The Climb, pole pole
Our time finally comes. We get ready quickly, since we slept in most of our clothes already. All we had to put on was our outer shells, gloves, and hats. We start by drinking tea and eating cookies. Unlike every other meal, Amos warns us not to eat or drink too much. Our blood oxygen looks good and we start. Gabe has made another comeback. He had me worried last night, as he was really sick, but he gets dressed and jumps in line for the summit.
It is dark and we move like snails – zig zagging across the final 3000 vertical feet of the mountain. We are climbing with our guide, Amos, leading me, Luke, Gabe, and 2 other assistants in a single file. They carry the water and cameras both of which freeze before we get too far. We meet a large group of thirty climbers from the UK that camped a couple thousand feet above us. At the start they are laughing and have party lights on their backpacks as they pass us.
Amos is setting our pace and route pole pole (slow slow) is what he keeps saying. I can still breath with my mouth closed and talk; that didn’t last long. The next two hours I start laboring to breathe, and my heart rate spikes. I don’t want to look at anything but Amos feet staying close and trying to stay out of the head wind. I am still able to talk, but when I do I pay the price by taking me a few minutes to get breathing back under control. I can see the boys’ shadows from the headlamps behind me. I don’t look back anymore. I am now dizzy and have terrible cottonmouth. We have five liters of water in the guides’ packs, but the hose coming out is frozen. We get it broken loose and we look like we are nursing. We blow water back after we drink to keep the tube from freezing. The last 500 ft. are a group of refrigerator-sized blocks stacked on top of each other and very steep. I am more than dizzy now. I am in a surreal state, not talking. I hear Luke and Gabe struggling behind me. The guides start singing. Every block we climb up someone has left a pile of vomit. When we try to duck behind a rock someone has claimed it for a bathroom leaving a mess. We finally climb around the last group of large rocks and see the peak. Still dark, but starting to see the sky brighten.
We finally reach the summit and look into the glacier for a brief minute. The storm stops, and we can see people in every direction, most of them were in the high tent camps. We didn’t want to waste time so we take the quickest route. We ain’t having a party – no disco lights on our bags. In fact, we get our cameras and they are frozen. Our phones too. We are now met by half the UK group with their disco lights flashing. They aren’t having nearly as much fun as they were four hours ago. They had some of their group to turn back and wait behind some rocks until they split. Finally found an old camera to snap the pictures, as we stepped aside for the next group.
It looks like we chose a bad night. Our plan is to reach the summit by sunrise, watch the sunrise, and enjoy what we had just done, walking along the rim of the crater. It is now sleeting ice pellets blown by fifty mile per hour winds that are sandblasting my face; which visibility turns to shit. Luke and Gabe did great on the rocks and we are discussing our next move as Amos checks blood oxygen. Luke is low 50s, and he says he feels okay other than his heart feeling like it is going to explode but that’s normal. To complicate things even more, we look over the boulders, and Amos yells it’s the Chinese and we don’t want to be crossing trails up and down. Plus, we are in the wind exposed getting colder by the second.
We weren’t splitting up. It has been an adventure. We reached the summit, and now we have to get down to better air. Luke and Gabe are taken by the arms by Stoney and Antonio, and they jump hitting a gravel pit like an alpine skier. They skate down the steep part of the mountain, where I see them falling and rolling, but they are flying down. I, on the other hand, fell three or four times. Rocks are now snow covered, and my balance is bad, so I gave up and skied down the gravel. I start back on the zigzag path I came up, still winded and having to stop. I am maybe halfway to base camp and I see Gabe and Luke now on the flatter surface. They will be at base camp an hour earlier than me. We have one hour to get breakfast, then we continue four hours back to Horombo. This is the start of the 2-day walk out. We don’t eat and Amos is not watching our food and drink so we quit both. We try to sleep, but any type of sound sleep will not happen at this altitude. The good news is as we descend we start shedding layers, causing us to get warmer. We are very tired but we begin to breath easier.