I slept badly, I had a couple of nosebleeds and I felt my chest wheezing… Looking out of my tent at daybreak I saw the Baranco wall hidden from the sun, brooding in darkness and menace. I stared at the tiny ant-path like trail, barely visible in the shadow, reaching high towards the heavens and I felt scared.
I often wonder how religious I am, and it seems to be proportionate to the amount of trouble I’m in. Now I’m regretting thinking of Pat Falvey as the ‘God’ of the mountain yesterday. I think I’ll demote him to ‘boss’ just in case someone ‘up there’ is watching.
I felt sick with the thought of today’s 2hr scramble to the top of the famous Baranco Wall. Normally I love to scramble, I did from the start. But I have so many questions, and there are so many teams climbing. Will I be strong enough and fit enough, will I slow the group, worse still will I get stuck, create a bottleneck and slow everyone.
I felt the whole weight of the world was added to my shoulders along with my rucksack as I began to climb. My heart was hammering, I was breathing so heavy I thought my lungs would burst, and then I realised I was enjoying myself.
The sun came out and I smiled and relaxed and moved on up. I had plenty of help. Freddy our head guide held my hand for much of the climb and our lovely guide Able held my hand for the tougher bit at the top. We made it in bright sunshine and I was delighted.
Photos on the top, a few snatched texts that we managed to get our phones to send, and we were on our way again. We had another couple of hours walking to reach camp. We traversed the exposed scree slopes of Kilimanjaro and took in the views as we climbed high and dropped low.
The dark, glossy, white-knecked raven is still following us, but now I’ve stopped thinking it’s eyeing me up for dinner. Maybe it’s the altitude, but I fancy this bird is a reminder of my good friend Johnny Lyons, whose funeral was taking place as I was flying out here to Africa.
Up ahead in the distance we see the tents of our camp and there’s a whoop of delight. Shortly afterwards we begin a sharp downwards scramble. Downwards and away from the camp up high on the ridge above us. I love the descent but in my heart I know we’ll pay for it soon enough.
Pay we do. I thought my heart would break as we began the push back up the ridge. One foot in front of the other, the pace slow and steady. But I’m tired, physically and mentally. My GreatOutdoors #Fitbit has just vibrated on my wrist, telling me I’ve reached my exercise challenge for the day, and I grimly agree with it. But there’s no point in slowing down or complaining. Just get stuck in.
With about 15 mins left of the climb I’m panting like a Labrador, forcing air into my lungs, trying to slow my heart rate, convincing myself not to panic and fighting for every step. But I do eventually get there and my tent looks like heaven itself as we’re handed hot water to wash before lunch.
Chatting over chips and pizza (how do they DO that), I learned that I wasn’t the only one that found the last stretch hard. It was also reassuring to realise that we had overtaken some other groups along the way. I skipped the chips because of my lack of gall bladder, I’m afraid of too much fat making me ill up here. I already feel slightly nauseous. Instead I had soup and later in the tent I topped up with a foil sachet of vegetable ‘baby food’ a tip from my mountain running friend JuJu Jay.
I’m thinking about friends a lot today. I’m wondering what Ultra Runner John O’Regan will make of my training stats and heart rate when my ‘FitBit monitor syncs to the internet when we get back. It’s scary to think he’s got the password!
I’m wondering if Elaine Crowley and the girls from TV3 think I’m missing in action because I’ve no wifi to update my blog on www.teenagates.com. I’m thinking of Vera Baker who’s been getting my texts and posting them to Facebook.
I’m thinking of all the friends who helped me train to get to this height on a mountain so far away from home. I’m thinking of my family.
An hour after lunch, we get the call. We’ve got a two hour acclimatisation walk before dinner. To push up into altitude, to preview some of the trail we will take tomorrow, and to fool our bodies that this kind of exertion is normal and acceptable. There’s nothing I fancy more than staying curled in my sleeping bag. Actually, that’s not true, I could think of many things, a hot bath, a soft bed…. but I know that every step I take now is hardening my body and mind for what lies ahead.
The pace is slow and my breathing regular as we walk through low mist, rock and dust for just under an hour. Then we walk into a flat area covered with cairns, marking prayers to the dead. We’ve reached our destination for tonight but I find myself in tears thinking of Johnny. One of my team-mates who knows what’s up, suggests the team builds its own cairn to our loved ones. We build a magnificent specimen with an Irish cross built into it, and the laughter returns.
I trot back down to camp with my team, for our last full night’s sleep before pushing on tomorrow to high camp and to the summit.
A glossy raven followed me back down.