Live From Kili: Altitude Woes

Writer Nick Heil reports from Kilimanjaro, where altitude sickness takes its toll at 14,000-plus feet

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Writer Nick Heil is on assignment for BACKPACKER in Tanzania, where he’s climbing Kilimanjaro with the cancer-fighting Love Hope Strength Foundation. Keep checking back for updates on the climb, and to learn more about the expedition, visit

Oct 2: Camp 4, Sheffield Camp, 14,740 feet

After a rough night—we fell asleep to the sounds of vomiting, moaning, and various complaints of headaches and nausea—there were team-wide hosannas and hallelujahs that today was a relatively easy push up to the next camp. Lunch concluded with a Diamox Party, of which most of us partook.

Diamox (officially known as Acetamolozide, or Vitamin D, as some like to call it here in the tall mountains) is a potent drug that helps neutralize the symptoms of mountain sickness. In any case, most of the group seem to be doing better, including yours truly, who had a woozy day yesterday as well.

About half of us made an afternoon acclimatization hike up a nearby monolith called Lava Tower, a 200-vertical-foot freestanding monolith. It was a welcome diversion from our typical days of “pole-pole” (slowly slowly) hiking, since it involved some exposed rock scrambling.

“I haven’t done anything that dangerous since I drank a bottle of whiskey and drove two hours to Sydney,” said aussie Brien McVernon, one of our absurdly talented musicians who doesn’t have much experience with these kind of adventures.

We’re now parked at the base of the headwall up Kibo, the final 4,000-foot volcanic massif. It’ll take us two days to climb it. Can’t wait for our camp up top, at 18,000 feet. Gulp.

—Nick Heil

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