Friday, September 9, 2016

Stage Four: Great News from On High

A huge sigh of relief early this morning when Randy called to tell me Alex had slept 11 hours and woke up a new person. In Alex's words, he did a "full 180". I am not a huge worrier by nature, but I know any mothers out there can understand that at least at some point I did consider the possibility he'd be so dehydrated he'd need to be airlifted for medical attention somewhere.  And God knows where that "somewhere" would be. So crisis averted.

After a light dinner last night, Alex said he was going to read in the tent around 7:15pm.  Two minutes later he was sound asleep and didn't budge for 11 hours. Cheers to the amazing ability of the young to sleep so soundly for so long! In this case, the restorative rest (and Cipro) did the trick.  He even slept through the porters bringing their nightly hot water bottles for their sleeping bags.  This expedition really IS cushy as Randy says, isn' it?  Randy decided not to wake Alex up, which was a good thing in that Alex slept just fine without feet warmers, and Randy, not one to waste a hot water bottle, had extra toasty toes!

The team had planned a leisurely start today to allow hundreds of porters and some other teams to negotiate the narrow ledges of the Barranco wall ahead of them. Previous days they'd been rising at a brisk 6:30am for a 7am breakfast.  So they appreciated the sun already shining for their 8:30am wake up call, and they enjoyed their breakfast in it's warm glow. They then headed up to face the infamous 900 foot lava wall which takes about two hours to ascend. All the teammates nailed it!

I don't have any of the actual teams' pictures yet, but I found many pictures online of the Barranco Wall to give us a sense of what they were dealing with.   The first two are picture of the Barranco Camp where they slept last night, in the shadow of the Barranco Wall.

These next pictures are of prior teams scrambling up the wall.  Two things are clear as I look at these pictures.  One, I see why they wanted to wait till others went up first and cleared out of the way.  Two, there are some areas that would certainly catch one's attention.

I spoke at length with Randy, Alex, and Paula after their wall climb today, and I'll summarize their descriptions:

You are climbing up this wall with a big backpack, hanging on with two hands to these knobby volcanic rocks.  You just can't look down or you can psych yourself out. The guides took our poles so we could use our hands to hold on.  Some parts were straightforward and there were a lot of good handholds. Then there were definitely a couple tricky places where you had to do it right; you just didn't want to fall in those areas, lots of exposure. Definitely scary in those couple spots, but then the guides would be right there telling you exactly where to put your hands and your feet so you just followed and did exactly what they told you. The crazy thing is that sometimes porters would run by us balancing big loads on their heads and pass up by stepping around on the sketchiest parts.  

Alex's summary:  Sometimes a little outside your comfort zone, but it was a blast!
Randy's:  Well you didn't want to fall, but it was awesome. You would have loved it! (seriously?)
Paula's:  It was a little scary - I just kept looking ahead and not down!

Our Delaware contingent did so well, as did the rest of the team.  After scaling the wall, and I'm sure catching their breath, they hiked down into the Karanga Valley and then up the other side.  This very steep descent and ascent was also demanding as they negotiated the hairpin switchbacks to arrive at their home for tonight: Karanga Camp at 13,100 ft.

Stats for today: (courtesy of Randy the stat man)
3.66 miles
4 hours 42 minutes
Vertical Ascent: 1394'
Vertical Descent: 1151'
Average grade at final ascent:  30%

Other news from today:

  • The weather continues to bless them; it's been spectacular, the whole time between 50 and 70 degrees while climbing. Today there is not a cloud in the sky. Even the usual cloud layer below them at 10,000 is gone so they can see as far as the eye can see in every direction -- all the mountains and volcanos around them, the enormous bulk of the summit above them, and even some of the remote towns far in the distance.  Alex says they never stop gazing and marveling at the view, day and night. The night sky sounds magnificent with shooting stars, thousands of constellations, the Milky Way, and the Northern lights. And of course the glacier-capped Kibo is sparkling above them.
  • Dan Barr is totally unplugged for the first time in many years. Anyone that knows Dan and how much he cares about his business and clients knows that even on vacation, on Block Island, even hiking in remote areas on the Appalachian Trail with sketchy service, he always at least tries to check email and texts. And of course, he is always checking to see if any messages from his kids, especially having had his eldest Patrick off on his Navy Seal deployments. But now he can't check; he's unplugged - there's no internet at 13,000 feet. So what's the one thing he asks me when I was talking to Paula and he knew I was by my computer?  Yup, the Met's wild card berth.  Some things never change. (By the way, they are in second.)
  • Speaking of doing your business (bad joke), I know everyone is interested in the bathroom issue.  I got the full scoop today, or should I say the poop? Another bad joke. Anyway, I know at least Paula was wondering about this whole thing beforehand and she reports that the port-o-johns are great! Believe it or not, a couple of porters carry a private toilet and a toilet tent just for their crew, and keep it clean and sanitary. Those porters must have drawn the short straw, but it is certainly well appreciated. Their other option is the "long-drop" public toilet at each campsite (pictured below). This is just a very deep hole in the ground lined with concrete with a wooden shack above it.  As Alex says, it doesn't matter how deep those holes are, those things stink. 

Option B: The Long Drop Kilimanjaro Toilet

  • The hardest part, according to Paula, is the grime of the camping, not the climbing. She's so shocked that she is doing as well as she is on the hiking and still so excited to be there. But she said they are filthy dirty, and it's impossible to get clean. There's dirt all on all their clothes and packs, all over them, even under her nails which she broke climbing the Barranco Wall.  She said it's gross and she can't wait to take a shower, but she just sticks on her baseball cap and deals with it. I don't think we are going to see the beautiful glamour shots that we saw from Lisa Sylvester from her hike in Grand Canyon! Speaking of beautiful, Caroline is doing great as well and Paula and Dan love having her there.  Caroline sometimes listens to books on tape as she hikes along, very calm, very strong and steady.  Alex calls her a "stud" hiker!  Besides some headaches, none of them are experiencing significant altitude issues. Those three Barrs are pretty impressive; they sound dirty and gross, but they are still impressive!
  • Randy's knee is amazing all of us.  Alex said Randy's knee is competing with his own miraculous stomach recovery to be the MVP of the trip. Randy is strong and tough and always climbs well, but sometimes descends slowly because of his bad knee.  But on this trip, he's descending well also, moving at a good pace, keeping up with the young bucks, and feeling better than ever. Neither Randy nor Alex have experienced any altitude problems, not even a headache so let's hope that continues as they push for the summit. Somehow facing this debilitating stomach issue has deepened Alex's appreciation of what he's experiencing. Not that he would have wished for that, but he says he is so grateful that he is able to continue since he did not expect to, is incredibly thankful to Randy for his critical assistance, and just very happy to still be part of the team aiming for the summit. 

At lunch today, head guide Mark told them "tomorrow is the start of the summit push". Tonight will be their last sleep at what will seem to be a relatively civilized 13,000 feet, and tomorrow they get up early and start heading straight up into the land of meager air.  They will stop around noon at the Barafu Hut at 15,223 feet, eat lunch, and basically try to rest as much as possible.  They'll get their backpacks ready for the BIG summit push, eat a little dinner and try to grab an hour or two of sleep.  They will bundle up in all the warm clothes they have, leave camp around 10:30pm tomorrow night (Saturday), hike the whole way up in the dark with headlamps, and hope to be on the summit for the sunrise Sunday by 5:30 to 6:30AM. What an amazing experience and a fitting way to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of 9/11!
This means that if all goes as planned, with the 7 hour time difference, they could be summiting at 10:30 to 11:30pm Eastern time tomorrow (Saturday).  Then they'll hike all the way down to 10,000 feet, about another 4 - 6 hours.

To Paula's three great boys, Patrick, Austin, and Brian: Paula says she loves you and she can't wait to see you guys and share her stories and pictures with you.

To those following the blog and sending me texts and emails: I've been sharing your encouragements with them, and Randy, Alex, Dan, Paula, and Caroline all appreciate your support.

Now let's all send our very best to them to stay safe and strong, and mostly to get their butts up to that summit (pictured below) so they can come back and we can celebrate. What they've accomplished so far is extraordinary; summiting would be icing on the cake, and it even looks like icing on the cake! Leave comments for the team and I'll pass them on, just click on the comments button below and it should be straightforward.    Cheers! Judy

Their goal: the highest point in Africa, 19,341 feet!


vvoros said...

Ok I will try this again !!!! Thanks for the great update. Glad to know Paula etc are all doing well.

Lori Trainer said...

So so incredibly impressed with all of you! I'm with you every step of the way! Shoot for the top Team Delaware! xoxo

Lori Trainer said...

And kudos to Judy for the amazing blog! We all appreciate the updates so much, and I'm so glad she didn't go because who would update is on these climbs?