The plan was to be picked up at 8:30am, dressed and ready to go. Gulp.
The breakfast buffet at Rivertrees was scrumptious. I couldn’t get enough of the passion fruit juice or the powder sugarcoated pancakes. And hey, since I’d been instructed to eat as many carbs as I could pack in over the next few days, I kept at it until my ride came.
Butterflies do not begin to describe the anxiety I was experiencing. Bats, maybe.
At the Macheme Gate, The Hottie Driver kept me company while Frank did the final gear checks and paperwork. Then, it was go time. For me, and my team of twelve.
I hoisted my daypack on my back, and we started out.
About an hour into the walk, I had to pee. I tried to hold it, but it was hard. The side effect of the altitude sickness meds was that it’s a diuretic, which didn’t pair well with all those liquids I was drinking. Finally, when I was about to burst, I asked Frank where I should go.
He looked for a spot that was safe, that couldn’t be seen from the trail, and where my pee wouldn’t mix with water someone may use to drink.
“Umm,” I said, four minutes later when he was still looking. “I don’t care about safe or visible any more. I have to go NOW.”
He laughed and found me a spot. When I climbed back onto the trail, he made me promise to always give him a ten-minute warning.
Our crew set up a table right next to a waterfall for Frank and I to have lunch. The rest of the gents were relaxing in the shade on the ground. Frank explained that for the first day we had a cold lunch, but for the rest of the days we would have a properly cooked meal. The lunch looked pretty proper to me, with sandwiches of ham, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots. Plus fruit and cookies. PLUS a hot water-based beverage buffet of coffee, tea, and milo and hot chocolate.
After a few more hours of walking, we arrived at camp. Frank showed me where my orange and grey tent was, and where the bright orange mess tent was. My tent had a three-inch foam mattress, pillow, and fleece sheet. And they’d already delivered my duffle and a sub-freezing sleeping bag.
They also set up my own personal sky blue toilet tent that had a pump camping toilet. Not too shabby – who knew trekking up one of the highest mountains on Earth would be so ritzy?
After storing my daypack in my tent, I change into my camp outfit: fleece pants, hot pink waffle PJ top my sister gave me for Christmas, down parka, thermal hat, wool socks, and running shoes. While changing (body part, by body part, by body part, because it is too cold to get naked), I used the bathing wipes I brought with me to clean up. Then I reported to the mess tent for afternoon tea, which consisted of the hot drinks, plus a snack. On this first day, the snack was popcorn. But I learned it would vary on the other days and could be roasted cashews, roasted peanuts, cookies, and other yummy things packed with calories. Frank checked my water supplies, and praised me for drinking most of the prescribed liters.
When Frank and I returned from our post-tea hike, the camp manager, Andrea, brought me a bowl of hot water and a bar of soap so I could wash up in my tent. They actually offered to compose some kind of shower for me, but the thought of being naked and wet in the cold temperatures was not the slightest bit tempting.
Dinner included a starter, soup, main dish, and a side. The first day it was diced cucumber on bread with olive oil; then potato leek soup; followed by pepper steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. And, of course, the drink buffet. I couldn’t believe how much food there was, and how tasty it was!
“This isn’t even the best you’ll eat. Weren’t you wondering how I can be a guide for this climbing and still have this?”, Frank asked, rubbing his belly. I had been curious, but it all made sense to me now. He eats like a king.
“The hot lunches all start with a soup, too. Cream of chicken, French onion, carrot ginger, cream of tomato, potato leek, bacon chive. And then there is a pasta with a different type of sauce each day. And fruit for dessert. But you only get dessert after you drink enough water and eat enough food,” he joked.
“What are the other dinners gonna be like?” I asked. I was stuffed to the brim now. I couldn’t possibly keep eating at this rate. But Frank was with me at every meal, so I had no choice. I was wondering what it was I’d be forcing into my belly.
“There’s chicken and tilapia, and steak, like tonight,” he answered. I found myself rubbing my belly like Frank was.
When we finished for the night, I unzipped the mess tent flap to head back to my tent, only to be greeted with pitch black and a rush of freezing cold air. When he realized I’d left my headlamp and my flashlight in my tent, Frank gave me a short lecture about always having them with me, and escorted me to my tent.
Inside my tent it was cold and damp, but not freezing. I took off my running shoes and parka, and slid into my sleeping bag. Nirvana. I wrote in my journal for a while. As I turned off my headlamp, I realized that I was all alone in a tent on the side of the mountain. I had never camped before, especially not alone. This was a little scary.
Then, I had to pee. I donned my headlamp, put on my shoes and parka, unzipped my tent, and quickly zipped it back up. Holy Cow it was cold! And the thought of walking to my bathroom tent alone was even scarier, even with my flashlight. I decided I could hold it until morning, and zipped myself back into my sleeping back.
Five minutes later, I realized holding it simply wasn’t an option. The “middle-of-the-night pee process” on a Mount Kilimanjaro trek went something like…
Unzipped the bag, put on my shoes, parka and wool cap, headlamp on top of the cap; unzipped the tent; re-zipped the tent behind me so no critters found their way inside seeking warmth; scurried to the bathroom tent; unzipped the tent; zipped it closed behind me; peed; “flushed” the toilet by pumping it; unzipped the flap; re-zipped the flap; hurried back to my tent over rocks and branches; unzipped my flap; climbed in; re-zipped my flap; took off my shoes, headlamp, cap, parka; climbed into my bag and re-zipped it.
It was absolutely freezing on the mountain. Below freezing. Everything outside the tent was frozen. Everything inside the tent was damp and very cold. Everything in my sleeping bag was wonderfully warm. That was the only place to be!
Two hours later when I woke up needing to pee again, I willed myself to hold it until morning. And if for some reason my body disagreed, at least pee is warm..
Stay tuned to Part IV for the climb…