Mark's Kilimanjaro Trip

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Chapter 5: 
Mandara to Horombo Hut

In the morning we all got up early so the porters could collect our things and take them to the next hut. It was sad, really. Every day we would puff up the mountain to the next hut to find our stuff already there. It made me feel less like an adventurer and more like someone who needed help crossing the street. We all rationalized it, of course. "They do this all the time. They're in shape for it because they're used to it." It helped. Really.

After breakfast we shouldered our day packs, grabbed our walking sticks, and headed up the trail to Horombo Hut. Horombo hut was at around 12000 ft. The trail took us out of tree line and into alpine meadow. Some of the prettiest views of the mountain were on that day. The first day you couldn't see much because of all the trees, and above Horombo was very little plant life. I took pictures of plants I had never seen before, dry washes full of rocks, and the cone of Kibo, which we could see after we got out of the trees. (Kibo is the name of the primary cone.)

So many people had walked this trail that its surface was about 10 inches (25 cm) below the rest of the ground. It was very dusty as well. I had a bandanna to pull over my mouth, but it didn't take care of all the dust. Eventually I dropped back from the group I was with to avoid the dust they were kicking up.

At noon we stopped at a picnic table (we all wondered who had carried it up this far) for lunch. The guides carried lunch for us. The sandwiches aren't bad. There's also an outhouse. I guess since the tables are above treeline there's no private place to go.

After lunch I felt a lot better, so I headed out at a strong pace. It felt good to be moving along. I've always thought better moving and having an open trail with no one around really inspires me. I couldn't believe how solitary it was. Every once in awhile I catch site of part of the group in the distance behind me, so I kept moving to preserve the feeling of isolation.

I was tired but happy when I got to Horombo Hut. The camp was much like the other huts, one main dining hall surrounded by smaller huts, a latrine, and other huts for the guides and porters. One big difference was that Horombo is out in the open, no trees around. When I get to camp I realized that I'm more tired than I thought. I have walked too quickly, failing to heed the guides advice of "pole, pole" (PO-le, PO-le). Slowly, slowly. You don't recover as fast at altitude, and 12,000 feet is altitude. That day I got sicker. I looked forward to the rest day, where we will spend the day at Horombo to give us time to acclimate.

One unusual feature of Horombo is a cute A-frame outhouse with a balcony perched over a cliff. It's at the edge of camp, downhill about 200 meters. In two days at Horombo I never went down to take a look. I was too focused on only doing things that would help me get to the top.

The view from Horombo is amazing, though. The ground is so far away it doesn't seem real. You're above the clouds. Here's me posing with the view.

The next day Exhoud (our head guide) suggested we take a day hike to Zebra Rock. Zebra Rock is about 1000 feet higher than Horombo and the exercise will help us acclimate. I decide to go on the hike for two reasons: I'm worried about altitude sickness and I want to do whatever possible to help myself acclimate, and I'm itchy in my two-day-old clothes and can't sit still from anxiety. I figure I'll go insane if I stay in camp. What I really needed was some deep breathing exercises, but I didn't know that at the time.

Anyway, a bunch of us hiked up to Zebra Rock. Zebra Rock is a small, exposed cliff face that is striped black and white like a zebra. Pretty neat. A few members of the group decided to keep hiking uphill so they could see over the ridge. The rest of us thought it was better to conserve strength and headed back to camp.

One of the amazing things at the huts was that you could purchase Coca-Cola and even beer at them. It turned out a coke cost about 80 cents, which is cheaper than where I live in New Jersey. The Coke had to be hand-carried by porters over many miles and up 6000 feet of elevation and it was still cheaper than buying it out of a machine at work. That night in the dining hall was a group of Europeans drinking beer and generally having a good time at one of the tables. One of our party went over to ask them what it had been like getting to the summit. It turned out they were still on their way up! What we thought was a celebration was just another evening to them. As far as I know, the alcohol didn't slow them down any. Most of them made the top. Just used to it, I guess.

I found that my mood and physical well-being would go up when the sun was out and down when it went behind a cloud. At 12000 feet the air is thin and temperatures change quickly. If the sun was out, you could take your coat off and bask. If it was hidden you had to bundle against the chill of the wind. The view was spectacular either way. We were several hundred feet above the clouds, which made things a little unreal. Blue sky above, cloud cover below. At one point a big cloud floated right into the mountain below us and started to flow uphill through the scrub and grass toward the camp. It eventually covered the whole area, making the air damp and the light dim, just like in a fog.

I was really sick by then. If I'd been home, I'd have taken a sick day. Someone in the group gave me a hot water cold remedy, which made me feel much better, for awhile.

I and most of the rest of the group started taking Diamox at Horombo. With the decreased air pressure, fluids are not forced down out of the skull like they are at sea level, so pressure builds up. You get a serious headache, and a few people get brain aneurysms. Diamox is a diuretic. Not long after you take it, you have to go to the bathroom and Boy, you are absolutely amazed at how much water drains out of you. "Pissed like a racehorse" is a phrase frequently heard after someone takes Diamox.

We were now ready to head for higher altitudes.
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