Don’t panic, it’s only altitude sickness…

155145_10151194408131421_1953270101_n‘Don’t panic or throw up again, please!’ the words echoed through my brain so loudly as my face rested upon my hands.  I had made it but my body was not happy.  Where was the joy and freedom I thought I would find?  Altitude sickness had all but washed away any senses I had.

It started with an idea.  ‘Climb Kilimanjaro (Kili)’ said the idea, ‘you will have a ball’ said the idea.  Seated just a few meters from the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro at 5895m there was no emotions that portrayed happiness.  I’d vomited at least 30 times during the summit and I was trying not to have a panic attack.

I ended up having two rather scary panic attacks!

My ‘Life List’ for the year of 2012 included climbing Kilimanjaro, so I managed to rope in a friend, then my younger brother.  Planning was going smoothly.  We booked the trip for September 2012, through British company, The Adventure Company.   My mother and I had explored Egypt and Jordan the year before with The Adventure Company and I respected that they used local tour groups to support the local communities.  My mother (aged 58 at the time) decided to join the trip as well as she loved Africa.

Prior to my mother joining the group I had already booked the route.  Reading the different routes that I could take of course my head said do the hardest one.  The Machame Route is arguably the most challenging option with longer and steeper climbs but having recently gone through some emotional troubles I want to push myself out of my comfort zone.  Plus I was fit, wasn’t I?
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The first day was a slow and gentle ‘walk’ through rainforest and then just before camping for the evening into heather moorland.  The changes in scenery were magical, so far the trip was just what I expected.  Day two was filled with heather plants, deep gorges and spending hours walking with my little brother.  My friend was well ahead (he was fit) and my mother was taking it ‘puli puli’ or slow slow.  It was a pleasure to be with my family.
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The first bout of altitude sickness soon came to kick my attitude into line!

Throwing up after having a headache for a couple of hours made me feel better and I push aside thoughts of altitude sickness due to the rather unpleasant sausages we’d had for breakfast 8 hours earlier that came up still in tack.  I hope you didn’t go visual then.

I managed not to feel too bad; despite having to be sick every couple of hours, as we climbed to Lava Tower at 4600m to have lunch before a descent for the evening.  ‘Climb high sleep low’ may be the motto for acclimatising but it wasn’t assisting me that much.

Barranco or Breach Wall was a highlight of the trip so far.  Climbing what looks like a sheer cliff in the early morning and feeling like superwoman when we reached the top and seeing the look of accomplishment on my mother and brothers face was a priceless moment.

The day of truth!  Summit day starts with heading out at 0200 to reach the summit in time for sunrise in the extreme cold was the least of my troubles.  Within a few hours of starting out I was throwing up constantly.  No water was staying down and the energy gum lollies my guide Amos was feed me were of no use.  Willpower and sheer stubbornness seemed to be my only driving force.

A bigger driving force was that my mother was ahead of me and my friend had reached the summit the evening before and would likely catch me again when he attempted to summit again for morning.  I had no idea where my little brother was until I was holding myself up on my poles and he placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘you can do this sis’.

No other words were needed, I knew I could do this.  Amos checked my eyes every time I stopped to throw up but we continued in a turtle like pace.  Actually I think turtles are quicker.  Amos turned me around at one point and said look at the sunrise.  I vaguely remember thinking ‘who cares’ but it was a sight that is still etched in my memory.  Rising over the clouds as we stood well above the cloud line

Amos asked me just before reaching Stella Point at 5732m what I wanted to do when I was struggling to move.  ‘Summit!’ was my only response and he promised to get me there.  Reaching Stella Point I knew I could make the remaining 163m ascent.  I didn’t know how I would look at that point but if I had made it here I could make it the entire way.

When I reached the summit what felt like hours later I was almost ready to have a panic attack.  I don’t really recall the photos but I do know I had a fight with my little brother about not caring about the other trekkers – I just wanted a family photo!!

On top of Africa

Within minutes of the photo my first panic attack hit.  I didn’t know if I was going to jump into the crater or curl up into a ball.  Amos to his credit is a brilliant guide and within seconds of my panic attack starting rapidly took me down.  We past people being dragged, literally, up to the peak.  I am pretty sure this is how I looked but Amos assured me I had walked by myself.

As soon as we arrived back at Stella Point I felt much better and food and water was starting to  stay down.  The next part of the descent again caused a panic attack. The faster Amos tried to get me down the mountain the more I felt like I was going to die.  In the end a panic attack that had me on the ground screaming at Amos to let me walk unaided had me slowly making my way down we reached a point where all my altitude sickness completely disappeared.

At this point my ego was bruised and I was upset I didn’t conquer Kili but that I had almost been defeated.  Amos said all I needed to hear, ‘You don’t need to stand tall on Kili to have experienced her.  You reached the summit under your own power therefore you conquered her!’
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The rest of the descent was done pretending I was skiing the scree and having a few laughs.

My friend did summit twice and completely impressed all the group.  My mother reached the summit in much better form than both my brother and I.  As far as epic family holidays go this one certainly scores high.

If I was asked to climb Kilimanjaro again my answer would only take a nano second ‘HELL YES but only if I can find altitude sickness tablets first!’.

What mountain do you want to conquer?

Blessed Be

Robyn xox

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