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Breakfast before Midnight

Breakfast before Midnight

I WAS awoken by noisy activity in the bunk room. Feeling quite sick from the room being filled with smoke choking out the already rarefied frozen air, I stirred and came to my senses. The small Japanese group staying in the bunkroom were already up and starting to pack for their ascent to the summit. One of the guys in that group still had his bad hacking cough that he had yesterday. It sounded quite serious in any circumstances, but especially for the conditions he was about to put himself through. He was obviously determined though with the quiet tenacity instilled in the Japanese culture.


I looked at my clock. It was only ten thirty. The others in my group were starting to wake up as well. The mood in the bunkroom was very sombre. It wasn’t exactly good morning.

I got up and put on my anorak over my clothes which I had worn in my sleeping bag to stop me from freezing solid.

Our porters arrived at eleven o’clock and served us with a small breakfast. It really was just a snack of butterscotch biscuits and tea. I only managed one biscuit and a drink of tea with the obligatory four sugars being over 4000 metres above sea level. I recalled our briefing the other day when Desmond had quoted an early explorer saying that when leaving Kibo at midnight, they would get up, eat breakfast, vomit it all, and then head off up the mountain. Now I could understand that strange story. My appetite was non-existent.

The small breakfast would ensure we wouldn’t get too sick though. I really didn’t have much appetite at all. I was nervous about the climb, knowing this was like the final ascent of Kinabalu last year, only a lot worse being so much higher up venturing into very dangerous altitudes and it being so much colder up here. The temperature in the room must be about minus seven degrees Celsius. Goodness knows how cold it was outside.

We sat at the table very forlorn with very little energy eating our little snacks.

Once breakfast was over we packed up in the darkness with only the light of our head torches. I put my anorak on, and had the small water bottle filled with water to place under my polar fleece top. I packed the camera and other things for the climb. I then double checked my nausea pills and the spare gingko biloba tablets in my pocket. I also checked the chocolate bars in the other pocket even though I had absolutely no appetite. Just feeling the wrapper in my pocket made me feel sick.

Then my nose suddenly started bleeding. Fortunately I had my toilet paper handy and put some up my nose. It was one of those anaemic nose bleeds that was never going to stop. This was the worst possible time to develop one, so I made sure the toilet roll was packed up at the top of the bag in case the bleeding continued during the climb.

The main camera had to go in the daypack as this was going to be quite a difficult climb up the scree slope and I didn’t want it to get in the way. The small camera in my pocket will be used for any photos between here and Gilman’s Point.

Final preparations
Final preparations

I lay down for a few minutes trying to get the nose bleed to stop. Fortunately it did start to clot but it was obviously not going to stop anytime soon. Was this going to stop me from reaching the summit? I was now feeling quite sick desperately wanting to crawl back into my sleeping bag and curl up into a ball and dream of being in the tropics. Then I remembered I was in the tropics, just a couple of degrees off the equator.

We had almost completed packing, and there was a few moments silence before one of the Japanese guys suddenly let out a massive ripper of a fart. Instantly the sombre atmosphere lifted as everyone burst into laughter, including the Japanese guy, the obvious culprit.

Truly the most sad or tragic situation can be blown away by an assertive male salute for nothing maketh merrier than the breaking of wind.

Though insignificant and perhaps quickly forgotten, I think this moment breaking away from the nervous anticipation and blowing off the altitude sickness was a welcome relief. That would have lifted our spirits just a tiny bit that may very well have assisted some of us getting over the edge to make the difference between reaching the summit or not.

Biologically I think the Japanese guy's digestive system was simply trying to reach equilibrium with the much reduced air pressure up here at Kibo. Then again it could just be a reaction to something he had eaten at dinner. Who knows? I hoped this didn’t indicate the start of any of us getting any stomach ailments.

Our resident doctor had mentioned just yesterday that farting indicates a healthy body. Clearly this guy was healthy this morning - healthier than the coughing guy in his group who was still going to attempt the summit.

What was most important though is we experienced a brief moment of happiness at the start of what will be a very challenging night for all of us. The Japanese guys hurried out of the hut to start their summit attempt.

Rugged up and ready to leave, I quickly pulled out my tripod and took my camera outside. There was still about ten minutes to go before we were leaving, so I had a bit of time to sneak in some photography. It was deathly cold outside there, perhaps minus twelve degrees. I set up the camera on the tripod and took a few photos of Kibo Peak directly behind the hut to the west and of Mawenzi Peak now to the east. Both peaks were free of cloud thankfully.

View of Mawenzi Peak
View of Mawenzi Peak

The waxing gibbous moon was shining very brightly, yet the stars were incredibly bright. I imagined what it would be like on a moonless night, seeing the stars at an incredible brightness up here above half the thickness of the atmosphere.

The shots I took were all long twenty to thirty second exposures. It was very difficult taking pictures wearing both mittens and climbing gloves, so I had to take the gloves off to give my fingers enough dexterity to make all the camera adjustments and especially to press the button to take the pictures.

I took several pictures looking both ways, but with little oxygen in the air and the conditions being so cold, I would have no idea how these shots would come out until I return home in several weeks’ time and publish them. Fingers crossed.

The cloud was clearing from the desert in front of Mawenzi Peak revealing Jupiter shining very brightly to its left. There were a few lights from people inside tents. Looking the other way Kibo Peak was a large block of volcanic rock with a few ghostly slithers of glacial ice flanking the left hand side. There were a few pinpoints of light of people who had already commenced their summit attempts.

Starting to feel chilled, I quickly packed up and returned inside the hut to where the others were waiting. I put the camera into the day pack and rested with the others. Finally our guides returned ready to take us up the mountain through the deathly cold at these dangerous high altitudes.

View all photos...

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17 August 2011


Mount Kilimanjaro



4700m ASL


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