October 31, 2012
More Oxygen Please!
By Clarissa Morford
It was about 4:30AM, and I was on the side of a dusty mountain at 17,000 feet with chilled feet and tingling hands, feeling generally miserable. This was my first time above 14,410ft., and I was really starting to feel the altitude. What was I doing here?
For the past five days, Kilimanjaro had been so enjoyable. Trekking up through the lush rainforest, enjoying how our Chagga guides made a point to locate the famous and delicate impatiens kilimanjari flowers, seeing my first glimpse of the snow capped summit on the trail and admiring the strange trees growing on the Shira Plateau (curiously wondering if I had stepped into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book) were just some of the highlights of the days before.
But now I was struggling to keep a smile on my face as my entire body seemed to be frowning under the strain of the thin air. My thoughts weren’t completely clear, but I wondered why I had not decided to take a little bit of the edge off by medicating against the altitude. I was angry at myself for potentially causing unnecessary discomfort and added strain. At Barafu Camp (15,000 feet) I was feeling rather good, but now the story was changing. Negative self-thoughts filled my mind as I began to determine that the next high-alti climb — should I make it through this one — would be significantly improved by the use of altitude medicine and that my prideful thought about how cool it would be to summit without taking Diamox, was in fact one of the most stupid thoughts I’d ever had.