Reaching the Summit of Kilimanjaro
R. A. Dickey, the Mets pitcher, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization that rescues and cares for women and girls in Mumbai who are at risk of being abused and exploited. Read RA Dickey’s complete article for Bats and The New York Times here.
From left, Kevin Slowey, Rockies pitcher; Dave Racaniello, the Mets’ bullpen catcher; and R. A. Dickey, Mets pitcher, at Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was 10 p.m. when Timo, one of the porters on our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, tapped on my zipped tent flap to make sure I was awake. Little did he know that I had been awake for at least an hour because of the gale-force glacial winds that were pounding the exterior of the tent, a noise that assured me that something unpleasant awaited. The wind, coupled with my fears and excitement about what lay ahead, allowed for about three hours of partly uninterrupted sleep.
We had been briefed at our 5 o’clock dinner that night that we were leaving for our summit attempt at 10:30 p.m. sharp. This was for two reasons. First, as we ascend the mountain, the rocky skree that litters the steep trail to the peak will be frozen and less likely to give way under our boots. Second, leaving at that time would allow us to reach the summit as the sun was peeking up over the eastern glacial ridge. However, I believe that there was a third reason, one the guide intentionally never discussed. Psychologically, if we were able to see the sheer steepness and distance of the trek, it would have been defeating.
Our departure time came, and we were dressed in our best cold weather gear. At the time we took our first steps from base camp, the temperature was in the single digits and the wind was sharp. We had our headlamps on and could see far above us the dim light of a group of other climbers, evidence that we were not the first ones in what could be a long queue up the mountainside.
I put my earphones in and turned on my fully charged iPod to distract me from the elements. I had made a summit mix before the trip and cranked it up as loud as it would go. Four songs in, the iPod froze even though I had it in one of the pockets on an inner layer. Now, it was just me and the mountain.
Five hours into the climb, aside from having extremely cold hands, we were all feeling pretty good. My only concern was placing my feet in the same place as the guide in front of me. Slow and methodically we gained ground up the slope. Another hour passed and it seemed as if the climbing got significantly more arduous. We had passed a half-dozen people who had to stop and turn back because of fatigue or altitude sickness. The extreme gradient of the slope partnered with the duration of the ascension to form a tag team that was kicking my butt.
I thought of my family back home playing games, and what the kids were doing in school. I began to think of the money we were raising to help the project. I visualized pitching to the all the teams in the N.L. East, batter by batter. I thought of anything I could to distract me from the misery I was in. Finally, about seven hours into the climb at around 18,500 feet, I had to ask our guide to stop. I sat on a rock to the side of the trail feeling nauseated and lightheaded.
Joshua, our guide, rushed over to me and filled a small cup with hot tea from a thermos he pulled out of his pack and placed in front of my face. The lightheadedness graduated to dizziness as I reached for the cup, missing it by six inches. Again I reached for it, only to miss it again. I felt my innards convulse. Joshua took my hand and placed it on the cup.
Read the rest of RA Dickey’s article for Bats and The New York Times here.