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February 10, 2014


Lou. Dentist Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro in Honor of His Wife, Diabetes
by Chelsea Rabideau

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – After long days of climbing, Louisville dentist Dr. David Shorten reached the highest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. 

“We spent a few minutes up there, and then took pictures, celebrated a little bit. And then went back down," Shorten said. An exhausting climb which Shorten fought for air while battling muscle aches. “It was all I could do just to fall into my tent and just lay there for awhile," he said.

Dr. Shorten carried a special message on his back to the top of the mountain.

“With diabetes they have hurdles; diabetics have hurdles that they have to overcome every day. And that's for a lifetime. This was only 8 days for me. At times, I thought I couldn't do it and at times, I think diabetics think they can't do it," Shorten said.

An avid hiker and climber for many years, Dr. Shorten wanted his latest and greatest climb to stand for something.  His wife, Dr. Carol Kulp-Shorten was diagnosed with the disease 11 years ago. "I don't know too many men that would climb a mountain for a woman and I feel very blessed and fortunate that I happened to be married to one of those men," she said.

The Shortens hoped to raise awareness and money for diabetes so they set goals and far exceeded them. “I am just blown away by the generosity of, you know, neighbors, family, friends, co-workers in my office, patients have been sending in money. People I don't even know are sending money. He went into this thinking, oh I'll raise 4,000 dollars and now he's up to 15,000 dollars," Carol said.

It took 8 days to complete the climb which Dr. Shorten did in late January.

Mount Kilimanjaro standsmore than 19,000-feet above sea level.


Congratulations to Kyrsten Sinema for successfully climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Congresswoman Sinema climbed with Ultimate Kilimanjaro on the 8 day Lemosho route and summited on Christmas morning. Below is her tweet:

The U.S. Representative from Arizona is a marathon runner and completed an Ironman Triathlon earlier in the year, which included a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile cycling ride and a 26.2 mile run. Now she adds climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to her list of achievements.

October 24, 2013

Trek of a Lifetime
by Nancy Tipton

For two sisters, the journey to Uhuru Peak had little to do with hiking up a mountain.

When Albuquerque resident MaryAnn Castoria Gerst, 68, announced at a family birthday dinner that she and her 51-year-old sister, Caroline Hayes, were going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, she didn’t realize getting ready for the trek was going to take her on a journey that had little to do with hiking up a mountain.

The trip, which she completed in August, was planned in late 2012. Shortly after that, Gerst found out that her husband, Tom, had terminal cancer. “At that point I had no intention of doing the trip,” Gerst said in an interview shortly after returning from Africa. “But he told me before he died that he wanted me to go.”

So for the months following his death, she hiked. She hiked Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque and the higher peaks in the mountains of northern New Mexico, and then she traveled to Colorado to hike Pike’s Peak.

“I literally walked out of my grief,” she said.

She said she truly was on a mission as she prepared for the trek – she got vaccinations, bought travel insurance, packed and repacked her bags in order to not go over the allowed weight, and even tested the altitude medication her doctor prescribed by using it while hiking up mountains with 14,000-foot peaks.

On Aug. 1, she boarded a plane for a 37-hour flight before she met up with her sister in Moshi, Tanzania. Their group consisted of 11 hikers, three guides, two cooks (who also served the meals) and 33 porters. The porters, like the Sherpas on Mt. Everest, hike ahead of the group carrying the paying hikers’ gear and arriving in time to set up sleeping tents, the kitchen tent and portable toilets.

But while the hikers only had to carry a day-pack, the trek was far from easy, she said. “The tent was full of our gear all the time, and you just were lying there in the middle of it all,” she said.

As they climbed closer to the summit, it became colder and colder. After three hours of sleep and wearing six layers of clothing, Gerst climbed out of her tent for “summit day.” “All we could do was put one foot in front of the other” as their tour leaders kept chanting “pole, pole.” Pronounced pol-lay, the term is Swahili and means “slowly.”

She said the final ascent was almost surreal as the mountain was filled with a procession of headlamps going up the mountain. The stars, she said, “seemed three times larger than normal.” And it was hard to tell where the headlights stopped and the stars began.

Eight and a half hours after they began, the group reached Stella Point; seven members continued to Uhuru Peak, 19,341 feet. And it was there that Gerst and Hayes celebrated, in part, by scattering some of Tom’s ashes at the top.

Even though she lost three toenails from the force of her toes hitting the inside of her boots as she descended more than 10,000 feet, the 18-hour “summit day” was the biggest high of her life. While she is happy she accomplished this goal, she would not do it again. Her take-away from the trip was not only the pride that comes with achieving a big goal, but an appreciation for the comforts of life that we enjoy. Even down to having warm water to wash.

She has a renewed confidence in her ability to conquer what life throws at her. One of the younger members on her trekking team probably said it best when he told her that she “is my new definition of a bad-ass.”

September 6, 2013

Climbing with Coke: The Mt. Kilimanjaro "Coca-Cola Route"
by Laura Randall

To the Chagga people who live at the southern base of Mount Kilimanjaro, Marangu means “land of water.” But for the hikers who follow the Marangu trail to reach the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain, it is simply known as the Coca-Cola route.

The history of Kilimanjaro and Coca-Cola dates back more than a century when locals sold bottles of Coke and other drinks to hikers who took shelter in stationary sleeping huts along the trail on their way up the Tanzanian mountain.

“The Marangu Route, the oldest and traditionally the most popular trail on the mountain, was dubbed the Coca-Cola route because the local wardens and rangers stationed at the campsites along the way would supplement their income by selling bottles of Coke to thirsty trekkers,” explains Henry Stedman, author of Kilimanjaro: the Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain.

As other trails were carved up the mountain, the moniker stuck as Marangu gained a reputation as the smoothest and easiest road to the summit.

“Marangu has a more gradual slope and can be climbed in fewer days than other trails,” says Brett Fischer, expedition coordinator at the Chicago-based Ultimate Kilimanjaro. But it’s more challenging than it actually appears on the surface because the shorter time frame makes it tougher for hikers to acclimate to the higher altitudes, Fischer notes.

An estimated 40 percent of all Kilimanjaro climbers take the Marangu route, but only about 30 percent actually reach the summit, he says.

Conquering New Heights

For one family from Cincinnati who climbed the 19,341-foot peak in July, the connection between Kilimanjaro and Coke ended up defining much of their long-planned quest to conquer the legendary mountain.

Stephen Calardo, 57, decided he wanted to scale Kilimanjaro more than a decade ago, when he saw the IMAX film, "Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa," and was dazzled by the scenery and intrigued by the fact that it involved more walking than actual climbing.

“I thought, ‘I could do that’,” the Cincinnati attorney said. After years of trying to coordinate busy schedules and the seasonal temperament of the region, he and two of his four sons, Paul and Joe, finally settled on a date and started intense research and preparation for their trip.

The Coca-Cola route seemed the way to go. The six-day expedition fit their busy work and school schedules back home. Plus, “it seemed smoother and easier than some of the more jagged, technical routes,” Calardo noted.

Coca-Cola came up frequently in articles and guidebooks about Kilimanjaro, Paul Calardo recalled. Even his map of the mountain noted that the Marangu was also known as theCoca-Cola route, he said.

"All the other routes are in Swahili. It was kind of funny,” said Paul, a salesperson for a video and post-production company in Covington, Ky.

Stephen, Paul, and Joe, then a freshman in college, practiced hiking with all their gear on trails around Ohio and climbed Pikes Peak in Colorado to get used to the high altitudes they would be subject to in Africa. On that trip, Paul was hit hard with vomiting, dizziness and confusion, but that made him all the more determined to successfully scale Kilimanjaro.

Mental Motivation

Once in Africa, “I put myself in a different place on the trail,” Paul said. “I told myself, ‘you’re not sick.’ I focused on other things that made me happy: what it would be like if I purchased a house, what my girlfriend was doing. It was a mental toughness.”

“At one point, I remember talking on the trail with the others and saying ‘How good would a Coke and a pizza be right now?” he recalled with a laugh.

It worked. On July 20, the Calardo men made it to the top.

“It’s billed as the easiest of the seven summits, but it's extremely challenging," Paul recalled. "People who had run marathons said it was the hardest thing they had ever done.”

Nothing prepared them for the unique beauty of the Tanzanian landscape and the spirit of its people.

They saw trees and rocks "straight out of Dr. Seuss," Stephen noted, and witnessed five climate zones, from tropical rainforest to subzero polar, in as many days. They were overcome by the kindness of the porters who carried their food and extra gear up the mountain and chanted "pole, pole" (po-lay, po-lay), which means go slowly in Swahili, to remind them there was no need to rush.

On the day they would reach the summit, the hikers had to rise in the pre-dawn hours in below-freezing temperatures, Paul recalled. The team of porters sang in Swahili to encourage them as they began their 16-hour ascent to the top.

"They were absolutely inspiring," he said. "I knew then that this was a life experience."

When they reached the Marangu gate at the end of their journey, Paul not only had conquered his altitude sickness to finish the hike, he had another one of his wishes granted.

“All we’re drinking is (purified) stream water, we’re eating porridge and potatoes and bread for every meal for six days. The second we came out of the gate, we saw the gift shop and immediately went in and bought a Coke," he said.

"And that was our celebratory toast. We cheered each other and I think the first words out of my mouth were this is the best drink I ever had.” 

August 15, 2013

Jornet Sets Speed Record at Kilimanjaro
by Ultrarunning Magazine

Moshi, Tanzania, October 1.

Spanish ultra runner Kilian Jornet, 22, set a new speed record at Mount Kilimanjaro, running from base camp to Uhuru Peak and back in 7 hours, 14 minutes. The previous record was held by Tanzanian ultra runner and mountain guide Simon Mtuy in 8 hours, 27 minutes.

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the tallest peak in Africa and a popular trekking destination. Most climbers take about seven days to summit.

Jornet started his run at 7:15 a.m. from Umbwe Gate, elevation 5249 feet, and reached the summit 5 hours, 23 minutes, 50 seconds later, breaking the ascent mark of 5:32 held previously by Bruno Brunod of Italy. Jornet spent about ten minutes on top and then descended the 13,960 vertical feet back to the finish at Mweka Gate in a startling 1:41. Mtuy helped organize the attempt and was graciously waiting at the finish. The round-trip is about 53 km (32.9 miles).

Jornet, from the town of Puigcerdà in the Pyrenees, is a two-time winner of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, and finished third at Western States in June.

photo above: Kilian Jornet on the ascent portion of his record run (photo by Stephan Repke)
below: graphic of route and elevation profile, courtesy UltimateKilimanjaro.com

August/July Issue 2013

May 23, 2013

Ray Lewis to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for Charity
by Mike Chiari

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis must have an itch for being on top of the world.

He undoubtedly felt that way when he retired after winning Super Bowl XLVII in February, but the future Hall of Famer will now literally attempt to reach one of the highest points on Earth when he climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity.

According to RayLewis.LockerDome.com, Lewis will climb the Tanzanian mountain in June as he attempts to raise money for clean water projects in East Africa.

Lewis tweeted about the endeavor and urged fans to get the word out and retweet his message. Anyone who helps will be entered into a contest to win a Ravens helmet autographed by the NFL legend.

According to UltimateKilimanjaro.com, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It is an incredible 19,340 feet high, and over 35,000 people attempt to climb it every year. The site also reports that fewer than half of those who attempt to climb the mountain succeed in making it to the top.

While the statistics may not be in Lewis' favor, he is an elite athlete who was a huge part of the Ravens' Super Bowl victory this year. He has made a career out of defying the odds and going above and beyond everyone else, so it's hard to imagine Lewis failing to conquer Kilimanjaro.

The 2012-13 NFL playoffs are a perfect example of Lewis' toughness and determination. Lewis missed 10 regular-season games with a torn triceps, but he returned for the postseason and led the Ravens on a shocking run to the second Lombardi Trophy in team history.

If Lewis' playoff showing is any indication of how he'll fare on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the mountain likely doesn't stand a chance.

July 10, 2013

BTV Access did a feature on our client, Dr. Karim Malek, as he prepared to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Angel Flights, a nonprofit charitable organization of pilots who provide free air transportation for medical needs.

Dr. Malek successfully summited Kilimanjaro on July 21, 2013 via the 8 day Lemosho route.

March 25, 2013

Number of People Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at Record High

Ultimate Kilimanjaro, the #1 Kilimanjaro guide service, has added more group climb dates to its 2013 expedition schedule due to growing demand.

Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, is the tallest free standing mountain in the world and is the highest mountain in Africa.

“Our early season climbs filled up so quickly,” said Expedition Coordinator Marie Veve. “We had to turn away customers because we just didn’t have the space.”

Ultimate Kilimanjaro guides more than 1,000 climbers to Africa’s highest peak annually, offering group climbs and private climbs year-round. Group climbs are limited to only 12 climbers.

“We’ve added more group climbs for the rest of 2013 to keep up with our bookings. Right now we have the highest number of scheduled expeditions than we’ve ever had. Inquiries about our 2014 climbs have been steady as well. It’s going to be a busy year,” said Veve.

The popularity of climbing Kilimanjaro is now at an all-time high. Based on Tanzania National Park statistics, in the past ten years the number of climbers on the mountain has nearly doubled - from 28,000 tourists in 2003 to 52,000 tourists in 2012. It’s a far cry from the Kilimanjaro’s early tourism days, when there were barely a thousand visitors back in 1965.

The increase in tourism to Mount Kilimanjaro can be attributed to a few main reasons. First, there has been tremendous growth in the travel industry, particularly adventure travel, as a whole. More and more people are seeking to spend their vacation time doing outdoor activities and are travelling outside of their own country.

Second, Mount Kilimanjaro has been the adventure of choice for various high profile events. In 2009 and 2010, BBC and MTV filmed and televised separate Kilimanjaro charity climbs by United Kingdom and American celebrities, resulting in tremendously successful fundraising and widespread interest in the mountain itself.

The thrill of the mountain does not seem to be letting up. Last year, there was an attempt to launch a hundred paragliders from the summit. And this year, there is a group planning on mountain biking down Kilimanjaro. The publicity of the events keeps the peak in the public’s eye and will continue to draw tourists.

Lastly, it is well known that the days are numbered for the iconic glaciers on the mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro has three main ice fields. Scientists predict that the ice on the western slope will be gone by 2020 and the two glaciers near the summit will be gone by 2040.

“First-hand accounts from our guides indicate that the volume of ice is visibly shrinking every season. People want to climb Kilimanjaro and see the glaciers before it is too late,” said Veve. Mount Kilimanjaro can be climbed in as little as five days, but seven or more days is highly recommended for proper acclimatization to the high altitude. Kilimanjaro climb prices range from $1,915 to $2,155 for the group climbs on seven and eight day routes, including hotel accommodations pre- and post-trip.

October 29, 2012

To Africa's Highest Peak
by Tinna Hiller Andreasson
(Translated from Swedish)

KARLSKRONA. Early morning October 14, Martina Östsjö reached the top of Kilimanjaro. In addition to meeting the challenge of climbing Africa's highest mountain, Martina has raised more than 17,000 crowns in donations for the Cancer Society.

Martina beams when she talks about her experience in Tanzania. On the way up the mountain, she trekked through various ecological zones of rainforest, alpine desert, tundra, steppe and glaciers.

"In the rainforest, I saw monkeys, large birds and many interesting plants. But what I was most intrigued by were the glaciers, which I have never seen before."

The hike up to the highest point in Africa took six days, while it only took two days down. In total, the group walked 90 kilometers. "It was much harder to down than up. The altitude changes in the short periods of time results in headaches," says Martina, who is already planning the next adventure.

Martina writes about her journey in www.martinakilimanjaro.blogg.se (blog is in Swedish).

Toughest Walk Down on Kilimanjaro

October 23, 2012

Mountain Challenge Changed Women's Lives
by Flori Meeks

For Heights resident Becky Pope, the mountain represented the obstacles she has faced battling ovarian cancer. For Uptown resident Venita Ray, the mountain was a symbol of all she has overcome in her journey with HIV. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro last year with a group of 40- and 50-something women facing their own physical and emotional challenges, Pope and Ray now know they can conquering all sorts of mountains in their lives.

"The experience has given me more confidence to fight things that feel impossible," said Pope, now experiencing her third occurrence of cancer. "I remember the mountain."

The women's September 2011 Mount Kilimanjaro trek was organized by Heights resident Shana Ross, owner of Shana Ross Fitness. "The idea was, you really can take control of your life and not let adversity get you down," said Ross, who is writing a book about the Kilimanjaro experience. Ross' personal training and coaching business target Baby Boomers and menopausal women.

Pope, a social worker who has worked in the criminal justice system for about 30 years, initially trained with Ross about seven years ago. Pope was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2008. After a period of remission, the cancer returned in 2010. Pope's partner, geoscientist Pam Hilmes, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis that year.

Hilmes had read blogs about people climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in the African nation of Tanzania in honor of loved ones. She and Pope started talking about making the climb to promote ovarian cancer awareness. They decided to do it in a September, during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

In early 2011, the women asked Ross to help train them. Ross' thoughts turned to some of her other clients facing life challenges. She started to envision a group mountain trek that would empower these women, along with others who heard about their journey. Pope and Hilmes loved the idea, and Ross started inviting the women she had in mind. All accepted.

The women included former corporate communications executive Pat Wente, who was diagnosed in 2007 with breast cancer and in 2010 with cognitive impairment and brain damage as a result of chemotherapy drugs. She also would be making the climb with a 90-plus degree curve in her spine from scoliosis.

Sherri Dawson, a flight attendant, had dealt with bitterness, fear and excessive weight gain. About two years ago, she started taking steps to reclaim her life and her health.

Jackie Doval, a human and animal chiropractor, struggled with obesity. She started working to turn her health around about 2½ years ago.

Deb Sanders came to the trek facing mandatory retirement from the FBI after 28 years. She said she looked to the climb as the beginning of a new chapter in life.

Ray, an attorney, had at age 15 became a single mother, a high school dropout on welfare and an alcoholic and drug addict. She became sober when her daughter was a young teenager. Ray finished high school and went on to complete college and law school at night. In 2003, she was diagnosed positive for HIV. Ray said she loved the idea of the physical challenge when Ross invited her to join the climb in March 2011. What was more daunting to her was the idea of going public with her HIV.

"For the bigger purpose I was willing to do it," Ray said. "I was honored to be asked."

Training for the women began in March 2011, and the group held a fund-raising campaign for the trek between May and August of that year. Several corporate sponsors stepped forward, along with individual donors.

The climb

By the time they started to make the trek in September 2011, a number of friends had joined in to offer their support. The climbers included Dr. Terry Pustilnik, Pope's oncologist, and Mary Beth Reuter, Pope's partner and co-owner of Shana Ross Fitness.

"We ended up being a group of 17 women going up this mountain," Ross said. "There was never a cross word. There were no complaints. It was complete and total support."

That's not to say the trek wasn't grueling. The woman climbed into a strong crosswind. The temperatures were frigid, and their gear was heavy.

Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises 19,341 feet above sea level, is the highest mountain in Africa and considered the highest walkable mountain in the world. Temperatures at the base average around 70 degrees in September, but at the summit, the temperature ranges from 0 to -15 degrees at night. The surface of the trails can range from loose and dusty to muddy, wet or icy.

Climbing the mountain also poses risks. Ultimate Kilimanjaro, a climbing service, estimates that approximately 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain each year, and about 10 deaths are reported, mostly from altitude sickness.

The women had trained rigorously through one of Houston's hottest, driest summers in years, but they couldn't have known how their bodies would react to the mountain's altitude. In Ross' case, the result was brain swelling and signs of altitude sickness as she neared the summit. "It became a battle, how deep you can dig, how hard you can push," she said.

Pope describes a feeling of "fatigue on steroids" the night the women reached the summit. She remembers lighting the path with lanterns and the pebbly surface that often caused the women to slide backwards. "Some folks got hallucinations," Pope recalled. "One girl thought a giant black panther was stalking us."

Reaching the top wasn't exactly a Hollywood moment, but the women knew they had accomplished their goal.

The impact

For Pope, it's the camaraderie of the adventure she'll remember most. "It was an extreme bonding experience. I just felt surrounded by support and love."

Visiting Africa had been a lifelong dream for Ray. "I thought HIV was my death sentence," she said. "That it would take me to the tallest mountain in Africa was huge for me."

Ray was able to visit an orphanage in Tanzania, where she spent time with a 7-year-old, HIV-positive boy. "I came back a different person. When we were getting ready for the climb, I was still bogged down by shame and guilt. I came back standing tall. I came back with a sense of freedom."

Ross hopes the women who made the trek will never forget what they were able to accomplish. "When I first asked them to go, there was this overall moment of 'what?' They were all shocked. But all of them came back and said yes. That's what I want them to keep: 'I can do this. I'm not going to run from the unknown.'"


Tim Ward, best selling author of What the Buddha Never Taught, Savage Breast and Arousing the Goddess, successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Ultimate Kilimanjaro in July 2010. His first hand account of his journey is now available in his new book entitled Zombies on Kilimanjaro, a humorous and thoughtful literary travel narrative.

Book Description: A father and son climb Mount Kilimanjaro. On the journey to the roof of Africa they traverse the treacherous terrain of fatherhood, divorce, dark secrets and old grudges, and forge an authentic adult relationship. The high-altitude trek takes them through some of the weirdest landscapes on the planet, and the final all-night climb to the frozen summit tests their endurance. On the way to the top father and son explore how our stories about ourselves can imprison us in the past, and the importance of letting go. The mountain too has a story to tell, a story about Climate Change and the future of humankind - a future etched all too clearly on Kilimanjaro’s retreating glaciers.

Interview conducted by Ultimate Kilimanjaro

UK: What was the reason behind climbing Kilimanjaro? Where did the idea come from?
TW: I’m an avid trekker. Kilimanjaro was just a dream for me – until I got a short work assignment in Nairobi, Kenya, and realized Kilimanjaro was just across the Tanzania border. Invited my son Josh to fly out and join me when my work was finished. Luckily this was in early July – the dry season, a perfect time to climb.

UK: What kind of backpacking/hiking experience did you and your son have prior to the climb? How did you and your son train for the climb?
TW: I made it a point to take Josh out into the wilderness when he was young. Mostly we did wilderness river rafting, some sea kayaking in British Columbia, and one safari to South Africa. But we never attempted anything like Kilimanjaro. I stay in pretty good shape year round, running and kayaking. Josh – well, he was 20 years old and indestructible. For me the main task was to break in my new hiking boots in order to avoid blisters on the trail.

UK: You are well traveled, particularly in Asia. What were your impressions of Tanzania - the place and people?
TW: In Tanzania the 21st Century and the world-out-of-time brush shoulder to shoulder. You have nomads, subsistence farmers – and then ATMs and Internet cafes, glass and steel buildings in the modern towns of Moshi and Arusha. Wherever you are, you see the massive cone of Kilimanjaro jutting up into the sky, a million years old. You feel awe every time you look up at it. It reminds us just how tiny our little lives are, and yet in a way that feels wondrous. The people we met were unbelievably friendly. We really bonded with some of the crew on our trek. They treated us like guests and friends, rather than like clients. They took good care of us in a very natural way. A lot of the time we felt like younger brothers, with someone to watch over us in a very friendly, even indulgent way. We certainly could not have made the trek without them. Off the mountain, you can easily see that for many Tanzanians, life is basic and not easy. Any yet the people you pass by on the street seemed happier than those I meet in Washington where I live, or New York City where everyone seems in a rush and preoccupied with their troubles. It’s that attitude towards life – Hakuna Matata. “No worries!”

UK: The story focuses on your relationship with your 20 year old son, Josh. When he was a teenager, you and he had a falling out. Were you hoping that the climb would mend old wounds and bring you two closer?
TW: Yes, it was an amazing bonding experience. I was hoping the climb might give us a chance to talk and grow closer. I underestimated both Kilimanjaro and my own son. What happened between us truly put our relationship on a new path, a new kind of relaxed friendship. It allowed us to both let go of a lot of baggage, and put us on an equal footing. Getting to the top together, that was one of the hardest things either of us had ever done. It kind of shook off the old crust, helped us break out of old patterns and see each other with fresh eyes. Now that Josh and I have shared that experience, it seems like a marker for our new relationship.

UK: Much of your conversation with Josh is around meme theory, how ideas spread and evolve. Why does this topic interest you? At the end of the trip, did your discussions give you any new understanding/insight of meme theory?
TW: Meme theory fascinates me. It’s a simple idea that changed the way I look at everything to do with communications. But despite its simplicity, memes are really hard to explain clearly. Josh agreed to let me talk it though with him. While we walked, we kept coming back to this conversation, and I began to see the world through the lens of his 20-year-old mind – a mind shaped by computers and interconnectivity in a way that a “Baby Boomer” like myself struggles to grasp. Not to mention his background in theater, which grounds him in the physical, rather than theoretical world. As we talked, my own understanding of memes changed. I got more of an appreciation of the power of storytelling as a way to transmit information. Including the power of family stories that tell us who we are.

UK: You talked about being bullied and your relationship with your dad as a child. You reveal a lot about the circumstances of your failed marriage. Was writing the book a form of healing?
TW: Yes, though a better word might be “integration.” By this I mean finding a way to give meaning to the terrible things that happen to us in life. In my case, because my father belittled me – made me feel stupid with the names he called me - I set out to prove how smart I was, and this made me develop my intelligence as a teenager. It gave me a kind of push to succeed and become independent. That for me is the power of storytelling: constructing a narrative that helps you not just to survive, but turn the crap that happens to you in life into fertilizer that allows you to grow. I vowed to always treat my own son with respect. Yet on the mountain he told me that from his perspective it was when we had conflict - when he felt I was being a real hard ass with him – that’s what spurred him to his own independence.

UK: You give much praise to your (Ultimate Kilimanajro) guide Fred and the rest of the staff. How important was it to have experienced, competent and friendly staff with you on the mountain?
TW: No doubt about it, the quality of the guides and crew can make or break a trek up Kilimanjaro. Fred was amazing. He had so much knowledge and experience on Kilimanjaro, we felt safe literally putting our lives in his hands. The real treasure of the trip was our waiter, Sully. Gracious, funny, and kind, he not only brought us our food, he also expressed concern for our health and wellbeing at every stop along the way, and always with a genuine smile. He really cared, and we felt it. Josh grew especially close to Sully who kept urging him to drink water when he was suffering from AMS.

UK: What kind of weather did you experience on your trek?
TW: Sunny all the time. The air was so thin the weather was a bit like walking in space. Above 3500 M it was freezing cold after dark, and then hot like a stove during the day. We had to take special care of your skin and eyes with sunscreen and sunglasses. At night, the Milky Way blazed a bright trial across the sky, and the full moon shone almost as bright as the sun. We forget, living in cities, how alive the night sky can be.

UK: Both you and Josh experienced some altitude sickness. Can you talk about what symptoms you both had and how that affected the climb?
TW: Josh got whacked by severe headaches and had to take altitude sickness pills. From now on I will never climb high without them. I had insomnia most nights. On the final summit climb I got afflicted with a kind of mild delirium that made me high. Everything was just funny and wonderful. Looking at a video we shot at the top, I sounded like Pee Wee Herman on speed! I started singing at the summit like some demented version of The Sound of Music. That was the most dangerous part. I had no perception of my own vulnerability. That’s when we had to rely on our guides to keep an eye on us and get us down safely.

UK: What did you find the most difficult about the climb? Did anything surprise you?
TW: There were some very somber moments. We rested at a spot where, Fred told us, a porter had died a few years earlier. He had fallen, broken a leg, and no one noticed. By morning he was dead. The reality is about ten tourists a year die climbing Kilimanjaro. Most from altitude sickness, and a few due to rockslides. Ten out of 40,000 is a tiny percentage. But when you hear the stories, it sobers you, makes you respect the mountain. Coming off the mountain, I was surprised to learn about the abuses many porters have suffered. The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project – a non-profit company – works for porters’ rights. Companies listed on their site have agreed to follow ethical treatment and payment of porters, to make sure everyone working on the mountain is paid a decent wage, and not overburdened. This is an issue every visitor to Kilimanjaro should take seriously..

UK:. When did you decide to write about your experience - before, during or after the trip?
TW: All three. Before the trip I wanted to write a book about the power of memes and how ideas spread. During the trip, I was enchanted with the sheer physicality of Kilimanjaro itself – the unique and often crazy plants and creatures that live there. We encountered monkeys and a wild pig, plus trees that looks straight out of Dr. Seuss and the Kilimanjaro flower which resembles the head of an elephant. And then this mind-blowing mass of molten lava, too big for the mind to grasp, covered with ice, thrusting up to the sky…I knew had to write about that. Then afterwards, the trip had so transformed my relationship with Josh that I realized there was also story to tell about how the mountain changed us. So I wrote all three in one.

UK: Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro?
TW: Go. Do it. It’s the trip of a lifetime. Forever after you will be able to look back and say,” I touched the sky in Africa.”


In Feburary 2009, Ultimate Kilimanjaro participated in the making of Kwanini: A Tanzania Journey. Ultimate Kilimanjaro successfully guided the film's subjects, Venance Ndibalema and Kristen Kenny, along with the entire Dolger Films crew to the top of Kilimanjaro. The film has won many awards and will hopefully be released in commercial theaters in 2014. Watch the trailer below.

July 31, 2011

How to Climb Kilimanjaro
by Andy Noorlander

Combining seven days of trekking, five different climatic zones, and a climb to 19,340 feet, reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is not a journey for the faint of heart. Looming above Tanzania's savanna just 200 miles from the equator, its glistening glaciers mark the highest point in Africa. A successful climbing of this mysterious mountain will certainly provide fantastic high-altitude vistas, a chance to push your mental and physical limits, and an exciting adventure to recount for the rest of your life.

Step 1
Choose a tour operator. You may not hike the mountain without one, and all of these must follow approved routes. Since there are hundreds of authorized groups to choose from, take your time in selecting a quality tour operator with plenty of good reviews, smaller numbers of hikers and proven experience. If you only look at the price tag, you're likely to be disappointed in what you get. Expect to pay at the very least $1,500 per hiker including park entrance, fees, staff and porter wages, food and equipment.

Step 2
Select a route. Base your choice on both your desired experience and your own health and fitness. The easiest route is the Marangu, or "Coca-Cola" Route, with accomodation available all the way to the top. Tougher routes for the more adventurous include the Machame, Lemosho and Shira routes, while one of least-traveled routes is the Rongai route from the north. All take at least six days, although at least seven are recommended for acclimatization.

Step 3
Pick your dates. High season on Kilimanjaro lasts from January to March and September to October because of the warm, dry weather and clear views. Summer months are still climbable although unpredictable weather and heavy rain often makes for less than pleasant experiences on the mountain. Be sure to book with your tour operator far in advance to secure a spot on the mountain.

Step 4
Pack your gear. While tour operators generally provide most of what you'll need on the mountain, light trekking gear, solid hiking boots, and warm mountain clothing are a must. Don't underestimate the summit's biting temperatures. When packing for your trip, try to limit what you carry on the mountain to 40 lbs. at most. Porters usually haul up to 30 lbs. per hiker, allowing you to climb easily with a small day pack. If you are not an avid hiker, don't stress too much: anything you happen to miss or forget can be rented for cheap at the base.

Step 5
Prepare your body. Strained muscles, exhaustion and acute mountain sickness (AMS) are only a few of the physical risks you will face climbing Kilimanjaro. Greatly reduce the risk with some solid physical exercise before your trip. Cardiovascular workouts are most effective in gearing up for the trek. Also, be aware of the symptoms of AMS and pace yourself carefully along the trail. As your guide or porter may say, "pole pole," which means "slowly, slowly" in Swahili.

References: Ultimate Kilimanjaro


April 7, 2011

The Climb
by Peter Martin

One man's five-day journey up the tallest mountain in Africa...
Without any climbing experience...
Or a passion for extreme sports...
Or a need to prove anything to himself. At least not at first.

16,500 Feet
My legs burn, but it's nothing compared with my lungs. It's 1:30 in the morning, and I'm on the final push to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. For the past hour and a half, I've been plodding my way up the trail's 45 degree incline at a speed too slow for an osteoporotic grandma. Yet it's the fastest I can go. Breathing is an effort — the air up here has about half the oxygen it does at sea level. Every exhalation is a race to inhale again. I'm light-headed. With every step, my legs get more wobbly. Also, I'm stuck trying to keep pace with an ultramarathoner. For another four hours.

He's up there ahead of me on the way to Uhuru Peak, the top of the mountain. And he's probably not even winded. Rodney Cutler, a hair stylist (and Esquire's grooming writer) who gets up every day at 5:00 A.M. to bike fifty miles or jog fifteen. Who runs six miles before he does half marathons, because otherwise the races wouldn't be long enough. Who, right before he started this climb with me and seven others, ran from the coast of Kenya to Kilimanjaro's Marangu Gate: 159 miles. In six days. Because that sort of thing is fun for him. Right now, struggling to catch him, I'm not having fun at all.

The problem with climbing a mountain in the dark is that I can't see the top. I can't see much of anything, except for the little balls of light coming from the headlamps of other climbers, inching up the slope above and below me. It's disheartening. Every time I look up, I see headlamps moving in the distance. I don't know how far the mountain keeps going. Just that it keeps going.

Suddenly I can hear the guides, somewhere in the black above me. They're singing. They're clapping and dancing, shouting down to me and another climber as we struggle to reach them. It doesn't matter that they sing in Swahili, that the only word I understand is Tanzania. Hearing them sing means hearing more than just the sound of my breathing. It gives me something to focus on other than the illuminated back of the guide in front of me. Four of the other climbers, including Rodney, are up there, too, and pretty soon they're clapping and dancing right along. They yell down encouragement the way you'd cheer for a kid at his first soccer game, proud simply that he hasn't fallen down. But it's inspiring. So much so that when we get to them, suddenly everyone is hugging. I didn't start it, never would have, but in these circumstances, it feels right. I blame the altitude.

200 Feet
"Are you in shape for this?" This is the first question my boss asks me when we talk about the trip, sitting in a conference room twenty-one stories above Manhattan. And I think I am. Plus, of the seven summits — the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents — Kili (we mountaineers call it Kili) is one of the only ones that requires no technical climbing skill. Which is good, because that's exactly what I have.

Rodney has no climbing experience, either. He just likes to compete. Back in Australia, where he grew up, he played Australian-rules football for ten years. He made it to semipro, then, like any tough former athlete, turned to cutting hair. By the time he moved to the U. S., Rodney hated the idea of not training, so he started running marathons and 50k's, participating in Ironman events. When his friend Toby Tanser, a distance runner and the founder of Shoe4Africa, a charity that plans to build the first public children's hospital in Kenya, came up with the fundraising idea of running to Kili, Rodney signed on right away and began coordinating a group of nine to climb with him. I immediately said yes to his invitation, though I'm not sure why.

I don't like hiking. Not hiking for exercise, at least; that I'll save for my sixties. But trade a five-mile loop that puts you back at your car for a twenty-five-mile trek that ends at the highest point in Africa and suddenly I'm a little more interested. Kili offers an adventure — something to work toward, something to accomplish, something to casually drop in conversations when people ask what I've been up to. It seems extreme yet doable, and I want to see if I can make it. Plus, I'm curious what the point is, what'll happen when I reach the summit. Maybe it will change my perception of my scale in the world. Maybe I'll experience some kind of religious epiphany, turn into the kind of person who overuses the word majestic. If nothing else, I'll have an opportunity to see just how much a normal person can benefit from — and maybe relish — challenging himself the way Rodney does.

At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. (Everest and others, which are up to ten thousand feet higher, are peaks in larger ranges.) It sits just inside the Tanzanian border, right next to Kenya near Africa's eastern shore, as dominant a fixture in the local economy as in the skyline.

By some estimates, twenty-five thousand people attempt to summit Kili every year. Climbing enthusiasts, charity groups, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, my aunt's new boyfriend: They all drop at least $4,000 to fly to a Third World country and live in tents for a week. They use Portland words like gorp and polypro and speak of Clif bars as if they actually tasted good. They pack prescription antidiarrhea medicine, knowing they'll most likely need it. They brave altitude sickness — a potentially fatal affliction that affects up to 75 percent of climbers and includes symptoms ranging anywhere from headache and nausea to fluid in the lungs. So it should come as no surprise that up to half don't make it to the top.

To ensure that I'm not part of that 50 percent — and to feel better about my chances of keeping up with a guy who runs a marathon in just under three hours — I resolve to overprepare. My trainer, a guy named Stu Carragher in Washington, D. C., sets me up with a six-day-a-week workout program. Plus, I get an altitude tent.

For five weeks, going to bed means climbing inside a six-foot Hypoxico tent that fits over my mattress. Each night, before I unzip the side entrance of heavy plastic and climb into bed, I turn on a keg-sized motor that pumps reduced-oxygen air into the tent for me to breathe, re-creating the atmosphere of nine thousand feet. Although it makes me feel like a patient in quarantine, the tent also causes my body to increase production of red blood cells, the cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. (Most researchers attribute Acute Mountain Sickness to the dilation of blood vessels in the brain, which can cause brain swelling. If your body processes oxygen better, those blood vessels won't have to dilate as much in search of extra oxygen, and you won't have a crushing headache — or worse.)

And there's the mask. Twice a week I hook a face mask up to the pump and crank it to twenty-one thousand feet — nearly two thousand feet higher than I'll ever get on Kilimanjaro. I start to get confident. Without altitude sickness — what one Kili climber described to me as feeling like "having the worst hangover you've ever experienced while someone kicks you in the face" — I figure what other people considered a challenge will be, for me, just a really long, really beautiful hike.

6,500 Feet
The first day of the climb begins with a bus ride — four hours of fields and villages, markets and hair salons (so many hair salons), expectant locals with a gift for expressing the bitterness they feel when the busload of mzungu with all that extra space won't stop to pick them up. The bus takes us to the Rongai route, one of the easier and less traveled of Kilimanjaro's six ascents. Our trip is planned at seven days — up Rongai and back down the paved Marangu route — but at Rodney's encouragement and out of our own desire to make it to the top, we'll trim it down to five.

As our porters weigh our bags (our duffels, which they carry, can weigh up to thirty-five pounds each; our day packs, which hold rain gear, snacks, and whatever else we want immediate access to — toilet paper, for instance — are closer to twenty), our guide, Godlisten Mkonyi, sends us up the first part of the climb, through a grove of narrow-trunked trees that soon turns into a densely canopied rain forest. The hiking is easy. And short. This is how it'll go for the first three days: Hike three to four hours before lunch (we gain about two thousand feet in elevation a day), play cards, have dinner, and go to sleep. The only real change is in the vegetation. The next morning the rain forest gives way to chest-high shrubs and grasses. Soon we'll see nothing but volcanic rock and snow. And — occasionally, when the conditions are right — Kenya.

Godlisten, as the name suggests, is a religious man. And a grateful one. For him and the other guides, in a country where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, leading a trip up Kili is a good job. The least experienced of the porters make only fifteen dollars a day; head guides make nearly ten times that. (Head guides also never get stuck carrying the shit cooler, a portable toilet set up at each camp that amounts to a toilet seat mounted on a beach cooler. It's better than the outhouses, but not by much. And only if you get there first.) Still, there's no stability. When business is good, Godlisten can lead as many as three trips a month. Otherwise, it might be only one. He has two children, both of whom he hopes will grow up to climb Kilimanjaro. But only as paying customers.

12,500 Feet
By day three, some in our group are finally feeling the altitude. One has a headache and an upset stomach. Another has constant ringing in his ears. The other notable event to occur: I finally change clothes.

15,400 Feet
On the fourth day, the ground is nothing but dirt and jagged rock. The moisture from the clouds that engulf us keeps my beard constantly wet, like I forgot to wipe my face after drinking from a water fountain. We make it to Kibo Hut, one of the main gathering points for climbers before they take a shot at the summit. It's close, a form still distant but hulking over camp. Everyone is optimistic.

In an attempt to reach the peak at sunrise — and to have enough daylight to make it to the next night's camp — most climbers leave Kibo at midnight. Godlisten wants us to try to sleep as much as we can during the day, which wouldn't be that bad if it weren't for two things: 1) The altitude is starting to affect my sleep. Whenever I start to doze off, my body jerks and I gasp for air, each time convinced that I've forgotten to breathe. (I have. It's a common high-altitude phenomenon called Cheyne-Stokes Respiration.) And 2) The porters have multiplied. With so many groups converging at Kibo Hut, each of them with ten to fifty porters (our group of nine hikers has thirty-seven porters — at least that's what they told us when it came time to tip), it feels like we're in the middle of their village. From the amount of noise coming from the barn-sized tent next to us, they must be having an auction.

16,500 Feet
After catching up with Rodney on that first ledge, after all the hugging and singing, it takes another two and a half hours to reach Gilman's Point, a false summit only ninety minutes from Uhuru Peak. The last half mile leading up to it is tough. Further complicating the 45 degree incline of the first four hours are rocks. Big rocks. And it's miserable. Every time I see our guide lift his leg to scale a rock, I'm filled with dread, knowing that I'm about to have to convince my own legs to do the same thing. Rodney pulls ahead by at least fifteen minutes.

Fifty feet after we pass the sign announcing Gilman's, I turn around to check on Jessie, the climber I've partnered with on this leg. She's vomiting. In consolation, our guide can only rub her back, hold her hair like a good sorority sister, and promise that she'll feel better. And he's right. She feels great, actually. She says so, takes a drink, then hikes for another fifteen minutes — at which point she stops and throws up again.

She's not the only one suffering. My thoughts seem distant and a little scattered. Every once in a while, it occurs to me that I wouldn't mind falling over. Plus, I've never had this much gas. (Everyone does. Something about expanding gases in the body.) With so much deep, desperate breathing going on, it's all the more reason to be glad I'm at the front of the line.

We're getting close, hiking and farting and vomiting along at what feels like a normal pace but is probably not much more than a shuffle. With the fresh snow and utter blackness, looking around is like looking at the surface of the moon. I pull out an energy bar, only to find that it's frozen solid. Up here, it's even colder than it was an hour ago, around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It's still snowing — little ice pellets stick to everything, coating my backpack and the sunglasses dangling from my neck. Our guide tells us that we got lucky — that this is much warmer than what it could be.

Knowing that doesn't make me any less cold. We stop so I can put on a layer, and chill sets in instantly. More than thirty seconds without hiking and the cold picks through your clothes from every angle. Next to us, notched into a corner in the rocks, is a man you'd think would also be adding a layer. Instead, he's doing something else. While his friend is bent beside him, hands on his knees and gasping for breath, the man says: "I checked in on Foursquare, but I can't get Facebook to load."

Whatever happens in the twenty minutes after that, I don't really remember. After the hike, people will mention the group of guides-in-training we passed and the precipice we inched along after barely squeezing between two boulders. I won't remember these things. I'll remember only the back of our guide's shoes. I don't look up, just plod forward. I let myself go into a kind of trance, hoping that my legs won't give out, and hoping that we'll just get there. That's all I can think of: I want to be there. I want to be done climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and jump right to the part when I can tell people that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

And then I see the summit. The simple wooden sign that marks Uhuru Peak isn't much to look at — inscribed boards, uncentered and bolted across two poles, kind of like what you'd expect to see marking a low-end dude ranch in the middle of the Southwest. But right now, due to either relief and excitement or the fact that the sun is rising over my shoulder, I'm pretty sure it's glowing. We pose for a few pictures that, back at the hotel, I will find out did not turn out. (Tip: Never take a camera you don't fully understand on a trip you want to remember.) There's more hugging. But the most interesting thing I discover at the summit: I'm a crier.

I'd have been less surprised to get to the top and find a note telling me I was adopted. Crying just isn't part of my life; feelings, when they do somehow occur, are meant to be repressed. Not here, apparently. Every time I let myself think about it — about how hard we've worked, how stunning the view is, everywhere I look — my face snarls into something hideous with emotion. After four months of working toward climbing this mountain — constantly training, sleeping in that stupid tent — I don't care. I am proud of myself. And I'm pretty sure no one saw me.

19,341 Feet
"Now run." Maybe he's being dramatic, or maybe it's the language barrier, but our guide clearly wants us to get down. It's the fastest way for Jessie to feel better. But we don't run. That would be stupid, for one thing; it's slippery up here, thanks to the loose dirt and thin layer of snow that's collected on the rocks. Also, now that the sun is up, it's hard to look around without thinking in superlatives. A few thousand feet below us, a thick layer of clouds forms the largest horizon I've ever seen. Small pockets of mist settle in the crevices of the ground's craggy surface. In the pink haze of sunrise, what was all black on the way up is now a thousands-of-years-old glacier, a mile-and-a-half-wide crater, and — holy shit — a really huge mountain.

The scale of what we just climbed becomes clearest when we get back to Gilman's Point. In the daylight, it's just plain scary. We pick our way back down the huge boulders until we get to the switchbacks. There the porters have figured out a way to make going down faster: skiing. Our guide shows us the technique, hopping from one foot to the other, with each step sliding five to ten feet in the eight inches of loose dirt covering the mountain. It's fun, sort of. Or it would be if my knees didn't hurt, if I didn't have an extra twenty pounds strapped to my back, and if it weren't down the face of the tallest mountain in Africa.

Back at camp, I have only enough time to eat a fried egg and a piece of toast. Then we're heading down. The whole way. Another twenty-one miles. We're supposed to stop and camp after six miles, finishing the next day, but everybody wants to get back to the hotel. They want real coffee, or a bed, or to trade 35 degree days for 85 degree ones. I just want to wake up to a hot shower, not a porter with a shallow plastic tub of warm water. The hike down is miserable. We're not talking at this point — not because of tension, but focus. We just want to get done. We will, eventually. In seven and a half more hours.

3,000 Feet
The day after the climb, every one of my joints requires individual coaxing to be moved. The soles of my feet are half blister. And I understand a little better why Rodney pushes himself the way he does. Had the climb never gotten as tough as it did, had it not occasionally seemed impossible, no way would it have been as rewarding. To really feel satisfied, I had to find something right at the edge of what I thought I could do. For Rodney, being content to run a 5k is kind of like a person who graduated college reading nothing but Harry Potter. He needs to be challenged. We all do. But every time he pushes his limits, those limits get just a little farther away. A 5k doesn't do it for him anymore; he has to run six marathons in a row. And then climb a mountain. "It's not so much about competition for me," Rodney says. "It's about challenging myself. It's trying to find that thing where it's really bloody hard, but it's not going to kill you."

I'll never see it that way. He's immediately on to training for his next effort whereas I want to revel in this one a little bit. I want my life to be highlighted by highlights, not made up primarily of them. For me, the most gratifying part of finishing Kilimanjaro — of doing anything this challenging, this extreme — is that I know, for sure, that I can do it, that I did do it, and that I never have to do it again.

January 6, 2011

Small steps brings Mount Kilimanjaro climb to fruition

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is the most dangerous thing Scott Higgins has ever done.

During the last seven hours on his ascent to the summit and with only the light of his headlamp, putting one foot in front of the other in the biting cold wind was as much of a mental challenge as it was physical. "At that point, it is mind over matter, you just keep moving," said Higgins, who climbed and trekked more than 50 miles in every type of terrain, from 90-degree temperatures in the jungle to below zero with high winds on the mountain's Uhuru Peak.

The 43-year-old Noblesville man went eight days without taking a shower and 10 days without talking to his wife, and he hiked more than 13 hours without sleep to reach his destination, Mount Kilimanjaro's peak. "I found it strangely hypnotic to climb in the darkness," said Higgins, who began his final ascent at midnight and reached the summit at sunrise. His reward was a majestic view from Africa's highest point and the world's highest free-standing mountain at 19,340 feet. "Even though I was exhausted, I knew that I would never see a sunrise like this again. The sun looked close enough to touch," he said.

Higgins stood on the snow- and ice-covered peak with the cold and wind in his face for a mere 15 minutes, due to the thin air. He witnessed climbers turning back and getting sick, and learned of two deaths from the altitude, cold and exhaustion. But he said, "I was never tempted to turn back. Given my investment of time and money, I could not accept falling short of the summit."

Higgins had no climbing experience before attempting Kilimanjaro. "However, I have never been a fan of taking baby steps," he said. "Once we made the decision to do it, the possibility of failing seemed too small to consider."

He started planning two years before the trip with friends, Travis Rassat, 36, Noblesville, and Mike Timmons, 38, Indianapolis. They joined a team consisting of eight climbers (including a father and daughter from Germany, a man from Australia, a teacher from Wisconsin and a former college professor from Virginia); and 32 support personnel of licensed guides, cooks and porters who carried gear, set up tents and cleaned up camps. Higgins booked their trip through Ultimate Kilimanjaro, a private agency. The trip cost about $6,000: one-third for the guide service, one-third for airfare and the rest for gear, immunizations, passports and spending money.

Higgins and two friends sent a care package filled with cold weather gear and cash over the holidays after seeing the guides' and porters' worn and ill-fitting coats. "It's something we intend to do every year," he said. "The relatively small donation we send to Africa goes quite far over there."

The trek required a level of physical fitness, endurance and a realistic awareness of risks. Higgins lost 13 pounds over the 12 days in Africa due to the loss of appetite, which is a common side effect of altitude sickness. Before the trip, he spent many hours hiking with a 40-pound backpack, walking at an incline on the treadmill and running bleachers at a soccer stadium.

He was on Kilimanjaro for eight days, Aug. 2-10, and reached the summit the seventh day by taking the Lemosho Route, the mountain's newest and most scenic path. He's already talking about the next mountain-climbing trip to South America's Aconcagua. Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas, at 22,841 feet. "It seems like a perfect choice."

Higgins hopes to climb the highest mountains on six of the seven continents, except for Asia's Mount Everest, which requires a more costly permit.

Higgins took about 400 photos and captured about 180 minutes of video. He had intended to journal a significant amount of time everyday but was too tired to capture more than a paragraph or two each night.

The mountain lies 205 miles south of the equator and stands on Tanzania's northern border with Kenya. Kilimanjaro is made up of three extinct volcanoes and supports six ecological zones, from dry fields and farms to steaming jungles, exotic heaths and moorlands to an alpine desert and a glaciated summit.

As a youngster, Higgins became fascinated with the mountain that was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's almost-autobiographical short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," first published in 1936 in Esquire and in 1987 as part of Hemingway's short stories collection. "After reading that story, I knew that someday I would have to see Kilimanjaro for myself," said Higgins, a 1985 Elwood High School graduate.

Higgins also wanted to see Kilimanjaro's shrinking glaciers. "I really wanted to see them before they were gone," said the business executive and adjunct professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, where he earned his master of business administration.

When he started talking about the trip, his family's response was skepticism. Once they understood it was more than just talk, their next question was "why?"

The married father of two teenagers -- Anna, 18, and Natalie, 16 -- had no experience climbing. "But as the months went by, and he was purchasing his equipment, I realized he was serious," said Lori Higgins, 43, who met her husband when they were Ball State University students. They've been married 22 years. She didn't clearly understand the magnitude of the mountain until watching a cable TV program about Kilimanjaro. She worried for her husband's safety, but she recognized his need to climb the mountain. "In my mind, I knew he could do it. He's the strongest, most determined man I know. I couldn't be more proud of his accomplishment."

Once Scott Higgins made the decision to climb Kilimanjaro, he said, "The possibility of failing seemed too small to consider." He said, "When we are young, there is a belief that there will be time for everything in the future. As we age, the realization sets in that our days are numbered, and if an opportunity exists to experience something important, we had better jump on it."

April 28, 2010

Teacher training to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds for cancer

For some people, summer vacation marks an escape from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, but for Keith Perkins, it satisfies a much deeper craving. When his father passed away in 2007 from pancreatic cancer at age 72, Perkins became shocked after learning about the high mortality rate associated with this type of cancer. There is no reliable detection method available, resulting in diagnosis emerging in the later stages. Being armed with this knowledge, Perkins felt a need to contribute in hopes of generating awareness to the cause. Combine that with a dream of scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro and you have the makings of quite a compelling journey.

An English teacher by trade, Perkins, 40, adores the writings of Ernest Hemingway, who is noted for his fictional accounts of Mt. Kilimanjaro."I've had a mini-obsession with Mt. Kilimanjaro since my early 20s," said Perkins, who teaches at Wayne Hills High School. Besides the literary draw, Kilimanjaro, with its six ecological zones, ranging from steamy rainforests to alpine deserts, all reaching towards a glacial summit, also offers a geographical intrigue that Perkins continues to hold close to his heart.

But how you combine a fundraising effort with climbing one of the biggest mountains in the world was the million-dollar question. And after meticulous online research, Perkins had the answer - www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com and www.pancan.org." The website ultimatekilimanjaro.com is a company based in Chicago that helps you to plan your mountain excursion and pancan.org is the official fundraising website for pancreatic cancer. They're two separate entities," Perkins explained.

The hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, Africa, will take place Aug. 1-8. This route is longer by one day, however Perkins feels it necessary to allow ample time for his body to adapt to the high elevation, as many have fell victim to the thin air near the summit. "I'm trying to be realistic about it," said Perkins. Pre-training is a huge part of the climb as Mt. Kilimanjaro, which measures 19,340 feet, is an enormous undertaking for even the most athletic person, as altitude sickness, fatigue, and other physical ailments can easily occur. Currently Perkins, who has participated in marathons in the past, is running and walking before conquering longer hikes while wearing an equated amount of weight on his back.

The itinerary is carefully planned out and led by local escorts known as sherpas, who understand the need of a controlled environment based on the fluctuating altitude. Luckily they also assume most of the baggage, leaving climbers to carry only a small amount of added weight. "They're available to help you and keep an eye out as you progress towards the higher altitudes," Perkins said. "You can be in the best shape of your life, but once you get higher up, anything can happen so I'm approaching it super serious."

Leaving no stone unturned, he even researched medications and discovered diamox, which is widely used by mountaineers who venture into high altitudes. And since Perkins' adventure will initially take him though a jungle atmosphere, malaria pills and an inoculation for yellow fever are also necessary. His journey begins with a 30-hour flight to Tanzania with two stops. Weather conditions as he and the other trekkers begin ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro will become progressively colder as the days go on, despite the close proximity to the equator. "I'll start out wearing short sleeves and before arriving near the summit I'll surely be wearing winter clothing," he said, smiling.

Those who've mustered through the climb to reach the summit have reflected on a magnificent site never to be forgotten. And despite a gallant venture, trekkers are only allowed to stay at the top for no longer than 10 minutes before the high altitude eventually takes its toll. After his mountain excursion, Perkins will be taking a five-day safari through the Serengeti National Park before returning home on Aug. 14. "This trip isn't just for me, it's also for my dad and the countless others who've battled pancreatic cancer," said Perkins. "But when it's your family, you're more passionate about it."

[Keith Perkins successfully reached Uhuru Point on August 7, 2010.]

March 3, 2010

Project C:Change Website

On February 18, 2010, the Project C:CHANGE expedition team successfully made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. The six member team scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, to raise HK $600,000 for charity and raise awareness about man-made climate change.

The climbers on the Project C:CHANGE expedition included Hong Kong celebrity models Rosemary Vandenbroucke, Jocelyn Luko, Anthony Sandstrom, as well as Janice Chia, Jack Brockway and expedition leader Sean Lee Davies.

January 6, 2010

Loveall Foundation Kilimanjaro Challenge Website

The Loveall Foundation for Children is a non-profit organization established to benefit under privileged, abused or other children with special needs. The Loveall Foundation climbed Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise money for the Leukemia Society, to benefit children battling leukemia. In the video below, Jacques Loveall, founder of the Loveall Foundation for Children, speaks about his team's upcoming climb with Ultimate Kilimanjaro. The team successfully summited on January 6, 2010.

June 4, 2009

Ultimate Kilimanjaro conducts Mount Kilimanjaro climb survey

Ultimate Kilimanjaro, a specialist tour operator offering private and group climbs on Mount Kilimanjaro, released the results of a year-long Kilimanjaro climb survey conducted among independent travelers, hikers and mountaineers.

Over 100 respondents participated in the survey, offering valuable insight into various aspects of climbing Kilimanjaro to prospective adventurers. 

Demographically, male climbers outnumbered female climbers by 2 to 1, and the ages ranged from under 18 to 70 years old. A third of climbers were between 31 and 40 years old and a third were between 41 and 50 years old.  

July proved to be the most popular month for climbing Kilimanjaro among respondents, followed by August and October. These popular months are excellent times to climb due to low precipitation and good visibility.

In preparation for their climb, 35% of respondents hiked as their primary form of training, which is the best exercise. The median frequency of training was three times per week over a three month period. Kilimanjaro can be successfully climbed by any reasonably fit person.

The survey revealed that the route of choice was Machame for 45% of respondents. Machame, also known as the “Whiskey Route,” is the most popular route on the mountain, with Marangu, the “Coca Cola Route,” coming in at a close second. Climbers using these trails can expect to encounter high traffic on their journey to the summit. Only 14% and 11% of climbers used Lemosho and Rongai, respectively. Ultimate Kilimanjaro uses the less frequented routes for its group climbs as ideal alternatives to avoid the crowds.  

The biggest obstacle in successfully climbing Kilimanjaro is the extreme altitude. Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet high. The low oxygen content commonly causes differing degrees of altitude sickness among climbers. The respondents’ susceptibility to altitude sickness was consistent with published figures - 82% of climbers experienced at least one symptom of mild altitude sickness.  

On Mount Kilimanjaro, summit day includes a strenuous 4,000 foot climb to the peak, beginning at midnight, in subzero degree weather, followed by a 9,000 foot descent. 55% of respondents identified summit day, which consists of 10 to 14 hours of trekking, as very tough. Other cited difficulties included altitude acclimatization (34%), lack of sleep (17%) and foul weather (10%). On a scale of 1 to 10, the most common rating for the climb difficulty was a 7.

Respondents overwhelmingly noted that their trip on Kilimanjaro was a very positive experience. More than 50% of the climbers rated their experience as 10 out of 10, meaning that regardless of all other measured variables - how old they were, when they climbed, what route they chose, how many days they took, and whether or not they reached the summit, they had a great time.


March 12, 2009

How to plan on hitting heights

Most travel companies will provide all the camping, cooking and communal equipment. They will also provide a comprehensive list of what you should bring including waterproof jackets, hiking boots, trekking poles, gloves, a sleeping bag and a sun hat. See www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com for more.

You should start training at least two months before your departure, although many people begin training up to a year before. Good general aerobic fitness can be achieved through a variety of sports but regular hiking is obviously the best way to build up leg muscles. If you don't live near hills, a step machine is a good alternative. However, for many the toughest physical element is coping with altitude which is something which cannot be prepared for.

All climbers should get a medical check with their own doctor prior to attempting the climb. It is recommended that you are vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, malaria, meningococcal (meningitis), rabies, typhoid and yellow fever.

September 28, 2007

Beyond the Grand Canyon: Five More Active Adventures

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Ascending this 19,340-foot mountain doesn't involve ropes, snap links and other accouterments of the hard-core mountain climb. Essentially the Tanzanian ascent is a long, thin-aired walk -- it can easily take you a week or more -- requiring strong legs and loads of stamina. The best preparation for hiking mountains is to ... well, hike a mountain, according to the Web site UltimateKilimanjaro.com (www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com). Train in the hiking boots and day pack you plan to use on the trip. Long-distance walking can build stamina. And as with the Inca Trail, you must prepare for the thin air and sickness it could provoke.

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