The Travelling Trooper Takes on Kilimanjaro: Day 5

Today started terribly. I was packing my things in my tent before breakfast, when I realized Trevor was missing! Panicked, I looked everywhere in the tent, but he was nowhere to be found.

I looked on my phone, and the last picture I’d taken of him was two days ago on the acclimatization walk. I checked my other pants and nothing.

I went to the Wi-Fi tent in case he fell out of my pocket at some point. Nothing.

I walked around the other tents and the mess tent. Nada.

I told Mr. Spice, Luca, and Vincent to keep an eye out for him. I felt like a kid asking people if they’d seen my missing dog. I was so angry with myself. I feared that perhaps when I went to put him in my pocket, I might have missed. My waterproof pants have pocket holes, but no actual pockets, so I thought maybe I put him in the pocket hole, but missed the actual pocket of my shorts underneath and he went tumbling to the ground in the space between my shorts and my waterproofs.

The only consolation I could find was that Trevor would forever be one with the mountain.

We had porridge, eggs, and potatoes for breakfast. As usual, the options for drinks were hot chocolate, tea, or coffee. We were out of the Cadbury good stuff, so I put six spoonfuls of Milo chocolate power (because that’s how many you need to get even a semblance of chocolate taste out of that stuff) and let my mind think the worst about my buddy, Trevor.

The hike was a short, but vertical one. It was only four hours, but we were climbing The Wall. I’m not being dramatic; that’s what they actually called it. We’d had a meeting the night before and August 2 had said that it was his favourite part of the hike because it was easy. However when Jerome started talking about putting our hiking poles in our bags because we were going to need our hands to hold on to the rock face, I suddenly had images of American Gladiator and flashbacks to my traumatizing rock climbing experience in Thailand rush through my head.

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In the end, August was partially right. Having made it to the camp, I can say that it was my favourite day as well. However, it wasn’t easy. Not entirely. The climb up was fine. My breathing and my knees were fine. It was sunny, but cool, so the temperature and weather were great. However there were a couple parts where Vincent, our lead guide for the day, had to stop and instruct us on precisely where to hold on to and where to place each foot on our climb because it was that precarious. These parts were not so great.

“Put your left foot here and reach over with your right foot.”

HOW, VINCENT?! HOW?! (I only screamed this in my head; I didn’t actually say it out loud.)

At another part, we were instructed to “hug the wall.” I envisioned myself slipping and falling backwards. And if that happened, August 1 standing underneath would not be able to catch me, no matter what he thought.

I thought of Mary as I made my way across because I remembered our conversation the previous day about our mutual hatred of not feeling secure in high places. Thankfully, everybody powered through.

On this day more than any other day, we were all awed by the strength of our porters. We had to be mindful of them because there wasn’t much space for them to go around us, so sometimes we had to pause and let them go ahead of us. They all made it look so effortless despite carrying huge weights on their heads and necks. And they did it with a smile!

Everybody was thrilled at the top. Just as I suspected, Mary said she was trembling when she had to hug the rock.

We all took a well-deserved break and laughed at the girl who made her poor guide conduct an entire photo shoot on the cliff and the guy on his satellite phone. Beef jerky, nuts, and chocolate were all passed around as well regained our breaths.

The next hour and a bit of the hike was nice and flat. We were above the clouds on a beautiful sunny day, with this massive mountaintop to our left. We were walking around it to get to the next camp. You can’t help but be humbled facing such a massive and powerful structure. We’d be up there soon enough. The thought seemed unreal.

We saw our camp in no time, and we all got excited. Ten Vincent showed us the huge valley separating us from the camp. There was a long walk down and a long walk back up.

Just before starting our descent, though, Vincent showed us a sign saying that there was no hiking allowed on a particular path because of falling rocks. Of course, stupid people still go.

I think I hated the descent part more than the Wall. Vincent kept warning us to watch our steps because the dirt and rocks were very slippery. If not for my poles, I would have fallen on my butt and face plenty of times. The most frustrating part about hiking down, though, is that you have to remind yourself to take a second to look up and enjoy the view, because you’re so busy looking down at where you’re going to plant your next step.

We reached the campsite, and everybody was feeling like a million bucks. It was another large camp area.

August explained that some of the porters were missing because they had to go fetch glacier water and then haul it up to the next day’s base camp for us. That base camp was the last campsite before the summit, and there was no water available there. The hike to the next day’s base camp was to take us four hours, and these poor guys had to carry large amounts of water up there after just having hiked up the Wall and down that treacherous valley carrying all our crap, and then they had to come back to this site! Dayam! At least they went in pairs so they could take turns carrying the water, but dayam! The whole group agreed we were going to tip the crap out of these guys.

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I went straight to my tent and looked around one more time for Trevor. No luck. I was devastated. I kept telling myself the entire hike that I’d find him deep in one of my pockets or somewhere that I hadn’t looked thoroughly enough. I announced to the group that Trevor was officially one with Kili, since I’d looked through all of my clothes and every crevice of my bag.

Lunch was delicious as usual. Pasta salad, greens, plantain, and a mashed potato-like substance made of rice.

August came as we were wrapping up lunch and said there would be no dinner–just Happy Hour popcorn.

Luca came in to clear away the plates as everybody started making their way out. I got up to leave as well, but Luca asked me to stay behind because he needed to talk to me. My first thought was that he’d found Trevor, but I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, so I assumed that either he wanted to tell me that he hadn’t been able to find Trevor despite his best efforts and he wanted to offer his condolences, or that I had inadvertently done something to piss him off. It could only be one of those two possibilities.

He sat down beside me, smiled, and said, “I found your little friend.”

My eyes popped and I yelled, “Get out of here!” Then he pulled Trevor out of his pocket and I yelled, “I love you, man!” and hugged him (There were some expletives thrown around here and there, but that was the gist of it.)

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I was shocked to have Trevor back in my hands. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Now I was like that kid who is lucky enough to actually be reunited with his lost dog. I stared down at my old friend and thought about how far we’ve come together. The dirt plastered on his mask read like badges of honour, of conquests. I couldn’t fathom going on without him. The very thought of it was heartbreaking. God bless Luca.

I put Trevor safely away and went to my tent to grab my Kindle to read under the beautiful sun. It was shorts weather!

I didn’t get to do much reading done, though, because I go to chatting with some people. Eventually just Gene and I were left, and we spoke of our respective immigrant experiences. His father fought the Nazis as a Romanian soldier in World War II and ironically went on to marry a German woman after the war before moving to America. I really like Gene. I just wish I could’ve seen mild-mannered Gene in his heavy metal days rocking out to “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Master of Puppets.”

Out of nowhere, Luca came by and grabbed my Kindle from out of my hands, pulled up a seat beside me, and pretended to read my book–though he was holding the Kindle upside down.

Luca informed us that people with dreads, like himself, are not allowed to work any government jobs. It doesn’t matter for him, though, because his dream is to open a motorbike part shop. We talked for a while before I eventually started to feel a nap coming on.

Later on, we played another rousing game of Hearts. August 2, the card shark, taught Vince how to play, while Kate taught Danielle and Sarah. This time we had a game of nine on our hands.

August 2 was hilarious because he was so competitive, but not at all in an annoying way. He was like a big kid, complete with a giddy laugh. He’d get so excited when he realized he didn’t have to take the round of cards. The card shark and his protégé ended up kicking our butts.

I was confused when the guides came in to say that dinner would be soon. Apparently during my nap, I had missed the big reveal that August had been kidding when he said there would be no dinner. We had soup, rice with meat, and veggies.

Nancy surprised us all with a beautiful speech after dinner. It was so cute because it was so dark by then that she had to aim the flashlight onto the inside flap of her book where she’d written the speech in order to read it. She spoke about us all having different motives for climbing Kili, but being brought together to support one another on this marvellous journey. She praised each and every one of us. When she got to JM, I must admit some tears creeped out. What a beautiful relationship–a badass mom and her badass son. She even had more tattoos than him!

With our hearts all collectively melted into a huge pile of emotional mush, I was certain that sleep would come easily this night. I turned out to be painfully wrong.

I woke in the middle of the night to go to the washroom. As always, just before getting back in my tent, I took some time to admire the stars.

I got in bed and suddenly realized how difficult it was to breathe because of my stuffy nose. This realization was followed by a sudden rush of claustrophobia. The tent suddenly felt a whole lot smaller. I got scared thinking of the summit and of not being able to breathe up there.  The thought of just how far we were from the base of the mountain made the claustrophobia worse. I felt like I was on another world. Everything felt so far away–including the people I care about most. Claustrophobia is a fear of small spaces, but in that moment, I felt the exact opposite; I felt completely alone on this gigantic mountain. I felt like I couldn’t make it. I didn’t want to make it. I wanted to go home. Somehow, I needed to get home.

Then a voice said, “No. You’re not alone.” I thought of the guides repeating the mantra to take it one step at a time and telling us to go “pole pole.” I thought of Max saying that the climb was a piece of cake. I thought of August 2 telling me that every client of his had made it up this season. I thought of Nancy’s letter and all the laughs this group has shared. I wasn’t doing this alone. I thought of all of them, and I thought of my friends and family back home. They’re all with me.

I said to myself, “Never forget this feeling. Never forget this fear. It will make the summit that much more meaningful. This is a physical and psychological mountain, and you will conquer it one step at a time.”

And just like that, the voices were gone.

* Some photos courtesy of the astounding Kate.

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