On trips with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and family, our campfires were for fun. At the end of a day in pleasant weather, we would gather dry sticks to add to dry wood we usually brought from home. Everyone was cheerful as we waited for the fire to die down to red-hot coals, and then we would toast marshmallows and make s’mores. We still do enjoy these great campfires with family and friends.
But I remember on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and later in the Himalayas on Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, our only campfires were for our cooks to make our meals and to boil and purify water for our tea, which we poured from a big tea kettle into our water bottles each day. Our porters and sherpas would then sit by the small fire to keep warm. I would take my water bottle and put it in my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm at night. By morning, the water would be cold even inside my bag, but if it had been unprotected in my tent, it would have been frozen. Sometimes a small fire was built in the morning for hot milk or hot cereal, but usually only once a day. At 15,000 or 16,000 feet, we were above the tree line and could not collect wood, so bundles of wood had to be carried up with us. As we went higher, we had no campfires at all and only used small mountaineering stoves.
One day on Kilimanjaro, we climbed from dawn until it was time for a break for lunch. We had been climbing in clouds all the way and we were wet. We stopped at a cave and went inside to sit down and dry out for a few minutes. The porters started a fire. It was dreadful! It only took a few minutes to drive everyone outside to sit on a rock. My eyes were stinging, and everyone was crying, choking, and coughing from the smoke. You couldn’t see a thing, but we felt our way to the opening. To make matters worse, one of our porters had twisted his ankle and it was badly swollen. They discussed who would carry him down and who would stay, and all would now carry extra in their already heavy loads.
Each night on Kanchenjunga, our cook made a hearty meal of soap, a main dish of meat, vegetables, and rice, and hot tea. We sat and ate our meal and then listened to Jamling Norgay tell amazing stories of his expedition on Everest and mountaineering and rescuing people in thin air. His father, Tanzing Norgay, was the first to summit Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary. He led the Swiss team first, then two years later the German team, and then two years later the British team, and finally conquered the tallest mountain in the world. One night our cook made a birthday cake to celebrated Jamling’s birthday. Imagine: high in the Himalayas, on the most primitive campfire with no camp oven, our cook made a birthday cake!
[posted July 12, 2016]