The day started again with no clouds in the sky and warm. We were excited about a shorter day’s hike of only 5 hours today. The trail was a steady climb up all day.
Leaving Kikilawa of 12,000 ft, we are aiming to arrive at Mawenze Tarn at 14,200 ft early this afternoon. It seemed odd to be moving away from Kilimanjaro towards Mawenze, but this is a part of the acclimatization process to gain elevation slowly.
I was in great spirits. As I hiked along, with Kilimanjaro on my right, and Mawenze on my left, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be witnessing such majestic views. My teammate, Sue, turned around and said to me, “this is the stuff that dreams are made of!” I couldn’t agree more.
Two hours into the hike, fog and clouds rolled in, covering up the sun. The temperature suddenly dropped, and the winds picked up. My headache went from mild to severe, and I was starting to struggle with catching my breathe. I can hear the blood throbbing in my temples. This is the highest elevation I’ve ever climbed to.
The hike continued on for another 3 hours. We arrived at Mawenze Tarn at 1:20 pm. The winds have calmed somewhat, and the sun was shining through the clouds periodically. The temperature fluctuated greatly with the sun playing hide-and-seek.
After lunch, I laid down in my tent to take a nap. My heart was beating so fast to make up for the lack of oxygen in the air, that I couldn’t fall asleep. My resting heart rate was 88 per minute at 14,200 ft (vs. 60 per minute at sea level). Even as I laid there resting, my breaths were hurried as if I was exercising. I gave up trying to nap.
Everyone climbs Kilimanjaro for different reasons and different expectations. Seamus had warned us to prepare ourselves for the possibility of not reaching the summit. Many people turn back because they simply allowed despair to take over their thoughts. Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, and the climb is not easy. To guard ourselves against devastating disappointment, Seamus said that reaching the summit should not be our ultimate goal. Our goal should be there to have fun and enjoy the mountain. Against his sage advice, I stubbornly decided that my goal was to reach the summit. Unless I develop some condition that could be fatal, I am not turning back until I see the sign at Uhuru peak! At this point, I had no idea of the challenges ahead of me yet.
That night, I slept little. I constantly felt the blood rushing through my head and my chest, and my breathing was hurried. The temperature fell to -4 C during the night. I had my sleeping bag completely zipped up, showing only my face. At one point during the night, I felt the panic of being claustrophobic. I was trying to breathe, but the zipped up mummy bag, the enclosed tent, and the darkness all made me feel like I was going to suffocate. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I quickly unzipped the sleeping bag and sat up. I kept telling myself to calm down, and that I will live through this. I laid back down, drifting in and out of sleep all night.