It has been another cold night, and I see the ice on the tent when I make my 3 am bathroom dash (thank you Diamox). The ice is still there in the morning. I am having no altitude symptoms, and I don’t know if that is because I’m ok with altitude or if the Diamox is working. A lot of people report a tingling sensation in their feet and fingers while on this drug. While I have felt the sensation, usually after I stop hiking and sit for a while, my symptoms are very mild and I barely recognize them.
We go through our normal routine in the morning, knowing that this will be a short hike. It will be steep, and the guides tell us it is all uphill on switchbacks. There is a little up and down, but mostly up. This is boring hiking, nothing but dirt and rock to look at. And I cannot explain to you how dusty it is on this mountain – volcanic ash. I also cannot tell you how many of the sights I have missed because this hiking requires that you look at your feet. When I stop looking at the trail, I kick a rock, and nearly trip & fall. So we hike, pole pole, with our heads down. After 5 days of being constant companions, we have run out of chit chat and while we try conversation, we mostly spend the time in silence.
The hike doesn’t take us long. We are gaining 1,500 ft of elevation, but we are going to end up at 15,000 ft and you can feel the lack of oxygen in your lungs when you breath. We have to scramble up a rock wall to get to camp, and really feel the shortness of breath. Barafu Camp is a long camp perched on the ledge of the mountain. The Earth falls away at the edge of the camp into the valley below. But you cannot really see the valley, as it is obscured by clouds. There are tents everywhere. We sign in at the ranger station, and get back to camp for lunch to discuss tomorrow.
There are two different “methods” to summit.
The most popular is to arrive at Barafu early in the morning and try to rest. Then you rise at midnight, and start your summit attempt with headlamps. The hike to the summit is about 7 hours, so this method will get you to the summit at sunrise. Then after sunrise you descend back to Barafu Camp, sleep for about 2-3 hours and descend even further to one of the camps at a lower elevation.
Our method will be to stay the full night at Barafu Camp and start our summit attempt early in the morning (we have decided upon 6:00 am). That will get us to Stella point for lunch and Summit shortly afterward. Originally our itinerary had us then descending into the crater to camp. And here, the group needs to make a decision. I cannot camp in the crater. My coughing is a health issue, and the guides have determined I am not well enough to camp at crater camp. Tonight, Joanie and Kerry have to decide if they are going to camp in the crater without me. I encourage them to go, but Kerry is reluctant. She has been very cold most of the time and is not sure that staying in much colder camp is something she wants to experience. Joanie is reluctant to camp on her own. In the end, Kerry and Joanie decide against staying at crater camp. So after we summit, all of us will head back to Barafu for a second night.
So here we are, at Barafu for the first night and fall into our old routines. We have lunch, we read, we nap, we journal, and then we have snacks and dinner. By snack time, we are cold and are holding our cups of hot water just to keep warm. We all have hand warmers in our pockets and have on our warmest layers and jackets. None of us have an appetite at this elevation, and when I do sleep, it is not very soundly. We get our gear ready for tomorrow – day packs packed, water bottles filled. Ready, Set….. tomorrow is summit.