|Orientation Day at Keys Hotel (Moshi)|
DIARY OF THE CLIMB
Today was a rest day at the Keys Hotel before starting our Kilimanjaro climb tomorrow. This would not only give us a chance to start getting over our jet lag, but would also give Ellen's bag a chance to catch up with us on tonight's flight from Amsterdam. I went down to the dining room about 9:30 am and met Rick, Pauline, Kevin, and Ellen, who were finishing their breakfasts.
We met Julian, who works for Tusker and helps with local arrangements for groups before and after their climbs. He checked on Ellen's bag and reported that it should be on tonight's flight. He also told us that we would have a meeting at 1 pm with our head guide, Elias Massawe.
Ellen, Kevin, and Pauline took the opportunity to go into town to get some things from the local pharmacy. I stayed at the hotel and started unpacking and arranging my climbing gear.
After lunch, we met with our head guide Elias and assistant guide, Charles Malisa. (The Westerners all butchered the pronunciation of Elias' name. After a few days we finally figured out that it was el-LEE-as. I suppose that's OK; for the whole trip the Tanzanians had their own names for several in our group: Kevin was "Kelvin" the whole way, Pauline was "Paulina", and Ellen was "Helena." Rick was "Richard," which is close enough, and they left "Mike" alone.)
Elias is a very big man, with a wide and friendly smile. Julian had told us that his nickname among the Tusker staff was "Tembo." (Julian didn't want to tell us what that meant; it is Swahili for elephant. Julian's own nickname was "Kifaru" for rhino, as it turns out.) Elias is widely known on Kilimanjaro, especially for his many mountain rescues (usually related to Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS, i.e., altitude sickness) of climbers and porters alike. Each year every guide with Tusker must pass a 6-day course for diagnosing and treating altitude sickness and for medical rescues. Before our trip was over Elias was called into action for a potentially serious problem; but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Elias gave us a run-down or the planned itinerary for our 9-day climb. He told us approximately how many hours of hiking we would be doing on each day (which ranged from 3 to 8 hours), where we would be camping each night, and the elevations. He did not have the actual mileages that we would cover each day (just the number of hours). I planned to carry my GPS with me, and would record our hiking miles each day on the mountain.
One of the reasons that we chose to hire Tusker Trail for our climb was their emphasis on health and safety. Elias said that they would carry-along three bottles of oxygen in case of emergency high on the mountain. They also would be carrying a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC, or Gamow Bag). In the event that someone was in serious trouble with AMS, usually the only recourse is quickly evacuate them down the mountain; symptoms usually clear when the person is taken to lower altitude. With the PAC, a victim can be placed inside the bag, which is pumped to higher pressure and simulates the atmosphere at several thousand feet lower in elevation. The PAC can save the life of someone who is in dire trouble, or it can give a climber a chance to recover and not have to abort their climb due to evacuation down the mountain.
Twice each day (morning and evening), they would monitor our blood-oxygen levels and pulse rates to make sure that we were acclimatizing to the increased elevation (and thinner air) as we took our slow climb up the mountain. He showed us the "pulse oximeter," which would clamp onto a finger tip to record the per cent oxygen in our blood and pulse rate. If the oxygen level drops below 70%, he said that it was a bad sign that you were risking altitude sickness. They would also monitor our lungs with a stethoscope to make sure that they were free of fluids. (Fluid in the lungs is a symptom of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema - HAPE, another potential danger of climbing too fast.)
Elias told us that we should try to drink 4 liters of liquids every day. That helps to keep you hydrated in the higher, drier conditions. It also is an important part of helping your body adjust to the altitude (acclimatize). He also urged us all to take diamox, a drug that speeds the acclimatization process. All of us brought diamox (a prescription drug) along with us, but none of us were actually planning to take it. We all nodded politely when he brought up the subject, but didn't really talk about it one way or another. It also turns out that diamox is a diuretic, so one of the consequences of drinking a gallon of water per day and taking a diuretic is that you have to pee all the time. As it turned out, we all eventually ended up doing both (taking the diamox and peeing more than you could believe).
We also learned that we would wear climbing helmets and daisy-chain harnesses for climbing ropes on our climb up the steep Western Breach. He said that they would use the climbing ropes on at least two sections of the Western Breach, although I suspected that the ropes are more for psychological reassurance for the clients than because the climbing risks are severe. (After the climb was over, I still thought that. But, again I'm getting ahead of myself.)
After the briefing, Elias gave us each a sturdy, yellow North Face duffel bag (5,500 cu in). All of our climbing gear (mainly clothes) and sleeping bag were to be packed in the duffel, which would be carried up the mountain by a porter. The Tusker literature warned us that our bag had to weigh 20 lbs, or less. We all worked pretty hard before the trip to meet that limitation. However, in the end they never weighed the bags.
Elias come to each of our rooms to check our gear to make sure that we had enough layers and warm clothing for the trip to the top. I had a couple of quart-size baggies full of Power Bars, trail mix, hard candies, etc. for snacks along the trail. Elias dumped them out on my bed, and started repacking one bag full of the sweets, Power Bars, and Power Gels. I assumed that he was going to tell me to leave the rest of the stuff behind, and not take it up the mountain. Instead, he said "Here, put this whole bag aside just for the Western Breach climb." That definitely made me wonder what had we gotten ourselves into?
The big laugh after all of the bag packing with Elias was the size of Pauline's sleeping bag. She gets cold very easily, and brought a fiber-filled sleeping bag rated for -40o F. There was no way that her sleeping bag was going to fit in the duffel bag that we were issued. Instead, it was always packed and toted in a separate plastic trash bag. The porters and guides got a kick out of her jumbo bag the whole trip. I would have to say that the bag kept her warm every night, even when we were camping at 18,800', so it served her well.
Although Julian was hopeful that Ellen's bag would arrive late that night, he wanted her to be prepared "just in case." Tusker had a large stockpile of extra climbing gear to take care of clients caught in that situation. He gave her duplicates of all her missing items, in case the luggage didn't make it to the hotel before we had to leave. (As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the luggage was not delivered until a few days after we left., and she had to go with the borrowed stuff.)
© Copyright 2005. Michael E. Coltrin, Albuquerque, NM. All rights reserved.