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Nelson Mandela Day: South African Rally Driver Gugu Zulu Dies on Mount Kilimanjaro in Trek4Mandela
The Nelson Mandela Foundation announced with a “heavy heart” on Monday the death of Gugu Zulu, one of the climbers on the Trek4Mandela team. The South African rally driver lost his life while attempting to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The climbers participating in the Trek4Mandela were due to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on Monday, to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day. The aim of the climb was to raise awareness to the Caring4Girls sanitary pad distribution program.
Right at the start of the six-day hike, Zulu said he was “so honored to be part of this amazing positive initiative.”
On July 16, Zulu made his second to last post on his Instagram page: “Made it though [through] day2. My wife is doing fabulous, she has even learnt the local language. Am having flu like symptoms and struggling with the mountain but taking it step by step!! Today we managed to see our destination and our camp is literary [literally] above the clouds!! Bring day 3@@ #AdventureCouple #AdventureLiving#Trek4Mandela #Caring4Girls #Thule #Fitbit.”
In the South African rally driver’s last post to Instagram, he said: “Acclimatization day3 – just taking a stroll in the garden high above a blanket of clouds – amazing.”
In a press release, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said, “On behalf of the Board and staff of the Nelson Mandela Foundation we extend our sincere condolences to his wife Letshego Zulu, their daughter Lelethu and the Zulu family on this tragic loss.”
The press release went on to read that the details they had were “sketchy.” They did know Gugu experienced breathing problems on the mountain and that the medical team supporting the Trek4Mandela put Zulu on a drip before descending the mountain. Reportedly while the medical team did everything possible to save his life, Zulu passed away.
The statement continued, “Gugu was climbing Kilimanjaro with his wife Letshego and we understand that they both descended the mountain together with Richard Mabaso, the project leader and the medical teams. The team was led by experienced mountaineer, Sibusiso Vilane.”
As reported by Timeslive, Zulu complained of suffering from flu-like symptoms on Saturday and posted to his Instagram page that he was “struggling with the mountain.” While he continued walking the next day, it was hours later that he required medical treatment for breathing difficulties.
Although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed, according to climbing experts, Zulu most likely succumbed to altitude sickness, also known as pulmonary edema or acute mountain sickness, which is reportedly a common cause of death on high mountains.
Justin Lawson, a mountain guide for Climbing ZA, said, “Any such [flu-like] symptoms are a cause for concern whilst at altitude.”
“If you have symptoms of mild AMS (acute mountain sickness)‚ then you should not go any higher for 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms do not improve or get worse‚ then you should descend immediately‚” he said.
Adam Collins, an expedition coordinator for Ultimate Kilimanjaro said Zulu should have turned around sooner. “However‚ it should be noted that it is very common for climbers to get symptoms associated with acute mountain sickness at some point during their climb‚” Collins added.
“So it is really a question of what degree of acute mountain sickness Zulu experienced‚ and what was done to prevent‚ identify‚ and treat altitude related illnesses‚” he said.
According to Collins, Mount Kilimanjaro is commonly described as being “Everyman’s Everest,” because it is one of seven summits that can be climbed by anyone who is reasonably fit and no technical mountaineering skills are required.
“However‚ at 5895m-tall‚ there is a high probability of developing some degree of acute mountain sickness while on Kilimanjaro,” said Collins, adding, “Therefore it is good practice for those wanting to climb Kilimanjaro to get cleared for high altitude trekking by their doctors.”
Collins went on to say there is always a danger when climbing high mountains and that approximately 10 out of 35,000 climbers die each year on the mountain, primarily due to acute mountain sickness.
Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation said, “I am devastated. I knew him well. I recruited him to climb Kilimanjaro. The last thing he said to me at the airport before he left last week was that he wanted to speak about doing other Mandela Day projects. I feel a huge sense of loss.”
According to Eyewitness News, Zulu’s sister, along with a representative from the Nelson Mandela Foundation were meeting doctors in Tanzania on Monday evening to establish the exact cause of his death. The Foundation is also working to repatriate Gugu Zulu’s remains back home to South Africa.
Gugu Zulu 'Should Have Turned Back", Experts Say
Gugu Zulu should not have continued his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro after complaining of flu-like symptoms. Climbing experts told TMG Digital on Tuesday that flu-like symptoms were a cause for serious concern at high altitude.
Zulu died while taking part on the Trek4Mandela expedition on Mount Kilimanjaro. He complained of having flu-like symptoms on Saturday and posted on his Instagram account that he was “struggling with the mountain”.
The next day‚ he continued walking and was photographed getting acclimatised. Hours later he required medical treatment for breathing difficulties.
Climbing experts suspect that Zulu could have succumbed to altitude sickness – although the cause of death is yet to be confirmed - also known as pulmonary oedema‚ which they say is a common cause of death on high mountains. The Nelson Mandela Foundation said on Tuesday said that it did not have any details about the cause of death.
“Any such [flu-like] symptoms are a cause for concern whilst at altitude‚” explained Justin Lawson‚ a mountain guide from Climbing ZA.
“If you have symptoms of mild AMS (acute mountain sickness)‚ then you should not go any higher for 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms do not improve or get worse‚ then you should descend immediately‚” he said.
“… he should have turned around sooner. However‚ it should be noted that it is very common for climbers to get symptoms associated with acute mountain sickness at some point during their climb‚” said Adam Collins‚ expedition coordinator at Ultimate Kilimanjaro.
“So it is really a question of what degree of acute mountain sickness Zulu experienced‚ and what was done to prevent‚ identify‚ and treat altitude related illnesses‚” he said.
“By mountaineering standards‚ this fatality rate is very‚ very low. Some peaks have 50% fatality rates‚” said Collins.
Edmund February‚ an ardent climber and an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town‚ however‚ believes there could be more deaths on Kilimanjaro which go unreported.
“I would imagine it’s a lot more common than what comes out. Gugu was a famous guy that’s why we hear about it but I have heard of several deaths on Kilimanjaro.”
Lawson said that for anyone climbing a mountain above 1500m‚ care had to be taken to acclimatise properly by ascending slowly and descending immediately if one showed any signs of acute mountain sickness. “The more days you allow climbing the mountain‚ the higher the probability of success as your body has more time to adapt and acclimatise‚” he said.
The Road Less Travelled
You’ve successfully navigated your special day and made your forever vows. Now why not mark the start of a lifetime of memories together with a bucket-list adventure? There’s no time like the present to throw caution to the wind and set your souls alight
You’ve successfully navigated your special day and made your forever vows. Now why not mark the start of a lifetime of memories together with a bucket-list adventure? There’s no time like the present to throw caution to the wind and set your souls alight!
CLIMB MOUNT KILIMANJARO
You’ll most certainly feel on top of the world as you and your number one mate summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The world’s tallest free-standing mountain at 5 895m, and the highest mountain in Africa, a ‘quick’ trip up is the ultimate addition to any Tanzanian honeymoon. Its majestic peak permanently covered in snow and its three dormant volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, make for a heady mix.
Your quick trip will take between five and nine days on average, depending on a number of factors such as weather, your state of fitness, acclimatisation and the route you choose. There are seven well established routes to the summit which vary in degrees of difficulty as well as in type of accommodation (they range from camping only to huts and electricity in some places). Despite the dramatic mountainscapes, rocky formations, beautiful forests and spectacular ridges, climbing Kili is no walk in the park and travellers are advised to research thoroughly, use an established and reputable company, and prepare properly in every way. SA-based company Climbing Kilimanjaro has ticked off over 15 000 successful summit attempts since 1994, and offers hikes up Mt Meru, Mt Kenya, and active volcano Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai. Ultimate Kilimanjaro is also worth a thought.
Situated in the 1,668km² Kilimanjaro National Park, there’s plenty to do and see even before you summit. The park consists of five main vegetation zones, the foot slopes characterised by plains and lush forest home to elephant, leopard, buffalo, and many endangered small antelope and primates. On the eastern side of the mountain, Chala Crater Lake is also a mustvisit with its deep blue-green waters and surrounding 100m high crater rim.
Acclimatisation is essential on any honeymoon, whether or not you’re heading up the hill, and the Bay Leaf Hotel in the nearby town of Arusha is just the spot. With five gorgeous suites promising luxurious comfort – just the place for a little postclimb pampering – it also prides itself on fine dining with a combination of continental and traditional North Indian Punjabi cuisine, an “intriguing match-made-in-heaven mix”.
CYCLE THROUGH VIETNAM
Swap your boots for a bike and join 30 million Vietnamese in getting around the local way. There is a veritable plethora of companies offering Vietnamese cycling trips – Active Travel Vietnam gets the thumbs up from us – so choose anything from one to 40 days as you explore this intoxicating land with over 3 000 miles of mesmerising coastline, as well as an inland rich in equally exotic offerings.
They say the organised frenzy of four million motorbikes in Hanoi is a sensation in itself, but for those looking for unique experiences, this is just a taste. Vietnamese travel is extremely kind on the ZAR and offers a wealth of things wild and new.
Take the street food for starters, which ranges from delicate steamed spring rolls to not-so-delicate snake, scorpion, frog, duck tongue and fried bugs.
For those less bold there are the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay scattered with majestic limestone and dolomite isles, pillars and caves.
Test your cycling power on the spectacular passes and densely forested paths of the national parks, and marvel at the floating markets, busy canals and endless paddy fields of the Mekong Delta.
Famed for its tailors, don’t miss the streets of Hoi An either, where you can stock up on new threads before heading through the shrimp farms, coconut groves, lagoons, salt flats and fishing villages that lead to the 6km-long Nha Trang beach. Once there, spoil yourselves – it’s your honeymoon after all – by checking into the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay.
Accessible only by boat, say goodbye to your saddle as you revel in total luxury, and eat, sleep, snorkel and spa your senses into a state of nirvana.
RAFT THE ZAMBEZI
Looking for something mad to do? The wildest one-day run in the world may just suit! But this isn’t about running on foot – starting at the base of the vast Victoria Falls (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World), this is river rafting that will literally take your breath away.
Between gorges of basalt rock, thick with vegetation and spectacular to look at, the Zambezi River is over 100m deep at the base of the falls and increases to over 200m in depth by the end of a daylong trip. It offers 22 grade three to five adrenaline-pumping rapids. The tranquil pools in between give you just enough time to get your breath back and enjoy the stunning river scenery.
Like most wild activities, there are safety matters to factor in, so while there are many operators on the river offering single and multi-day trips, do a spot of research and choose one with a good reputation before you commit. Try Bundu Adventures and Zambezi Rafting to start with.
Wild doesn’t have to stop at white water. There are tons of other adventure activities too – helicopter flips, microlight trips, cheetah and lion encounters, or even a dip at the base of the falls.
For a little rest and relaxation – we hope that’s part of the honeymoon plan – try The Elephant Camp overlooking the vast gorges that separate Zimbabwe and Zambia. Its sumptuous suites boast private viewing decks, plunge pools, private lounge areas, inside and outside showers, and baths with a spectacular view!
For those looking elsewhere, the grand old dame Victoria Falls Hotel was built in 1904, and with its dramatic views and private pathway to the falls, has been an icon of luxury and elegance for over 110 years.
DIVE THE WILD COAST
It has been around forever, and with good reason. Umngazi River Bungalows has long been the romantic retreat of swooners and ‘mooners alike, but now, boasting a fabulous revamp, there’s even more reason to zoom in on this well-loved location.
Rugged coastlines, indigenous forests, crystal waters, an overwhelming sense of peace, the spa with its dazzling views of the water, the lazy afternoons followed by slow river cruises, the famous seafood feasts, two-of-you picnics, island breakfasts, and endless walks on the beach are enough to entice. But when the thrill of adventure calls, what about sharing your comfort zone with a shark?
The nearby Offshore Africa Port St Johns specialises in up close and personal encounters with some of the East coast’s larger marine creatures, including great white and bull sharks, humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins and mantas, as well as many oceanic bird species. They also offer snorkelling, offshore photographic tours, the sardine run, and ocean and river excursions. (Visitors are reminded that the Wild Coast is ‘wild’ and all activities are strictly on a conditions-permitting basis.)
Back at the lodge, there’s also loads to do; try hiking, trail running, mountain biking, motor boating, kayaking, fishing and birding. Surrender too to the temptations of the spa, which include salt scrubs, mud, coffee and mint wraps, hot stone therapy and deep muscle, Polynesian and stick massages.
For those who are looking for less, however, simply loll with a book – and the love of your life – in a quiet suite just metres from the water’s edge.
KAYAK IN MADAGASCAR
Wash your stress away, keep fit, and explore nature and culture all at the same time. But don’t forgo luxury, delectable cuisine and those quiet glasses of honeymoon wine! If that sounds right up your stream, what about heading off on a kayaking adventure in Madagascar? Not only will you get to visit historic cities and quaint villages, but also the rivers, forests, and shoreline of this enticing country.
Jenman Safaris offer a number of kayaking adventures that take small groups to special places. Try local markets and visit historic towns as well as pristine rainforests, deserted beaches and private bays. You’re promised abundant sightings of curious creatures, a wealth of fabulous flora, and time to explore the beaches, scout for whales and snorkel the crystal waters while viewing the kaleidoscope of corals and tropical fish beneath.
Accommodation alternates between sophisticated nights in boutique hotels and glamping in style with French trained chefs, to the decadent luxury of a few days to unwind at Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge. Situated between the land and sea, the lodge offers a rich variety of sea-, shore- and rainforest-based activities including a whale-watching lookout tower, an open-air massage pavilion, coastal trips and picnic lunches, the nearby fishing village of Manafiafy, traditional palm mat weavers, day and night walks in the rainforest to see lemurs, chameleons and insects, sports fishing, and mangrove boat trips.
You’ll also be intoxicated by dinners under the stars with the sand between your toes. As newlyweds, be sure to steal some alone time too; to chat, make plans, and enjoy the equally intoxicating company of your very own, very new, partner for life.
Mount Impossible: How a Disabled Veteran Conquered Kilimanjaro
by Davy Rothbart
A bomb blast takes your legs and you've got a few options: You can sit on the couch for the rest of your days (who would blame you?), or you can struggle to walk again. But Julian Torres, he set his sights way higher. He decided to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. Davy Rothbart tried to keep up
Let's say your grandfather, he was a soldier. And you grow up hoping somehow to follow in his footsteps. So, right after high school you join the Marines and you train like crazy and get yourself shipped to Afghanistan, plunged into battle.
After years of prepping for this, you're finally there, fighting Taliban soldiers so near to you that you can smell their acrid sweat just across the tree line. And then let's say, just to imagine it, that three weeks in you step on an IED, and in a blast of light and sound, your legs are gone—and something more than that, too. Your days as a soldier are done; the things you've built your life around, evaporated. It's possible, don't you think, that one night, five years later, you might find yourself on your couch at 3 A.M. feeling a phantom pain, not for your missing legs, but for your missing life?
Maybe that's the moment when you dig through your pockets for an e-mail address one of your buddies at the rehab clinic slipped you a few weeks ago. And maybe you pull out your phone to send a long, desperate message to a guy you've heard is a lifesaver—an ex-con named Tim Medvetz who trains wounded vets to climb mountains—an unlikely savior who now seems like the only person on the planet who can help. Maybe you say, “I need this, Tim. Listen. I'm your guy.” And when Tim hits you right back, maybe you're beyond thrilled but at the same time belted by the notion: Holy s---. What have I gotten myself into?
A year later, and Sergeant Julian Torres is crammed in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser in rural Tanzania. He's tightening the bolts on his prosthetic legs, and I can see he's got the same mix of excitement and trepidation written on his face as when he first banged out that note to Tim. Out the window, I watch our path grow treacherously steep and comically muddy as we wind toward the trailhead at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. Julian is taking steady breaths, gaining inward focus—a soldier on a mission. Tim, meanwhile, is all laughs, doing his best to translate a dirty joke for the driver. A former Hells Angel, he's spent a little time in jail and a lot of time partying with the dudes from Guns N' Roses and Jane's Addiction; for a while he was romantically linked to Cher. So, not the first guy you'd imagine sermonizing about the healing power of mountaineering. But to Tim, our trip these next ten days is just the sort of adventure that can change a man's life. It did once for him.
Up at the trailhead, the local crew of porters and guides that Tim's hired cluster around the Land Cruiser as Julian gingerly steps down. They'd been told about him—they knew he was a Marine, injured in Afghanistan—but still, they can't help but stare as he pulls gaiters up over his shoes and binds them to his prosthetics with duct tape. Fake legs or not, he needs to keep them dry. They study Julian as he leans forward, bracing himself with what look like ski poles. These guys have climbed this mountain a million times, and still they've never seen anything like this. As Julian sets off up the muddy trail, they all gaze after him with narrowed, disbelieving eyes. Their expressions say what they're thinking: This guy's gonna try to summit?!
A blinding flash. Sand and grit across his face. Julian, age 22, was blown upward, off his feet and into the air. He looked down, caught sight of his own shadow on the road far below. And when he landed, Julian dragged himself from the crater the IED had blasted there at the edge of a canal. Enemy fire was whizzing past, but Julian pulled off his gloves, his flak jacket, and his ammo belt with a simple thought: I finally got into the fight, and now my warring days are done. His squadmate and best friend, Lance Corporal Cody Childers, helped him onto a rescue chopper. And as he did, Cody's frightened glance at the carnage below his buddy's waist confirmed the worst for Julian: His legs were gone.
Aboard the chopper, Cody held Julian in his arms, whispering encouragements in his ear, but expecting his friend to die. As fast as blood was pumped into Julian, it rushed back out of him. Hours later, he awoke on a cot in a field hospital and was handed a phone. When his wife, Ashley, heard his voice, she began to bawl. “Hey, don't trip out,” Julian told her, “but when you see me, I'm gonna be a little shorter. Don't judge me.” Her tears turned to laughter. They had met in high school, in Modesto, California. Julian was a wrestler with a Mohawk; Ashley helped him with his homework. They went together to prom, and when the slow jam “Always and Forever” by Heatwave came on, Julian found himself holding Ashley close, singing along. That was that. When Julian joined the Marines, Ashley bounced with him, and in May 2010, their son, Julian Jr. (known as JJ), was born. A month later, Julian's platoon shipped out, and in July he came home, blown to pieces. His left leg had been sheared off below the knee; his right leg, just above.
At Bethesda Naval Medical Center, outside D.C., Ashley held vigil by Julian's bed. She squeezed his hand, JJ crooked under her free arm. The pain in the nubs of Julian's legs was so searing that even the flutter of air when someone walked past could make him cry out in agony. The pain meds caused intense nausea, and after days of vomiting, Julian refused to take them. The nurses fetched the head doctor, and as the guy began to lecture him, Julian eased his left leg out of his hospital gown. He held his mangled limb up with his hands, as if it were a kind of doll, bobbing it up and down and bringing it to life with a petulant voice, “No more pills! No more pills!” The doctor's jaw dropped. “I've been doing this 25 years,” he told Julian. “I've never seen anyone operate their nub like a hand puppet.”
In late August, while he was still in the hospital, Julian received a devastating call: Cody Childers had been killed by enemy fire. Cody had felt more like a brother to him than a best friend. And now he was gone.
Months passed, and slowly Julian adjusted to his new life. Teetering around on unfamiliar prosthetic legs, he managed to go fishing with JJ; he changed his baby daughter Analicia's diapers. But Julian couldn't shake a lingering sense of unease. For years, he had trained to be a warrior, a machine-gun squad leader in a unit that had killed upwards of 50 Taliban in just a few weeks. But the IED blast had yanked him from the life he'd been preparing for—and left him legless on a suburban couch, watching reruns late into the night. He badly missed Cody. And he had the gnawing feeling that he hadn't finished what he'd started. That he'd never have the chance.
“You're putting on weight,” Ashley said to him one night, sad-eyed, grasping his hands. “I'm worried about you. There's something not right.”
“Don't worry,” he assured her. “I'll find something.”
A fellow amputee had told Julian about a guy named Tim and an outfit he'd started called The Heroes Project. Late one night, Julian e-mailed Tim, proposing to hike the length of California's John Muir Trail.
Now, for a guy with no legs, a 211-mile trail hike would be plenty daunting. But Tim wanted something way more epic for Julian—he imagined a near impossible undertaking that would require the kind of sacrifice and commitment that soldiers are forced to muster for battle.
“F--k John Muir,” said Tim. Instead he raised the idea of Kilimanjaro. “Heard of it?”
“In Africa?” “Yup. Here's what's gonna happen. You're gonna train your f--king ass off—I'll train you—you're gonna do what I tell you to do and I'll get you there. Summit and back. Deal?”
Me, I've got both my legs, and I've been hiking with Tim now and again for a couple of years. Still, when he told me I should tag along to Kilimanjaro, I had to really think about it. Kilimanjaro's not Everest: Any reasonably fit person can attempt to climb it, but less than half who try make it to the top. Just over 19,000 feet tall, the mountain is known for its sneaky dangers. Altitude sickness is common, and the same risks apply to its high slopes as on Everest or K2—nine or ten climbers a year die from cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, hypothermia, falls, or avalanches. Tim has also seen fit to increase the challenge by scheduling the ascent in cold and wet November. His conceit is to reach the summit on Veterans Day—if we can make it, a CNN host named Brooke Baldwin, who has summited Kilimanjaro herself, has promised to interview Tim and Julian from the top of the mountain. Intimidated, but excited for the challenge, I told Tim I was in.
Joining us are Ken Sauls, 50, an accomplished rock climber and high-altitude cinematographer, and Kevin Hwang, 42, the owner of Ultimate Kilimanjaro®, a seasoned expedition company, managing the details. I'm clearly the least fit and least experienced hiker in our crew—I've just turned 40, and I still hoop twice a week, but I've never once in my life taken the stairs when there was an elevator to be found, and busy with life's usual bulls---, I've barely trained for this trip, which I now regret.
The rainy season is in full effect. And here in the rain forest, where the trail isn't oozing, it's perilously slick. Again and again, Julian slips and goes crashing hard to the ground. It's a punishing routine that I'm having trouble growing used to watching. Tim, right at his heels, treats each of his falls matter-of-factly, teasing him, complimenting him on his landings, or sometimes saying nothing at all as Julian gathers his side sticks and rises to his artificial feet.
By our second day, we're beginning to find our rhythm and feel the altitude—hike for an hour, rest for ten minutes. An hour up, sit for ten more. Tim refuses to let our trail march grow tedious, filling the thinning air with wild, wide-ranging tales of global adventure. There's the goat he blew up in Thailand. The hostage situation at a gold mine in Papua New Guinea. The blizzard on the mountaintop in Argentina—and the dead climber there whose eyelids he gently pushed shut. Then he claps his hands. “Okay, guys. Ten-minute break.”
At six five, Tim is a brawny, real-life action hero, built like an NFL linebacker and dressed like a biker: boots, camo shorts, a leather jacket, and a red-white-and-blue bandanna wrapped around his head. This is the kind of dude who nurtures survivalist fantasies, imagining how he could thrive on his own once civilization falls, and who views himself as a sort of anti-establishment hero, fighting off the forces of political correctness and “mo-mos”—people who are weak, lame, or just don't get it. But his bravado is tempered by a soulful, spiritual streak and a love for connecting with people: The night before our climb began, in a hotel bar in Arusha, I watched him threaten to smash a German businessman's face in for a passing remark that disparaged Americans. Then I watched him buy the guy a beer before quizzing him curiously about his work.
Tim is the manliest man I've ever spent time around, which is both intimidating and kind of thrilling. After high school, he worked for years as a Manhattan bouncer, racked up a couple of assault charges, and spent a year in prison, before heading out to Hollywood. He then joined the Hells Angels and built custom bikes for the stars, outfitting Harleys for folks like John Travolta and Keanu Reeves. Late one night, on his motorcycle in the Valley, rolling at a hundred miles an hour, Tim collided with a truck. Doctors said he'd never walk again. Months later, he managed to get up on his feet, though he was filled with bolts and screws and metal plates, and suffered constant pain. “Pills and booze kept me going,” he says, “but that's no way to live.”
Tim read Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air, which details the 1996 disaster on Everest that killed eight climbers, and he found himself oddly inspired. The next day he told his biker buddies, “Guys, you know what? I'm climbing f---ing Everest.” Nobody believed him.
He bought a one-way flight to Kathmandu, calling his mom from the departure gate before chucking his phone in a trash can. Over the next few years, he lived with a Sherpa family in Nepal, rebuilding his body and learning to become a high-altitude climber. On his second try up the mountain, he made it to the top. For a guy who'd been told he'd never walk again, the accomplishment was nearly unbelievable. He went on to climb the world's Seven Summits. But it wasn't enough. He needed something more. One day, listening to a speech from a wounded soldier, he had a flash of insight—he'd help veterans climb out of the hole that he'd found himself in after his motorcycle accident. If scaling mountains could bring him back from the dead, he thought, maybe it could do the same for injured vets.
Tim got some advice from Cher, whom he'd met in the Hollywood rocker scene and remains close with. (The tabloids claimed at one point that the two were planning to marry, though Tim laughs at the idea.) Cher suggested that he start a foundation. He bought the book Nonprofit Kit for Dummies, began raising funds from helpful foundations and generous donors, and soon The Heroes Project was born. Within months, he brought a vet with only one leg to the top of Mount Elbrus in Russia, and in the years since, with a rotating cast of vets, he's conquered a slew of other magnificent peaks. At the Naval Medical Center San Diego, where wounded vets like Julian rehab their injuries, a certain folklore developed around Tim. Here was a guy giving battered soldiers something crazy to train for and then something risky to overcome—building a kind of boot camp, and then taking men into battle. Those who'd climbed with him spoke of him with rapture and dread. “He'll work you like a son of a bitch,” one alum advised Julian, “but there's no one you'd rather have on your side.”
We are three days and 20 miles into our hike when we first glimpse the snowcapped summit of Kilimanjaro. Julian eyes the peak warily: “That's a big f---ing mountain.”
Overnight, he's become grimly focused. His Marine training had taught him to break difficult tasks into chunks, and now, on the mountain, he's doing the same. “I'm just trying to hike toward lunch,” he says. “After lunch, I'll try to hike till dinner.” He tucks his earbuds in, blasts the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and begins picking his way up the trail.
Soon, though, he starts to struggle. At a rest break, he unscrews a leg and inspects the battered scars at the end of his right nub. The pounding has taken its toll: His skin has broken open, a shallow but weeping wound. Julian grimaces in pain, and Tim, kneeling at his side, shakes his head.
“I don't want to freak you out or nothing,” Tim tells him, “but this is serious trouble.” A couple of years ago, Tim had been forced to abort a climb when a vet's leg blistered open in the same way.
Julian is pissed. “I didn't come all the way here to quit,” he fumes. “Summit and back!”
“That's right,” says Tim. “Summit and back.”
For now, the priority is getting Julian out of his legs and letting the skin heal. Though we'd planned to climb higher, Tim directs us to a nearby camp. We're going to take a rest day. A few hours later, as torrential rains lash his tent, Julian gently rubs in a fresh coat of Adaptskin, a high-octane protectant ointment. The danger, he says, goes beyond failing to reach the summit. There's a risk, should his nubs get infected, that doctors would have to re-amputate, higher up, impairing his mobility even further. The idea is terrifying.
Sitting here in the cold storm, I'm struck by how crazy this seems. Why would Julian really risk this much? When I press him on it, he fixes his eyes on me with a sobered look. We may be on a mountain in Africa, but he makes it clear that he's here to wrestle with Afghanistan, with what happened to his friends. “I'm doing this for Cody,” he says. “Cody and the other guys.” Besides Cody Childers, two other close friends of his had been killed in Afghanistan, and a fourth had recently committed suicide. “I'm going to honor them by making it to the top.”
Julian reaches into his duffel and unfurls a yellow flag bearing Cody's name, birth date, and death date. He plans to plant the flag at Kilimanjaro's summit. “And check this out,” he says, showing me a few chess pieces he's brought—four knights resting in his palm. Julian names them. “Cody Childers. Anthony Matteoni. Jason Calo. Artem Lazukin. I'm burying them at the top.”
But the top still feels a long way off, and each day provides a new reminder of how hard it will be to reach. Freezing winds. Sleet. Hail. Julian's wounds begin to heal, but always he's in serious pain. He stays focused on his rock 'n' roll playlist, as Tim has advised. Sometimes, when I try to point out a magnificent vista, or some Dr. Seuss flora and fauna, or even some jackal poop beside the trail, Julian shakes me off, like a pitcher who doesn't like the sign from his catcher. Each step takes concentration; he has no bandwidth for the nonessential. Still, he stays relentlessly positive. “That's my secret weapon,” he says. “Unwavering optimism.”
By the morning of day six, we've reached the Barranco Wall, a nearly vertical rock face about the size of the Chrysler Building, in Manhattan. It's the most technical and imposing section of the trail, a seemingly endless series of chutes that need to be scaled like ladders. For most of us, the effect is spooky, and we'll have to choose our handholds carefully. For Julian, though, the wall looks like a nightmare. “Come on,” he says, standing, “let's get this s--t done.”
Over the course of hours, we work our way agonizingly up the cliff. The footholds are so precarious, Julian has to reach down, bend his metal legs, and place his feet on a mossy knob or a spit of rock as narrow as a finger. It's nerve-jangling work. Tim follows close behind, spotting Julian, so concentrated on his friend's progress that he's let his fountain of stories go dry. Through months of training, Tim's created a tiny two-person cult, master and disciple. Julian is the fresh recruit, still in his thrall; Tim, the zealous, charismatic leader, with a mad Fitzcarraldo-like vision. Yet it seems to me to be a necessary cult. A guy with no legs should not be able to climb a mountain. It should be impossible. But here before me, the impossible is happening, one painful step at a time.
By nightfall, the trail jags steeply downward, and Julian, already fried from the Barranco Wall, falls again and again, crashing onto sharp rocks and jagged roots before hauling himself back to his feet. He reminds me of a boxer being pummeled by someone stronger and refusing to cave. Part of me wants to protect him, to force him to quit, but another part of me is dazzled by the spectacle of what he's enduring. We cross a stream at the bottom of a valley and face the day's last, long ascent. That's when lightning flashes overhead, a wallop of thunder explodes in the sky, and heavy sheets of rain come whipping down. A gushing current pours off the hillside, and it feels like we're climbing up a waterfall. By the time we reach camp, we've been on the trail for 14 hours.
Julian sits between the flaps of his open tent, pulling his legs off his body. Tim—who has been everywhere and seen everything—seems mystified by the depth of Julian's resilience. “How'd you do what you did today?” he asks, genuinely astounded.
Flooded with emotion, Julian grows teary. “My friends guided me,” he says, voice cracking. “Cody. Anthony. Calo. Laz. I talked to them the whole way.” He can barely contain his sobs. “Summit and back!” he says. “I'm going to the summit and back!”
Tim has noticed this kind of thing on other climbs, veterans confronting something bigger than the mountain. These were all men built for a fight, each of them whisked from the front lines suddenly, without warning, without a plan. And while doctors can go to work on the physical trauma, the psychic impact is often left to linger. Their mission remains incomplete. That is, until they meet Tim. “Putting these guys back in battle,” he has explained to me, “on the mountain, in a life-and-death situation, gives them a chance to complete their battle experience.”
By summit day—our ninth on the mountain—we've notched 34 trail miles and our first days of the journey feel like memories from months before. The end is now literally in sight, the glacial mountaintop glistening in the morning sun as we gird ourselves for the final, most brutal ascent. Already, there's trouble. A few inches of snow has fallen overnight, and for all of Julian's training, he's never hiked in the snow. His concern is undisguised. Even beyond the weather, Summit Day is easily the toughest on Kilimanjaro. The elevation gain is nearly double that of any previous day, and the extreme altitude can be dangerous. The air is frighteningly thin, and already my blood-oxygen level has fallen so low that I've spent the night sucking “O's” from one of our two oxygen bottles, leaving only one canister if we run into trouble.
It's time to push toward the peak. Julian dons wraparound shades to fight the glare from the snow. Here are some of the things he thinks about over the next several hours, as he puts one prosthetic foot ahead of the other: The glow on Ashley's face at senior prom. The conversation he'd had with his dad and granddad when he'd told them he was joining the Marines—his granddad had enlisted 50 years earlier, and was thrilled; his dad, worried for his safety, was disheartened. More: The feel of Cody Childers's hand, squeezing his, as the rescue chopper carried them away from battle. The sensation of hot water running over his feet, back when he had them. And inexplicably, the song “Save Tonight,” by Eagle-Eye Cherry, which hit the airwaves when Julian was 9, coughed up now from his mind's deep recesses, stuck on unstoppable repeat: Save tonight and fight the break of dawn / Come tomorrow, tomorrow I'll be gone / Save tonight…
Tim is trying to get his attention now. Julian plucks his earbuds out. “This ain't the summit,” Tim says. “It's just Stella Point. Still a little ways to go.” But Julian knows better. Tim is a trickster. This is clearly the summit. Julian drops his side sticks, eyes burning with tears, and pivots his prosthetics wildly, racing the final steps, looking for the iconic wooden “You've climbed Kilimanjaro!” sign. But as he tops the ridge, he sees that Tim was right.
“Ya f---in' mo-mo!” Tim cries. “What'd I just say?”
“F--- you!” Julian hollers back, smiling, still buoyed by the camaraderie that's gotten him here. Though his tank has gone empty, Julian plows forward.
Fifty minutes later, steps away from the summit, Julian zeroes in on the Kilimanjaro sign, the same one he's seen in pictures. He casts his side sticks away again: He's promised himself he'd walk those final steps on his own. Tears stream down his face as he slaps both hands on the sign, letting out wild whoops of joy, triumph, and relief.
“Ya f---in' did it!” Tim hollers.
“We f---in' did it!” Julian shouts back.
He spins around, full of joy, soaking up the blue sky and the prairie grasslands, stretching out to the horizon, terrain that reminds him of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Tim hands Julian his phone. He's already dialed Ashley. For all that Julian has just achieved, his thoughts are of his wife's well-being. “I'm sorry I've been gone so long,” he says, emotions unrestrained. “I miss you, man. Thank you for supporting this thing… This thing I had to do. Thank you for believing in me. What? Yeah, it's awesome up here.”
Tim reaches for the phone. CNN will be trying to link up. Quickly, Julian drops to the ground, claws up a clump of snow, grit, and gravel, and plants the four knights in the ground, saying good-bye to his friends one at a time, feeling each loss freshly, it seems. Tim watches in silence, digging out his laptop, then beckons Julian over.
Before long, the team will be headed back down, the sun will vanish, and in the darkness, a whirling blizzard will sweep the mountain. All of the pain that Julian's excitement has postponed will return with furious vigor—his right tibia, pounding into the prosthetic, will nearly puncture the skin of his nub. It'll be midnight before camp is reached, and another day before we're off the mountain. In just a couple of weeks, Tim will be preparing with his next veteran, Staff Sergeant Charlie Linville from Boise, for a summit attempt on Everest in May. And over the coming months, Julian, safe at home with his family, will discover a new peace. He'll start viewing himself in a different light—not as the guy who always aspired to be a soldier and then barely had a chance to fight, but as a man who achieved the improbable. He'll begin crafting fresh goals and bold dreams: Maybe he'll become a stand-up comedian, maybe a motivational speaker.
But here on the summit, daylight is quickly fading. From the Skype window on Tim's laptop, a producer's voice calls out. “Guys? Are you there? I'm here with Brooke Baldwin.”
Julian takes a very deep breath, steadies himself before the black eye of the webcam, ready to show the world what he has done. “We're here,” he says, his face mashed into a forlorn yet resonant smile. “I'm here, Tim's here, we're here.” He waves his hand. “Can you see us?”
Davy Rothbart is the author of My Heart Is an Idiot and the director of Medora. He is now only six peaks away from climbing all Seven Summits.
'The Heroes Project' Conquers Mt. Kilimanjaro
Retired USMC Sgt. Julian Torres and The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz talk to CNN's Brooke Baldwin from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to recap their journey with Ultimate Kilimanjaro®.
In October 2015, Ultimate Kilimanjaro® hosted Asha Leo on her Kilimanjaro adventure.
Asha Leo is a British fashion model and television presenter. She began her career at age 13 by winning the Face of Sugar Magazine model competition. She subsequently signed with Select Model Management in London. By age 21, she moved to Nevs Model Management where she became an in-demand commercial fashion model working in Milan, Hamburg, New York, Miami, Seattle, Dubai, and Amsterdam.
Throughout her career, Asha landed campaigns with Charles Worthington, Fat Face, Hot Diamonds, Head & Shoulders, Marks & Spencer, Nivea, Pretty Polly, Ri2k, Sears, Seventy, Sonnetti Jeans, Sony Mobile, T Mobile, The Body Shop, and Triumph.
She has also graced the cover of several magazines including Stuff Magazine, Health & Fitness, Weddings, Arabella, Weddings, and Destination Weddings. Due to her Indian heritage, in 2004, Asha was chosen to be in the Kingfisher Calendar.
Here are her entertaining day by day videos on the 8 day Lemosho route.
Day 2: https://youtu.be/sDPM4O6m-A4
Day 3: https://youtu.be/ttJu90RMKOY
Day 4: https://youtu.be/8hiF5jcbUIQ
Day 5: https://youtu.be/U4Rszt_wepI
Day 6: https://youtu.be/C0pHsCcm_VI
Day 7: https://youtu.be/PBNOCLVbJ9c
Day 8: https://youtu.be/3Eu5detRQdw
What Happens When a Fashion Model Climbs a Mountain
Mt. Kilimanjaro and the fashion ramp are worlds apart but for Jocelyn Luko-Sandstrom, they’re as close as it gets. Both are her platforms for different reasons. In fact, one led to the other.
Born in Hawaii to an Austrian father and a Japanese mother, Luko-Sandstrom has been around the world as a fashion model. Since age 15, she has inhabited the glamor world, basking in the spotlight and enduring personal hardship off it.
“I was living alone in a dormitory in Tokyo and I got tons of comments from people who said I was too chubby or too slim, too Caucasian or too Asian,” she says. Luko-Sandstrom remembers when she had to stop working after she broke out with pimples. “The makeup people ended up putting a stronger foundation which made the pimples worse.”
She will be the first to tell you that a fashion model is no different from the next girl, facing daily challenges from the mundane to the dangerous and having to deal with the same temptations. Europe was a bad memory, especially Milan. Work was exhausting but it was its dark side that unnerved her when she had to fight off clients and agents who demanded sex from her. “There were girls who were willing to do it, including some of the models from my agency,” she says. “And all those men were so much older.”
Luko-Sandstrom began asking herself why getting a job was so hard. “I was getting frustrated. I was only 19.” She says Hong Kong is the safest place because here, she had no such experience. Still, it was a bit of a shock to her. “In New York, models get nice meals — vegetables, salads etc. In Japan, food is healthy, but in Hong Kong, they treat you to a McDonald’s meal,” she says.
She was at the height of her glamor days when she hit another peak — Africa’s highest mountain — five years ago. It came when she and her husband were asked by filmmaker Sean Lee-Davies to do a documentary about the environment on Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest standalone mountain at nearly 6,000 meters above sea level.
It was a far cry from the world of glamor. She wore no makeup to begin with. “We didn’t shower nor wash our heads either. We did brush our teeth.”
Luko-Sandstrom suffered from altitude sickness and had severe headache. There was no medical staffer, so she soldiered on with the help of energy pills. “It was like a dream. I couldn’t see clearly. People appeared to move in slow motion”. It didn’t help that the group walked into a snowstorm. “Faith was important. I thought that as long as I kept walking, I would get there,” she says.
When they reached the snow-white mountaintop early one morning, everybody cried. “No kidding. We cried and hugged one another.”
The return journey took eight hours, with the average temperature at minus 16 degrees celsius. “Walking through the forest, I could see some ancient trees — the ones you see in a Tim Burton movie. I thought I was on another planet.”
Luko-Sandstrom says she was fortified and comforted by her husband’s presence during the trek. “He kept asking if he could help me with my backpack. I kept refusing him because I had promised to carry it myself.”
Luko-Sandstrom hopes the documentary will resonate with its environmental message. “The glaciers on the mountain are melting and we humans should do something about it,” she says. “Everyone can take a small step but together, we can make a giant leap.”
Luko-Sandstrom is not shy to admit her modest contribution. “I seldom use plastic bags. I bring my own shopping bag.”
Adventures To The Edges will air on TVB Pearl every Wednesday at 9 p.m. starting on Aug 5.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 3.
Discovering my Bucket List While Climbing Kilimanjaro
I didn’t think I had a bucket list.
The reason, I figured when I thought about it, is that I’ve been pretty lucky and, thanks to my job, have travelled a lot, with the end result that my whole bloody life is a bit of a bucket list. But last month, I hitched a ride on someone else’s list, and in the process found out that I do have one of my own.
Some of my running friends had been talking for a while about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — now that I’ve done it, I can use the word “climbing” where before, I insisted on calling it a hike or else would have passed out in terror — and earlier this year, two of them, Jennifer and Sheelagh, got serious. I signed on, mostly because I couldn’t bear hearing afterwards about one more adventure of theirs that I’d missed.
But I also needed a break, and on some level, realized it. Three months of covering the trial of Luka Magnotta can sap you of the capacity for joy. Years of busman’s holidays — always online, sort of quasi-working, or writing books — can grind you down. A decade of making a dog, however splendid the dog, your sole love object, can render you a little limited. All of this had happened to me anyway, and though I live on a pretty simple plane — and am a simple and mostly happy creature — even I knew it.
And I was so distracted, near-permanently in the modern way, that I barely looked at any of the research. Jen had done in the organizing of our trip; I just paid, and went, blind and stupid as a mole emerging into the light. I expected none of it, not how physically hard the hike was and what a relief it is to have an utterly empty mind, or how beautiful the animals — unimaginable numbers of them — we saw on the safari afterwards, or how much fun it was to meet strangers (and not be after something from them — an interview, a profound word, a story tip — as we reporters usually are), or how lovely it was to discover that my battered heart and attendant bits and pieces aren’t dead yet.
We went on a tour and were hooked up with seven other people — three American engineers (two Jims and a Lou), a just-retired Californian teacher (Donn), a fabulous Texas woman (big Southern hair, impeccable nails and makeup, even on the mountain, but all inner steel and competence) nicknamed Natalya, two 30-something Aussie women (Lee and Zoey) and an uber-stylish Frenchwoman named Beatrice.
At first they were a blur, but over the week of the hike, all their faces came into focus, and I realized we had a wanker-free group. There wasn’t an uninteresting one in the bunch; our new friends were accomplished, tough and funny. I fell a little in love with them all (all right, maybe one more than the others, but still), and even with Jen and Sheelagh, whom I knew pretty well already, and of course with Tanzania.
Our days were startlingly uncomplicated: wake, eat breakfast, load up the backpack with water and start walking, usually for six hours or more, one foot in front of the other. (The watchword of our five terrific guides was “Pole, pole,” Swahili for “slowly, slowly,” and at first, Natalya, Zoey and Lee, the babies of the group, feared they’d been saddled with a pack of decrepit geezers. But the wisdom of the pace meant that as we got higher and higher, the air thinner and thinner, we could keep going where those in other groups who had bolted by us later faded.)
We’d break for lunch, walk some more, have dinner and then, with no fires allowed on the mountain, the sun gone and the cold creeping in, would hit the sack. Every day was exactly the same. Despite that, as a non-camper, I still managed to screw up the 31 or so zippers of the tent, and leave the wrong ones undone, and could distinguish my tent from the others only by hollering for Jen.
I cried the first night, when some of the porters sang in Swahili and danced. I cried with gratitude for friends, old and new. I cried at the African sky, the stars that Jen and Jim showed me. I cried at how bloody hard life is in Tanzania, and how so many of those we saw later, on the roadsides, seemed to be perpetually waiting — for a bus, for a break, for a job, for a tap on the shoulder, for something. I cried when, after making the final ascent by moonlight, the sun breaking pink on the horizon, we got to the top of Kili. I cried, just about every time I saw them, at the elephants.
Luckily, I am a practised and quiet weeper, and on the mountain at least, there was always a wind to explain my wet cheeks. What the others most loved is for them to know. But for me, it was them, period. It wasn’t just the adventure, the physical nature of what we were doing sweeping aside the detritus in all our heads, it was sharing it with them — with shy Beatrice, complicated Natalya, patient Jen and brave Sheelagh, ridiculous Lou (he is 82 and whenever any of us was tempted to whinge, we thought of him and hardened the hell up), droll Zoey and Lee, capable, chill Donn, elegant and reserved Jim, and Jim of the great, level, searching gaze.
It was remembering, in the soaring cathedral that is Africa, how we need and want one another. That’s all that’s on my new bucket list — to feel like that again, more often, soon, right now, tomorrow.
In February 2015, Ultimate Kilimanjaro® led Rachel Rudwall to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Rachel is a TV Host, Producer, and EMMY-Nominated Camera Operator who has had countless global adventures, ranging from work as a host for ABC's FABLife, HLN's Vacation Chasers, the Travel Channel and Mashable. She has produced top-rated shows like Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men.
Rachel has been a featured travel expert and explorer in content for Travel + Leisure, ABC, AFAR Media, Yahoo!, HLN, Expedia, American Airlines, Marie Claire Magazine, MSN, Verizon, Cathay Pacific, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and many more.
Rachel climbed Kilimanjaro and went on a safari with Ultimate Kilimanjaro® while on her honeymoon.
Welcome to Africa
The flight to Kilimanjaro was an eventful one. On the first flight to Nairobi, Lauren, Dan and I may have consumed a little bit too much alcohol. I won't go into details but it involved sleepwalk mugging of a fellow passenger, six sick bags and a nose bleed. On arrival in Nairobi, feeling a little worse for wear, we were informed that our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro was cancelled, leaving us to explore the delights of Jomo Kenyatta international airport for 9 hours. An experience I don't wish to repeat in a hurry. The connecting flight was by turbo prop and took us over the border from Kenya to Tanzania. looking out of the window we gazed in awe at the vast weather systems the mountain was creating, we were aiming to climb at the end of a short rainy season which meant that the weather was due to be somewhat unpredictable. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the peak from the air but on this occasion it wasn't to be.
After landing and paying a fee to immigration (fees to enter, fees to leave, naturally), we were met by Joseph, a young representative of Ultimate Kilimanjaro, the American trekking company we were using. Joseph had been waiting all day for our arrival but cheerfully got us into the van and transferred to our hotel. As we drove along the southern mountain plain, the mountain remained shrouded leaving us time to slowly take in our surroundings. After an hour or so we arrived at the Stella Maris Lodge. The hotel is a non-profit organisation which uses all of it's earnings to support a school for orphans next door. If only more hotels operated on such a charitable basis. The staff were incredibly welcoming and showed us to our basic but clean rooms and gave us time to freshen up and prepare our kit for departure the following morning.
After a couple of hours we met with our guides. Meshack was the lead guide, a tall, gentle character, only 27 but with over 70 ascents under his belt and Evance, 39, Meshacks right hand man and assistant guide, silently observing the briefing. We were informed of safety and travelling times and what to expect from our first day of trekking. These two men in particular would become the most important, caring people we could ever hope to meet and ultimately we were dependant on their knowledge to keep us alive (Dramatic much?).
After the meeting, I saw the clouds had cleared from the mountain for the first time. We ran back up to the room and onto the balcony. It was breathtaking. In twilight the glacier capped mountain was revealed. I cannot put into words the vastness of it but it we couldn't believe our eyes. It was beautiful moment if for no other reason than to see the look of excitement and anticipation on Lauren and Dans' silly faces. After dinner we took to a real bed for the last time in over a week. From here on out, we would be sleeping in bags under canvas.
As if we needed a reminder of the fact we were in Africa, we woke to the beautiful sound of the kids chanting and clapping in the schoolyard, it was a lovely noise and humbling reminder of the privileged position we were in. We quickly dressed and headed for breakfast before meeting with Meshack and Evance for our first health check. It was a routine we would quickly become used to and happened every morning and evening. (Apologies for the following boring, scientific bit). This involved clipping a pulse oximeter to our finger to monitor how our bodies would adjust to the effects of altitude. It is a nifty little instrument that a) measures pulse and b) uses light to measure oxygen saturation levels in your blood. A normal person at sea level should have a oxygen level between 95 and 99 percent. We were told that if it ever fell below a level of 75-80 percent we would not be allowed to climb.
We boarded the bus. She was an old girl from the 70's and made you feel all Indiana Jones, Awesome. Our kit was strapped onto the roof under heavy tarpaulin and we got on to meet our crew who greeted us with a chorus of Jambo! The Swahili word for hello. There were fifteen people excluding us in our expedition, these included porters guides and a cook. We started on a 2 hour journey to the Kilimanjaro national park headquarters whilst the driver put on a brilliant dvd of the biggest, current African popstars, an unexpected cultural delight that had us laughing and winding in our seats. We drove through the various villages and towns and watched African life unfold. An hour or so in we stopped at village for the porters to get some supplies. We took a look around and watched a butcher at work on a cow in a shack, he'd left the pile of legs on the floor that were quite the tripping hazard and I was reminded of the sterile, strict, health and safety environment we live in. You'd never trip over a pile of hooves in the Co-op.
Back on the bus and we drove through beautiful scenery, trundling slowly through pot holed, red earthed, dirt tracks, past little Masai children tending their goat herds and onwards to the National Park headquarters. Here we stopped to register the crew and our names and details. We would use this check in process at every camp we arrived at, so the rangers could keep track of our progress and make sure everyone involved arrived to the next camp safely. They weighed all of our kit including tents and food and this would happen ever day to ensure nothing was left in the park. What we took in, we had to take out. We then made our way to the Lemosho gate, the starting point of our trek, with a brief 45 minute delay to wait for an enormous lorry that had broken down on a single track road on the side of a pretty deep gorge to be pushed out of the way by 30 plus men. Honestly, you couldn't write it.
Read the rest of Noel's articles here.
Climbing Kilimanjaro for a Cause
One of my wife's dearest friends, Cidalia Luis-Akbar, is about to do a crazy, amazing thing: In two weeks she and her sister Natalia Luis are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise $500,000 for Children's Hospital in Washington DC, and to mark their own victories over personal struggles. They have never done anything like this before. My wife tells me she's not even sure Cidalia has ever been camping.
Cidalia tells me she was inspired to do the climb by my book, Zombies on Kilimanjaro, which was about my own trek up the mountain with my 20-year-old son Josh. Indeed, climbing Kilimanjaro is a transformational, life-changing experience for pretty much everyone who makes the journey. Remarkably, many individuals like Cidalia and Natalia take the additional step of putting their personal journey in the service of a greater cause. Even celebrities get into the act: Hollywood movie star Jessica Biel climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for The Children's Safe Drinking Water Program, and a British group of comedians (including X-Factor judge Cheryl Cole) raised money to help Africans combat malaria through a charity called Comic Relief.
I wanted to find out more about what motivated Cidalia and Natalia to do the climb as a way to raise money, and Cidalia agreed to answer my questions:
Question: Cidalia, what motivated you to make this trip up Kilimanjaro more than a personal journey?
Cidalia: My sister Natalia and I went out to the Santa Catalina mountains in Arizona for a few days to recuperate from all of the difficulties and turmoil of the past few years and to have some sisterly bonding time. We decided to go on a hike, my first ever. Natalia and I were talking about your book Zombies on Kilimanjaro and how impactful your journey with your son was. After about two hours of walking (perhaps the high altitude and lack of oxygen aided in our decision) the idea of us climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro began to germinate. We were asking ourselves, how do we make a difference and leave the world a better place for our children? By the time we returned from our hike we had decided to climb Kilimanjaro and to bring Childrens National Medical Center along on our journey.
Our goal is to bring the Dr. Bear flag to the summit, to show the world, how committed we are at Childrens National Medical Center to help children, all children in our community, country and the world; and to raise $500k for the Institute of Fetal and Transitional Medicine, to develop a holistic "fetal monitoring system" that will allow our doctors to identify distress signals in utero, and facilitate new standards for the highest caliber delivery and neonatal care.
Question: Why this particular charity? Why Children's Hospital?
Cidalia: Twelve years ago, after five in-utero surgeries, I lost my first son Joseph, unfortunately, our CNMC did not have the facilities to help us, so my husband and I went out of network to CHOP in Philadelphia for care. We went without obtaining permission from our insurance network, and came back to Washington without our son, with broken hearts, and with a huge medical bill. Hence my desire to raise 500k for a fetal monitoring system. Six more losses and cancer would tragically follow. However, we never lost hope, and in November of 2009, Sophia came into our lives. Today, the world is a better place because she exists.
Question: Are you and Natalia a bit anxious about leaving your children behind with your husbands while you take on this challenging climb?
Cidalia: Of course, we would love to have our children and husbands join us. However, with the Ebola outbreak and the long travel, we thought it better that they cheer us on from home.
Question: Lots of people don't make it to the top due to altitude sickness. I remember from my own climb my Ultimate Kilimanjaro® guide's wise advice not to be obsessed with getting to the summit, but to just enjoy being on the mountain every step of the way. Do you think having set up this journey as a charity fundraiser it might be harder to turn back if a guide says that you must?
Cidalia: For Natalia and I, the journey is the most rewarding part of our work. We would love to make it to summit and proudly wave the Dr. Bear flag, and shout out to the world the hopes and dreams of the children back at the hospital. However, our health and safety is very important, if we are unable to summit, we will still be very proud of our efforts and know that we gave it our best.
Question: Please tell our readers, how can they make a donation and support you and Children's Hospital on this adventure?
Cidalia: This is about giving from your heart for the sake of giving. If you do, know that your donation will make a powerful difference and that we are extremely grateful. Please use the following link to make a tax-deductible online contribution and to watch our video. Please share in our mission to bring CNMC to everyone in the community, and please pass our information on to all of your contacts and networks: chidrensnational.donordrive.com
Please support us, we can't move the mountain, but we will certainly endeavor to climb it, and proudly share the journey with you.
Cidalia and Natalia, I wish you a great adventure, and success in meeting your target of raising $500,000 for Children's Hospital.
Tim Ward is the author of " Zombies on Kilimanjaro: A Father-Son Journey Above the Clouds"
The Experience of a Lifetime: Shannon Shorr Summits Mount Kilimanjaro
Every year, tens of thousands of players descend on the annual World Series of Poker with high hopes of capturing poker glory. Since 2006, few players have put in as much volume in their valiant quest over Shannon Shorr, who has amassed 32 WSOP cashes for $1,424,720, though a gold bracelet has thus far proved elusive.
Surprisingly, Shorr failed to cash at the 2014 WSOP, but that's mostly because, unlike past years, he didn't play a full schedule. In fact, Shorr made the difficult decision to take two weeks off from the game's biggest festival to attend the World Cup in Brazil. That resulted in Shorr playing just 21 events, which was a career low.
Instead of spending his time in Vegas’ Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Shorr traveled to the actual Rio — Rio de Janeiro in South America. While there, he attended the Spain-versus-Chile game with his friends Jesse Yaginuma, Adam Geyer, and Byron Kaverman. From there, it was on to Salvador for two more games — Spain versus Netherlands and Germany versus Portugal.
“The World Cup was the coolest, man, it was such an experience,” Shorr told PokerNews just before the 2014 WSOP reached its November Nine hiatus. “Normally, I’m toward the top for number of WSOP events played, so it was a tough decision to get away from it, but I think I finally reached a maturity level and a balance where I can do that. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
While an experience of a lifetime like the World Cup would be enough for some, Shorr didn't stop there. Along with Jesse and Paul Yaginuma, Shorr set his sights on climbing the highest freestanding mountain in the world — Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Jesse was sort of planning a big goal for 2014 and settled on that one," Shorr said of the expedition’s origin. "He asked me if I wanted to go along. I generally like challenges and trying to do things, so I said why not.”
Preparing to Climb Africa’s Highest Mountain
While Shorr and Jesse were busy at the World Cup, Paul had his hands full with the busywork. He found a company in Tanzania called Ultimate Kilimanjaro® to guide them up the mountain, booked day long flights, and waited for his brother and Shorr to cut their checks.
“I guess we’ll have like five guys carrying stuff around for us," Shorr said when asked about his expectations. "It should be a pretty transformative experience. Might as well do it while I’m young. It timed up in the sense that August is kind of a slow month poker wise, so that worked in our favor. I think the weather is going to work in our favor.”
As Shorr began to ponder the impending trip, the seriousness of it all, coupled with his unpreparedness, seemed to strike him.
“I’m embarrassingly unprepared," said Shorr. "I have been doing a lot of mediating to get my mind right. I want to be really healthy heading into it. I also bought some new hiking boots and hiking socks, so that’s about the extent of it. I’ve hiked very casually with friends, whether it’s been in L.A. or Vegas. I don’t have a ton of experience.”
Indeed, Shorr, who runs frequently to stay in shape, admitted that his most challenging physical experiment up to that point was running a half marathon.
“I like to think that my stamina is where it already needs to be," Shorr said. "I run a lot and take care of myself, but the altitude should be another issue. I did a little camping when I was younger in Alabama. I love the outdoors, I love nature, and so I’m excited about that aspect of it.”
What he lacked in experience, Shorr more than made up for with enthusiasm.
“I’ve never been to Africa, he said. "I’m excited about it. Actually, I was just thinking last night after I visit, Antarctica will be the only continent I haven’t touched. I tend to look at all of my life experiences and try to grow from them, whether it’s poker or anything else I’m doing. I think everything you do sort of shapes you as a person, so you have to try to get the good out of everything. I’m hoping to get out there and experience it, be in it, be present. I’m always digging to find out what the true me is, and I think this is going to help.”
The Battle and Experience
Shorr departed Alabama on July 31, and 22 hours later he arrived in Tanzania. Unfortunately for him, those new hiking boots and socks he bought didn’t make it.
“I arrived to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania to the nightmare that only my duffel bag had arrived," Shorr explained*. "Additionally, I'd packed a huge suitcase that included my daypack and much of the essential gear I needed, perhaps most importantly my broken-in hiking boots. My concern became real while waiting with many others in the lost baggage line in the third-world country — watching workers document all of the claims with paper and pen. I filed my claim and was told that my baggage was most likely in Amsterdam and wouldn't arrive in time for my hike, which was to begin in just thirteen hours.”
Fortunately, Shorr was able to replace those items in Africa, and the next day the trio packed into a van with 14 others to make the 90-minute trip to the mountain. Once they arrived, they set about their journey as the porters sprung ahead to set up camp.
“They scurry up and down the mountain at a pace you won't believe until you see it with your own eyes,” Shorr said. “They balance or lightly support gear on their head in addition to wearing backpacks, tents, folding tables, and all kinds of other stuff. Even guys that weren't particularly big or were slightly overweight were getting after it. It was, in two words, humbling and inspiring.”
"It wasn't until late day two that we actually got a view of the peak that we'd attempt to conquer,” said Shorr. “It was a cool feeling not thinking, but knowing that the guys and I were going to summit.”
After six days of averaging four hours of hiking per day — which Shorr describes in depth in his blog — the faction reached the final leg of their ascent. As the clock ticked over to 12:01 a.m. on Friday, August 8, the climbing party prepared for their push to the summit. Thirty minutes later they were on their way.
“We began the steep ascent of the mountain in the dark night lit up only by an unforgettable view of the full moon and stars and by all of us hikers' headlamps in a line,” Shorr recalled. “The view was literally something from another world. It is one of the reasons you should book your Kilimanjaro trip as soon as possible. We trekked and trekked and trekked for over four hours and I can speak for all of us when I say that we were physically and mentally exhausted. Still, there was no chance of us coming up short.”
At 6:34 a.m., all three men accomplished their goal as they stood — with flags from their home states — 19,341 feet above sea level. The triumvirate spent 15 minutes atop Mount Kilimanjaro celebrating the feat, and while their goal may have been reached, they still needed to get down the mountain. Still, what took seven days to climb would take less than a day to descend.
“The real struggle of the trip for me was coming down the mountain," Shorr said. "Having never really experienced altitude, I really got hit at the summit and had some difficulty skating down the initial 2.5 hours of the mountain. My headache was pounding and I was completely exhausted. Thanks to Jesse and Paul's motivation, I eventually made it.”
They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and that was certainly the case for Shorr. After returning to the hotel, the first order of business was showers. The Yaginumas and Shorr flipped coins to determine the showering order, with the brothers getting the better end of the deal. After cleaning up, the three headed down to the hotel lobby for some celebratory beers. Just when they were about to call it a night, the very men who guided them up the mountain roped the three into hitting up the club.
“We were just about to walk upstairs and get sleep when our guides and newfound friends Ewald and Amadeus pulled up in a vehicle outside the hotel,” Shorr concluded. “We all piled in a car and headed out to the nearby Moshi, Tanzania bars/nightclubs. We took over the dance floor with our favorite porter, Peter. I finally slept after 2 a.m. in what amounted to the craziest 24 hours of my life.”
Shorr, who followed up the climb by going straight to the European Poker Tour Barcelona, recently released an 11-minute video created by Paul Yaginuma documenting their trip.
Me vs. Mountain
Step right. Step left. Step right. Step left. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I am 1,000 feet away from summiting one of the most formidable mountains in the world. Standing at 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro still remains a mystery to most. Although not technically challenging, it is a dangerous and difficult trek.
Emotion runs through my body. I am exhausted, altitude sick and hopeful. It takes everything within me to keep moving forward to accomplish a dream that I only imagined slightly more than a year ago.
How did I get here? How did I decide to do something that most describe as “crazy”? Who does this?
June 2010. Two of my girlfriends: “Katie, we are going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2012. We decided that you are definitely crazy enough to do this with us. You are going.”
Now don’t think that I just blindly said yes. Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro is not just a walk in the park. In fact, an average of only 41% of trekkers actually reach the summit.
Agreeing to take on the challenge was only the first of many decisions. Little did I know all the things that I would learn along the way: the prep, the gear, the adventure and invaluable lessons about myself.
This type of adventure requires training and preparation. It’s not just something you climb out of bed and do. The training plans that we saw out there (many of them designed specifically for Kilimanjaro) usually called for a medium hike one or two times during the week, a long hike on the weekends and then a short hike the day after. The hikes should be different lengths, terrains and altitudes.
This is to replicate the fact that you will be hiking several days in a row, which takes a toll on your body and doesn’t provide “rest days.” It also impressed upon us the importance of other cross-training for muscle-building and flexibility.
What about food? As a registered dietitian, I already had a pretty good handle on the way I eat. However, I think I was really surprised at the actual amount that I needed to eat in order to build up the calories for the long hikes.
During my training, I focused on eating pretty balanced and clean throughout the week (fresh vegetables, lean protein source, whole grains, fruit), and I would need to eat several times a day to accomplish this. I did notice that if I ate “off” and had something that included extra salt or preservatives, it made me feel sluggish during the hike.
While on the mountain, we actually ate very well. Although you feel that you are constantly eating, with the altitude your appetite reduces and it was difficult to get in those calories that we so desperately needed. You burn a ridiculous amount of calories every day during the climb—I lost about 10 pounds in the eight days I was climbing.
Of course your gear can make or break you with this climb. You will experience a range of temperatures from 90º to –20º or possibly worse depending on the time of year. All of your gear needs to repel sweat and be built for layering.
Much research went into my choices of pants, tops, underwear (yes, underwear), boots and socks. Boots and socks were the most important parts of my gear because if my feet were shot, it was going to be a miserable time.
However, there is gear that I didn’t even know existed (or that I needed). For example, I had to figure out the grand world of urinating off the side of a mountain. At the campsites there was the “long drop toilet”—a shack with a hole in the bottom. Let’s just say that I now have impeccable aim.
As part of our gear considerations, there is a contraption that was created for ladies to assist in funneling their stream. Oh yes, I said it … it is called “Go Girl.” And mine was pink.
There were other items that also weren’t as obvious: baby wipes, heat pads and baby powder! Due to the lack of showering the entire time you’re on that mountain, combined with varying temperatures and the re-wearing of clothing, cleanliness is a consideration. This is where the baby wipes “shower” comes into play. Using about 10 of these cloths a day actually changes your life and outlook up there.
We bought heat pads that automatically heat when you “crack” them. The idea was to use them specifically for our hands as we summited. However, they proved to be needed much more for other purposes, like sleeping. When you wake up spooning one of your friends through your sleeping bag, you know that it is cold. Using a couple of these heat pads at night in our socks and pants had us sleeping like babies.
Baby powder may seem like an unusual necessity, but I used it for chafing and my hair. Yes, my hair. Glorious locks that were not washed for eight days benefitted from the use of baby powder nightly.
It dried out the oil so I didn’t itch and start dreadlocks. Although I looked like a Victorian madame every night I went to bed, I was so thankful to feel less gross and see how good my hair looked in all my pictures.
There are seven trails that reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, each ranging in difficulty, terrain and the amount of days required for the hike. We knew we were not expert climbers, although we didn’t want to take the easiest way either.
We decided on the Lemosho Route, which covers the mountain in eight days—allowing more time for altitude acclimation. For someone like me who lives near the ocean, I needed as much help with the altitude as I could get.
There is no way we could have accomplished this trip without our crew, which trekking companies provide. In choosing a guide service, we considered our chosen route (some companies only offer certain routes), reviews, money and even blogs we found that mentioned who booked their trip. We settled on Ultimate Kilimanjaro® and were given the choice of a “private” trip or joining a larger group.
My friends and I ended up booking the private tour so we didn’t feel we were slowing anyone else down. Ultimate Kilimanjaro® took care of everything—hotel arrangements before and after the climb, travel to and from the base of the mountain, and everything in between.
The adventure itself took us through rainforests, desert, snow and 50 mph winds. Days and days of hiking provided rich views of this most majestic place. We had long and short days of hiking, and the pace was based on how the group was feeling.
The ascent to the top was the most challenging yet the most fulfilling. It began at the 15,000-foot base camp at 11 p.m. The first 2,500 feet was rock shale, a most tedious undertaking that proved to be slow and mentally challenging, as every couple of steps forward you went one step backward. The 50 mph winds we experienced would topple you over during a gust if you weren’t careful.
The air was so thin that one step could put you completely out of breath. But this is what we were here to do—summit—and nothing could hold me back from that. I was terribly altitude sick and felt nauseated the entire time. I definitely questioned myself and questioned moving forward in this adventure.
We climbed throughout the night, and just as I thought I couldn’t go any further, my desire was renewed. At 1,000 feet from the top, the world seemed to be enveloped in white—a pristine glacier on one side, snow drifts on the other and a cloud blanket hiding everything below the peak.
All of a sudden, the sun started to rise through the cloud blanket, and our surroundings reflected the rich golden hue. I started to cry, and as those tears quickly froze, I realized that life is truly about the experience. On February 17, 2012 at 6:50 a.m., I summited Mount Kilimanjaro.
I learned an incredible amount about hiking, tedious training for a goal and gear for mountain adventures. However, probably the most surprising part of this journey is the incredible change that I went through as a person along the way.
Most people would agree that something of this caliber would be considered life-changing. For me, though, it provided a shift in my view of myself, the world and my own capabilities.
I learned that I am strong and powerful. I learned that people are the same—no matter where they were born or raised. We all go through love and loss with the same feelings and sentiments. Laughter is sometimes all we can do.
I cannot be afraid of the unknown anymore, as I fully placed my life into this uncertainty without fear. I had to give up complete control and trust in others in order to survive—something I have never done in my life. This feat pushed me in ways that I never thought possible and could never be more thankful for.
Now when I walk through life, I just remember … right foot, left foot, breathe in, breathe out. I can accomplish anything.
That Looks Chilly! Cheeky Student Strips Naked and Streaks in -12C Temperatures After Scaling Mount Kilimanjaro
Some people will do anything for charity, even if it means stripping naked in freezing temperatures atop Africa's highest peak. That's exactly what cheeky Ben Boleyn did when he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro after enduring treacherous conditions during a nine-day charity climb. The 18-year-old student scaled the 19,341-ft high mountain wearing full walking gear, including four layers of thermals, and then bared all for pictures after a friend bet him just 18 pence to streak at the peak in -12C weather.
Before the climb he raised £600 for Acorns Children's Hospice in Worcester, where he is a volunteer, but he has received hundreds more after posting his cheeky snaps on Facebook. He posed for 10 minutes in just his walking boots, bringing some life to the dormant volcanic mountain.
The teen from Kingswinford, West Midlands, said: 'Everyone at the summit loved it and everyone was taking pictures of me and I had a bit of an audience. 'My parents were shocked at first but people seem to have donated more because of it, which is great. It is quite unique. 'I would do it again at other landmarks. I want to go to Machu Picchu next so maybe I will strip there too.'
He got the idea from a fellow Acorns Children's Hospice volunteer, who snaps a picture of himself naked at every landmark he visits. Ben said: 'Once I was with the climb group I mentioned it in conversation and it just snowballed after that. 'Everyone kept talking about it and one climber bet me 500 Tanzanian shillings, which is about 18p, that I wouldn't do it. 'When we got to the top I had to do it so just thought why not, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.' He added: 'It was between -10C and -12C but it didn't feel that cold, probably because of the adrenaline and we had just walked for six hours so I was already warm.'
Ben scaled the mountain with seven other climbers after he spent four weeks volunteering at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They trekked an average of almost six miles a day with a team of 31 porters. He said: 'The summit climb was the hardest part but walking for nine days in a row was challenging. 'Some days we would do a short three hour trek and an hour trek to acclimatise and other treks would be eight hours.'
He did it all to raise money for Acorns Children's Hospice and awareness of the 'fantastic' work that they do. 'I do voluntary work every week at Acorns Children's Hospice in Worcester so have seen the amazing work they do caring for terminally ill children first hand and everybody has a massive smile on their face most of the time.'
Now that the climb is over, Ben is taking a gap year and hopes to study medicine at a university abroad before training to become a doctor. He recently finished his A-Levels at King Edward VI College in Stourbridge, where he got an A in chemistry, an A in human biology and a B in maths with statistics.
Naked Man Scales Kilimanjaro for Worcester Hospice
An adventurous man climbed the highest mountain in Africa and then stripped naked to raise cash for a Worcester children's hospice.
Ben Boleyn, 18, climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa which is 5,895 metres above sea level to raise funds for Acorns Children's Hospice in Bath Road, Worcester where he is a volunteer. Ben took the eight day Lemosho route which is one of the newer routes which some say is the most beautiful way up Mount Kilimanjaro as he climbed to the top between August 11 and 19. The mountain is the highest freestanding mountain in Africa. He has raised £600 so far.
Ben also completed four weeks volunteering at Mwananyamala hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania which included him attending minor surgery, major surgery, emergency and the maternity ward before heading north to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Ben, who recently finished studying at King Edward VI College in Stourbridge said: “ I do voluntary work every week at Acorns Childrens Hospice in Worcester so have seen the amazing work they do caring for terminally ill children first hand and everybody has a massive smile on their face most of the time. I wanted to not only to raise some money for Acorns but to raise awareness of the fantastic work they do”.
Ben who received his A Level results recently hopes to study medicine and become a doctor. To sponsor him visit www.justgiving.com/Ben-Boleyn or by send a cheque made payable to Acorns Childrens Hospice to 170 Beachcroft Road, Wall Heath.
Mount Kilimanjaro: The Battle and Experience
Hey friends! At 6:34 a.m. local time Friday I summited the world's largest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro with my buddies Jesse and Paul Yaginuma! I consider it one of my biggest personal achievements and got so much out of the journey. The idea was proposed by Jesse and Paul over a year ago. I initially laughed it off thinking it was an unattainable goal. I'm really, really, really glad I looked further into it. A big thank you to the Yaginumas for being such cool guys with ambition and a strong desire to live their lives to the fullest. This reiterates to me just how essential it is that we all keep an openmind about everything. Opening one's mind isn't a process that happens overnight. It's a matter of being exposed to different people, things and places. I'll take this platform, however small it is, to try to express that through this documentation of my Kilimanjaro experience.
One of my immediate worries before I left was that I had overtrained in the final days leading up to the climb. When we booked this trip Jesse and I were about to head off to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is the busiest time of my year professionally so getting in tiptop shape was going to be hard work. I managed to get to the nearby 24 Hour Fitness in Vegas a handful of times where I would generally walk 35-45 minutes on the treadmill's maximum incline 15.0 at about 3.2 MPH (5.15 KM/H). I tend to keep myself in pretty decent shape but found this workout intense. In retrospect this was a poor way to train, but I had very limited time to get outside and do hikes in Las Vegas. Looking back, a better way to train would be longer walks at less steep inclines and at a slower pace. I finished my time in Vegas and made it to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. When I wasn't catching up with family and friends I was at Oak Mountain State Park hiking. I found a hike there that would keep me somewhat sheltered from Alabama's devastating summer heat and humidity. I'd routinely take the Green Trail to White to Yellow/White Connector to Yellow back to my vehicle. Birminghamians should definitely get out to Oak Mountain if you haven't. It is incredible. I kept hiking until about a week up until my Kilimanjaro climb. I did a quick 4 mile run in the Bama heat one day and then memorably ran a community 5k on a full stomach from the eatery Purple Onion the next, nearly puking for the final half kilometer.
I was in a great state of mind when I left Birmingham on July 31. I caught up with all my family and some friends which is always the best. Additionally I stayed on my meditation grind, more on that later. After a nine hour flight from Atlanta I connected through Amsterdam where KLM Airlines took over carrying service. I arrived to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania after 22 hours of travel through eight different time zones to the nightmare that only my duffel bag had arrived. Additionally I'd packed a huge suitcase that included my day pack and much of the essential gear I needed, perhaps most importantly my broken-in hiking boots. My concern became real while waiting with many others in the lost baggage line in the third world country--watching workers document all of the claims with paper and pen. I filed my claim and was told that my baggage was most likely in Amsterdam and wouldn't arrive in time for my hike which was to begin in just thirteen hours.
I made it to our hotel and Jesse and Paul helped me keep my sanity. I was additionally calmed by the director of the tour company we'd hired, Ultimate Kilimanjaro®, and told we could buy everything I needed the next morning. I slept surprisingly well.
We had breakfast at the hotel as we awaited pickup by Ultimate. When the van arrived, the porters loaded all of our gear onto the top of the van and we piled in with the guides, porters and cook. In total, seventeen of us were in the van for around ninety minutes in addition to an hour worth of stops on the way to our starting gate. Before we could even get our backpacks on a monkey that was swinging from an overhead tree fell just feet from us then scattered away into the woods. We admittedly started the climb entirely too fast and broke quite a sweat on the first incline into the rainforest. I remember thinking "What did I get myself into?" Our guide Ewald aka "Professor" had to rush in front of us from below to slow us down.
We got a great taste for the rainforest and quickly made camp on day 1. Guides and hikers are required to sign in each afternoon at camp. Something is cool about the fact that history of Kilimanjaro is documented with paper and pencil. It goes along with the awesomeness behind the idea that you're out there, it's just you and nature and no interference. We arrived to 2 two-man tents that had already been set up by our porters, a mess tent where we would eat dinner each night, and a few chairs which we would generally chill in each afternoon after completion.
A quick note on the porters that carry all the equipment up the mountain: they are superhumans. They scurry up and down the mountain at a pace you won't believe until you see it with your own eyes. They balance or lightly support gear on their head in addition to wearing backpacks, tents, folding tables, and all kinds of other stuff. Even guys that weren't particularly big or were slightly overweight were getting after it. It was in two words, humbling and inspiring. In the next month or so I'm going to put together a short video of some of the footage from the climb and you will see it for yourself.
We ate dinner on night 1 and left only crumbs. Jesse, Paul and I can really put down some food. The porters likely were laughing amongst themselves about fact that there was never a scrape of leftovers from the enormous portions they'd give us. Dinner each night was always a soup with bread, followed by rice or pasta with a meat or mushroom sauce. Or fried fish and potatoes. Or a plate full of carbs like grilled cheeses, muffins?, and other bread. One night at dinner we were brought our first dish. It looked delicious and I said, "Yum, chicken quesadillas". Paul took the first bite and started laughing uncontrollably as it was some sort of banana/nutella mix that we weren't expecting. It was a running joke on our trip. I found all of the food delicious, but another joke amongst my friends and me is that I will eat everything and tell you it's the best I've ever had. There was a chili flavored ketchup made by American Garden that we loved and ate on whatever we could. It was the likely contributor to the tremendously painful heartburn/indigestion that I battled for the entire trip. I should have listened to my Mom when she recommended to me multiple times to take medicine along the mountain with me.
On night 1 I had my first experience with the Kilimanjaro outhouses. The process was to squat to a hole in the ground when as we like to say, you're "changing your diaper". The outhouses aren't exactly clean and don't smell the greatest. It was a workout in and of itself.
I mostly was asleep by 8 or 8:30 each night, occasionally rolling around in the tent for a little while when the conditions became colder. And let me tell you it was cold. On the final night it was to a point where we wrapped up in everything that we had in order to stay warm. As it got colder we all three slept in just one two-man tent for warmth. In my other downtime I read best selling Freakonomics on the mountain and found it interesting. We spent 20+ hours on the mountain playing a card game called "Presidents" that the guys introduced to me. I got pummeled all trip long.
I awoke around 3-5:30 a.m. each day, content with my night's sleep. The sun came up at 6:30 each day and we were able to catch some beautiful sunrises. I managed to meditate four to five days on the trip which was instrumental in me making summit. Breakfast each morning was a big bowl of pourage which we mixed with chocolate nutella, peanut butter or honey. Afterwards we were brought a platter with three eggs, six pieces of toast, and three medium pieces of sausage. I'd fold the sausage and egg in the bread and coat it with the chili ketchup.
We'd eventually get underway with our hikes from 8:30 to 9 a.m. The hikes were obviously spectacular and I stayed in the moment as best I could. We spent lots of time talking and joking, and I feel like I learned so much from my hiking mates. Occasionally toward the end of hikes we would stream music as motivation. I played Eric Prydz "Liberate" countless times.
We eventually emerged from the rainforest and things really started to open up. It wasn't until late day 2 that we actually got a view of the peak that we'd attempt to conquer. It was a cool feeling not thinking but knowing that the guys and I were going to summit. I don't really have words to describe the views we saw along the way, so I'll let the footage speak for itself when I put it together. I used a GoPro that I wore on a headband. I would have liked to get more footage but was often in the moment and would forget to start rolling. I think we got some great stuff between the three of us.
The summit day at Kilimanjaro is the experience that most needs to be written about. We reached base camp around 2 p.m. on Day 6. For the first six days we averaged around 4 hours of hiking per day including occasional stops for rest or water. We had just a ten hour break before our summit climb was set to begin at midnight, starting day 7. The guys and I managed to get very little sleep in the meantime.
We awoke to an alarm at 11:15 p.m. and finished putting on all of our gear before consuming some tea and crackers. We got underway around 12:30 a.m. We began the steep ascent of the mountain in the dark night lit up only by an unforgettable view of the full moon and stars and by all of us hikers' headlamps in a line. The view was literally something from another world. It is one of the reasons you should book your Kilimanjaro trip as soon as possible. We trekked and trekked and trekked for over four hours and I can speak for all of us when I say that we were physically and mentally exhausted. Still, there was no chance of us coming up short. The conditions were well below freezing, and we couldn't feel our fingers and toes for the majority of the trip. It was around this point that I experienced the best high of my life. It was the type feeling you hear super long distance runners and other extreme athletes talk about when they're pushed to the absolute brink. It was amazing. I occasionally smoke weed and have used MDMA a handful of times. It should be said these substances have played a vital role in my growth as an individual and are both excellent if used responsibly. They cannot compare to the feeling I had on the mountain however.
Around 5 a.m. we were informed by our tour guides Ewald and Amadeus that we were ninety minutes from summit. This is the point that I found my true second wind and became overwhelmed by emotion. I drew so much strength from the yoga and meditation practices that I've incorporated into my life. I just kept breathing, staring at the shoes in front of me, and taking one step at a time. We were going to accomplish this feat. Around 45 minutes from summit we reached Stella Point which stands 18885 feet above sea level.
Things flattened out and we all pushed on toward summit. Our dream came true at 6:34 a.m. Paul surprised Jesse and me with a flag from our hometown states of Maryland and Alabama, respectively. Regrettably it was so windy that my flag is barely visible in the pictures. We hugged and high-fived then took some quick pictures in the freezing and windy conditions as dozens of others hurriedly took pictures as well. We were at summit for maybe fifteen minutes. At summit we bumped into two dudes from Dallas that we saw and chatted with each day along the way. We also became friendly with a group of girls from Canada and the US. I know we all served as motivation for each other.
The real struggle of the trip for me was coming down the mountain. Having never really experienced altitude, I really got hit at the summit and had some difficulty skating down the initial 2.5 hours of the mountain. My headache was pounding and I was completely exhausted. Thanks to Jesse and Paul's motivation I eventually made it. Once back down the mountain to base camp around 10 a.m., we debated whether to walk the three hours to the intended final night's camp or to truck on for six hours to reach the starting gate of the mountain. It was a no-brainer, and we chose the latter to avoid spending another cold night on the mountain. We also wanted a shower so ridiculously bad. Sixteen hours of hiking later, the porters loaded up all the gear and the seventeen of us piled into the van.
Jesse, Paul and I arrived at the hotel at long last. Showers were so important to us that we flipped coins to determine which lucky guy amongst us got to go first. I got third. We headed downstairs for an appropriately named African lager called 'Kilimanjaro'. We were just about to walk upstairs and get sleep when our guides and newfound friends Ewald and Amadeus pulled up in a vehicle outside the hotel. We all piled in a car and headed out to the nearby Moshi, Tanzania bars/nightclubs. We took over the dance floor with our favorite porter, Peter. I finally slept after 2 a.m. in what amounted to the craziest 24 hours of my life.
The next day we relaxed around the hotel playing countless games of Presidents and eating countless plates of beef curry before eventually departing. I recently flew up to Barcelona, Spain. I'm chilling for a few days and then competing in the Pokerstars European Poker Tour series starting this weekend. I hope this entry is enough to convince you guys to book your trip. Nothing is unattainable.
I can be reached to talk about anything by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep an eye out for the short video which I'll link to on twitter: @shannonshorr hopefully within the next month. I'm interesting in hearing about big adventures that you guys have gone on that you can highly recommend. I won't stop at Kilimanjaro.