Hike duration: 4 hours
Temperature: -5 degrees Celsius
Word that captures the day:
I thought yesterday was hard and cold. It was. But it was nothing compared to today. This was by far the hardest day yet.
We continued our ascent, crossing the alpine desert. Sound remote and freezing? It is. The terrain was similar to yesterday - loose rocks and nothing green in sight - but today we encountered snow! It wasn't much of a factor, the snow, except as a reminder of what's about to come: the grueling summit attempt.
We are currently at about 17,200 ft., having stopped early to stay at a seldom-used site. We're the only ones up here (unlike the well-populated tent cities at points along the main route below). It's so desolate.
And, perhaps more importantly, camping here gives us a chance to better acclimate to this height before summiting. Unfortunately Alex is taking a while to do so - he's really been nailed by altitude sickness. He took his altitude medication and when we got to camp he slept most of the afternoon. (Hopefully he'll have it together for tomorrow morning!) The rest of us were simply and utterly bagged. We had so little left in the tank that Paul, our head guide, actually helped blow up our air mattresses. We had no air to spare.
From here we begin the summit climb at about 4:00 AM tomorrow. Breaking the full summit climb into two (today and tomorrow) means that if we are successful - and that's a mountain-sized 'if" - we'll be able to reach the top in daylight rather than in darkness. As of right now, I'd be happy to just be there period.
We are all hitting the sleeping bags early tonight because of the extra-early start. Even though we can actually see the rim of the crater from here - our goal - I cannot even imagine what tomorrow will be like, or how we'll respond.
If it is indeed darkest before the dawn, as they say, this is gonna be one dark night. This is when I'll be summoning every smiling face, every friendly handshake, every loving hug and every encouraging word I've been so generously offered since the campaign started. And for those of you who, like me, have been told you couldn't do something, that you weren't good enough, that it wasn't possible: think of me tonight. Because I'm not just doing this for myself. I'm doing it for all of us.
Next week I go back to being the Spence everyone knows at sea-level. But for all the people who have ever thought or been told, "It can't be done!" tonight is the last night of doubt. Ever.