Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 9 - Tanzania - Fifth day on the mountain

Help!, Help!, Help!

 I'm awakened by the sound of my tent crashing down on top of me and burying me from the chest down. Little did we realize it but that storm that was raging until midnight last night really never let up. The lightning and wind died down a bit but the snow continued to fall. It's now 4:45am and my tent has collapsed on top of me while I'm all tightly zipped up in my mummy sleeping bag. There's so much weight on top of me I'm unable to roll over and get to the zipper. I have no idea if we were just hit by an avalanche our what. Needless to say I'm totally freaking out at this point. Finally I hear Colleen calling back to me and I know someone is coming to assist me. It takes Colleen and David a minute or so to pull on their boots and coats and after what feels like 15 minutes but was probably only 2, I can feel them removing the snow that's on top of me. Eventually they get enough of the snow off my tent for me to roll over and get unzipped. Finally I'm feeling a little less claustrophobic and I want to make sure in their haste to get to me they are dressed ok. As Collen is returning to their tent to get her gloves their tent collapses and rips open from the weight of the snow on top. Eventually Zach is woke up by all the ruckus and emerges from his tent to find out what has happened and to discover our mess tent has collapsed as well. Immediately Zach and Killian and several other porters go into "repair mode" to get the tents fixed as best as possible but we also need to start preparing to leave camp. We really need to hold on to the 8am departure time.

Zach repairing the mess tent. Hey, we gotta have a place for our breakfast, lunch and dinner, right?
Zach works to repair the mess tent after last night's snow storm.

My tent after a bit of repair work.
My tent after the disaster.

Using my trekking poles to keep the roof up in my tent before the tent poles could be repaired.
My tent being held up by my trekking poles.

A few of the snap shots this crazy morning of our camp area.
Mawenzi Tarn campsite the morning after the snow storm.
Mawenzi Tarn campsite the morning after the snow storm. 
Mawenzi Tarn campsite the morning after the snow storm. 

Collen & David's tent with a groundcloth thrown over it to cover the rip.
Mawenzi Tarn campsite the morning after the snow storm.

Amazingly enough after a night of very little sleep and a crazy wake up call of snow burying me alive, we are all in good spirits and ready to get on the trail. Just before leaving camp I snap a couple more shots first of David & Colleen and then of Killian, all smiles of course.
David & Colleen in good spirits despite the crazy morning we've just experienced.
Killian, all smiles of course. Nothing phases this guy.

Then I hand Colleen my camera to take this shot of me all decked out in rain and cold weather gear.
Even I am smiling but notice I'm wearing my sunglasses. Even though it's only 8:30am and heavily overcast, the sky is incredibly bright. Everywhere you look it's white.
Hey look, I'm smiling. Even though just a couple hours earlier I was fearing for my life thinking I was trapped in an avalanche.

Now it's time to hit the trail and even with all the troubles this morning we are only leaving camp 30 minutes late.

This is where the true professional guide is appreciated. We head out on the trail in complete white-out conditions and follow our man Killian. He really is amazing as we are walking across what looks like the inside of a carton of milk. He never shows any sign of not knowing exactly where we are headed even though at times the trail completely disappears and I can't see any cairns marking the path. It's almost like he's a homing pigeon and he's just done it so many times he can do it blindfolded. We never doubt his lead and follow along through the falling snow. My guess is we've got at least 12-15" of snow over night and it continues all morning. At one point Killian says he wants to show us an old plane crash and he just takes off in a slightly different direction. How can he possible know!? But sure enough within a minute or two we come upon this crash site. Killian tells us the plane was flying tourist around the summit sometime in the 80's when it went down killing all aboard.
Wreckage from a plane crash from the 80's.
 Wreckage from a plane crash from the 80's.
I haven't had a chance to research this crash but hope to in the near future. I'd like to know a bit more about it.

At some point around 10:30am we stop to apply sunscreen mainly for the wind protection and I remove my glasses for a moment. I'm immediately blinded by how bright it is.  I notice David is not wearing sunglasses and mention it to him but he says he's ok. It's at this point where I take these two photos, the first of our group.
Walking through the white-out.

And this one showing two different parties off in the distance supposedly headed to the same place we are but in slightly different directions.
Walking through the white-out. Two other groups each headed in slightly different directions then us.....

I'm curious at this point how sure Killian can be that he's headed in the right direction but after finding that plane crash in the middle of this white-out I'm not about to question his guiding skills.

Eventually we get a break in the whiteout and we glimpse our high camp, straight ahead of course. It seems so close yet it takes us another 45 minutes to finally reach Kibo Huts, our high camp sitting at 14,451'.

Colleen and I sit to rest for a moment and I snap this shot of her, all smiles of course because we finally made it to high camp. What you can't see in this pic is the summit that would be clearly visible above and behind her in this shot if only the clouds would clear out.
Colleen and what should be the summit in the background.

It's around 1:30pm and it's been a long day of trudging through fresh snow for the last 5 hours but this is really just the beginning of the day for us. Lunch is served around 2pm and I'm not sure if it's the exhaustion or altitude or a combination of both but I can't handle any foods with much flavor. The boiled rice is about it for me at this point. Of course we will have dinner at 5pm so I'll try again then.
Over dinner I make what at first is a heartbreaking decision to leave my DSLR at high camp for the summit and only take my new P&S camera, a Canon S100. At this altitude every single ounce feels like a pound and I'm also concerned about the method of carrying the camera. I've been wearing it in a case attached to my shoulder straps on my pack. It rides right on my chest. It hasn't been a problem ever for me but tonight we are going to be climbing a very steep route and following the exact footsteps of our guide in front of us. This case really does hinder my view of my feet without leaning a bit forward. This could possibly be more dangerous then the extra weight of the camera. At least that's what i tell myself to justify leaving it behind. Not that I couldn't carry the weight but the danger it might impose. Besides, It's much better to reach the summit with a nice point & shoot camera then to NOT reach the summit carrying a fancy DSLR, right?
Just before turning in at 6pm I notice the clouds have cleared overhead and we can see the summit up close for the first time.
Just before sunset the sky clears to show us the summit.

Sleeping is totally out of the question. Besides being so anxious about tonight the porters seem to be having a party in their tents which are only a few feet away from ours. I settle in for a bit of tossing and turning and I'm really unable to fall asleep. I lay there finally feeling confident that I'm gonna make it up there in the morning. Hey, it's only taken roughly 7 months to feel this way but now I can honestly say that I am sure I can do this, not that I hope I can do this.

11pm rolls around before I realize it and it's time to get dressed. I'm glad for the dress rehearsal last night because this time I'm ready to go in half the time. I'm out my tent around 11:15pm and the sky is amazing. It's so crisp and clean with some high wispy clouds lingering overhead. Oh, and it's a full moon too so with the moonlight reflecting off all the snow there's no need for headlamps. I decide to pull out the DSLR one last time before leaving and grab this shot of the stars sitting over the summit.
I sit the camera on a rock and compose this shot. It's a 15second exposure at ISO1600, f4, 24mm for the shutterbugs that are interested.
11:30pm on summit night. ISO 1600, f4, 15 seconds, 24mm.

Now it's time to have a warm cup of cocoa and some cookies before hitting the trail.
As I head over to the mess tent I get some disturbing news. David, Colleen's father cannot see. He's gotten snow blindness from the full day off walking through the whiteout without sunglasses. It's heartbreaking news to find out that he can't join us on this last leg of the adventure. Also of concern is the news that Freddie, our assistant guide, and several of the porters also walked across the saddle without sunglasses yesterday and are having the same problem. Just imagine a sunburn on your corneas. That's what it feels like I'm told. Remember in yesterday's post I made mention of wearing my sunglasses as we were leaving camp at 8:30am. That's why I threw that tidbit in there.  Freddie attempts to leave camp with us but realizes he'll be in big trouble when the sun comes up so it's just Colleen and I along with Killian and Zach headed for the summit this evening. We say goodbye to David and get ready to head out.

Oh but it's midnight and technically the beginning of a new day so you'll all just have to wait till tomorrow for the summit pics.....if I make it.
I promise it's worth the wait!

Details for today's portion of the trip:
Distance Hiked: 5.1 miles
Start Elevation: 14,137'
End Elevation:  15,451'
Total Elevation gain: 1,314'

Tonight we head for the summit at 19,340'!