Friday, December 23, 2011

Tackling Kilimanjaro: Becoming the First American with Hemophilia to Summit (Part 2)

Part 2

Shira Camp Sunrise
Morning of the third day of the climb revealed one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.  A thin layer of clouds lay below us enveloping the African countryside, only neighboring Mt. Meru peaked through the clouds.  The sun slowly broke through the clouds in vibrant color to reveal the summit of Kilimanjaro.  It was unbelievable, I was memorized.  Getting started wasn’t a problem today.  After two uneventful and somewhat easy days behind us I felt a calmness that I hadn’t felt before.  With two relatively easy days behind us I came to the conclusion that although today was supposed to be an infusion day, I would skip the infusion and see how things went.  Little did I know this decision would almost cost us the summit and the rest of our trip.

After an amazing breakfast we began one of our “climb high sleep low” days.  This is a common practice in mountaineering because it helps in the acclimation to high elevation.  Today we would climb to the Lava Tower then descend back to Barranco Camp in a climbing day that would last close to 7 hours. 
Hiking to the Lava Tower
The climb began uneventfully.  A slight but constant uphill grade confronted us and the terrain quickly become vacant of most vegetation.   It was as if we had been transported to another planet.  Large volcanic boulders lay strewn about the mountain side.  Today the glaciers atop the summit of Kilimanjaro were clearly visible with an amazingly clear blue sky backdrop.  The summit peak, also known as Kibo (Kilimanjaro is actually comprised of three volcanos which together are called Kilimanjaro), stood in full view of us all day.  Today I realized just how far the summit still was.  With every step, the summit seemed to stay exactly the same distance from us.  It seemed as though we were fighting a never ending battle.  Several hours passed as my uncle I became entranced into a rhythmic march up the mountain side.  Today I would travel to the highest point I had ever been without the aid of an airplane.  Our goal for the day, the Lava Tower, stands at 15,190ft, almost 1,000ft higher then I have ever been.  How would my body react?  I have read many horror stories of individuals at elevation and the sudden sickness it can bring.  Would this elevation be my breaking point?  To this point I have felt incredibly good and strong but elevation is a very tricky adversary.  I also had not taken any Diomox, a drug that helps people at high elevation.  Should I have started?  Dave and I talked about it many times but we both kind of felt like that would be cheating and not a true test of ourselves.

Descending Lava Tower
On the mountain you have a lot of time to think.  I answered all the above questions about a thousand times to myself in a thousand different ways but what it always came down to was, the only way to find out is to get there.  We arrived at the base of the Lava Tower around noon and had lunch at the base and I felt great!  No signs of altitude sickness at all!  We enjoyed a fabulous lunch in which Julius told us “you are very strong” which made my confidence grow more and more.  After eating, Julius asked if we would like to actually climb the Lava Tower.  Without hesitation Dave and I agreed.  Nothing sounded more fun than breaking up the monotony of the hike with a little scrambling up rocks.  We left our trekking poles at the base and began our climb.  There were some amazing little moves to the climb.  Nothing to difficult but with enough challenge to get your heart racing.  I’m not sure how long we took to get to the top but by that time, clouds had rolled in and our view became only a few feet.  We enjoyed our time at the top of the Lava Tower and after catching our breath, we headed down.  Up always seems easier to me and this instance was no different.  Some of the area we climbed were steep and coming down with a pack on made it quite difficult.  While climbing down a particular steep and tricky section and had to make a gigantic step down.  As I did so my right leg bent up underneath me and instantly I knew it had gone too far and I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.  I pulled my quad. With it, my heart sank.  The pain wasn’t agonizing and I knew it wasn’t a terrible pull but my mind flashed back to my decision not to infuse that morning.  Would it bleed?  Would my trip be over?

Approaching Barranco Camp
Sunset in Barranco Camp
I choose not to say anything at the time and hope that it wouldn’t get worse.  We finished the climb down from Lava Tower and began our decent to Barranco Camp where we would spend the night.  The decent was amazingly beautiful but I was unable to focus on it.  With every step I could feel a slight tightness in my thigh.  I analyzed every step, trying to figure out if it was getting worse.  I tried to put it out my mind but I was terrified not only that if it got worse I may not be able to proceed but what happened if I wasn’t able to control it.  Medical facilities in East Africa are not good, as I witnessed earlier on my trip, but there is also little to no knowledge of hemophilia.  An hour or two into our decent, the tightness in my thigh began to lessen and I thought I dodged a bullet.  We approached Barranco Camp on a steep trail with the most epic views.  The town of Moshi lay miles below us in the valley, sparsely covered with clouds.  Exotic trees and shrubs lined the path.  I truly felt I was in another world.  The night spent in Barranco Camp was very memorable.  I spent most of my time staring at the cliffs surround us and the glaciers clinging to the rocks above them.  The night at Barranco Camp was quite peaceful and the events of the day faded to the back of my mind.  Unfortunately those thoughts wouldn’t stay there for long.   I was in for a rude awakening.  Literally…

Part 3 to follow soon!

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