By Derrick Slack
I woke up late and was feeling extremely delirious when I went to the bathroom outhouse and for a minute I didn’t know where I was. I was nearly feeling the full effects of High Altitude Sickness (HAS) with a full blown headache and the funny bloated turning feeling in my stomach. I didn’t sleep well at all the
night before with the tossing and turning and these crazy, bad dreams that I felt were caused by not having a pillow (you try sleeping on a pad made for a midget with no pillow). It was though all packed to go to our first major altitude test at Lava Tower which is 4,600 M (15,000ft). We ate lunch there and man was it some test. The altitude was murder, my hands swelled to nearly twice their already enormous size and the headache went from a 7.6 right up to 11.9. We stayed there for about an hour to “acclimate” and then headed down to about 3,900 M where we would camp. During the 3 hours it took to get to camp, I had to utilize some of my mind trick to take total control of my body who kept saying, “Dude, I’m tired let’s give up” I said back to it ignoring its requests to cower, “I can, I will, I must, I trust…my mind is stronger than my body,” saying this only 4,003,274 times till camp.
No appetite, deadly sign of HAS. I only drank some tea the porters served, not realizing I only ate the eggs and not the 4 other courses they offered. We trekked for about 4:30 to the next camp which was about 4,300 meter, and I am convinced that I have full blown HAS only without the vomiting that usually
occurs (good sign I only hope). Though the only reason I wasn’t actually returning my food to the earth the wrong way was perhaps I wasn’t eating, now at all. I retreated to my tent freezing cold around 13:00 and an hour later the porters were shoving food in my tent. They came back about 45 minutes later to see that I hadn’t touched a thing. They kept waking my up every 5-10 minutes saying eat. By the time dinner came and everyone figured I wasn’t eating, they sent in the big guns: Joshua, my guide. A very matter-of fact speaking gent, he said, “Derrick, my friend, eat or you will die tomorrow!” I took to the souplike air, and the other food-like concoction like water, or so I thought. After learning that I still had only eaten very little, they said they would make a big breakfast and let me sleep. I slept all of 16 hours.
We only hike for 3 hours, but they seem like 35, with my HAS and all and lack of food. Anyway we hike to 4,600M where we camp and rest for our midnight attempt at the highest point in Africa. By the time we get to camp, me singing to my self about how much stronger by mind is than my body, my 11.9 headache went all the way down to 2. Of course this gives me confidence that I can in fact make this dream happen. I still do not eat and I can see the pained look in Joshua’s eye. He simply says that I need this food for energy, but he will make sure I have some cookies and tea before we leave at midnight. I sleep surprisingly well.
I was awakened at 23:22 and the porters were excited for me. They made the tea and then served me the cookies and I must have swallowed them whole. My headache now completely gone! I can do this! I thought to myself and with a final look at all the encouragement and love received from back home I thought, yeah I really can do this…to the top we go. We leave at exactly 0:30 and we head into the darkness up to Uhuru Peak, the highest…well you know, Africa. “Pole, Pole (pronounced po-lay, po-lay)” Joshua and John who for some reason decided to go with us this time out, say. “Pole, Pole” (Swahili for slow,slow) I shout back excited and a bit nervous. This trek to the top should take 6 hours where the sky is clear just in time to see the beautiful sunrise and other awesome views from the top.
Day 6…the first 2 hours
I am making a great run at it only stopping every 500 steps or so (what else are you to do on a mountain in five layers of clothing, surrounded by snow and nothing else, so you count your steps and make up words, songs, etc.?). My mind is stronger than my body, I am certain of this at this point. Oh, Uh, the body fights back. “We’ll see who’s stronger…” it says making my knees shake. “Uh, Body, I’m in control here” Mind says with agitation in its tone. My Body gave another shot and made my knees wither once again. My Mind growing more convinced of its imminent defeat says, “my mind is as strong as my body…ok already we’re equals let’s make it to the top of this thing!” Not liking the tone, Body makes my back, knees, arms and everything else shut down. This process takes 2 hours.
Body scores so many points that the Mind is defeated. Mind stops its arrogance and is now under complete control of Body. “Eh, I didn’t make it….I’ve come further than perhaps I was capable…It’s not so bad to get 2 hours from the top there’s no shame in that” Mind saying totally brainwashed. Joshua and John are trying to encourage me, but there is no use…I’m done. The lack of food and the HAS and everything else running through my mind is all pointing to failure…all system failure. I begin to cry. Well, I almost made it to the top and I guess Dhumass-Blacksmith was right, Horseshoes Game contains the only valuable “almost”. Feeling like a failure, Joshua says, “you are so fatigued we need to get you down, this mountain isn’t worth your life!” He’s right, I guess until I learned how you get off of a mountain…manually. “You mean we have to walk back the same way we came?” I look back, take a long, hard, deep breath (50mph winds and all) and Mind says to Body, “Dude where’s your second wind, you always have a second wind, you beautiful Black Body you” Body too an ego-maniac, but stubborn, continues the fatigue. Almost, Almost, Almost.
Day 6…Giving up?
Nothing worked to get Body moving again and its been 30 minutes in the blistering cold, not the water (now completely frozen), the banana chips some Americans gave me two days before…nothing. So, Mind now trying to fight back and refusing to give up because it would be (physically) harder in its mind to
go back 4 hours rather than 2 hours up (not realizing that is more hours to get down, oh well). So Mind remembers we have one last “energy drink” in the pack. This isn’t an energy drink at all it’s truly canned tang with added orange pulp…disgusting! But I ingest this nonetheless and say four words that
changed the very course of my history, “I can do this!” Joshua, hearing the shear determination in my voice, says “ok then twinde (let’s go)”. I grabbed him hard, turning him around and deeply look him in the eyes and say, “Don’t you dare let me fail!” Mind wins, although Body gave it a go at taking control, it did have a second wind in it after all.
Day 6…on top of the world
We take 2 hours to reach Gillman’s Peak, the “almost” of the peaks, the second highest point in Africa, and all my emotions flowed out of me. I felt such a shear sense of accomplishment that tears and every emotion known to man came out at once. I (almost) did it! All of this caught on the video camera I brought to capture such beautiful moments. People were coming over to me wondering what the heck was wrong. “I made it! I made it!” I shouted. One person came over and shot that to Hell. “No you almost made it, the true peak is up there” Up there was another hour. So off to stand on top of the world we go. Mind was in full control and Body knew it would share in this gloriousstory if we made it so it complied (ahh, the male ego). One hour later,cameras rolling, I stand on top of Africa, yes I made it. All the months of preparation, all the annoying count downs, all the metaphors came down to this one very important moment in the battle between what your mind is capable of and how much you can push yourself beyond what you thought were your limits. Uhuru Peak, the Highest Most Awesome Place to have a dream come true.
Day 7…The Certificate
The day before, I made sure I had everything packed and ready to complete our descent to Mweka Village to receive my Certification that I summited the great mountain. This 3 hour trek took us an exciting 2 hours (surprising because Day 6 we hiked a total of 14+ hours). Anyway when we reach the bottom, my tour company was waiting and giving congrats and I received my certificate and felt like I won the Nobel Prize for Not Giving Up.
So this trek to the top didn’t go as planned, I had no idea I would get so close and feel that way, but it lends itself to a great and wonderful story that I am sure I will annoy you with for the rest of your lives. But don’t yell at me too much, after all I will at least be alive to tell it.
Thank You For Listening!
Derric Slack 19,340