I shut my eyes and willed myself to fall asleep. The wind outside howled and shook the tent fiercely. For a second, I imagined a pack of wolves circling our campsite, even though I didn’t think wolves live in Tanzania. And if they did, they certainly couldn’t make it this far up the mountain.
Slowly and reluctantly, I opened my eyes. A faint glow coming from my best friend Sarah’s side of the tent cast an odd sparkle on the canvas above me. Frost, I thought with a shudder. Great. My breath formed an opaque cloud on top of my face.
4903m above sea level, Arrow Glacier Camp was our penultimate stop before our arrival at Kilimanjaro’s summit. I silently congratulated myself on making it this far. Tomorrow was going to be rough. I closed my eyes again.
Starting with a hitch
Except I couldn’t fall asleep because I really, really had to go to the bathroom. Why had I drunk so much water? I stretched my foot and felt the hard metal of one of my three water bottles. Pushing the bottle away from my body, I cursed my bladder.
When I finally accepted that I was going to have to leave the comfort and warmth of my sleeping bag, I reached over and unzipped it. Without opening my eyes, I felt around with my left hand and found my prize. I put my headlamp on my head and clicked it on.
With a determination and enthusiasm I didn’t know I had, I unzipped the rest of my sleeping bag and scrambled out.
Plopping down next to the door flap, I hurriedly put on my Nikes. As my trembling fingers struggled clumsily with the laces, I wished I had brought Crocs instead.
Suddenly, a violent gust of wind swept through the valley. If it hadn’t been tethered to the earth, I swear our little tent would have been swept up like Dorothy’s house. All I wanted to do was to assume a fetal position in my sleeping bag.
If it hadn’t been tethered to the earth, I swear our little tent would have been swept up like Dorothy’s house.
Immediately, I was hit with blasts of freezing air. Intent on minimizing my time outside, I forced my legs to move one in front of the other. Vaguely remembering my way to the toilet tent, I tilted my head downwards to illuminate the rocks below. This was not the time nor place to sprain my ankle.
When I thought I was close, I stopped and looked around. We were the only group camped there that night, and, as far as I could tell, I was the only one awake. Great.
I then made one of the best choices of 2017. I don’t know I did it. Was it curiosity? Brilliance? Oncoming hypothermia? Exhaustion-fueled delusion? Regardless, I am eternally grateful for whatever force propelled me to do this tiny yet monumental and life-changing thing: I clicked off my headlamp.
It took my eyes several seconds to adjust to the darkness, but once they did, I looked up. If you think you have ever seen the stars, you are mistaken (unless you have a giant telescope, in which case I concede that you have also, in fact, seen the true night sky). Never before had I seen so many twinkling lights. The sky looked to be the richest navy I’d ever seen. In that moment, it was just me, Kilimanjaro, and the carpet above.
Never before had I seen so many twinkling lights. The sky looked to be the richest navy I’d ever seen. In that moment, it was just me, Kilimanjaro, and the carpet above.
A particularly ferocious burst of wind snapped me out of that moment and back into my body. It was time to get back. I stood up and took one last look at the sky, hoping to give my brain just enough time to form a detailed mental picture. Click. Mental photo taken. Click. Headlamp back on.