J.D. Baldwin's Kilimanjaro Diary - Day 6

Day 6 (Saturday, 5 March 2011), 1433 local time

Best night of sleep yet. I thought it would be cold, but my sleeping bag did its job well and I got nearly eight full hours of good sleep.
I woke up this morning and made a decision on the question that has been bothering me until now: should I take my Diamox?
Diamox (acetazolamide) is a glaucoma drug with an "off-label" use of prevention of HAMS (High-Altitude Mountain Sickness). HAMS can result in nausea, loss of appetite (one reason the guides caution hikers to eat even if not hungry), headaches from mild to severe, and in very bad cases can lead to HACE (High-Altitude Cerebral Edema) and/or HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema), both of which are life-threatening emergencies that will result in rescue guides zooming you down the trail on a sled.
I decided very early in the planning stages for this trek that I wanted to carry Diamox with me, in case I wanted it. I didn't know whether I'd use it. My regular doc wouldn't write it for me (he's fired, by the way, but not only because of that), so an old friend who happens to be an eye doc (Hi, Mitch!) wrote me 30 pills worth, way more than I will need on the mountain.
Side effects of Diamox include: peeing like a racehorse (that's not the medical term), tingling in fingers and toes ... and, oddly, it makes carbonated beverages taste like battery acid. Yeah, really -- I tried a course of three pills back in Dar just to check that my body was OK with it, and I thought I'd gotten a bad Coca-Cola until I found out it was just a drug side effect. Weird, but true.
I had felt no effects of altitude so far -- no headache, no nausea and my appetite is fine. I've been eating like a horse, in fact. Still, I reasoned that it wasn't likely to hurt me, and could very well help, so I popped one upon rising and another with lunch. I will pop one more before my early bedtime tonight, and one when I get up at midnight for the trek. After that, I'll use my judgment.
Today's hike was short and easy, or at least as short and easy as a day trek on Kilimanjaro gets. We gained over 2,000' between Karanga Camp and Barafu ("ice") Camp, our current site. It took about 4½ hours of rocky but fairly easily walkable trail, mostly (of course) up, but with some descents as well. For most of the walk, we were inside of clouds.

A typical section of the trail from Karanga to Barafu
What the trail looked like to us for most of day 6.
Photo by Gareth.

Somewhere along the way, we passed above the vegetation line and the terrain here is kind of eerie. Like being on the Moon, but the rocks are darker. I can see the start of the trail up Kibo, and it's startlingly steep, but Kibo itself is in cloud. It will be dark when we start out, so we won't see it again until we're on it.
The campsite here is in view of Kilimanjaro's third peak, Mawenzi. (The first two, from west to east, are Shira and Kibo. Kibo is the big one.) Mawenzi would be an extremely difficult and technical "mountaineering" climb, while the much-higher Kibo is "merely" a difficult non-technical trek.

Mawenzi seen from Barafu Camp
Mawenzi, seen from Barafu Camp.  My tent is the one in the foreground, to the right.
Photo by Anne.

I am now packed and organized for the trek up the mountain. My clothing is laid out: a long-sleeved Under Armour tee, a light LL Bean fleece over that, a heavy LL Bean fleece over that and my old (1994!) Sun Ice parka over the whole thing. On my feet, Injinji toe socks with a thin sock liner over them and a thick sock over that. For my legs, a layer of long polypropylene thermals, covered by my old Navy-issue Nomex thermals with just a regular pair of black Lee jeans over all that. I am carrying windproof rain pants in my pack if I should need another layer there. I have my dorky-looking orange bicycling cap to wear, plus a black knit cap and a North Face balaclava in my pack should I want those. I'm carrying my light North Face "windstopper" gloves in my pack but wearing my poly glove liners and good ski gloves. And I have my light yellow lenses in my sunglasses, my good bright Petzl headlamp laid out and a spare one in the pack. Fresh batteries in both headlamps and a spare set for each in the pack.
Dinner's at 5 pm, after that I'm ensconcing myself in my tent, popping Diamox, zolpidem and a diazepam, and drifting away to sleep while trying not to think about the ordeal before me.
I'm ready. Bring it, mountain.

Stats for Day 6:

Starting elevation (Karanga camp) 13,106' (3,995 m)
Ending elevation (Barafu camp)
15,331' (4,675 m)
Resting heart rate (evening)

Day 7 - summit day!

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