My World Consisted of My Breathing: A Journey to the Top of Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 5)

Posted by Suzanne Heskin on 23rd Mar 2017

This is part 5 of Suzanne’s journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in support of the American Foundation for Children with AIDs. To read the rest of the series, click here.

We were awoken at 11pm for a meal and a midnight hike. As I explained, I was nervous. I had been working toward this for over a year. I raised over $8000, bought and organized gear, got quite a few shots, selected plane tickets, broke in gear, trained...It was an odd feeling. Never in my life have I worked SO hard for something with such a culminating, focused ending that I didn't already know! College, sure, but I knew I'd graduate. Having Audrey, of course, but that was "only" 9 months, and I was confident in her arrival. But this? Failure was possible. But alas, there I was.

I think I slept some, because soon I heard Godson gently saying " is time" or some such gentle thing outside our tent. Instead of the usual groggy lollygagging, it was business. Anne and I both arose, almost robotically gathering our gear (including our packing cubes), cramming water bottles into dirty socks, putting on layers. I was anticipating the cold, and it was crisp when I (again) stumbled ungracefully out of my tent. We ate, but I have no recollection of what. I'm not sure there was even much talking other than when we gave our breathing rate. It's a blur, as is much of the next 12 hours.

The dampened, quiet of the night was very much present. We got in line, in some order. Our headlamps illuminated a small circle ahead of each of us. I felt like my world consisted of my breathing and the few feet in front of me. Aware of others, but focused on doing everything I could to get up that mountain. I snapped a quick picture, and realized how hard night pictures are, and that I needed to focus on climbing.

When we stopped I'd get a bit chilly, but when we were moving I was fine in the layers I had on. Hike, stop. Hike, stop. I have no idea how long this went on. Funny how your mind works at midnight at 17,000 feet.

When we stopped, I started to consider just laying down on a rock and taking a nap. Now, the high-altitude mountain girl that I grew up being KNEW that this was a) caused by lack of oxygen, and b) NOT a good idea. But oh, it was tempting, and I'm pretty sure my thoughts were verbalized at least once.

Then it started getting harder. Moving my legs was hard and I had to focus on moving them, the lure of a nap still growing. Jessie was ahead of me, and I remember her collapsing and vomiting a bit. Goddy, a guide, quickly came and helped her. That moment is vivid in my memory because it made me realize how I was struggling, how the altitude was affecting me.

Slightly rejuvenated, I looked up. Looked up, only to realize we still had a LONG way to go still. Pole pole, we continued up. Pausing some, but moving steadily. My foggy brain was starting to get frustrated. Frustrated that we weren't there yet, frustrated that I couldn't make my legs go faster. Frustrated I wasn't doing better. Anne, Chris and Donnie all seemed to be chugging up that peak as if it were a Sunday picnic. I didn't understand. I felt a bit defeated, as if my body were failing me.

To read more of Suzanne’s adventures, please visit her blog!