Mt. Kilimanjaro (Day 3): A Slippery Slope
Day three started off with breakfast and best wishes to Katina. We were leaving Shira camp at an elevation of 12,500 feet to the Lava Towers at around 15,000 feet before ascending to Barranco Camp at 13,044 feet. With a distance of around 6.2 miles for the day. The goal this day was acclimation; hike high, camp low. We spent the day pacing through the volcanic rock “pole pole sana”, or very slow, to keep our promise to hike together as a team. As we approached our stop for lunch I found myself feeling faint and slightly nauseous. I sipped water and hiked a few more minutes to allow my body to adjust before letting my hiking partner, Phil, know I needed to stop because I was starting to feel ill. It was made clear to us that eating and hydrating properly were priority for climbing Kili and avoiding the impacts of altitude sickness.
This was an expedition of many firsts for me, including my first poo outside! After brief instructions from my hiking buddies, Phil and Rosey, I set off to seal the deal. I have to admit finding a spot to send a message in the exposed volcanic rocks was already tricky enough, but also we had to walk to and from that spot. Let’s just say it took me a couple minutes to get back to the lunch spot. I picked through my lunchbox and ate the boiled egg, part of the fried chicken, and a couple sips of my juice. Between the bathroom break and hiking back, I only had a few minutes to scarf down my lunch before we continued.
During a break after lunch, we had a group discussion about finishing the rest of the day in two groups according pace. I knew that my symptoms would only get worse the longer we hiked. I let my teammates know that they had my undying support, but I needed to focus on getting myself to camp.
After parting ways, we continued pole, pole along the trail singing everything from TLC and Destiny’s Child to Usher and Bruno Mars. We made our way to the Lava Towers and stopped to rest and take a few photos. At this point, I was pretty drained from being exposed to the sun for most of the day. The next section on the trail required the group to descend down a steep opening. I knew this would be a difficult section for me to get down, but it’s not like I could just turn around haha!
Fortunately for me, I had expressed my fear of heights to my teammates and Phil immediately stepped in with tips on using trekking poles. He guided me slowly down the passage, often placing himself between my view down the slope. I honestly felt like a baby giraffe learning to walk. As I continued, I started to feel myself beginning to panic; I was drained and my leg muscles were starting to fatigue. When we finally reached the bottom, we stopped to rest and hydrate, but it was clear that the passage had taken a toll on me. I was exhausted physically, which made thinking about hiking downhill for two to three more hours absolutely overwhelming. My teammates followed patiently offering words of encouragement and light conversation to pass the time. However, the longer we hiked, the more fatigued I became, the more my legs shook, the more I began to panic.
Eventually, Abdi, an expedition guide, took me by the arm and began to lead me down the trail. He led me gently, but firmly, securing my weight literally every step of the way. He tightened his grip when he felt me flinch. I trusted him completely and lived in that moment, we fell into a waltz-like rhythm as we descended. Upon reaching the bottom of the lava tower valley, they sat me down on a rock and Julius appeared to check my physical status. I remember my legs trembling so badly that Julius asked me if I was cold. But I wasn’t that cold, my body was finally catching up to the panic attack I was having internally.
“Okay, I can’t breathe. I know it’s because I’m panicking. Okay, don’t panic, Lee...Oh God, I can’t feel my legs. No, I’m fine. Focus on breathing. Where is camp?! I can see it, how am I not there yet?”
It felt as if every time I looked down, some Looney Tune would run in and paint miles and miles onto the trail before me. It was dizzying and my legs were beginning to feel like jelly. We were met by a few porters that were sent to help us get to camp before sundown. We carried on with a steady pace all the way to camp.
Disclaimer: this part includes some vomiting. So if you’re squeamish, you may wanna just glance over that part. It won’t be too bad though.
I was escorted to the sign in area before being led to my tent. Thankfully, my tentmate Chaya helped inflate my sleeping pad before I jumped into my sleeping bag. I rested in my tent and was given warm fluids and a plate of food. I did my best to hydrate and force myself to eat the plate a food I was given. After a few moments, I knew I was going to be sick and tried to exit the tent. I was unsuccessful (Of course!) and threw up inside the tent before unzipping and vomiting again outside. In hindsight, it’s actually one of the most hilariously dramatic moments of my life. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” I thought to myself as I scrambled to find anything to clean my mess only to realize I could barely move and just didn’t have the energy. I called out for help and was met by Alora who helped me clean the tent before inviting me to join the group for dinner. As I flopped back to my feet, I realized that I was slowly succumbing to altitude sickness. I remember thinking that I didn’t want my climb to over. I was greeted by the smiling faces of my teammates and served a plate of pasta. Just as I was about to start eating Julius entered the tent and instructed me to eat, drink, don’t think, and rest and I would be fine to hike tomorrow. I trusted his words and did I was told. I don’t remember having a single thought that night. I fell asleep cradling my nalgene full of hot water hoping that my climb wasn’t coming to an end...
Highlight: My first outdoor poo! ‘Twas a pleasure to do so on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Low: Physical and mental exhaustion left me susceptible to altitude sickness
Favorite Gear: Leki trekking poles borrowed from Rosemary