Kilimanjaro Day 5. Mystery in the Dead of the Night (Part I)

1/4/20. 6:41am, Baranga Camp. A mystery happened in the dead of the night. It remains unresolved to this day. In the darkest hours, the shouts of men’s voices, running feet, and unzipping tents shook up a dramatic turn of events.

First, let’s talk about the wind.

Tucked inside my sleeping bag, eyes tightly sealed, I was convinced that the top of our tent would rip off several times. Images of the contents of my half-open backpack flying through the air blended with 3 strange dreams I had in my light sleep.

Imagine raincoats stretched taut and slammed on like the face of a drum. In the darkness, you hear the distant rumble of invisible forces – first from afar, gradually accelerating closer – slam your tent at multiple strike points.

The sound was unmistakable: all I could see behind closed eyelids were rocks hurtling down a mountain at unstoppable speeds toward our flimsy shelters dotted across the slope. An incredible audio experience, to be honest, that snaps your eyelids open from the depths of sleep into perfect clarity, anticipating a collision that never comes. It was just the wind.

I woke once around 11pm, only 2 hours after falling asleep. I was too cold to reach for ear plugs so I drifted and woke again around 3am. This time, the sound of “rocks” was louder.

Suddenly, Swahili voices sounded an alarm. In gradual crescendo, a second chorus of voices began shouting in cacophony. Footsteps sounded within 50 meters of my sleeping bag.

Someone had noticed that something was wrong. Multiple right headlamps moved across the canvas of our tent. Quickened footsteps chased the shouting.

“I wonder what happened” I wonder quietly to Camille. Neither of us felt like getting up.

I hypothesized that the wind had knocked something large over, maybe our mess tent where we meet for meals. I imagined our porters chasing it down the hill.

An eternal 20 minutes later, the commotion died down.

I woke 15 minutes ago to sunshine, gentler winds, and crows cawing right outside our tent.

We made the night.

Update: it turned out that a porter in our group experienced a severe case of either altitude sickness or malaria in the middle of the night. In his delirium, he ran toward the edge of our campsite toward a steep cliff, chased by others trying to stop him. 3 porters accompanied him down this morning. I heard he turned out fine after rest but we didn’t see him again.

In the next post, I write about Day 5, the trek to basecamp before summit night.

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