It was inevitable really, after days of feeling strong, not a hint of altitude sickness, today I wake feeling terrible. But I am distracted for a while by the sunrise above the clouds. Behind our tents, lit by the golden morning light against a pale blue sky is Kibo, the summit. In front of us is the striking silhouette of Mawenzi – where our path for the day leads. Looking across the plains it feels as though we are on the edge of the world, with only clouds below us.
As we set off my intestines feel like they are twisting as I walk, a terrible cramping pain. I try to make the best of it, stay positive. I’m not the only one suffering.
Head down. Keep walking. From behind me comes the gentle singing of a swahili lullaby by our guides. It’s enough to make me cry. Especially when I catch sight of the steep path ahead. Winding up and up and up. The porters ahead seem impossibly far away.
I start to wonder why I’m doing this. It’s only the third day and I feel empty. My legs feel weak beneath me. I’m thankful for the slow pace, pole-pole, because I know I couldn’t go faster if I tried.
There’s little vegetation now, just a grey rocky landscape and strange fork like trees as we head towards Mawenzi. All I can think about is reaching the campsite and taking the rehydration salts that I left in my kit bag. We skirt around another bit of hill and catch sight of tents up ahead. As my porter greets me and takes my bag from my back, leading me to my tent I start to cry.
In my tent I collapse. We are supposed to be doing another acclimatisation walk after lunch but I don’t know if my legs have it in them. But I also know how important the acclimatisation is. I make up a rehydration drink and do my best to eat at lunchtime. I have time to take a short rest in the tent before the afternoon walk.
When I wake the medication I’ve taken is starting to take effect and I feel a little stronger. I get ready for the walk – no need to take a bag, just my camera and a bottle of water. We only walk a short (but steep) path closer to the peak of Mawenzi. In the distance we can see Kibo across the saddle, which we will walk across tomorrow. Thunder rumbles around the mountain and it starts to rain.
On returning to the campsite I ask for my washy-washy bowl and am grateful for the warm water to wash in. Dinner is spaghetti bolognaise and I’m so happy and grateful for such comforting food. I can only hope for a good night’s sleep and for the sickness to pass. The presence of the Tarn makes the campsite very cold and so I wear my thermals to keep warm and ration my water to try not to need to get up in the night. I wake continuously with a dry mouth, as if I’ve been drinking wine all night. Slowly the night passes.