In the morning you wake up stiff in the back and in the muscles of your legs and your shoulders. Your back is stiff because the ground is hard and gravelly through your thin isolation pad and your legs and shoulders are stiff from the long hiking and the weight of your pack from the day before. You might be cold or you might not be - that depends on how good your sleeping bag is and your isolation pad and how resistant you are.
You rise before the sunrise when the sky is light gray and fresh and as beautiful as any sky anywhere. Then you dress, which is to say you put on the same clothes you wore yesterday and probably the day before. While you dress, one of the porters brings you warm water. The warm water is wonderful as you rub it over your forearms and your face, but even better is the coolness you feel afterwards from the wetness. It is a beautiful, intense discomfort that you feel, which, like most all sensations when you are here, reminds you that this is what it feels like to be alive.
Then, dressed and washed, you sit on a rock away from the commotion of the campsite and you watch the line of shadow descend along the mountain slope as the sun emerges from over the opposite ridge. When it reaches high enough, the shadow will descend to you and you will experience the first warmth of the day on your face even as your fingertips are still cold at your sides. You unbutton your coat and take off your wool beanie and you feel warm and cold at the same time. You will feel these things and you will feel a surge pass through you like as if you had touched something electrical. This is your happiness that you feel pure through unsuppressed senses.
Maybe you are not someone who ordinarily ‘feels’ a lot. If that is you then these feelings will be especially good because they will be uncommon. And if that is not you then it will still be very good because these will be the most simple and true things that you have felt in a very long time.
Soon you will smell the scrambled eggs and toast or hot chapati and the cook will summon you into the tent for the breakfast meal and a cup of hot tea or coffee. The eggs will arrive steaming on the metal tray and you will mix some chocolate into your coffee for the pleasure of a simple indulgence. You will thank the cook and ask for more hot water to be put into the thermos and then you will attack the simple meal he has brought. You will eat more ravenously and more gratefully and probably it will taste as richly as anything you can remember eating previously.
After you eat maybe you will have to lighten your stomach and that will not be very pleasant. Going in the open air is a fine thing but here there is only a field of small rocks and no trees to provide cover. So, if you have not the time or desire to find yourself a private place at some distance, then you must use one of the several latrines scattered around the edges of the campsite. When you do this, you will be sure you bring your scarf or bandana to tie over your nose and mouth before you enter.
When you return from your morning preparations, the porters will be breaking up the camp. You will shed your warm clothes because you will soon be walking and carrying the pack and then you will appreciate the chill. When you set out you will feel stiff but you will not feel awkward. You will only have felt awkward during the first day until you broke your muscles and your breathing into a rhythm. If you did not find your rhythm during the first day then probably now things will be going pretty difficult for you, but if you did then the stiffness will work itself out very soon and then you will only feel good and warm and very healthy. You will feel the hard earth beneath you and the support of your boots and the rigid frame of your pack. You will walk evenly, rhythmically so that your breathing is harmonized with your strides and you will drink between your breaths so that you minimize the disruption to them. Your thoughts will be clear and less scattered and if you are lucky then you will hardly be thinking anything at all. The less you think the better it will be and the more you will experience of what you are doing.
In the morning the sky will be clear and the sun will be strong. You will apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses and a hat and you will use the solar panel strapped to the outside of your pack to recharge your iPod and your digital camera. Before lunchtime the clouds will have come and they will be either just above or all around you depending upon how high up the mountain you have ascended. When the clouds come it will become much cooler so that you will increase your pace if you can or you will put on your rain shell and use the zippered vents on the sides to trap the right amount of body heat. With the clouds around you now it might even rain lightly and for a short time. If it does then it will be refreshing and as much a necessary part of the experience as the morning sunshine and, anyway, you are already wearing your rain shell.
You will eat lunch when you arrive at the next camp and, if you do it that way, then after lunch you will probably lay down on your isolation pad beside your tent, listening to music until you fall into sleep. If you are still on the trail at lunchtime then you will eat from the pre-packed meal that the cook gave you before you set off that morning. There will be a sandwich or a chicken breast and an orange and maybe a juice box. There will be plenty and you will be plenty hungry but you will have to control yourself to eat very little. If you eat too much you will be heavy on the trail in the afternoon. The heaviness can be dangerous if you have to scramble over any boulders but mostly it will upset your rhythm and it could make you feel sick. If you eat too much then all the blood and the oxygen that it carries will go to the digestion in your stomach. Already your body is short on oxygen because there is less of it in each inhale and you are using your same lungs to capture it. You have been compensating for this by breathing deeply and steadily and by drinking plenty of water mixed with rehydration salts. But if you eat too much and then must walk again before the digestion is done, you can easily upset this tenuous equilibrium.
The clouds will stay through the afternoon and it will grow cooler, especially since you are probably ascending now, which means you are at a higher altitude than you were this morning. When you reach camp you will feel good and well worked and your muscles will be tired but they will somehow be stronger than they were when you started out in the morning. You will set you pack against a rock beside your tent and you will drink longly and deeply the way you wanted to all throughout the day but did not allow yourself so that you would not get cramps. Then you will peel off your rain shell and your nylon sport shirt and you will stand shirtless for a few minutes letting the cool sweat dry and enjoying the fresh air against your skin. You will lay out your clothing to let them dry and to let them absorb the fresh smell of the mountain air so that it will not be so foul when you put them back on tomorrow morning. Now you stretch and then dress yourself warmly. It is not cold yet but you are not moving now and you know the cold will come before the night does. You will dress in long underwear under your trousers and several shirt layers under your fleece jacket. You will replace your sunhat with your wool beanie and exchange your sweaty bandana for a wool neck gaiter. Now that you are properly dressed you might walk around the campsite or take a nap or more likely find a comfortably shaped rock where you can sit and read a book or listen to one or listen to music and vacantly observe the activity around the campsite or the stillness across the mountainside.
You will do this for a long while and maybe you will have dozed or maybe you will have remained alert, but either way you will feel entirely relaxed. You will feel that you are exactly where you should be and that you should never be anywhere but here. You will watch the sunset which will be spectacular or quite mundane depending upon whether the sunset is on the horizon at its proper time or much earlier against a high mountain ridge. When the twilight is almost faded into night, the cook will call you to the tent for dinner. There will be hot water for tea or coffee and a soup of squash or pumpkin or lentils. Then the cook will come to refill the hot water.
‘More soup?’ he asks in uncertain English.
Sanne and Maria, the two Danish ladies in the threesome, will look at each other and then Sanne asks, ‘What is next?’ because her answer to his question will depend on his answer to hers.
‘Dinner,’ he responds.
She smiles and you smile and Maria smiles and she asks for ‘more soup, please’.
Dinner will be chicken or beef and some vegetables. It will be very good and very filling and you will eat as best as you can. But there will be enough for much more than the threesome so the cook will return and think you do not like it and you will have to convince him that you like it very much but maybe you don’t want to eat too much because of the altitude or something like that. After dinner you will drink hot tea to digest and you will finish the rehydration mix that you prepared when you arrived at the camp and have been working on ever since. The taste of the rehydration salts is bad and the Tanzanian tea is very weak but you accustom yourself to both and you enjoy the sensation of switching between the hot and the cold drinks.
After dinner it will be very dark outside and very cold. It is maybe 20:00 or 21:00 and you make your preparations for going to sleep. But before you go into your tent you lay upon your isolation pad on the cold hard ground as warmly bundled as you possibly can and you take out your star chart. You shine your flashlight on it while you look away so that the constellations will glow on it and you can look at them for reference without ruining your night vision. The campsite will be almost completely dark and if you remove your earphones you only hear the sounds of the porters having a few drinks or smoking ganja after their clients have gone off to bed. If there are no clouds you will probably see as many stars as you can ever remember seeing before, but most nights there are clouds so you will only see a small portion of the sky with clarity. But that one portion will be enough because after ten minutes or so it will be too cold to lay outside inertly any longer. Your fingers will be numb and your nose will be wet from the cold.
In your tent it will be noticeably warmer because the dome will capture your body heat and then, inside your sleeping bag with the extra lining inserted for extremely cold weather, you will be warm and tired and very happy to be closing your eyes before 21:30. You will listen to your audiobook for a long while and then you will doze or your attention will wander so you will switch to music and then you will doze. You will sleep fitfully during the night because the isolation pad is too thin for the hard, uneven ground and because the altitude will not allow you a sound sleep. Your sides will bruise at the hipbone from laying on them and you will shift constantly throughout the night. By early morning you will be tired but just as well ready for the day to start because lying there is not accomplishing much anymore. Even with the difficult sleep you will wake up refreshed and you will have reserves of energy. Yesterday will have been a great day and the night will only have been an obstacle before you can begin another just like it.