The Bitch on the Top of Africa

Even back in the campsite I knew they were trouble. Yelling at the top of your lungs at midnight, when a large part of the campsite is sleeping, is not cool. But this group was going to climb Kilimanjaro and the whole world was going to know about it.

At five o’clock a snowstorm hit Barafu Camp, where we were staying. Hard and cold winds blew in my face. My Camelback exploded, drenching my bag and everything inside it. We planned on climbing to the summit in a few hours and after a week of good weather and working equipment, everything was looking bad.

I woke up a few minutes before 12 to the sound of fifty people yelling about how strong they are and beginning their ascent. I shoved all of my wet things into a dry bag and put on every layer of clothing I had. Again. I did everything very quickly and then waited for forty minutes, because “this is Africa.” Then we started to climb.

It was a steep and rocky slope; for every step up you slid half a step down. Ahead of us was the yelling group. I figured I might as well be with them and not against them, so I joined their singing a few times. But they continued. And continued. And continued.

When it’s way below zero and way past your bedtime and you’re going way higher than humans are supposed to go, you’re not really happy. You just sing to convince yourself that you are. But they were singing as if they really were happy. And that annoyed me.

Worse than that though, was their pace. They acted as if they owned the mountain. The wind was smashing my face and I yelled, “Hey! Can you guys maybe stop on the side of the trail and not in the middle of it?” There are people whose fingers are falling off here!” One woman answered “no”. It took a minute to register, but once it did, I spent the rest of the climb cursing her existence under my breath.

Had it been a short walk up I wouldn’t have minded. But we had seven hours to deal with this crap. Whispering curse words would not suffice. But unfortunately, I hadn’t brought the Leatherman and Dad had decided to leave the pocketknife in the tent. My only option was to throw them off a cliff, which  seemed like quite a fine option, given the circumstances.

I looked behind me and saw a faint streak of light spreading in the night sky. Oh great. We were going to miss the sunrise. I conveyed my worries to Raj, our guide, and he hurried up to overtake the group. Clearly, this should have been discussed with the other members of our group (aka my very very mad Dad). We overtook them, but my father was about to have a heart attack or strangle me.”Sorry,” I said, looking back and hating the orange light that was filling up more of the sky, “but… we’re going to miss the sunrise!” His glare convinced me that it was perfectly fine that we wouldn’t see the sunrise.

After the climb, people marveled at how “strong” I was and how well I did on the climb. Honestly, I was hardly aware of my surroundings (except wondering, of course how I would survive a life without fingers). Focusing on how much you hate someone is a good way to overcome hardship.

The view and the pride from 5895 meters, however, took most of the animosity out of my system, however.

After the climb I saw a T-shirt of their group. I asked the wearer what the organization was, fearing it would be some incredible philanthropy that saved needy children. He looked at me with a scowl and said,”a company”. I knew I hated them.

Afterward, guess who we saw in the safari? Guess who sat at the table next to us, Ten East Europeans silent and drinking? Guess who had the same exact itinerary as we did? Guess who woke us up at 5:30 in the morning because now they were happy? My sole revenge was eating one of their Polish fudge candies, which they had given to another tourist who later gave it to me. I’ll have to think of something better.

Peeing My Way Up Kilimanjaro

I do believe I have been blessed with a healthy and functioning body, so thanks, God. But. Why couldn’t you have made my bladder just a teeny tiny bit bigger?

It’s really not a problem in my normal life. During the day it’s not an issue, and at night I just sleepwalk to the bathroom and back (or down to the kitchen for a midnight meal, since I certainly was blessed with a big enough appetite). But when I want to climb Kilimanjaro, having a small bladder is a very big deal.

Day 1: To Forest Camp

The Lemosho route starts from the Western side of the mountain. We spent the first day walking through dense vegetation in a green rainforest. As I walked through the thick plants for my very first pee on Kili, I got bitten – through my pants – by a tiny flying insect. Within seconds, my skin was stinging and a patch that looked like seven mosquito bites together apperead on my leg. Seems like the animals of Africa have a thing for my leg.

Night 2: Shira 1 Camp 2900 m/3200 m (depending on whom you ask)

Could I be any more of an old lady? I got up in the middle of the night to pee. I came back from the journey ready to eat. In order to do that, I had to pull out my false theeth (retainer). Well, I consoled myself – at least I don’t have afternoon tea (hmm. the porters serve it every evening) or walk with a stick (I walk with two.)

Night 3: Shira 2 Camp 3500 m

Denial. I stayed in my sleeping until four in the morning, convincing myself I didn’t really have to go. I nearly exploded.

Night 4: Barranco Camp 3976 m

The denial continues. Using logic doesn’t seem to get me out of the cozy sleeping bag and warmish tent into the freezing air, just to pull down my pants. My new strategy is to wait until I absolutely can’t put it off any longer, and then, when I’m faced with the dilemma of peeing outside or in my sleeping bag, I sprint out.

Night 5: Karanga Camp 3930 m

I walk over a thin veneer of frost and plants in the middle of the night. I facethe distant glittering lights below, and behind me looms a Mama Kili. I am out of breath and shivering, and I wonder why some of us feel a need to be so close to nature. Perhaps it’s to make up for all those who have gone astray. But that’s as deep as my thoughts can go when I pee in the middle of the night, and I scurry back into my tent.

Night 6: Barafu Camp 4640 m

Tonight I do not wake up to pee. Instead, I wake up at 11:40 to put on all of my layers and talk myself into climbing up to the top of one humongous slab of rock. More about that night coming up…