Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Susan's Account:

I would like to add my personal account of our climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I tried to blog earlier but being a "non techie" I was unable to get on. Kerith is helping now.

I think our trip was amazing and I feel very blessed to have been part of Team SideStix. I read extensively on Mt Kilimanjaro and talked to veterans of the climb and truly believed acclimatizing to high altitude was very random and the only thing I could control was how fast (or slow) I climbed, how much fluid I drank (over 5 litres a day) and the ability to speed up the acclimatization process via pharmacology (Diamox and Decadron) recommended by the International Mountain Medicine Society.

I was extremely lucky as I did not have any symptoms of altitude sickness (headache, vomiting and diarrhoea) and never felt severely short of breath. Ellen and I worked hard to prepare for the climb. We went to the gym and trained but most of all we hiked every available weekend from August on. We hiked 6-8 hours a day mostly in the Blue Hills of Milton and this proved to be perfect training as the trek up Kilimanjaro is not really steep except for the midnight summit assault.

I would like to say this trip changed my life but it really didn't. What is did was enrich it and help me get back to realizing who I am. It's funny but when you are "plucked" out of your world; away from routines, work, family and comforts; and into a new culture you can really experience the moment and how you feel in it. I truly felt like a kid again. I was outside all day, dirty and silly and playing with my twin sister and friends; something I had not done in over 30 years. I felt really, really grateful to have this opportunity to feel so alive! The accommodations were very basic but I felt very comfortable and cared for. We were given warm water to wash each morning along with hot tea in our hut. We were called to our meals and served with the greatest care and respect. We were watched over and cared for by our guides especially when we felt sick. We were so active we were tired going to bed and fell asleep at 8pm.
I slept with ease. No chatter on my mind. My fingernails grew.

Walking for 6 days gives you a lot of time to reflect. I thought about this "pole - pole" concept or "slow - slow" and came to realize that when you take your time, not only can you enjoy the scenery, but you usually reach your goal in better shape. I learned to be more patient. We saw many casualties of altitude sickness on the mountain and most of these people had raced by us earlier in the day. I also thought about my dad and how he can swim for 2 hrs (with severe heart failure) because he goes slow. The same principle I use with my patients at work. If you move them slower they tire less and their oxygen levels stay steady. The pace of "tic-tock" was taken and although I brought up the rear I never had to stop.

We had lots of laughs and felt a little "fuzzy brained" at Kibo camp (>15000 ft). We were all nervous but excited. Sarah and Sosta left before Kerith could take pictures. We climbed steady and strong. Disbelief was the feeling I had when Sarah stopped and said her SideStix broke. I was looking at it but couldn't believe it. I was speechless. I had worried that altitude sickness may get to her as she could not take Diamox (allergic to sulpha drugs) but it was a mechanical problem. She broke down and cried "my ‘leg’ is broken". Kerith always believed he could fix it. I wasn't sure but felt that if anyone could do it, it would be him. His fierce loyalty to Sarah and SideStix gave him a super human boost of energy and he bolted down the mountain to repair it.

Ellen and I continued; sad but more determined than ever to make it. I think it took close to 7 hrs to reach Gilman’s point (top of the crater)and there were times it seemed like the climb would never end. Living in the moment and just putting one foot in front of the other became automatic. Once we reached Gilman's we never doubted we would summit at Uhuru. The 2 hr climb was very cold and windy. It reminded me of skiing on Mt. Cannon, NH on a sub zero windy day. The sun was up and the views were spectacular so it seemed wonderful. I kept wiggling my fingers and toes to stay warm. The summit brought Ellen and I real hugs of joy and accomplishment. We did it!

The most emotional moment of the climb was when we met Kerith on his way to the summit and he told us Sarah was around the corner at Gilman's pt. I felt more joy that when I actually summitted. I couldn't believe it as the climb up the soft scree is so difficult. Anyone who has climbed Kilimanjaro realizes this. The walk around the crater rim to Uhuru is cold and windy but the difficulty lies in climbing to Gilman's. When I saw Sarah I felt so proud of her and our team. Ellen took a photo of Sarah and I embracing and this is truly the climax of my climb. Pure Joy!

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro helped me redefine myself. I did it and feel that I can do other things I didn't think I could do. I feel braver, more self assured and confident. Like when I was a kid; learning how to shuffle cards, whistle with two fingers and ride a two wheel bike. A happy go lucky kid!

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