Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stage Two: Scrambling up to Shira Camp

Since Randy and Alex keep raving about the stunning views of the various peaks, I thought a little geography might help orient us.

Kilimanjaro is composed of three volcanic cones; Kibo (the highest at 19, 341) flanked by Mawenzi (16.8K) and Shira (13K).  So as the team is working through the rainforest and lava fields en route to the highest point, they are treated to amazing vistas of all three cones, as well as Mt. Meru, a 16K volcano in the distance.  They've been heading towards Shira and tomorrow will start winding towards their ultimate goal, the glacier-capped summit of Kibo, known as the roof of Africa.

As the climbers are now above the sea of clouds at 9,000 feet, and the weather has been crystal clear, they've been treated to astounding views of these gigantic peaks jutting up from this vast cloud layer.  Alex said Kibo is so enormous and overwhelming it's hard to describe. In his words, "It's gorgeous, impressive, spectacular, and intimidating!"  I'm sure he's voicing the feelings of all the teammates when he says it's hard to imagine they are actually going to climb to the top of that imposing giant. This is truly a difficult challenge, not to be underestimated.

I spoke with both Randy and Alex after their climb today.  Once again Mother Nature was kind to them, and the weather was a beautifully sunny, clear, warm 60 degrees.  They climbed in shorts again and were glad as today's 6 hour, 3.8 miles and 2700 vertical feet endeavor did work up a sweat. Their day started out fairly easy, looping through trees and scrub with many clearings offering phenomenal views of Kibo and Meru.  At one point, the trail arrived at the foot of a fairly imposing lava wall, known as the Shira Wall, which had surprisingly not been anticipated by the hikers. There is always a lot of talk about the imposing Barranco Wall on Day 4 which I'm sure we will hear about, but this little obstacle was, per Randy, sort of a "Holy Sh#*!" surprise. Maybe the mountaineering companies keep some of this to themselves so they don't scare everyone off!  Randy said the whole team, after getting their bearings, did great as they carefully negotiated their way up the rocks, aided by their fearless guides. There were some tricky parts of this ascent where the climbers had to basically hug the rock wall as they moved along because of the steep fall offs. At these precarious points, the guides made what Randy and Alex called a "human wall", basically standing on the very edge of these drop-offs actings almost as a guardrail for any anxious hikers. Alex said these guys were balancing "on the very edge, even over the edge on a rock's edge, in the worst position anyone would ever want to be!" Wow. Randy compared parts of the Shira Wall to Old Rag, a well-known rock scramble in Shenandoah that Randy, Alex,  Dan, Paula and I have all done.  Randy is so funny.  He tells me how challenging it was, how tricky in places, then ends with, "You would love it."  You gotta love Randy's enthusiasm! Paula and Randy climbed next to each other. Randy said Paula was a little nervous at first, like everyone else, but did great and was really excited and energized after.  Yay Paula, cheers for the oldest woman in the group! In the end, everyone actually loved the scramble and felt vigorous after conquering it.

The Christofferson boys slept well last night, are hydrating well, and are looking out for each other, helping each other with their backpacks and anything else they need. Randy said Alex is always upbeat, cracking jokes, and getting along well with the teammates, playing cards this afternoon with some of the younger crew. They both are a bit in awe at the high level of service from the outstanding local support staff. The locals do so much to make things comfortable for them -- bring hot water to their tents so they can wash their very dirty feet, provide glass plates and silverware at their dinners, they even have their own eating tent and own port-o-potty (thank God Paula) for the 11 of them. Randy says it's "cushy" compared to other expeditions he's been on, but he's certainly enjoying all this support. Shira camp (pictured below from previous expeditions on the RMI website) is still sparse and dirty, but a bit more spread out than their previous Machame camp so not quite as dusty. There were once again about 300 people there; it's quite the operation.

I did not get to speak to Paula today since the reception was so poor, but Randy said the three Barrs were all really getting into the expedition, very focused, doing great with the physical challenges, and really enjoying those indescribable views. As we spoke, he said Dan and Paula were heading off for a walk from camp, I'm sure to check out the beauty God has created.  What a fabulous way to celebrate their 30th anniversary!

A few things of note from today and a couple concerns as they move on:
  • Eric, the oldest of the group at a remarkable 72 years of age, had a bit of a rough day.  It sounds like the combination of his eye getting quite irritated and perhaps a bit of the higher altitude caused him to fall behind. So at one point Mark, the head guide, had the rest of the team wait for a about half an hour so he could go back and assist Eric. Of course Mark picked an amazingly gorgeous place for the team to rest, so they all just chilled out, sending full support and encouragement to Eric. Randy in particular, knows what it's like to be a little slower than the rest of the pack. "I can relate; I've been there."  I'm sure he is very helpful to Eric in keeping him motivated and encouraged. Eric is planning to give it a go tomorrow and see what the day brings.
  • Alex, although feeling very strong climbing-wise, loving the views, and having fun with the other climbers, had a few stomach issues today. He's always had a sensitive digestive system and, as his older brother Anders warned him, Kili is notorious for people getting sick stomachs. So unfortunately we thought this might be an issue. He's popping some Immodium and eating as bland a diet as possible, so we're very hopeful he feels better in the morning and can endure their challenging day. He's got a great attitude about it. As he says, "I never expected 10 out of 10 things to go perfectly.  So my stomach is my issue, and I'll just hope the medicine does the trick."  I know it's a bummer for him to feel nauseous and have an upset stomach, so I really hope this gets under control and won't feel compromised heading to those higher altitudes.
  • Tonight will be a test as they sleep with 1/3 less oxygen than last night.  Some of them were feeling a few affects of altitude. I know Dan had a bit of a headache, which is quite normal.  I'm sure many of them won't sleep as soundly at this level and there will be other headaches, but that's why they move at a conservative pace and allow everyone to acclimate. Hopefully an afternoon and night of rest, some good food, and just the simple passage of time will help ease the transition for all.
  • Tomorrow is a tough day, a real "test" as Randy calls it, as they head up to a challenging 15,200 then back down some steep terrain to sleep at 13,000.  This is the "climb high, sleep low" protocol that greatly aids in the acclimatization process. If they are blessed with a clear day, the views are reputed to be staggering. Let's hope all stomach, eye, headache, etc issues are under control, and the team has a successful hike tomorrow. I imagine 15,200 is higher than many of this team have ever been, so this will be an altitude record for quite a few of them.
Below is a picture that their guide posted on the RMI website.  Cheers till tomorrow team!  Prayers for all of you! 

1 comment:

jlchristofferson74 said...

So proud of you guys! And all of Team Delaware! You guys are rock stars! Sending lots of love and keeping you guys in my thoughts! Love, Jen