Whoosh! Issue 38 - November 1999

Alzheimers, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Xena, And Me: A Journal

13,800 Feet At Mawenzi Tarn: Saturday, 08/28/99

[73] Sandy and I are up early to phone Global. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication, we were supposed to phone them at 8 am their time, not 8 pm and no one is around to record the call. We have missed a couple of radio and newspaper call-ins as well, because it's a lot harder to follow a schedule a half a world away than it seemed from the comfort of Vancouver.

[74] The bad part about camping in the great outdoors is that there is no privacy. Never mind all the bodily functions that everyone is privy to, even the quietest talking carries for miles. So it is that Sandy and I are quickly becoming the outcasts of the camp because we have to be up making phone calls at all hours. Everyone good-naturedly jokes that they don't want their tent next to ours anymore.

[75] I captured a stunning shot this morning on camera. The nearly full moon was setting behind the peak of Kili just as the sunrise was shining on the front. Since I haven't used this camera before, I'm bracketing the exposures to ensure that I get something good. This is so beautiful.

[76] You know, I'm finding the trouble with trying to shoot as I go is that I spend all the best moments looking through the viewfinder, instead of experiencing it in real life. For this sunrise, however, I have the camera balanced on the bag and I am actually looking up with my own eyes. Everyone else is still asleep in their tents. This moment is mine alone. Unfortunately, the frostbite I get for handling the cold metal camera in sub-zero temperatures barehanded is also mine alone! Matt gets up and gives me his gloves to wear and shows me how to swing my arms in big circles to force the blood to the fingers. It takes about 20 minutes for the pain and tingling to subside.

[77] It turns out the shooting is harder than I thought. Not from a physical perspective, because everyone is great and offers to carry the equipment (not that I let them because I always want to have the camera handy). But I find I'm always playing catch up with the rest of the team. I get up and shoot them having breakfast or shoot some early morning scenics. Then I race to gulp down some breakfast while they pack their tents. Then I pack up my equipment while they wait with their packs on to go. I'm always holding them up. They are being very patient, however, because they know it's for the Alzheimer Society.

You all are being a BIG help

Me getting a shot of Sandy trying to clean up while Don waits for the recycled water
[78] This morning I looked across the stream to the porters busily cooking our breakfast in their cave about 100 yards away. I grabbed the camera and polepoled my way over to their makeshift restaurant. Thirty-eight pairs of eyes locked onto me as I approached. I called out for Frederick, who stepped forward. I asked him if he would ask the porters if they minded me getting shots of them and he just said "no, they love it", without even consulting them. I am a bit dubious that they all love it, but I have been given the go ahead and start shooting.

[79] It is strange to see the operation they have been able to set up here in a cave. Water boils in big pots over fires, a huge skillet contains a giant omelet over another fire, men are peeling mangoes and stirring porridge, sausages are being fried, and dirty dishes are being rinsed (although I see no sign of soap). Then, just as all the ingredients are ready, other men who have been lounging around leap up and line up with plates, the food is portioned out and hurried over to our camp, still hot. It's the world's highest greasy spoon diner!

Barbeque parties at 14,000 feet

The porters cooking in a cave - the highest greasy spoon in the world!
[80] At this time I have to take a moment to salute one of our team, Don. He had the foresight to ask last year's team what they missed most on the trip and to bring it along. Guess what it was? Heinz Ketchup! It really is the perfect item to bring, because it makes everything taste just like home. Whether it goes on eggs or beans, it's a familiar flavor in a very unfamiliar world.

[81] Today we are going to 13,800. A place called Mawenzi Tarn. This takes us to the foot of Mawenzi, which is one of Kili's peaks. From there, over the next couple of days, we will cross the broad, flat plain known as the Saddle to the foot of Kibo, and on to the summit.

[82] We travel through some of the most breathtaking scenery yet. It's funny, because I hadn't thought of the mountain in the those terms before. I was just concentrating on getting to the top. Yet, here I am, perched on a rocky outcrop, watching the clouds far below sweeping across the Saddle in waves. This mountain is immense. I am stunned. Or maybe I'm just content. I have a full belly from lunch, the sun is shining, my feet don't hurt, I've been drinking my mandatory two liters of water a day, and I still feel good. All is right with my world.

[83] As we sit admiring the vast rugged landscape laid before us, the clouds surrounding Kibo briefly part, and we catch a glimpse of the summit. That's the way this mountain is -- you trudge for hours with your head down and then suddenly someone calls "Kibo!" and you quickly look up to see the object of your subjection. Then, just as quickly, the clouds close back in and it's gone. Yet each time it happens, these brief glimpses send a shock of energy through us and motivate us anew.

Ooooh. Ahhhh.

So far away. A view of Kibo from our first camp
[84] We've walked 35km so far and Kibo still looks so far away and looms so large that it's a bit daunting. We pick up our gear and begin the slow trudge upwards. I place the camera on the ground and capture a shot of everyone's feet, painfully slowly shuffling forward. It's hard to believe that we are going to make it anywhere at this pace, let alone to 19,340.

Looks easy, right?

Spectacular Mawenzi
[85] We arrive at our most civilized camp yet at Mawenzi Tarn. There are two metal huts for the porters and relatively flat ground for us to sleep on. Last night was tough, what with all the sliding downhill we did (my sleeping bag ended up pushed against the tent door all night and was soaked from condensation in the morning). We get to stay at this place for two nights. Yippee! No packing up in the morning. Tomorrow is our acclimatization day, so I'm going to use it to get the interviews done. Matt and Sue want us to go on an easy hike too, to 15,800 and back down. This is considered light activity, to keep us feeling better.

[86] Yuck! I'm just watching the porters taking our water from the slimy green tarn (it's like a small pond). For our drinking purposes, we have filters that we pump the water through daily. It's getting increasingly more difficult to do this as we go higher, because it's quite a workout. There is so much stuff in the tarn water that it continually blocks our filters and it takes 3 hours to pump enough water for all of us. Unfortunately, the African cooks don't believe in filtered water for our porridge, tea, etc. because it's boiled anyway. So we end up with lots of unidentified bits floating in the hot drinks.

It's either this or wait until you can eat the snow up there.

A porter getting our drinking water from the Tarn!
[87] Matt and Sue have just come around and checked how much water we have all drank. I finished my platypus (it carries 2.5 liters in a plastic bag that sits in your backpack and has a plastic pipe that runs out to your mouth, so it's easy to sip on all day long). I get a gold star. Nic, the youngest Campbell son, has barely touched his water. He is assigned to finish it off by the evening. He is obviously not feeling well and Matt and Sue are concerned. If it wasn't a serious situation, it would almost be funny to see Nic dragging his bag of water around with him everywhere, like an IV. He really is trying to drink it because he knows how important it is to keep hydrated, to stave off altitude sickness.

[88] I'm feeling fine. I had the beginnings of a headache but took Tylenol and Advil to stop it early on.

[89] I'm going to get changed for dinner, which is at 5 pm. We are all so dirty (and stinky, I'm sure!). It's impossible to feel clean. We use a lot of Handiwipes to wipe off the surface dirt and sunscreen.

[90] The camera, wireless mikes, and tripod have arrived! I pull out the camera with the wide-angle lens and try to capture the beauty of this place we are staying in. We are camped 3,000 feet below the massive peak of Mawenzi, and there are caves and sheer rock faces surrounding us. We appear to be in a dried up lake bed, the tarn refusing to completely give way to dust.

[91] It's amazingly cold at night. I'm sure even more so at this altitude. There's so much moisture in the air that you can see your breath even though it's warm in the day.

[92] I'm laying in bed right now wearing biking shorts, thermal underwear, long johns, lined jogging pants, 2 pairs of thick socks, a sports bra, 2 long sleeved shirts, a sweater, and a balaclava over my head! I also now have 2 cameras and all the tapes and batteries in the sleeping bag with me. It's a major ordeal to go to the bathroom now, not just from the cold. I find you get out of breath just sitting up. Any movement must be made slowly or your heart starts to pound and you start to pant. Even walking on level ground is done polepole.

A Day Of Rest -- Kinda: Sunday, 08/29/99

[93] I had a good sleep last night from 7:30 pm until 5:30 am, with only two bathroom breaks - a new record!

[94] I have a headache and some slight nausea but nothing a handful of Pepto Bismol and Tylenol don't take care of quickly. You always feel the worst in the morning, after a night of lying immobile. It's much better to be moving around, which is why the bathroom breaks are actually very helpful.

My kingdom for a cappucino

15,500 feet. A picture of me looking worse for the wear
[95] I got up and shot some sunrise scenes and then wandered over to watch the porters getting ready to cook breakfast. Hmmmm, don't think I should have done that. The pots from the previous night's meal are given a cursory wipe with a dirty cloth and then put back into service. Even worse, of course, is the realization that there is no running water or soap for the cooks to wash their hands with. Ah, well, we haven't got sick yet.

[96] I am wisely wearing ice gloves while I get some prep kitchen shots. Then I notice that one of the cooks is rinsing a pot in cold water with his bare hands. I can only imagine how painfully cold that would be on this freezing morning. I ask him if he isn't cold and he just smiles and nods "yes" and goes on with his task. These guys are amazing. They work so hard, from morning until night, away from their families, for $10 US per day.

[97] We have been eating four-course meals everyday. I think some of us are gaining weight! Nic isn't eating much of anything and keeps telling us that he doesn't eat much at home either. We don't buy it. Altitude is starting to show its affects: Sandy has been very nauseous for the last couple of mornings, Nancy has had a very bad headache (which she cured with aroma-therapy), and Matt and Sue have both admitted to headaches. I find my appetite has gone, even for stuff I love. Every morning Matt puts out the snack table, which is just bags and bags of chocolate bars and candy and fruit leather that you help yourself to -- but I haven't taken anything because it's not appealing to me. Breakfast, in particular, is hard to eat. I have a piece of toast and peanut butter that I make last 45 minutes. I take a bite and chew and chew until 5 minutes later, when I realize I still have the same piece in my mouth and I have to will myself to swallow. It's not that I feel sick when I eat, I just have no desire.

Oops. Did you say we should have been going NORTH today?

Our amazing leader, Sue.
[98] Sue tells us that the real altitude sickness will kick you in the gut tomorrow, once we're up to 15 or 16 thousand feet.

[99] Gord Campbell is a local celebrity in British Columbia and has been given a satellite phone to do call ins to the radio stations and newspapers. I notice him calling his mom this morning and offering to Sue to call her dad. I wander over and ask if I could use the phone to call Doug. He said sure. So I called and Doug didn't realize it was me at first. It was great to hear his voice.

[100] Slight problem with the stinking batteries and solar panel. The solar panel is not charging properly. Either it's cloudy or raining and I can't put it out, or I carry it on the outside of my pack for an hour and go to check it and the makeshift connections have come apart while I am hiking and the battery is actually being drained! This is a major problem because I'm down to just 3 batteries and I still have summit day and the interviews to do. I have no batteries left for the big camera and am contemplating doing the interviews on the little one. At Sandy's urging, I decide to do the interviews after summit day. This will give me a couple more days to charge batteries and hopefully be able to use the better, bigger camera.

[101] Since this is our acclimatization day, we went for a short hike, getting almost up to 15,000 feet. It was very spectacular at Little Barranco, sheer lava cliffs in a huge canyon. We all took turns climbing over a wall, one by one, to see how deep and wide it was. I handed the video camera over to Matt and asked him to get a shot of me as I did the world's highest Xena yell! The echo was incredible!

[102] On the way up this hike, we were told it was about as steep as it's going to be on summit day, only at a much higher altitude, where we will likely be nauseous. Peg and I discussed afterward and agreed that all of us were thinking "Holy Cow! This is going to be tough". The first five minutes we started climbing, all of us were panting and that was only 14,000 feet. After a while, we once again settled into a rhythm, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

[103] While we were at Little Barranco, Sue told us that she and Matt were going to come back in the afternoon and spread Jim's ashes there. Jim was her husband, who was killed in an avalanche in May. He led this climb with Sue last year. She has been so incredibly strong through this whole trip. I am in awe of her. We all agree there couldn't be a more fitting place for Jim. Matt was one of Jim's best friends and he too has been terrific on the climb. He was so attentive to Sue, making sure she's okay, giving her hugs and holding her hand when things got tough. Even when, I'm sure, his heart is breaking too. It's very sad to see them make their lonely climb up the side of the hill with Jim's ashes.

[104] I must mention Peg here. We are all wondering what kind of freak of nature she must be. We are all stinking dirty and this woman hasn't got a speck of grime on her. Her makeup is perfect, her hair has bounce and life, and her clothes look like they just came back from the dry cleaners! I hate her! I have some time so I decide to pay a visit to Peg's House of Beauty at 14,000 (right at the foot of Mawenzi) to find out how she does it. She is just emerging from her tent, looking fresh as a daisy. She sees me, a blackened, stinking lump of humanity and must take pity on me because the next thing I know, I'm being ushered inside her spacious tent and being handed everything I need to have a sponge bath. It's wonderful! I feel great! So clean that I even changed my sports bra. "Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!"

I feel pretty... Oh so pretty...

Peg looking good, even at 15,000 feet!
[105] This is our last dinner before summit day. We had made plans to light a candle in Jim's memory on the summit. But somehow, it just seems more appropriate here, at Mawenzi, where he will rest forever. Everyone is very emotional. Sue is appreciative. She says, "Jim is with us here. Tomorrow, if you're finding you just can't take another step, listen and you'll hear Jim whispering in your ear, saying 'you can do it'".

[106] I'll be listening.

Crossing The Saddle: Monday, 08/30/99, 6am

[107] Summit day has arrived! Or rather, summit day, night and day, since we are about to embark on a 36 hour marathon. The plan is for us to walk across the Saddle today and make our way to Kibo hut at 15,500 feet. After a few hours of rest, we will start the climb to the summit at midnight.

[108] There are two places we can climb to: Gillman's Point is at around 18,600 and used to be thought of as the actual summit. This is the place where most people turn around. The actual summit, Uhuru, is at 19,340 feet and that's the goal we all have in mind for ourselves.

Tanzanian cross-country skiing... without the skiis

I polepole past the group to get a shot of them on the Saddle.
[109] Sue once again talked to me about being concerned over how much energy I am putting out with the shooting. I assured her I have no intention of not making it to the top and that I feel fine. Actually, I feel a bit nauseous and have a headache, but other than that, I feel fine! Sandy is in rough shape, I can tell by her drawn face that she is not well. I give her a number of Pepto Bismol tablets.

[110] At breakfast, Sue remarks that we are doing very well with handling the altitude. We are all in high spirits as THE DAY has arrived. Everyone is crowded around the tablecloth on the floor, crouched over their meal. It almost looks like we are praying. Sue talks about the fact that we are going up as a team and we are going to stick together. I really feel we have become a team. Everyone is so considerate of each other. Don brings his Thermarest pad for us to sit on the ground with, Iain and Lizbet share their seat rigs, Peg shares her cosmetics. We are constantly asking each other how we feel and are genuinely concerned. I care about these guys. It's quite amazing that you can take a group of very aggressive, type A personalities -- which, in normal circumstances, would be like trying to herd cats -- give them a common goal and watch them fall in line. A good lesson for me.

[111] We all pack up very quickly this morning and bid the tarn a fond farewell. I duck into the outhouse with my video camera just before we leave. Some clever person, sensing that the view was paramount over privacy, made sure that it had no door but, rather, opened onto the most dazzling scenery one could imagine. I grab a shot from the inside looking out.

[112] Crossing the Saddle is a very unearthly experience. Much of it is like a moonscape, totally barren. We are now among the clouds rolling through that we had observed from above two days ago. It is like a heavy fog that envelops us and then just disappears, leaving bright sun behind. Over and over again, the group vanishes into the mist. I get the most amazing shot of the team walking past me, each one slowly fading away. At the same time, I have Sandy's voice in my head saying "Alzheimer's is like being in a fog, you come in and out of it". It was a great visual reminder of why we are here.

Walk towards the light!

Walking across the Saddle, the wind howling
[113] Today I am desperate to charge batteries. I strapped the solar panel to my back and, sure enough, it started raining and I had to pull it in. Frustrating!

[114] The altitude must be affecting me because I dropped the camera on the rocks twice! I had it tucked under my jacket and it was supported by my backpack. When we stopped for a break and I took my pack off, it fell to the ground. I said to myself "don't let that happen again" and, of course, I did the same thing not an hour later and dropped it a second time. Luckily, it survived but I had a few seconds of concern, since this is the camera I'm taking to the summit.

[115] The trip across the Saddle is truly a test of our patience. It is flat and it would be easy to want to move quickly across it. However, Matt and Sue ensure that we maintain our Night of the Living Dead shuffling pace.

[116] Finally, we get to the base of Kibo and start climbing upwards. The wind is ripping through and it is ice raining. I pull my gloveless hands into the sleeves of my Gortex jacket, tie my hood tightly around my head and trudge on. I find it's easiest if I just concentrate on the heels of the person in front of me. Sue calls out that, according to the altimeter on her watch, we have reached 15,000 feet. We stop for a break and many of us dig out the Pepto and Tylenol.

[117] One more hour. Out of the swirling clouds looms a hut. And then another! Civilization! We have reached Kibo Hut. After not having seen anyone else for a week, it's a shock for us to see other climbers. Kibo Hut is the base from which everyone attempts the summit on this side of Kilimanjaro. There are solar panels for power, concrete buildings with bunks and they even sell water here! We feel we experience the ultimate in luxury when we get to eat dinner sitting at a wooden table.

[118] Speaking of dinner, contrary to Sue's prediction, I eat like a horse. It is spaghetti with canned cheese on it and I love it! No one else seems to have an appetite, although we are all encouraged to get something in our stomachs for tonight. Sue reviews how the evening is going to progress. With our timeline, we should be at Uhuru no later than 8 am. She reminds us to put lithium batteries in our headlamps. Also, because it is so cold, we have to remember to blow the water back down our platypus pipe after we take a sip or it will freeze and we will have nothing to drink.

[119] We had been hopeful that we were going to get to sleep in the bunkhouse tonight, but it's all booked up with about 10 other hikers. Back to the tents.

[120] It's 7:15 pm now. We're getting up in 4 hours to leave but Sandy has to make some live phone calls, so I don't think we're going to get any sleep. We have hauled our clothing bags behind us, so that we can rest propped up against them. We don't want to lay down because it makes us feel so awful. It's ice storming outside and I'm freezing, which is why my hand is shaking.

[121] The time we've been training for and dreaming about is just a couple of hours away!

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