Kilimanjaro Part 2

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

I want to continue my story about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and attending cat continuing education lectures, en route. Ron Fox and I, along with the other members of our group, are about to begin Day 4 of the trek. The feline medicine and surgery lectures, as well as the climb, are going well.

It is becoming more and more difficult to leave the warmth of our sleeping bag each morning. A heavy frost covered the ground when we awoke on Day 2 of our trek and that was over 4000 feet lower than we find ourselves now. On Day 4, we rush even more quickly from our sleeping tent to the mess tent for some communal warmth and our hearty breakfast. After breakfast, we immediately made our assault on the steep Barranco Wall, fondly called "the Breakfast Climb". It was nice to go downhill yesterday after our push to a high altitude to help with acclimatization, but we knew it only meant we would have to regain that altitude this day. After conquering the Wall it was a relatively short walk through high desert terrain and over several ridges to the Karanga River Valley Camp, at 3938 m (12,998 ft). After a short 5 hours of hiking, we were ready for some more continuing education from Dr. Mike Lappin and Dr. Catriona McPhail from Colorado State University Veterinary College.

Cats are frequently taken to see a veterinarian for evaluation of straining in the litterbox. The majority have lower urinary tract disorders. Occasionally, constipation is the primary cause. Vomiting often occurs associated with the straining. Loss of appetite and increased salivation also is common. Treatment will usually first require soapy water enemas. For recurrent cases, diet change, a high fiber diet, colon smooth muscle stimulants and lactulose, alone or in combination are often successful.

Day 5 begins with mist and fog swirling around our tents beneath the icefalls of the Heim, Kersten and Decken Glaciers above us on Kibo, the highest peak of Kilimanjaro. We ascend to Barafu Hut, our highest camp yet, at 4842 m (15,980 ft). The campsite is rock strewn and on quite a slope, but we hurriedly choose our tent to escape the bitter wind and sleet that assails us on arrival. Our lecture will begin a bit early today because we are to try and get some sleep this afternoon in preparation for a summit attempt tomorrow.

Feline nasopharyngeal polyps are benign growths that originate from the middle ear or the Eustachian tubes of young cats. Their cause is unknown. Affected cats show signs of upper airway obstruction, including nasal discharge, gagging, difficulty swallowing and laboured breathing. Treatment will involve surgical removal of the polyp. Prednisolone therapy, concurrently, seems to lessen the risk of recurrence.

It's rise and shine at 11:00 p.m. and dressed in our warmest gear and loaded with lots of water (4 liters each), as well insulated as we can make it, we meet in the mess tent for tea and cookies. Day 6 begins on the trail at midnight. We begin climbing by starlight, using our headlamps, if needed, and the guides warning us to go polee-polee (slowly-slowly). This is the marathon day of the climb. In the wee hours of the morning the temperature drops to its lowest and the wind picks up. It is freezing cold. After 6 hours of slow and steady ever up, the sun rises. Above the clouds ourselves, we are exalted to see its golden rays gilding the floating, puffy layer below us. It takes us another 2 ½  hours before we overcome the steepest section and summit at Stella Point (5752 m, 18,871 ft). The wind and the cold are unrelenting, but the exhilaration of summiting is overwhelming. Whether looking down into the dormant crater in the center, watching the sun brighten the world of white glaciers surrounding us or glimpsing the African plains far beneath, through breaks in the clouds, the view on top is magnificent. It takes us another 45 minutes to reach Uhuru Peak ( Freedom Peak) at 5895 m (19,341 ft), Africa's highest point. Yet, amidst the stunning beauty of the snows of Kilimanjaro, the pain of getting here is instantly forgotten. In jubilation, we pose for photos around the battered and bent wooden sign post to prove the success of our quest.

Eventually, the cold and the wind remind us of the reality that our journey today is only half complete, we must now safely descend.  We must remain alert and careful over a tough, downward path, through scree, that will take us 3 hours to return to base camp at Barafu Hut. After a brief rest and lunch, it will be another knee-knackering, steep descent for 3 hours before we arrive at Millenium Camp at 3820 m (12,533ft). We have had a long strenuous day and we can finally succumb to our exhaustion and collapse in our tents. Our lecturers decided to forgo carrying their laptop to the mountain top for some CE in that heady atmosphere and gave us this day off. Instead, we had learned more about ourselves and the extravagant beauty of this natural world.

On Day 7, our last on the mountain, we descend to Mweka Gate at 1641 m (5384 ft) and exit Kilimanjaro National Park. We were left with an experience and a learning opportunity never to be forgotten.