Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Snowed In And Sticky Oats ~ A Journey to the Top of Aconcagua

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.

Snowed in at Camp 2! Other teams can be seen scrapping snow away from their tents.

Snowed in at Camp 2! Other teams can be seen scrapping snow away from their tents.

Me peeking out of our tent in a cold early morning at Camp 2 after getting snowed in during the night.

Me peeking out of our tent in a cold early morning at Camp 2 after getting snowed in during the night.

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!

Me, not looking too impressed, standing with Simon and Daniel as we try hard to put sticky oats down our throat. I blame the oats entirely for the look on my face!!

Me, not looking too impressed, standing with Simon and Daniel as we try hard to put sticky oats down our throat. I blame the oats entirely for the look on my face!!

Some fun after a scary night. Daniel eating breakfast! *Photo By Simon Bates*

Some fun after a bit of a scary night. Daniel eating breakfast! *Photo By Simon Bates*

Better than sticky oats! *Photo By Simon Bates*

Better than sticky oats! *Photo By Simon Bates*

Yummy! *Photo By Simon Bates*

Yummy! *Photo By Simon Bates*

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.

Teams packing up. It was almost time to move up to Camp 3.

Teams packing up. It was almost time to move up to Camp 3.

Simon, Daniel and Judi ready to rock and roll to Camp 3.

Simon, Daniel and Judi ready to rock and roll to Camp 3.

Camp 2 under snow!

Camp 2 under snow!

Breath-taking views from Camp 2.

Breath-taking views from Camp 2.

If you look carefully you can see teams slowly making their way up to Camp 3 from Camp 2.

If you look carefully you can see teams slowly making their way up to Camp 3 from Camp 2.

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.

Making our way up to Camp 3. *Photo By Simon Bates*

Making our way up to Camp 3. *Photo By Simon Bates*

Love this amazing photo taken by *Simon Bates* As our team and another team behind us made it up over a steep climb this was snapped. I'm 2nd from the front with my hands up in the air. Yes, I was feeling invigorated and alive!!

Love this amazing photo taken by *Simon Bates* As our team and another team behind us made it up over a steep climb this was snapped. I’m 2nd from the front with my hands up in the air. Yes, I was feeling invigorated and alive!!

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.

Another team, doing the rest step, coming up behind us.

Another team, doing the rest step, coming up behind us.

Incredible views as we make our way up to Camp 3.

Incredible views as we make our way up to Camp 3.

This photo of me was taken on a rest stop as we made our way up to Camp 3.

This photo of me was taken on a rest stop as we made our way up to Camp 3.

Our team on a break, enjoying the views and a rest.

Our team on a break, enjoying the views and a rest.

Adrian, our fabulous guide with the weather changing fast behind him.

Adrian, our fabulous guide with the weather changing fast behind him.

On top of the world ~ literally! Because Everest season is not open yet we literally become the highest climbers in the world!

On top of the world ~ literally! Because Everest season is not open yet we literally become the highest climbers in the world!

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.

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~ All Photos By Me, Except Those By My Team Mates ~

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Treasured Memories: A Letter to a Friend

To my dearest Emma,

Now you and I both know I would never start a letter like that and neither would you. I think I’m trying to be politically correct because this is a public forum but still it sounds so wrong. You and I both know it should read;

photo 1

 

 

 

Yes, that sounds so much more like it!

It’s been a long time since we last wrote each other a letter. Today seemed fitting to do one again. Last night as I drove home the sky lit up in a brilliant pink. As I recited “Pink Sky Night, Shepard’s Delight” and remembered how you taught it to me as the sky was painted pink one morning as we rode our bikes to junior school, I smiled knowing heaven was getting ready for your birthday party today. I hope your cake is big, bright and colourful and I hope with all those candles they don’t blind you for too long!! Haha! I can hardly believe you are celebrating your 39th birthday today.

So much has changed in our world since you made your way to heaven and I can’t help but wonder how amazing it would be with you here now. With email, cellphones, selfies, whatsapp, facebook and twitter we’d be constantly in touch and we’d never miss a beat.

Sometimes all it takes is a familiar smell or a certain taste to evoke an old memory, making you feel like you are back in time in that moment where it was created.

Remember how we used to ride our bikes to school in the morning, you’d drive by my house and then we’d head off together. As we grew older and headed to high school, I’d walk to your house and we’d head off to high school together. We were so innocent and carefree and all that mattered was giggling at the boy in choir who would pick his nose. We called each other so many names, it was as natural as our parents callings us Emma and Lara. I remember the bean and banana salad your mom used to make and your dogs, Max and Candy like it was all just yesterday. Remember when they moved your swimming pool from the back to the front and that day I dived into the pool and dived to show you something, I dived a little too deep hitting my head on the bottom. A bit confused, water-logged and bedraggled I eventually surfaced and you were looking at me like I was mad. You asked me “what was that?” I said I dived a bit too deep and hit my head, you just laughed and replied, I was wondering what was taking you so long to surface!!

Always pulling faces for the camera!

Always pulling faces for the camera!

Three words: John-Paul Meyer. Lol, I wonder where in the world he is today and if he still has that wild hair. The guy we loved to hate. Lol, how many times did we run and hide from him. Remember the ridiculously green swimming pool at this house and endless prank calls we used to make with him. He was such a nerd (in our terms) but what fun we used to have!

On the odd occasion I drive down Cross Road in Table View. The minute I turn into the road I think of you. Good old Canary Crescent and the cute blonde boy with the dark-haired friend who lived there. I can’t for the life of me remember their names but if a police sketch artist had to ask me to describe him, he’d be drawing him in no time. You two had such a crush on each other! It was just too cute. I can’t drive down Cross Road and pass Canary Crescent without thinking about you and smiling at the memories and all our drives by’s on our bikes!

Posters of Madonna and Morten Harket from A-ha in your room. I just need to hear one of their 80’s or 90’s songs and I’m flooded with memories again. The blonde chick from The Bangles still makes me think of you even though you look nothing like her. Danced we did and sing our hearts out into our clenched fists. We were so well on our way to become those famous singers one day. I hope you still practicing up there, I sing at every opportunity I get. I bet you have the voice of an angel now. I, however, am still no good! I will endeavour to keep practicing…

Don’t even let me get started with Chesney Hawks! I will never forget the day I told you something about him and your reply to me was simply “Are you mad? Have you seen him up close?!” I still listen to one of his songs in my car when I drive and sing my heart out (you would be proud) and I can see you shaking your head in heaven “Oh no, not again!” What do you know, I still know all the words. I will never forget your absolute horror and then laughter at what I said! Moments like that I treasure deeply.

Top of the Pops! We were always putting it on then running outside to swim again. When our favourite artists came on we’d race to the window to watch through the window. Long live the 80’s! Remember the coca-cola song we loved so much? We knew all the words. I still do! I never hear that song anymore but sometimes the tune comes out of nowhere and starts playing in my head. These little reminders are the best! Sometimes now, when I think of you, I call up the song on YouTube and it takes me straight back to Hawk Crescent.

Queue wobbly knees and scrambling for the window again to get the best view… It was your man’s turn next…!

This morning on the radio they were having a debate about smooth or crunchy peanut butter. This then led to talks about what everyone got for school lunch. It made me think of our school lunches, you always had the best lunches with awesome goodies that made me drool! Playing red rover on the school field, jumping through the skipping rope, and sitting on the stands catching up with our friends during break time. And how many hours did we spend writing and passing notes around classroom to each other hoping the teacher didn’t catch up. Trying to stifle a laugh and remaining undetected by the teacher was always difficult but it never stopped us. How we used to cringe when one of our notes got confiscated.

Those were the days!

Before cellphones and email. These were the good old days. I still have a box full of our letters and notes!

Before cellphones and email. These were the good old days. I still have a box full of all our letters and notes!

I still laugh really hard when I think back to that day we were walking down the street to the shop and the park. We were so engaged in our conversation as we walked next to each other we were not watching where we were going. Next moment you are no longer next to me and I heard a vibrating sound of metal. I turned back to see where you had gone to only to find you standing in front of a pole looking slightly dazed and confused. You had walked into the pole so hard the pole was still vibrating! I laughed so hard I cried. Within minutes you were sporting a bump the size of Signal Hill on your forehead and it was as red as Rudolph’s nose! It was impossible to look at you after that without collapsing into a completely uncontrollable raucous laughter.

The case of the missing sandwich still makes me laugh out aloud. We searched for it for ages only to eventually find it stuck to the back of your leg. I mean really!!

The game we used to play with others, where one was blindfolded and the other one was seated on a bar stool with one leg tucked under them and an arm hidden under their clothes. It was the story of pirate; we told them how he’s lost his arm and his leg while leading their hand over the ‘lost body parts’. Remember how we told them how he lost his eye and promptly stuck their outstretched fingers into the insides of a soft-boiled egg with them thinking it’s the eye socket!! Hahahaha, the looks on their faces got us every time! I still remember when you did it for the first time!

You thoroughly enjoyed sticking friends fingers into the soft boiled egg as we told our story... Lol

You thoroughly enjoyed sticking friends fingers into the soft boiled egg as we told our story… Lol

I recall with a smile the photobooth photos we used to take. Whenever  I walk past one of those old photo booths now, I long to climb in and pull funny faces with you. We could never walk past one without popping our money in and climbing inside to pull some faces for the camera! More than anything I wish we could be together in the today’s world where everyone takes selfies and I could have one with my best bestie.

Out of all the words to describe you, I think the word that is most accurate is kind. And no wonder being friends with you all these years has made me someone I’m proud to be. Words are insufficient, but you need to know how awesomely awesome you still are to me. I promise to always be here, somewhere in the background to remind you every day, lest you ever doubt it.

You and I grew up together. You and I learned about life together. We saw each other move from clueless pre-pubescent kids with colouring books and crayons to teenagers with embarrassing obsessions and truck loads of school work. We waded through life together, through the laughter, the illness, the heartbreaks, the memories we were making, only to find ourselves so much stronger. You taught me about courage, hope, dreams and so much more.

Feeding the bucks at Rhodes Memorial. We were so young!

Feeding the bucks at Rhodes Memorial. We were so young!

Feeding the bucks at Rhodes Memorial.

Feeding the bucks at Rhodes Memorial.

It’s so hard to forget someone who gave me so much to remember. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little piece of infinity that we got to share. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

So many funny moments shared.

So many funny moments shared.

We had so many sleepovers!

We had so many sleepovers!

Birthdays galore!

Birthdays galore!

Then we grew up and went to Sun City for a bit of a holiday with your mum and your dad. You tired easily at this stage but that didn't stop us from having a ball! I treasure memories from this time and am so grateful for the time we got to spend together on this trip.

Then we grew up and went to Sun City for a bit of a holiday with your mum and your dad. You tired easily at this stage but that didn’t stop us from having a ball! I treasure memories from this time and am so grateful for the time we got to spend together on this trip.

I miss you, I miss us, I miss every little moment that created our friendship. I miss your smile, and the times we would laugh insanely for many hours, I miss the sound of your voice and how we talked on the phone for endless hours even after we’d spent the whole day together, I miss the sleep overs, the singing and the silliness. I miss laughing so hard we’d end up snorting cool drink out our noses because the laughter would just not stop. I miss the pet names we used to call each other. I miss dreaming up ridiculous dreams with you. I miss when we were an indestructible force. I miss the quiet moments when words were unnecessary for communication between us, when the stare between our eyes spoke of many beautiful thoughts. The truth of the matter is I don’t think I will ever let you go, your spirit, your heart, your friendship, how can I? …you are my true soul friend. We talked about CF often and I can still breathe in the smell of your nebuliser but you never told me what it would be like without you in my life. We never talked about death because we were far too busy living, and even though we both knew, we expected and dreamed like we’d live forever.

It was you and me against the world and the world didn’t stand a chance.

We had a ball!

We are more than friendship or a piece of history, we are the epitome of what unconditional love, friendship and understanding is. You had a higher purpose and you showed me mine. We will always have an indestructible destiny, you and I. This is why even when great distance put you so far away from me, I can still feel you and hear you clearly, keeping faith and hoping my next lifetime comes more quickly…

You bought these two 'things' for me one year. I loved them then and I still love them. They sit in my study where I see them often. My nieces love them too and always ask me about then and of course I launch into stories about you!

You bought these two ‘things’ for me one year. I loved them then and I love them still. They sit in my study where I see them often. My nieces love them too and always ask me about then and of course I launch into stories about you!

As I drove home from work today I wanted to stop at the beach and just spend some time close to nature where I know I will feel even closer to you. But true to Cape Town’s winter, a Cape Storm is currently in the throes of lashing out and it’s pouring with rain and I know in my heart of hearts that you would hate to see me looking like a drowned rat just for you! You’d laugh for sure but I know you wouldn’t want me to get wet. Lol, gosh how I miss you!

Blow out all your candles on your cake tonight with those beautiful new lungs you have in heaven and know I carry your memory in my heart every single day. I am so thankful I met you in the 3rd grade because life without you would’ve totally sucked.

It appears I’m still taking the long way to heaven my friend… But one day when the time is just perfect, I know you will be waiting at those pearly gates for me. Until then, keep watching over all of us who were blessed enough to share in your wonderful life.

Thank you for teaching me how to dream and how to live.

Happy birthday my beautiful best friend and soul sister in heaven! Today I’m loving you and celebrating you from this side of heaven.

I love you ALWAYS…

Thank you for so many amazing memories!

Your best friend forever and ever xxx

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~ My best friend, Emma Walker, is the inspiration behind my blog Walking4Air and my inspiration to climb the Seven Summits of the world to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. I still miss her every single day. ~

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