Despite being asleep, my hiking partner's pulse cruised in the 120s. Eight hours prior, four of us had made the final ascent during the dark of night up Mt Kenya so that we would be standing at 16,355 feet watching the sun rise over the clouds far below us. Our original intent was to hike down a longer but more scenic route. But one of us was hurting badly, ironically the one in the best shape. Vomiting came not once but twice on the ascent. Even though this time period vastly preceded my medical days, I knew this was the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The only cure is to go down. So I volunteered to take the sick partner back down the way we ascended as it represented the quickest way down.
We descended roughly 2,000 feet in a short amount of time. My partner looked like shit despite the descent. "Take a nap," I said, "and we'll go from there." It was about noon now and I cooked some lunch. After an hour's rest, the pulse was still in the 120s. Not good. We can't camp here. Untreated, AMS can proceed to pulmonary and/or cerebral edema. Given we were in a third world country far, far from medical attention, much less first world medicine, any edema would be lethal. So I emptied their backpack and loaded mine up to essentially double the weight. I woke them up and said, "we need to get you down. This isn't looking good."
So down, down, down further we went. By then, we were no longer above the clouds. We were in the clouds which limited visibility to about 20-30 yards. This was my first time climbing Mt Kenya so I was not exactly well familiarized with the route. I had relied on our other partner who had climbed it before but was now descending the other side. Not much help now. Even a map and compass didn't help much when you can't see any landmarks to triangulate, at least to my limited skills. And then to make matters worse, we hit the Vertical Bog. The name pretty much describes it perfectly. You muck and suck your feet out of knee deep bog-like conditions for about a mile. I'm starting to get nervous that I'm losing the trail. I can't see shit. I don't even want to guess what my pack weighs but I know it's way over the 1/3 body weight guide. I've been up and hiking since 10 pm last night. And I've got a sick partner who's pounding headache and nausea are not improving despite the descent.
Thoughts of Dante begin to arise. There are no beacons, no signposts, no cairns, no trail in a bog. Each step down is another step down into uncertainty. Into the unknown. Into hell. It seems like a good as any time to panic but I can't show that to my sick partner who is depending on me. And that is my situation now. I have people depending on me, I can't see shit for the future. My back is faltering under the load having already been worn down from the last three years of my life. And I have little to no idea in which direction the next step leads except downwards. Unlike the Mt Kenya adventure which eventually ended well after 18 hours of hiking, I have no such assurances here. Each step down is another step down into the depths of hell.