“That’s not rain, it is Chuck Norris pee!” KG yells across the maelstrom to the neighboring tent. There is no pitter patter of rain, just a constant white noise, rhythmically patterned with the rapidly flapping and slapping tent fly.
It is wet. It is cold. The rain drives in from the north, propelled by a strong, southerly wind. The fifty seconds it takes for me to exit the tent and empty my bladder soaks me, inverts the umbrella, and induces a strong shiver. I fight the umbrella back into shape with one hand while trying to maintain my urine stream “downwind”, not that it makes a difference. I feel the dampness of the rain creep into my calves, as it seeps through my wind pants and underwear. Task complete, I run back to the tent, hastily unzipping and diving into the vestibule of the Trango 4. I survey the damage: soaked to the skin knees down and a well saturated puffy jacket. “Shoulda taken the time to layer up” I mutter to myself. I crawl into my sleeping bag, wetness and all, and burrow down between KG and Kate. “Rarely have I ever worn all my layers” I think as I pull the hood over my head and snuggle deeper.
Clouds swirl through the trees and the drip is constant. I search in vain for any remnants of a trail. The mist soaked jungle has eaten any sign of previous passage. “What do you think?” Emma asks, standing next to me as she tries to see the same onward journey. Water drips down her forehead, oozing from a saturated head of hair.
“Well, there was a trail off to the side back there…” my voice trails off in uncertainty. Vines, leaves, ferns, moss, lichen, all around is green and damp.
The seven of us have been walking for close to five hours now, slowly maneuvering our way up steep, jungled terrain. We hack and thrash through captivating vines and branches, ducking, breaking, and pushing our way through the dense undergrowth. Half the time the travel is straightforward enough on an old delapitated trail, the other half of the time we must observe, think, and suss our way back to it. We haul ourselves upward via tree and root holds, slowly, steadily progressing up the precipitous unnamed ridge. We brave the briars and rain, using our perpetual upward motion combined with handfuls of nuts and dates to ward off the cold.
From somewhere behind Kate yells up “this path goes somewhere!”
“Well” I say to Emma.
“. . . I guess it seems better than this” she says after a brief hesitation. She motions to the three blank faces behind her to turn around. We unwind ourselves from the thicket and push on back down to the promised land.
The sun is welcoming. We spread all we own out to dry, out to warm. The yard sale is all but certain as the trees and rain have kept the warmth and light at bay for several days now. Gaiters, backpacks, underwear, sleeping bags all color the northeastern aspect of our campsite. The sun’s rays cast gloriously over us as we worship and slather on sunscreen. Below the valleys are cloaked in a layer with only a peak or two piercing the shroud. Above a few lingering cumulus clouds move lazily about and at long last, Kibo is visible.
“It’s like a flash flood in the canyons” Kate says from somewhere behind me. Our feet are awash in the swift moving, turbid water that fills the trail, pushing rocks, debris, and dirt ever lower. My lightweight, nylon approach shoes do little to stop the torrent and I feel the current pushing through my socks and around my toes. I am thankful for the warmth of upward movement. I look up, my reality broken and spy the round shape of juniper trees and low slung forms of rubber rabbit brush, with its yellow tops and its ever-present brethren of artemisia tridendata. They lie scattered through the bedrock and boulders. All around, the climate, the landscape, and the people play a familiar tune. I am comfortable. This is my home. But it isn’t. The juniper is a species of heather, and helichrysum are the sage colored bush covering the in betweens. The water runs off an igneous extrusive basalt, cascading down the 12,500 foot plateau on the west side of Kilimanjaro.
“Yeah, except it is harder to breathe” I add after a moments contemplation as my shins continue to part the swift brown runoff at my feet.
Half a world away, yet I still find myself on a dense Chilean hillside, schwaking a path. Forty degrees of latitude north, yet I still find myself hunkering out driving rainstorms on windswept fields, shivering and wet, craving hot drinks. Seven thousand feet higher but I still find myself in the flash floods of the Colorado Plateau, but New Zealand, Patagonia, and southern Utah it is not. The Tanzania I have discovered is has not been what I expected, maybe though, it is what I wanted. The cold, wet mountains of my life have called me, in secret. Never did I expect the rains down in Africa, the driving winds and exposed valleys and sodden, chilly jungles. The truth is, I didn’t really have expectations of this mountain, other than a crowded summit and thin air. None the less, my propensity for searching out the mountainous regions of the world will serve me in the slow slog to the “roof of Africa”. Sometimes, you get what you need.
Featured Image: Kate on the edge of the misty Shira Plateau.