I am happy to be back to civilization; namely, my shower – five bad hair days in the environs of Mount Gidan were really beginning to catch up to me.
Let me start by describing day one – the endless day one – of our Beginners’ group mini-expedition. We started walking towards the higher camp right after breakfast. The day was hot, our backpacks – heavy, and the plastic boots felt outrageously uncomfortable. As we progressed to higher elevations, our breathing got heavier and the rest stops grew more frequent. After two hours of walking uphill, we were all decidedly exhausted. Another hour of panting and cursing mentally at our decision to join the course and the climb, and we’d finally arrived and set up camp at the altitude of about 3200 metres. I would share a three-person tent with two men, one of which was all too willing and the other, on the contrary, reluctant, to have me sleeping with them. Luckily for all three of us, I was too tired to care.
We had some cheese, sausage and bread with tea for lunch, and some twenty minutes to get ourselves together as our day was far from over. With harnesses, crampons and some chocolate in our backpacks, we began to walk towards the glacier for three or four hours of ice-climbing practice. The ascent was difficult: oxygen content in air decreases as one gains altitude, and the brain, starved of its favourite ‘food’, begins to pull all sorts of tricks on one’s mental and physical processes. Fatigue, nausea, loss balance, clarity of thought or even consciousness are not uncommon at higher elevations – they are all symptoms of mountain sickness, which is an ailment that can be anything from uncomfortable to deadly if treated light-heartedly. Naturally, I had all the symptoms and had to disregard them if I wanted to stay on the team. I stumbled, falling occasionally, and walked on, and on, and on. On our way we had to cross a raging mountain river, where we all got wet and broke a couple of trekking poles. Two hours later we were facing the ice wall we were going to climb, while I was facing a wall of my own – of exhaustion, skull-crushing headache and despair; the only clear thought in my head was ‘I can’t make another step.’ It is when your body says ‘I can’t’ and your mind screams ‘I will’ that you really get to see how powerful sheer determination can be. I climbed with the rest of the group, played around with ice-screws and other gear relatively new to me, enjoying myself and the beautiful views in spite of the pain – or maybe, partly, because of it.
We headed back through the evening fog after 7 pm and had dinner after 9 pm in the dark: instant soup with bread and cheese had never tasted better. That night I slept marvellously, dreaming of the climb ahead, determined to make my body fully mine again.