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Today’s post is a little bittersweet for me. As you may recall, I have mused about my desire to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. As luck would have it, one of my dearest friends who happens to be my former boss, recently completed this feat along with his family, in November.
It was for a worthy cause, and since he is one of the best people that I know, I applaud his accomplishment (the jerk!). Here is his first-person account of their fantastic journey. Please be sure to read the entire, unfiltered story by clicking the link at the end of this post. You won’t regret it. Thanks, George. Now, I have to play catch up.
Arriving in Arusha, Tanzania after the 32-hour journey, the four of us are exhausted. And jittery, for the next day we start our six-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. I think back on the year. My wife Nicky coming home one day, excited, having convinced the board where she works, The GI Cancer Institute, of her idea to solicit donors keen to climb Kilimanjaro. The Institute raises funds for clinical trial research dedicated to improving treatments for patients suffering from gastrointestinal (GI) cancers.
Finding people touched by these cancers is not tricky. Whether any of them want to climb Kilimanjaro is another matter. At first, it’s us four– Nicky, me, son Benjamin (age 25) and daughter Jessica (age 23). Luckily others join, and in the end, there are fourteen climbers, who together raise $142,000, doubling our initial goal.
The next day we arrive at Rongai Gate, elevation 1800 meters (5900 feet), and pour out of the bus. We see the porters for the first time: Dozens of them, preparing for our arrival. Lunch is served, but I am too excited to eat. The trail is visible, snaking off into the trees. C’mon everybody, I think, finishes up so we can get started!
The walk to Kibo Camp, the last stop before ascending Uhuru Peak, the top of Kilimanjaro, is beautiful. Starting in verdant rain-forest, over five days we progress through heath and moorlands, alpine desert and finally a vast moonscape of gray dust. But it’s strenuous. Over that time, we climb almost 3000 meters (10,000 feet), and though we are acclimatizing to the high altitude, it doesn’t make breathing any easier. Nor the final ascent any less daunting. It will begin that night, and we won’t return to camp until mid-morning the next day. We must traverse 1164 vertical meters (3822 feet) in the space of a few hours, in an atmosphere that is 40% of the oxygen content we’re used to in Sydney; in temperatures well below 0.
At 11:30 PM we start. The grade is manageable, and the trail is hard packed. Then we hit the first patch of scree, which is pea-sized gravel piled meters thick. Without warning my forward foot slides laterally down the slope, as if on ice. Shuffling quickly with the other foot, it slides too. I slip and slide this way, scrambling five extra sidesteps for every foot forward. I labor every breath. It is 12:30 AM, an hour in, with four more hours and dozens of scree patches to go. And that’s just to Gillman’s Point, the top of the caldera rim. There are two hours of climbing after that before we reach Uhuru Peak.
At the first rest stop, Nicky tells us she can’t go on. We cajole to no avail. The three of us continue on without her, and for the rest of the ascent, I wonder how inconsolable she’ll be when we see her back at Kibo Camp. At the five-hour mark, we reach Gillman’s Point, 5681 meters (18,640 feet), on the rim of the caldera, and the sunrise is breathtaking. The landscape is stark and lifeless like I’m feeling.
When we reach Stella’s Point, an hour from the end, Jessica, Benjamin and I pose for a photo. And then my body turns into a statue. Immobilized by fatigue, I watch my kids go on without me. After five minutes I take ten steps. Then after a pause, take ten more. I walk like this the rest of the way. When I reach the sign, that magical sign announcing the top of Kilimanjaro, Benjamin and Jessica are there. She’s ecstatic – she beat her father to the top! We take lots of pictures.
No celebratory dancing for me, but I’m damn happy. Happy to have survived 5894 meters (19, 340 feet). And incredibly excited to be there with my kids – so proud of them I could cry. I don’t do that for real until ten minutes later, after walking around a low rock wall on my way back down. Then I see Nicky. She’s sitting there, back to the wall, nestled between her trusted guides. We embrace.
“Incredible!” I shout. “How’d you do that? The last time I saw you, you were ready to give up and go back! This is fantastic!”
She gives me a knowing smile and says, “Elias and Balo. They helped me. From one rest stop to the next. They’re miracle guides!” She looks up at me and asks, “Is it far?”
I assure her it’s not, and tell her about being with our children at the top. My pace quickens now, boosted by the sight of her. We won’t have a foursome photo at the final signpost but who cares? We made it. My god, all of us made it!
Click here to read the entire story!
[su_box title=”About the Author:” box_color=”#d71b1b” radius=”4″]George Lancaster was born and raised in Japan until age 12, spent most of his adult life in the American South and now resides Down Under. This peripatetic life gives him an empathetic world view, which he enjoys sharing through writing.[/su_box]