Barafu Camp (February 15th)- Steep uphill, but only 5 hours long to Barafu Camp (15,000 ft) which is also called the base camp. The weather was very bad- Freezing rain and sleet all the way to camp. Visibility was at an all time low and so was our spirits. With our gloves wet, our hands were freezing. The climb was unrelenting. Oxygen was rare and we were left gasping for breath after every step we took. It would have been a cake walk in lower altitudes, but at these altitudes everything became hard- even saying ‘Damn!’. So we moved slowly and very quietly. For once I didn’t feel compelled to chatter on. Herment gave a silent prayer of thanks. We saw many others struggling here for a good measure. Chipped and Broken rocks that looked like shale were all over the place and beyond that all we could see was an engulfing curtain of haze. We reached Barafu camp in these conditions and were completely spent. We make the summit push tonight, in the dark.
We saw many people who had just summited and come back to base camp by mid day. They didn’t look too cheery either. We were too tired to even talk to them. Barafu camp was on a desolate exposed ridge with a huge clutter of tents placed uncomfortably on huge boulders. There was garbage strewn in places and toilets in inaccessible areas. To get to a toilet, we had to climb over huge boulders and scramble with our hands. This took every ounce of our strength. And then there was the activity of defecating itself. On top of that we had to drink and eat more to combat AMS and couldn’t avoid the input-output cycle. This was way too much work.
We were told to sleep in the afternoon when the sun came out for a brief time and solarized our tents as we baked inside with our 5 layers. As we started peeling the layers, it started freezing again. If anyone was complaining that they weren’t getting enough exercise, I think they were well taken care of. We were woken up at 6 pm for dinner and made to eat a hearty meal. Herment warned us about ‘Loss of Appetite’ at these elevations. Pi wondered what he meant by that as he hoarded the third helping of pasta. Loss of appetite was one side effect of Altitude none of us experienced. The food was just good. Herment, Freddie and Anthony (the head honchos) all walked into our tent as we were finishing up with dinner and stood solemnly. Hermant began to speak (for he knew English) ‘The moment is here my friends. We are finally going to make it to the summit and you all should be very happy to have come this far. I am sure you are very excited for the final summit push that will start at 11 pm tonight. Does anyone have any concerns?’
‘Will the storm go away?’ I asked like a 10 year old.
‘I think it is better if it rains as the temperatures will be warmer.’ This was Herment’s way of putting my mind at ease and seeing the positive of something as horrid as the weather outside. This time I thought he was mad and so I prayed hard for the skies to clear up. I tried sleeping, but was too damn excited and anxious. We nibbled on some snacks at 10.30 pm, wore all clothing we had including 3 pairs of socks and pulled ourselves out of the tents with our head lamps. The Dawg had a hard time moving, let alone pulling himself out of his tent. Looking like well fed polar bears; we were ready to hit the trail. Barely able to move, our guides led the way. Herment offered to carry my bag as he had nothing on him. This one time, I gladly obliged. I can’t thank him enough for this. Even that little pack with water and rain gear became a huge burden as we crawled higher. Better to conserve my energy than to act heroic, I thought. The Dawg spent the majority of his hike calling me a cheater for offloading my bag on Herment and when Herment offered to carry his bag, he happily obliged.
Ready for the midnight summit push