For me, breathing is becoming an issue. So this is what it will be. The mountain will affect my breathing. Time to focus. I practice a bit of mindfulness and try to relax various tense parts of my body. I breathe slowly.
We start climbing early today. Yesterday, I had put on my gaiters on wrong and they kept falling down. This morning I get some help from Lorien before I leave.
As we climb, I remember one of the stories Dickson told me on the first day about an American lady. She wanted to climb Kilimanjaro but did not have any idea of what it entailed. She climbed and made it to the first camp; Machame Camp then said ‘Down, I want to go down.’ Captain said ‘what do you mean down’? She said ‘I want to go back down! Nobody told me it would be like this! This is too hard! I am going down!’ So the American tourist packed her stuff, went back down the mountain, and booked herself into a very lovely luxurious hotel for the remainder of her trip. I laughed so hard when he told me this. I tell Dickson ‘I am not coming to mount kilimanjaro to go back down and not make it Dickson’. He replies ‘ok but pole pole’. I smile as I remember that story. Pole pole it is.
There are more boulders on this part of the trip. This part of the climb is even more technical, more hand holds come into play now. There was one particular precipice where there was a sheer deep drop on your left and you had to do a bit of a big step to get to the next side. If you missed… well it was very likely that you would be closer to your maker. That was the scariest bit of the climbing for me. And I remember why my uncle was so worried. He had a friend who had lost his 21 year old son on kilimanjaro. He lost his footing on the rocks, fell and broke his neck. Even more I am Dickson’s Rasta shadow. He laughs at me when I say this. On our way to the camp, one porter swings from a tree on a tricky part of the route. The gear he was carrying goes tumbling down on the ground before him. It would have been easier to find another route. However, he seemed intent on hanging on the tree motionless for a bit.
There are further casualities of the mountain. Some porters are making preparations to help someone down the mountain physically it appears. There is some equipment to carry someone down the mountain. And later we hear of a man who had a stroke. But he had to walk down the mountain with assistance to a level where he can be transported by car. Imagine that. You have a stroke and no immediate rest for you. Oh no. You have to walk yourself down. This mountain takes no prisoners.
We make it to Barafu Camp. Kelly and I are exhausted. At the dinner tent, Lorien comes in with what seems like a mountain of food to match the height of Kili. And we are expected to eat a lot of it. Bearing in mind that the higher we get, the less appetite we have. This is the first time that Lorien is quite firm and insistent ‘no you must eat more’. He knows what is to come.
I look up and see where our future path lies. An imposing climb.
I go to the bathroom and on the way I speak to a lady porter, one of only two I have seen. I tell her how amazed I am by what she does and how strong she is. I am not sure if she understands all I say but she smiles, laughs and says ‘Asante Rasta, God has given me strength and whilst I can and I have no children, I shall do it’. I am so intrigued by the Tanzanians. The other climbers, not so much; they are nationalities and cultures I know about and have encountered before. But the Tanzanians, this is an opportunity for me to learn more about these amazing people, these people who to me are so much like Lucians except for the drinking. Although I really did not look out for it, I did not see people drunk and disorderly. And if there is one thing I know about St. Lucians is that we can drink. There was a poll conducted about a year or so ago with regards to the countries which drink the most alcohol in the world and do you know Lucians came in the top 5? Let us not go any further into that. The Tanzanians, I am so comfortable with them. For me, they are genuinely warm and friendly. Later on my way down the mountain, I learn more. Yes they liked the locks, but they valued my strength of character, perseverance and my curiosity of them as individuals. One or two explained, most climbers don’t want to talk to you unless you are a guide. They don’t even try. They talk to other climbers or their guides only. It is like you are not there at all.
My gloves are wet. We are able to put some stuff in the dinner tent to dry the night before. Dickson comes in and tells us about getting ready for the summit climb. We will be starting at 10:30pm to climb. I ask Dickson is there any place to dry my gloves? He looks at them and asked who chose these. I said they were recommended at the shop in England. He replies they know nothing about the mountain. He will have a look around to see whether he can find a more suitable pair.
It is only 6pm but we are headed for our sleeping bags to get a few hours rest before the summit climb. This night it is so cold that I go to bed fully clothed with gloves and hat. But not before I take a mighty big gulp from the small courvoisier bottle Andrew had gotten each of us to cheer at the top together.