I shut my eyes and willed myself to fall asleep. The wind outside howled and shook the tent fiercely. For a second, I imagined a pack of wolves circling our campsite, even though I don’t think wolves live in Tanzania. And if they did, they certainly couldn’t make it this far up the mountain.
Slowly and reluctantly, I opened my eyes. A faint glow coming from my best friend Sarah’s side of the tent cast an odd sparkle on the canvas above me. Frost, I thought with a shudder. Great. My breath formed an opaque cloud on top of my face.
4903m above sea level, Arrow Glacier Camp was our penultimate stop before our arrival at Kilimanjaro’s summit. I silently congratulated myself on making it this far. Tomorrow was going to be rough. I closed my eyes again.
Except I couldn’t fall asleep because I really, really had to go to the bathroom. Why had I drunk so much water? I stretched my foot and felt the hard metal of one of my three water bottles. Pushing the bottle away from my body, I cursed my bladder.
When I finally accepted that I was going to have to leave the comfort and warmth of my sleeping bag, I reached over and unzipped it. Without opening my eyes, I felt around with my left hand and found my prize. I put my headlamp on my head and clicked it on.
With a determination and enthusiasm I didn’t know I had, I unzipped the rest of my sleeping bag and scrambled out.
Plopping down next to the door flap, I hurriedly put on my Nikes. As my trembling fingers struggled clumsily with the laces, I wished I had brought Crocs instead.
Suddenly, a violent gust of wind swept through the valley. If it hadn’t been tethered to the earth, I swear our little tent would have been swept up like Dorothy’s house. All I wanted to do was to assume a fetal position in my sleeping bag.
Immediately, I was hit with blasts of freezing air. Intent on minimizing my time outside, I forced my legs to move one in front of the other. Vaguely remembering my way to the toilet tent, I tilted my head downwards to illuminate the rocks below. This was not the time nor place to sprain my ankle.
When I thought I was close, I stopped and looked around. We were the only group camped there that night, and, as far as I could tell, I was the only one awake. Great.
I then made one of the best choices of 2017. I don’t know I did it. Was it curiosity? Brilliance? Oncoming hypothermia? Exhaustion-fueled delusion? Regardless, I am eternally grateful for whatever force propelled me to do this tiny yet monumental and life-changing thing: I clicked off my headlamp.
It took my eyes several seconds to adjust to the darkness, but once they did, I looked up. If you think you have ever seen the stars, you are mistaken (unless you have a giant telescope, in which case I concede that you have also, in fact, seen the true night sky). Never before had I seen so many twinkling lights. The sky looked to be the richest navy I’d ever seen. In that moment, it was just me, Kilimanjaro, and the carpet above.
A particularly ferocious burst of wind snapped me out of that moment and back into my body. It was time to get back. I stood up and took one last look at the sky, hoping to give my brain just enough time to form a detailed mental picture. Click. Mental photo taken. Click. Headlamp back on.