it is bone-chillingly cold.
i am in my tent, in my sleeping bag, in the pitch-black darkness. i'm wrestling for space, competing with my water bottles, camera, phone, ipod, contacts, everything that i don't want to freeze. i haven't really slept since we got into camp a few hours ago, because the altitude is so high (15,295 ft) that my heart pounds, and my arms, legs, and even face is tingling from the Diamox (the altitude meds). i begin to hear rustling outside my tent, and i know that my guide is about to come and tell me it's time to go. i check my watch. it's 11:30pm.
the porter brings me cookies and hot cocoa, but any appetite i had is gone. i shove a few cookies in my mouth and manage to swallow them by taking a gulp of the cocoa. i do this a few times.
i check and recheck all of my things...i am wearing 4 pairs of pants, plus leggings. 2 pair of socks, some amazing insulate snow boots that are comfortable but really heavy. i also have on 4 shirts, a thick fleece, and not one but TWO winter jackets, 2 hats, 2 pair of gloves, and a face mask. i have water, my poles, some pocket handwarmers- which do not work at ALL- a little trail mix, and way inside my clothing, i have my camera stashed away, as close to my body as possible, so it doesn't freeze. i put my head torch on, unzip my tent, and duck outside.
Immediately i lose my breath. it is that cold. i look up, and i see darkness...and then the moon, and then from behind clouds, i begin to make out hundreds of stars, and i'm amazed how bright they are. my guide is already ahead (GO FIGURE!) so i take a deep breath and start walking. for about 20 minutes it's a steady gradual incline, and if i look ahead of me, i see people on the same path, their little headlamps lighting the way. all of a sudden, it gets very steep. i'm walking on shale, little pieces of lava rock, and it's unstable. i take 3 steps and slide back 2. i start to doubt myself. naturally, this makes me angry...but then i get even more determined. i tell myself there's no way i spent 4 days on this mountain to wait till this point and turn around, and besides, if i did, i'd STILL have to walk all the way back down, knowing that i gave up. so i keep going. the path zig zags back and forth, and so do we. it is misting and little freezing cold drops are on whatever bare skin is showing. my face mask is full of snot, which begins to freeze, but i keep going. my guide says i may reach Stella Point (the second highest peak) by sunrise.
i keep walking, my boots heavy, and my breathing hard. i have to take lots of breaks, but everytime i stop moving i only allow myself 10 seconds, then i start again. i saw what happened when people rested too long...they didn't get back up and keep going. sometimes i passed people, sometimes they passed me, but it's not like anyone was beating anyone...we were all in it together, people were crying, throwing up, reaching their breaking point, all in the darkness. after a few hours i was hypnotized by the sound of my shuffling feet in the shale. i kept on putting one foot in front of the other, and i wouldn't let myself stop. it was hard to keep drinking water, but i somehow managed, a tiny sip or two at a time.
i am beyond exhausted.
there is frozen snot on my face. my contacts are freezing in my eyes. i am shaky, and my SOUL is cold. it is still dark, but i look up from the ground, and somehow, there it is... i reach Stella Point.
when i see the sign, i'm so surprised i almost walk right past it. i'm ahead of schedule. i'm still moving forward. these thoughts come to me slowly...and then i realize that i'm going to make it to the top. i knew that Stella Point was over 18,000 feet, and at that moment i got a burst of energy. i kept going. suddenly it got really tough. i couldn't breathe at all, i was dizzy and felt a little buzzed. i started trying to throw up. i got scared, and i kept asking my guide if i was OK. i read a lot about extreme altitude sickness, and knew what the warning symptoms were, and i was starting to get them. i slowed down, but kept going. the sky began to change. all of a sudden, i came almost to the top, and it was getting light...i could see the sign in the distance. i stared at that sign and just kept walking towards it. the last 20 minutes, i started to cough. i was sort of falling asleep on my feet. the guide came and walked right beside me, with his shoulder right behind mine, nudging me on.
|Friday, July 22, 6:50am|
i made it. i fucking did it!
i unzipped my two jackets fast and took off one glove so i could get to my camera & we got a few pictures. yes, that's a furry hat with ears that i bought just for the summit. i stayed up there for about 10 minutes before the guide made me start the long descent. within 15 minutes, i was coughing up blood, so he made us hurry. it was really horrible...we were pretty much sliding and skiing though shale all the way down. i lost a toenail. my ankles were raw. we reached the camp 3 hours later (it's much faster on the way down!) but we only had an hour to collect our stuff and keep walking down to the next camp. that took 7 hours, and by the time i got there, i was too sore and tired to be mad, but i did feel VERY accomplished as i limped into that camp. by that time, the elevation was so much lower, only 10,000 feet at this point, so i was able to eat...and SLEEP!!
Excerpt from my journal- Friday, July 22- I did it.