I awake in the Low Camp to the sound of rain. The droplets collect, trickle down the fly of the dome and drip where a zippered door should to be. The clothespin fix that I had hoped would secure the door has failed. The door flaps freely in the wind, occasionally brushing me with a sloppy kiss. I look up. My socks sway from the overhead pole. I, and everything I own, am soaking wet.
I close my eyes, exhale, and picture my breath condensing on the nylon tent walls. It is 40 degrees at an elevation of more than eleven thousand feet. It is cold, but not freezing. I pray for the rising sun.
It is not an impossible request. When the door whips outwardly (every few seconds), I see more sky than scud. It may be a dry day after all.
I rustle around and find my pants and shirt. I pull these over my new hi-tech long underwear. The label claimed that these were anti-microbial and anti-odor. I find this hard to believe, but go with it. There is no way that I am going to peel down and bathe in water that just ran out from under a glacier. In fact, it is unlikely that this second skin will come off at all in the next four or five days. If worse comes to worse, I think wryly, I’ll stand by the horses.
Mustafa is in the mess tent boiling something that is more to my liking. He grins when I come in, pours me a cup, and continues preparing breakfast. I peruse the flavoring options placed on the small table. There are several kinds of tea, some instant coffee, sugar, cream, and a container of pinkish-red crystals under a turkish label, kuşburnu, “rosehip.” I have no idea what this label means, but I try it for something different. It is quite good. Good and hot.
I sip my drink and wait for the rain to stop. When it does, I go outside and stare up at the mountain summit for a while. It is impenetrable, swaddled in clouds. I hear others moving and quietly talking in their tents. The camp is coming to life.
The plan for the day is to do an “acclimatization hike.” This is a forced march designed to help our bodies adjust to the elevation and avoid sickness. I know this from research, not from experience. As one ascends up a high mountain like Ağrı Dağı, the atmospheric pressure becomes less and less. At twelve thousand feet there is 40 percent less oxygen in every drawn breath.
I imagine rambunctious little oxygen molecules flying around my face. I make an “O” shape with my lips and suck them in as through a straw. How fun! How fresh!
My body is responding to the high elevation in involuntary ways as well. My heart rate is increasing. My blood pressure is rising. In time, my blood will even become enriched as calls for the production of additional red blood cells are answered to meet demands for additional oxygen. “Whoosh-whoosh,” goes my heart. I marvel at the design.
I take another sip of the pinkish-red drink and try to feel my blood thickening. I feel nothing. Well, almost nothing. I do feel my socks in my wet boots. “Squish-squish,” go my feet.
One by one, our team is drawn to the tent. Like me, they come for Mustafa’s offering. He pours and distributes.
Wilkerson, however, whispers disturbing news. He didn’t sleep well and is suffering from stomach problems. Is this, too, the result of the elevation? Did he pick up a bug along the way? Is it the food? He is strong, perhaps the strongest among us. I make a note to keep an eye on him.
Uraz joins us and distributes news from Celîl. After breakfast, at 8:30, we will begin the hike.