Day 3, Monday (am) : Shira Cave Camp to Lava Tower (4,600m)
Another 6am start and another welcome hot cup of coffee made outside the door of the tent by one of our kind porters. I slept for six hours last night and despite feeling rested and well, I awake with my emotions in turmoil.
I think the reality of this whole experience has finally started to kick in. The journey up to now has been a very practical and physical one – training, fundraising, preparing, shopping and organising for it.
But really, for ten months, it has been on my mind…
I’m facing fears by doing it on my own and there are lots of worries that, by now, I’m realising I don’t have to waste energy on anymore (port-a-loos instead of long drop toilets being one of them, even if they are mostly blocked, leaking and grim!). It really isn’t as bad as I thought it would be (so far) and I have met 26 awesome new friends. I feel incredibly lucky to be experiencing this journey with them – they are all up for a laugh, kind and friendly and we are looking out for each other every step of the way.
Thoughts of Rosie are on my mind (as always) and the desperation to help find a cure for her Muscular Dystrophy. We’ve been supported beyond belief by family, friends, colleagues and strangers and I am nearing the £10,000 fundraising target I’d set ten months earlier. The sense of relief and pride overwhelms me as I realise I’m so close to achieving what I set out to do all those months ago. It is happening. I’m doing it. I’m almost there.
Looking around at the incredible views with the sight of the summit overshadowing our every step, I can’t believe I am actually here. For the first time I feel relaxed, trying to breathe it all in and study the landscape with the hope it would never fade from my memory. I appreciate I am lucky to be here and feel blessed, connected, loved and joy.
I am at one … but little did I know it was about to change.
Setting off from camp early morning
The summit was a beautiful beacon as we left camp at 7:30 am. We’re so near, yet still so far.
We make our way towards the summit, trekking over moorland. We are on our way to Lava Tower, a 4 1/2 hour trek away and another 1,050m higher. Today is a day for acclimatisation – we trek really high relatively quickly (to Lava Tower at 4,600m) and then come back down on a two hour trek to Baranco Camp, which is only 150m higher than the height of Shira Cave Camp we were at last night.
A couple of hours in I start to get a headache. The sun is shining and I imagine I need to drink more water, apply sun tan cream, eat another snickers and stock up on paracetamol.
Ten minutes later, no change.
Twenty minutes – nothing.
Thirty minutes – getting worse and I’m starting to worry.
My head is pounding. I continue to walk wishing for something I’ve tried to take a positive effect. With every step my head thuds. The higher I walk the more I feel the pressure behind my eyes. I actually think my eyes will just combust – I’ve convinced myself it’s a matter of WHEN they will explode rather than IF they will.
Emma, Gemma (who’s glasses look comedy!) and me (struggling).
I sit for a while with my head in my hands (and poles!) and the tears begin to flow. I know that if I feel like this now on day three, how would I make it a further 2,000m higher to the summit over the next two days? It dawned on me that I was in the middle of nowhere, struggling with limited options.
Lava Tower was still an hour away and every step was taking me higher. It was the first time I started to doubt whether I could actually do this.
The saving grace came from my wonderful camp mates and the porters, I wasn’t great conversation but listening to others helped me to take me mind off the pain. Everyone continued to tell me that as soon as we reached Lava Tower, rest, and eat, we’ll be on our way down again and everything will get better. Their logic made sense and I tried to focus on that.
L to R: Emma, Gemma, me (trying to put a brave face on it) and Bex
I was one of the last to arrive at Lava Tower. I tried to force down a slice of pizza and a coffee and just had to walk off and take a moment. I knew I was bringing others down by my pained look and that it wasn’t helpful to anyone. I needed some space to breathe.
Lunch – pizza and chips!
I tried to pull myself together but there was no escape. I couldn’t lie down and sleep. I couldn’t put a hot press over my eyes to help relieve the pressure, and turning around and going home wasn’t even an option.
The tears came again.
I feel sad looking back now that I wasn’t able to appreciate today and get involved. I was withdrawn, miserable and not very good company. A few days later I learnt that the majority of people had felt crap, but they seemed to handle it a bit better than I did!
We were at 4,600m AMSL. For the next couple of hours we would be heading down and over the course of the following two days work our way back up to this height again and higher.
We didn’t have long to rest at Lava Tower before the group were congregating ready for the second part of the day. The two hour trek downhill to Baranco Camp.
Monday (pm) : Lava Tower to Baranco Camp (3,900m)
The fog continued to set in as we made our way to Baranco Camp.
The path was rocky, tricky, steep at times and tough on the knees.
The views from Lava Tower are apparently awesome – but the weather wasn’t quite on our side! Today’s trek was long and arduous. I hung back with Kev, Alisa and a couple of guides who always make sure no-one is left behind and I just took my time.
We passed the most beautiful waterfall and admired the landscape. The path seemed to go on forever.
As we neared camp a few people had huddled together off the beaten path and were on their phones. They’d found a signal and were able to call home and send and receive messages.
I got my phone out, held it to the sky, turned it off and back on again and desperately changed any setting I could think of that might make it work. But there was nothing. No messages. No signal. Nothing.
My heart sank. I just wanted to know that Rosie and Iain were OK and to let them know I was OK. The guides suggested we move on, camp was nearby and we could get signal there.
The views from Baranco Camp were amazing. The summit was closer and more majestic-looking than ever. I felt absolutely horrendous and like I’d been inflated like a balloon. I was feeling the pressure in every sense of the word.
During dinner I asked Commander Ken if this was altitude sickness. He looked at me with a complete sense of disbelief and after a few seconds said something along the lines of; “This is nothing and you need to toughen up”. I was actually taken aback. Looking back now I was just looking for a little bit of sympathy, to be told I was going to be OK and a hug! I took the message and felt sorry for myself having still not had the opportunity to get through to Iain and Rosie.
My phone network had let me down – big time, but my wonderful tent buddy, Emma, let me borrow her phone and despite a few frustrating silent calls, I was finally able to connect after dinner around 8pm our time (6pm UK time). Rosie and Iain were both fine and they knew that I was still alive! Hearing Rosie’s cute voice and learning that she’d made a donation to take me over the £10k target (total including gift aid) was the most unbelievable feeling in the world! THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who donated and helped me to reach this target – WOW!
I took on board Commander Ken’s comments, knew everything was OK at home and despite still feeling crap, went to bed with a different perspective. I only had a few days left of the trip and I wanted to make the most of it. Iain, Rosie and Emma had lifted me and Commander Ken’s tough words had been loud and clear…
STOP BEING A GIRL, MAN UP, AND LET’S DO THIS!
I had a goal to achieve.