We wake with the light, but it takes a while for the crew to bring the morning hot drink. I still have a cough, so that drink is gold to me, but other than the cough and runny nose, I'm feeling much better. My goal has returned to summiting and not just getting out alive.
My partner on the other hand, is struggling with his sleep. Even sleeping with his head outside of the tent isn't quite cutting it anymore. The air is just too thin. Now he's trying to understand what our options for plan B are. But either due to his experience or a language barrier, the guide isn't being particularly straight forward with his answers.
How thin is the air? Well, just getting up in the middle of the night to pee winds me. Going from sleeping to out of tent is a challenge, and the 4 meters/yards to the toilet tent causes major panting. They don't tell you to bring adult diapers, but I'm wondering if that would have been a good idea just so that you don't have to get up at night.
In the morning, we went to fill our water bottles. The water was so silty and brown that I couldn't believe this was our drinking water. But the water guy showed us that he had put purification tablets in and insisted that it was safe to drink, so we filled up on it. I'm guessing that the rivers are running dirtier due to the rain and snow, which is why the water was so murky.
I can't eat much, but I'm still trying to let the chef know when I like something so that maybe he'll make it again when I can eat. Yesterday we had cheese sandwiches and a potato pie that I barely touched although they were quite good for the circumstances.
Today's hike begins with the Barranco wall. Wall is an apt word. It requires bouldering skills to get up. Unless of course you're a porter and just walk up the wall like a goat. For the rest of us, it required handing over our poles and using three points of contact to climb like we did back at summer camp. One ledge is so narrow they call it the kissing rock, as you basically have to press yourself against the rock and kiss it in order to pass.
I kept looking up and thinking we were halfway or close, only to get to what I thought was the end and realize it's a ledge and there's plenty more wall that I just couldn't see from below. At some point, I gave up trying to estimate and just climbed.
Finally, we reached the party at the top. Everyone was listening to music, chatting, eating, and enjoying the view. Even many of the porters sat to take a break here.
view from the top of the Barranco wall
Once rested, we continued on our way. While I had been using a bandanna over my nose to help me catch the runny nose, keep out the dust, and insure that I was breathing warmer, moister air than the surroundings, today I needed my sunglasses. The bandanna caused them to fog up so I couldn't see. So, I moved it down to just under my nose as I was mouth-breathing at this point anyway. I know it's not ideal, but breathing through the runny nose wasn't an option. And I was breathing hard. I was aware that at the top you step, breathe twice, step, breathe twice. But even down here, I was frequently taking one breath per step, or even two in the difficult areas.
At one of our breaks, I mentioned that I felt my heart rate was up, even after I caught my breath. The guide pulled out his pulse oximeter, mostly just to play. My oxygen level was actually quite good- 88%, as good as the guide- but my heart rate was way too high, as I thought. My partner, on the other hand, had an ok heart rate, but his oxygen was lower. Not at a dangerous level, but much lower.
We both had started diamox 2 days before the hike, as required. Our pills were 250mg, and I found out later that US pills are 125 mg. When we started hiking, we took one with breakfast and one with dinner, as recommended, but we were getting twice as much as some other people. Still, it was half the maximum dose, so we felt ok. One of the diamox side effects is tingling lime pins and needles in your hands and toes. I periodically got that in my toes, and occasionally my lips, but no so much my fingers. It was annoying, but not enough to stop or reduce the diamox, as we needed the oxygen.
At another break, we snacked. I always offered to share my snacks with whoever was nearby, but my partner took this to a new level. He held out his roll of oreos as some porters passed by and offered to each one. The line of porters was immediately followed by a hiking group, and then some more porters. He was like the water distributors at a race, until he ran out of oreos.
At one point during the day, we were walking at a good pace through a relatively flat rock field. I looked around, and only saw the guides and myself. I assumed that they knew where my partner was. After a few minutes, I asked them. They said he must be peeing behind a rock. I shouted his name. No response.
They assistant guide went on ahead to search for him as I panickedly continued on at the pace I could maintain. I was afraid he went to pee, but then slipped on a rock and hurt himself and didn't have any help. I was afraid he had fallen over the edge. I was afraid he was dead- or worse. I kept imagining them sending a search party back for him. Mostly, I was afraid that his mom would kill me for putting the idea of this trip into his head if he got hurt on it.
Eventually, we got word that he had just gone up ahead. Then, I was mad. He's not 2 years old and should know to stick with the guide. Still, when I finally caught up to him, I was just relieved he was ok.
Today, we climbed up and down a lot. By the time we got to camp (Karanga, 4km/13000 ft), I had worked up quite an appetite. I was happy that the food was good (even without hot sauce)- cheese sandwiches, "pizza," and battered fried veg (either big zucchini or small eggplant, I couldn't tell).
After food, I attempted to do a proper cleaning of everything, but everything is so covered in dirt that it's hard. Still, baby wipes feel nicer when they're not freezing. Also, we had a pen explode, so in addition to a dirt mess, we had blue ink everywhere. And I took a much-needed nap.
We powwowed and discussed options for summiting, given that my partner isn't really sleeping at night. I'm making it, but slowly. Also, I think my cough and runny nose are getting worse, and not better. We have a couple of different options, and we'll see what we end up with.
In any case, the porters today are pulling water up to both this camp (Karanga) and the next camp (Barafu). The next camp is not that far. Many people cut their trip shorter by a day by combining both today's hike and tomorrow's into one day. That would be too much for us though.
I may be an adrenaline junkie, but this is not a trip for an adrenaline junkie. It's actually rather boring to put one foot in front of the other over, and over, and over. The scenery is neat (like being in an airplane), but not so spicy and varied that it really keeps me entertained. Plus, in order not to slip, most of my scenery is the ground anyway. Actually, the biggest adrenaline rush I get (other than from worrying about a missing partner) is whenever I slip. There's that moment where I can't quite tell whether I'm going to catch myself or whether this is the end of the mountain for me.
In any case, I just keep Lauren Graham's advice (from Talking as Fast as I Can) in my head: keep going, keep going. Eventually, I'll get as far as I can, and I'll get back down on my own two feet and move on to the next part of the trip. I can't wait to shower and get rid of all of this grime.
By the way- I had brought this no shower shampoo as my hair usually gets really greasy really fast. (I usually use Prell, described by Tina Fey in Bossypants as "you know it's good shampoo because you can also use it to clean a frying pan.") I'm not sure it did so much against the grime, but it did make me feel a little less smelly.
Tonight, it's even colder than other nights. My partner has gotten even more creative, using a plastic carry sack on the outside of his mummy bag for extra warmth. He's still got his head outside the tent and his body in the entrance though.
Meanwhile, I have 2 sleeping bag liners, the mummy bag, 2 pairs of socks, thermals and sweats, the coat I brought from Antarctica, a hat, and gloves. I'm inside the tent.
On the one hand, I get that a smaller tent is easier to heat and keep warm, on the other hand, it's quite a pain to crawl into and out of it. It's a pain to get dressed while sitting down. I think that I'd prefer a full-size tent I can stand in and just wear more layers at night to the short tent that's a tad warmer.