Kilimanjaro 3, by Roman
Trip Start Jun 07, 2011
203Trip End Jun 13, 2012
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Day 4: The Longest Day
Future celebrity, this signature will be worth millions… I glance one last time at the triangle formed by our scribbles on the ceiling of our room, the first door on the right of Kibo Hut, the foot of the volcano: Our last words before the summit. Outside, a nocturnal wind howls, and the toilettes are shattered with diarrhoea and vomit shrapnel. At 4700 metres, most have a lot of trouble holding their stomach; it's hard to simply feel good. Already, since Horombo, Tristan has practically consumed all our paracetamols for headaches that have been eating away on him. Around me, the walls, and the twelve beds of the dorm are covered with engravings of past mountaineers: Whoever encourages you to climb Kibo is crazy… or over there, the sketch of a hikers skull on fire, swollen eyes screaming, Altitude Headache! These are my favourites, with, Go till you puke… I realise that there isn’t really any positive scratched on the walls or bed frames. My watch, nuzzled in my inside pant pocket (presently, I’m wearing two pairs of pants, jeans and sweat, and cotton shorts) next to the camera battery and my flashlight, reads 22:30, but I’m relieved to be up. Since dusk, 18:00, everyone is in bed, but I haven’t been able to sleep a wink. Since 18:00, my mind flickers and my legs struggle to free themselves from the prison that seize them: my sleeping bag, my socks and wool socks, the batteries I keep warm in my pocket. A hundred times I imagine the best way to undress at the summit. I picture myself, suffocating in layers of clothes: first I’ll unfasten the zippers, coat, jacket, hoodie; take 'em off. Then my tuke... no, my second sweater. Agh. Not possible, I have to take my bonnet off first, otherwise I won’t be able to remove the inner-layers: jumper, t-shirt and tank top. Okay, I take off my tuke, my scarf, my sunglasses. Now for the rest, pullover, and shirts. I can envision in my head a pinnacle of fresh snow bathed in the rising sun over Kibo. Half naked, I jump up on the top, and as fast as I can I undo my belt and pull down the whole works, three pants and all… No, first I take Business Lion in my hand, jump up on the miniature glacier, take down my pants, underwear… I can bear this sleeping bag any longer; my legs need to move, to take a walk. I keep my boots. It still counts, even if my boots are on. I’ll be naked from the ankles up. It’ll be cold, so I’ll make sure that she’ll be watching and that Tristan has the camera ready. I can imagine so vividly the sun reflecting off the snow, the glacial wind freezing my hair behind my head. With one hand I point to the heavens in the posture of a Greek god, with the other, I hold the little stuffed lion before my crotch, shrunk in the cold. I count to ten before slipping the peeled layers, strategically removed, back on…. It’ll work. But will she want to do it? No… I won’t force her. I’ll ask her to kiss me on the cheek as a sign of capitulation. Nah, I’ll simply say, kiss me… whatev’ we’ll see. Okay, let’s go through this…
‘Roman, where’s the Tylenol?’ Tristan surprises me in mid-thought.
‘It’s paracetamol!’ I answer, pulling out the package containing the tablets. We’re almost empty, I remark. (After all the times he’s asked, by our descent, Tristan had memorized the name: pa-ra-cet-a-mol and had stopped soliciting me for a thousand other drugs that we didn’t have! Tylenol, Gravel, Aspirine, ‘those things for my head’…)
In the dark, lightly cracking through the wind, Fabyan lights his glow stick that gradually burns in a lava-red hue. He smiles, his teeth toned ruby in the light of the stick, and for a moment, I think he’s forgotten the pains in his stomach. Since breakfast (that happened less than two hours before midnight …if that can still be considered breakfast!) I’m the only brother still feeling fine.
Still grinning he shines, ‘Now I’m ready…’
‘Do you have your gloves Fab?’ interrupts Tristan, so inflated in layers, he reminds me of the Michelin Man.
‘Uhhh… Yeah. Well, one of them.’
‘What? Are you nuts? You’re not going up there with only one glove!’
‘But I’ve never had two…’
‘Fabyan!’ Tristan is excited; I sense his trouble hiding in the fear we have all swallowed down our throats: what if we don’t make it.
Whilst our guide, has left to search for a glove for the goofball brother, Beliz steps out of Kibo Hut to some here last fag before the final struggle. She smiles at me. I find her attractive. She’s beautiful, but it’s the way she has of looking at me that surrenders my pride. Jelly Belly back from his hunt, we are ready to hit the road… path Roman, there are no roads at this altitude.
‘See you at the top,’ I whisper with the wink of an eye before turning towards Fabyan slipping on his new gloves.
It has begun.
Single file, we trail behind the guide. Still feeling fine, I place myself at the back for support, just in front of the assistant guide. I follow Fabyan’s inconsistent footsteps, as he attempts to mark those of Tristan. A velvet-felt punctured with trillions of little needle holed lights covers the sky, and for this, I’m disappointed that we need to carry flashlights. Personally, I’ve turned mine off in an attempt to make the most of the stars.
‘Fabyan, what’s your problem?’ questions Tristan while our brother has just stopped, turned around and lain himself flat on the inclined path.
‘My stomach hurts.’
I fear the worst. Standing, waiting for him to get back up, a first group passes us, then a second. We need to keep moving. Still another group. Slowly, the long line of torches that snailed behind us, seems to be filtering before our eyes, and fading above.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you,’ sends out a voice behind the blinding light of a headlamp. I recognize the encouraging tone of Beliz’s voice. He voice, that I find always encouraging and cheerful.’ For a moment, my heart swallows itself as I watch them disappear in the darkness that precedes us. I almost want to run ahead and join them, but I push the thought away; we’ve come as one, amongst brothers, and even if it’s going to take us longer, and we’ll have to fight my brothers’ altitude sicknesses, we will make it together. Go till you puke said the wall.
The trail is long, but I try to content myself that slowly, my bag empties itself of the six of seven litres of water that I carry; I’m the only one of us three that has a pack. Our breaks are frequent, but only because Fabyan is starting to have the urge to throw up. (I’m starting to believe as Tristan joked, ‘They make us climb at night so that it avoids us knowing what the hell we are doing!)
‘Come on Fab, grab onto me, we’ll make it together.’ With one hand, I grab my brother by the waist, and with the other, I hold his glove. His gaze is undefined, and he practically drags his feet. ‘Look, five thousand metres!’ I exclaim as we trudge past the gloomy graving carved into the face of a boulder that protrudes in the zigzagging pas we follow. If at Kibo Hut, I had clearly announced that I felt like a million dollars, now, I feel barely like 1 000 000 Tsh (the Tanzanian shilling… isn’t worth much to summarize the image.)
‘You hear that?’ enquires Tristan.
‘What…’ I hamper the motion of my tongue to the discomforting sound of regurgitation. Delicately, with every step, the odour harpoons us with its sting. We have entered Vomit Valley, baptized by my brother, and embellished by the other. I presently have trouble believe I ever did feel good. Many of the climbers that had past us, we find on the side of the trail, bent over, purging their stomachs; whether it be via the mouth, or other exit, the path is a long trail of human waste. Behind every rock, at ever bend; an ailing hiker is present or his desecrations inherit its place in the valley. Now it’s Fabyan’s turn. I clutch my arm around him to prevent him from falling, ‘It’ll be okay, man. It’ll be fine… (I’m not at all so convinced.)’
‘Hurry up Fabyan’ hollers Tristan, already a fair ways ahead of us, ‘vomit, and then you’ll feel ten times better.’
‘Uh! I’m trying!’ retorts Fabyan who is now really not well.
‘Tristan, give him a break, it’s not funny at all what he has…’ At this moment, trying to reassure my little brother that everything will be all right, I wonder to myself what on Earth we are doing on this mountain.
‘Stop rubbing my stomach,’ grunts Fabyan, between two vomits, ‘it isn’t helping.’
‘Sorry… I…’ I feel the nausea ease its way to me. Fabyan catapults the two litres of water we pushed him to drink. During the past three days we’ve been walking, Tristan incessantly reminds us to drink; water is the medicine of the mountain, hence tonight, if it could have cured my brother… only he seems to have just barfed it all back out!
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