis. STEP. Cure. Cystic. Fibrosis. STEP. It seemed to help with everything, regulating my breathing, keeping my steps steady, aiding the steep climb to Camp 3. The rest step is painfully slow but at this altitude and having lost acclimatisation days due to the bad weather approach, it was the only way to move forward. I knew my body was grateful for the slower pace and the team walking in union. The snow was deep in places and the walking was exhausting.
Every so often the team would stop for a rest. The views that unfolded before us were completely breath-taking! It sure adds to one of the reasons why I climb mountains, because where else in the world do you get to experience views such as the ones that lay before us.
We made it into camp in good time and we had the entire afternoon stretch out ahead of us. The weather is miserable. Our amazing guides have already set up our tents for us. They are doing everything they can to assist us. They are truly amazing! It was going to be an afternoon spent resting and ensuring all our stuff for our summit was ready to go. As I stood in camp, I watched as the strong winds were already whipping around the orange tents that made up camp. The bad weather was due to hit by tomorrow afternoon but it was already starting to come in. I can only stand in awe and watch. I snapped a few pictures but quickly placed my camera back in my jacket before my camera froze. I knew I needed to keep the batteries warm to revive them. At extreme cold batteries lose power extremely quickly and I knew I had to keep my batteries alive for the summit push. It is freezing outside and it’s time to retreat to my tent.
As soon as I unzipped the tent flap, I fell onto my backpack and my unrolled mattress. With my feet still poking out of my vestibule, I removed my snow boots and placed them inside, where I will have easy access to them in the early hours of the morning. To ensure that no snow or ice will get inside, I stuff my gaiters inside the boots.
Much to my surprise, I manage to inflate the mattress without passing out or getting light-headed, so that seems like a good sign. However, it does take considerable effort to just set up inside the tent and get my sleeping area sorted, something I wouldn’t have even noticed at lower altitudes. But that’s life at high altitude for you, simple tasks take triple the effort.
The most important thing I’ve done on this trip is overcome a major mental hurdle. Getting sick knocked me down, but I’ve been able to get up and keep fighting. I fell like myself again – physically and mentally strong, and ready to take on the world and ultimately, the summit that lay in wait.
I spent the afternoon snoozing, and then I packed my backpack and ensured all my summit gear is ready for me to climb into in the early hours of the morning. We will be waking up at 2:30am and we will be leaving for the summit 4am. Then I snooze some more. We get hot water brought to us and dinner in our tent again due to the high winds and the snow that is still falling.
Excitement grips me.
So do the nerves.
The feelings all mush together.
Pretty much all the same feeling, just how I interpret it!!
Tonight we sleep at 6000m, the highest I have been, and tomorrow we climb to the summit at 6962m. The air vents are all wide open in the tent tonight and as it snows outside we can only hope we don’t experience what happened last night again. I’m feeling good at this new altitude. I’m feeling stronger than I have felt in days. I am ready for the summit challenge.
My snow boot inners, along with some clothes, my camera and my batteries are all in my sleeping bag with me to stop them from freezing. Tonight, it is full house inside of my sleeping bag!
I take one last look at the photo I have of Emma. The emotions well up easily again. I ask her to walk with me to the summit. I don’t really know why I ask because I know she will be by my side the entire way.
I say a prayer for my team, myself and all the other teams pushing for the summit tomorrow; I pray it’s a good and safe climb for all.
I tuck the photo of Emma safely back into my backpack. I want it with me when I summit.
I check one last time my banner is also in my backpack, ready for my summit.
It’s all packed.
It’s all ready.
My summit awaits.
But first, a few hours more of sleep.
~ All Photos By Me, Except Those By My Team Mates ~