I still think he was lying. Our guide told us that all the Israelis who climb Mount Kenya take a nude photo at the top. Of course, being the gullible but full-of-ourselves fools we are, we took that as a dare. I still think he just wanted to see us naked.
Either way, it was an issue that occupied my thoughts for a good part of the way up. I, who am so worried about the cold, about turning into an glacier and having a part of the mountain be named after me, take off even one article of clothing 4985 meters? At dawn? Yeah right.
But after the Uramox (height pills) started kicking in – not very well, and I started visiting the bathroom a lot more than I’d wanted to, and after the lack of oxygen started making things like standing seem like a daunting task, I started directing my thoughts more toward getting myself off the mountain, than on how I’d get my clothes off of me. Those two idiots could do whatever they wished.
In the beginning I thought it was all psychological. I’m just a worry-wart; I have to get into the African head. Hakuna matata (no worries) and pole pole (slowly slowly). But when I woke up in Old Moses camp on Day 2 on the mountain, I was not feeling very Hakuna matata at all. I was feeling Hakuna my appetite and I constantly wanted to barf. The Pepto-Bismol (which we called special magic fairy barbie potion, because it was a bright pink liquid in a purple bottle) helped only to a certain degree. I kept threatening that if in the next few hours I didn’t feel good, I would go down.
But that’s the funny thing about being a muzungu (tourist) on this mountain. You’re really a small part of the plan. Because the guide, the cook, the porters, the friends and the family are going on a hike. And you simply join them.
For example, when my friend had tried to lower the price of the hike, she suggested we sleep in tents instead of cabins. Our guide informed us that it wouldn’t cost us more; he’d be sleeping in the cabin but if we wanted to camp out in tents we were welcome to. Same with the food. We suggested we cook for ourselves. “I’m bringing a cook,” he said. “If you don’t want to eat his food, that’s okay.”
So saying I couldn’t make it up the mountain would really be letting a whole happy family down. They were ready to hike. So I kept slurping pink stuff and telling myself pathetic things like “you are strong and you can do this. Go, Danya!” Step after oxygen-free step, I made it up to the next stop: Shipton’s Camp at 4200 meters.
We had met some Israelis the night before, who had rushed in and arrived at dark, only to pitch their own tents and make their own (kosher) food. They didn’t know about the height pills and they didn’t have walking sticks. And they didn’t know English (“So ‘Oslo’ means and?” – I think she meant ‘also’). They made me feel a little better about myself.
Looking at the porters also put things into perspective a bit. True, I was heaving and breathing my brains out, but they were doing the same exact thing with a lot more weight and really tattered shoes. But then again, they were getting paid.
“Pole pole”, though, I started getting used to life without oxygen or an appetite. I ate when there was food and I breathed when there was air. I wasn’t the only one who felt like a fat eighty year old with a heart disease: we were all walking very slowly and sighing a lot more than normal. We looked like a geriatric ward on a field day.
Day 3 was an acclimitization day. I liked that idea. That by doing nothing except for staying at a certain height, I could tell myself I was “acclimitizing.” I really felt like I was being productive.
But the zen-mode didn’t last for too long; that night was summit night. At 1:50 a.m. we awoke to the annoying woman on my friend’s phone yelling, “It’s time to get up! The time is one fifty.” Fuck her.
But I listened to her, wriggled out of my very toasty sleeping bag, and put on got up and put on every possible article of clothing I could get my hands on: Bottom – long underwear, tights, light hiking pants, heavy hiking pants and rain pants. Top: two t-shirts, one light thermal shirt, one heavy thermal shirt, one fleece, one coat and a raincoat. And then a neckwarmer, two wool hats, the hoods of both coats, two pairs of gloves and the thickest pair of socks I had. Okay! Who said party? I am ready!
Ten minutes into the hike I was making history. It was two in the morning and going up to the summit, my main concern was turning into a puddle of sweat. And dripping down the mountain and turning into ice, because somewhere beyond all of those layers, it really was very cold.
So after I tried walking like a scarecrow (i.e. hands outstreched, poles landing wherever they wished, and in general looking quite hideous) I started taking off layers. Hey – maybe I’d be able to take my clothes off at the top after all. My friend had it all planned out. Bras and boxers, but leave the shoes on so we could pull it all back on very quickly. I didn’t make any promises.
After I got rid of the unneccesary layers and reached a reasonable temperature, though, I started (or stopped) feeling my fingers, toes and nose. They all threatened to fall off and go back to the cabin. The very warm, cozy cabin with my sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner… Enough.
Reality came back in the form of an enormous spike in the black sky, many stars and a headlamp to show the way. Not that we would have gotten lost; all we did was UP.
It was a steep, strenuous and very slow walk up, but after counting to very high numbers and opening and closing my fingers many times to make sure they were still there, slipping down the crumbling ground and thinking of names for my award-winning book, I climbed one last step up a small ladder and saw a little flag that read: Pt. Lenana 4985 m. God exists, I reminded myself.
We climbed up as the sun did. She dazzled majestically above the orange and pink tinted clouds. We were above them, too. Mountains streched on all sides and we could even see our next destination, which was many thoughts and modes of transportation and a country away: Kilimanjaro. Everything dazzled and although we couldn’t feel our hands we could feel so much else. Sheer happiness, pride and hope.
And then we did it. “Okay, go! You take the camera! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Shit this is cold! Whose idea was this? You just made up some stupid lie, didn’t you! I bet no one ever did this! Oh my God!” And then because I was wearing triple the number of layers they were, and because I had zipped everything up to my nose, and because I tried to cheat and do it with my gloves still on, I got stuck.
There I was, on the top of Mount Kenya: A wriggling coat hanger, shaking and cursing in whichever language came first, and yelling at my two hopeless friends to help me out. They were just jumping around like big babies, pleading at me to go faster. When they finally started pulling off the fleece, they just yanked and yanked, nearly pulling off my poor nose, which hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place.
Most important thing is, we have a photo of all three of us in very minimal clothing at the top of Mount Kenya.