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This is What Being Alive Is: A Journey to the Top of Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 4)

Posted by Suzanne Heskin on 12th Aug 2016

This is part 4 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.

Day 4 begins. If I recall, my hair was getting dirty enough that it was eternally tangled. Each morning, my ritual now not only consisted of tending to The Great Blister of '15, but also fighting with my hair. For the first 3 days I had it in two french braids, a la Pippi Longstocking. I did this in hopes that it would keep it from a) getting totally filthy and b) keep it from getting tangled. Magically, it managed to tie itself in knots WHILE in braids. I think on this particular morning, I wrangled it into some sort of pony tail, frustrated. My journal is funny; I wrote that my hair was the most annoying part of the whole hike.

Dawn light like this is one of my favorite kinds of light, knowing a new day lies ahead.

Another morning above the clouds. I couldn't get over constantly being above a sea of clouds. It was amazing, but I kept wondering to myself if the clouds would ever clear. Would I ever be able to see "out there"? To look out over Africa? The clouds were breathtaking each day, but for a western girl used to large vistas, it felt strange to not see what was there.

We left camp and I was excited. This was to be a short day in terms of mileage, about 4 hours of hiking. Barranco Wall was to be the "most technical" climbing we would do and I was ready for it. No gear was required, but this would be a bit more than just walking like we had done the previous 3 days.

Getting a good perspective in pictures is so hard, especially of tall, steep things. The wall was steep, but not flat, so that was good. The rocks were bumpy and gnarly and "sticky". Sticky rocks, rocks that your boots grip onto, where you step and feel confident that your foot will stick. So in terms of climbing up a wall, this was a good wall to climb up.

The climbing was invigorating. I felt great. The weight on my back (which included 5 liters of water, snacks, spare clothes, camera) didn't bother me. It was part of me now, an extension of me.

The picture below is one of my favorites. I know the sun is glaring, and it's hard to see the people, but it's still at the top of my list. I love the bright snow on the peak. I love seeing the rocks we had been climbing on, and our colorful packs strewn about below us. The sense of joy and teamwork at this moment filled my heart. This picture includes all four of our guides and everyone was celebrating. Hugs and high fives were shared. Life couldn't get much better at this point.

The relief of "rolling into camp" each day wasn't diminishing. We had hiked for about 4 hours, and were to have the afternoon off, free to do with as we pleased. The prospect of having 5 hours free was wonderful. We were supplied with bowls of hot water to wash with. It was really lovely out, and Chris and Donnie took sponge baths outside. Our trusty toilets were set up, which were always popular.

Dinner was tomato ginger soup, pasta with tomato and veggie sauce, butternut squash and broccoli, fruit salad for dessert. After dinner, we had our water bottles filled with hot water to put in our sleeping bags with us.

I think this is when my favorite moment of the trip happened. We had hot water bottles, and left the dining tent. A few of us stepped away from the tent to look at the stars. The stars, it's hard to describe them. Take all the stars you've seen and quadruple their number and pull them closer. They were everywhere, and they felt like we could touch them. The milky way was as if someone had taken a paintbrush of white paint and pulled it across the night sky.

We found a rock to lean on, hugged our water bottles to our chests, and stood side by side together in silence. By now, all noisy thoughts from life at home had settled out, tucked away safely for when I needed them later. My mind felt clear, quiet, content to simply see the stars as I'd never seen them before. I felt the warmth of the people near me, the cool of the rock I was leaning on, the heat of the water bottle, the clear night air flowing in and out of my lungs. This is what being alive is.

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