Pee Bottles

The evening is spectacular in High Camp. After the rain and the rainbow, the sky breaks up. Cloud scatter blows by.

Tommy and the evening sun in High Camp.

Mustafa works his magic in the mess tent and dinner is served. Good appetites, for the most part, pull up to the table. The exception is Wilkerson, who was already reduced to fluids before we reached High Camp. Greg now follows suit. He talks of nausea, grimaces at the sight of food, and picks at Mustafa’s offerings on his styrofoam plate.

“Not hungry.”

He opts for the hot tea instead.

My appetite is holding. I have other issues though. My feet are gimpy and my mind is fuzzy. Still, the region between these two ends seems to be pumping properly. I eat and drink without hesitation.

Elegant dining at 13,650 feet. From left to right: Tanner, Alcan, Greg, Uraz, Tommy, and Wilkerson. Note the boulder used as a table.

Greg has started taking Diamox, a drug that assists climbers at altitude. It is probably a good idea. Diamox lessens the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS), including nausea, dizziness, and headaches. However, because it is a diuretic, it also keeps you up all night, whizzing. The circle is a vicious one, given the problems of dehydration when climbing at altitude, even without the assistance of the medicine. Gain water, lose water, gain water, lose water . . .

As I sit at the table I am glad that that there is no shortage of safe drinks here. Many large (sealed) containers arrived at High Camp by horse. Mustafa has stored them on one side of the mess. We are encouraged to use these containers to fill our own widemouthed Nalgene bottles. Each of us will take a full bottle back to the tent for the night.

I joke with Greg about getting confused in the dark.

“How do you know which bottle is for drinking and which bottle is for peeing?” (laughs all around).

“Oh, you’ll remember all right” (laughs all around again).

Greg is quite wise to these things as a result of a previous climbing experience on Mt. Kilimanjaro. The way he tells it, his water bottle froze and he barely escaped with his life. A porter had to drag him to the summit by his ankles.

“Why do we need these pee bottles again?” I chortle.

“Because it is cold at night, and sometimes raining or snowing. If you don’t have a pee bottle, you have to put your boots on and go out of the tent.”

“I ain’t usin’ no pee bottle,” drawls Keith, all determined-like.

I remember having a similar conversation with another Kili veteran. He told horror stories about the pungent mix of altitude, Diamox, several men trying to sleep in one small place, and pee bottles. Someone was always peeing, had just peed, or was getting ready to go pee. It was the stuff of wet and sleepless nights.

MZ trying on borrowed crampons in High Camp.

I wonder what mysteries this night has in store. Our mountain guide, Celîl, made the call at dinner. The weather appears to be holding so we will attempt the summit. Wake-up is at 1:30 in the morning. We must be ready to move at 2:00. With this announcement, the mood in the group ratcheted upwards to somewhere between fired-up and scared-to-death. Now, retired to our tents, I hear Tanner and Tommy talking. Brad and Keith are guffawing loudly. Wilkerson, all alone in his space, is quiet.

The nervous Nellies of the group, Greg and I, review the checklist for our summit pack. We want to minimize the need to think when the wake-up comes in just a few hours.

In the midst of this, Greg confesses that his stomach is not right. His pensiveness is contagious, especially given the fact that he alone has some grasp of the challenge ahead.

The colors in the sky fade to blue and then black. A dark cold grips High Camp. I am grateful for a headlamp and a mummy bag.

Photo 4: Our GPS coordinates plotted in Google Earth.

Clad in my anti-microbial long underwear and wool socks, I begin the labor of retreating into the bag. Hands on the inside, I feel for the tab to close my side zipper. Once zipped, I pull the drawstring closure tight around my cheeks. Only my round face is exposed. I wiggle like a caterpillar to turn toward the tent wall. My feet press against the bottom of the tent, downslope. Slowly I relax and grow still. I am a chrysalis dangling in the frozen sky. I listen to the wind whistle and to the incessant flapping of the nylon tents. And then it hits me: I have to pee.