Like the day before, I was awoken at 6.30am with a bowl of hot water after ~6 hrs of disrupted sleep. During the night the biting winds soared through camp and temperatures plummeted. The tent often flapped, dust was stirred, but I managed to curl up and remain warm inside my sleeping bag. Nature also called on me twice and I am glad to have taken the recommendation of having a special bottle for these circumstances. I did not want to leave the warmth of my cocoon and brave the elements.
After breakfast we set out on the trail again for what would be a long and tiring day. We first were hiking up to Lava Tower at 4630m (15190ft) and then back down to the Barranco Camp at 3976m (13044ft) to best acclimatize, following the climbing adage of “hike high, sleep low”. My heart rate and oxygen levels remained acceptable and I felt in good form to begin the day, but the air was more crisp and extra layers of clothing were required. I set out donning my fleece, winter cap and mitten liners, but as I began to trek they all came off… then went back on again as we slowed or took a break… then off again as we began to trek. I was as bad a cat at the door, “Are you in or are you out? Make up your mind!”, and it’s a testament to Andy’s stores of patience that he didn’t get fed up with me constantly asking him to either stuff or remove them from my pack for me.
The alpine desert terrain on this section looked like we were on the moon. It was very barren and dry, dust ridden and rocky, and since most of the day it was overcast the scene was devoid of any color. Everything was a bleak brown and gray. This was probably just as well since the increasing altitude was making it more difficult to breathe and I automatically went into what I call my “head down and hike” mode. Today’s hike required me to focus solely on walking, syncing each breath with each step. I felt very robotic. And for most of the day the only things I saw were the heels of Andy’s boots.
After several hours my stride almost became a dance – pole, step (out breath), heel tap… other side… pole, step (in breath), heel tap. At times I even added a little bounce in between. No one probably noticed though. I was at the tail end of the group with only our chief guide behind me, but nevertheless it made me smile. I just wish they would have added an African chant and I believe I would have danced all the way to the summit. In fact, I recall suggesting we should all plan to form a conga line at the top. Such were my spirits today (or perhaps the altitude and the monotony were just making me giddy).
Although I had begun to experience tingling sensations in my fingertips and toes from the first day out, it became stronger and more frequent as we climbed higher. This is a known side effect of Diamox and my theory is that the tingling is felt when the Diamox kicks in as the body adjusts to the new altitude. “Spirit hands” or “spirit feet” is what we referred to them as, and it seemed apt that I was robotically dancing along on spirit feet on Kilimanjaro.
After a long steady 4 hour incline, we finally reached our milestone at Lava Tower and more thankfully… a break for lunch. As we sat and ate, several large white necked ravens joined us in hopes of some scraps. I do not doubt that they get fed very well by trekkers but as witnessed they will sometimes be daring enough to snatch a morsel right from under you.
Andy and I also noticed a couple of people had climbed and were standing atop the 90m (300 ft) monolith. From our vantage point they looked like tiny ants, and whether they just wanted to explore for a better view or get higher for acclimatization, I couldn’t fathom extending the extra energy required to scramble that high up and back down.
Instead, our group carried on with another 4 hrs descent into the Barranco Valley. I honestly recall very little of this afternoon (so focused was I on Andy’s boots) until we got the first glimpse of camp ahead and the daunting Barranco Wall that we would have to scramble up the next morning.
It was also at this time that I noticed my stomach becoming delicate. I was not quite nauseous but was very particular that evening about what and how much I was willing to eat, and I was concerned whether it would only get worse as we progressed. Others in the group reported similar and the person with the migraine the previous night reported it was getting worse. The best we could do was eat as much as we could and try to get some sleep and wait to see what tomorrow would bring.