The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

Reflections on Kilimanjaro

We had a celebratory dinner in the garden of the hotel that night. It was a delightful weather, and a really relaxed atmosphere. We had a huge buffet, exchanged our climbing certificates (we each got to award one of our teammates with theirs). It was a nice way to begin to reflect on the last week. And I say “begin” on purpose because it’s been two weeks since I have returned and I am still thinking about all that happened. It was a packed two weeks. Week one, the climb was over. 6 1/2 days- 27  miles. Sounds short and easy. And afterall, according to Peakware, Kilimanjaro is classed as a “walk up.” But that means it is not technical, i.e. no crampons or ice axes or ropes are required to reach the top and get down. However, the difficulty of the peak should not be underestimated. How hard a mountain is, how much out of your comfort zone you are, really depends on your mountain inventory. What you have done before. Kili is a challenge, it requires consistent hiking on uneven, sometimes rough, terrain. And it requires long days out. On the other hand. you have porters carrying up to half of your gear, setting up camp and cooking for you. The other issue is altitude, Kili is 19,340 feet. That is serious by any standard. How you feel comes down to what kind of shape you are in, and what your physiology is. It’s all rather unpredictable. One thing is for sure, taking 6 1/2 days is much better than  going harder and shorter up the Mweka route for example. The Machame route is much more rugged, and poses more challenges. We spent two days traversing the mountain, lots of scrambling and uneven trail, staying at roughly 13,000 the whole time. Slow going, but effective for acclimation. Many of our team felt the altitude. For whatever reason, I felt great almost the whole time, and never got sick. I got lucky. It was a hard week, full of challeneges, but Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, my “home” mountain, in a bad storm in May had me much further out of my comfort zone than did Kili. Mt. Wash., remarkably I think, punches far above it weight, at a mere 6200 feet.

The journey up Kili began with Alan A’s very kind invitation to come along. It was all in support of Alan’s Seven Summits “memories are Everything” campaign. This is a really important initiative, and it felt great to climb with a purpose. It’s  nasty disease, it’s going to effect a lot of people in the future unless it is solved by the many scientists hard at work on it. One of them came along on the Kili climb, which was another nice feature of it. So thanks go out to Alan–a lot of great memories were created in the space of this week for sure. Doing an activity which you love, seeing a landscape one is privileged to see, meeting great people, learning a lot along the way, and supporting a great cause is an unbeatable combination.

It was a diverse group of people who made up our IMG team, from people in their 30’s to late 60’s, from Everest summitters to mountainteering beginners. We pulled together on the climb though, and we all made it to the summit in back. 100% summit rate, which is fairly rare.

We had an early start the next day, we were set to fly out of Arusha for the Serengeti. It would prove to be a great way to relax and unwind, to be spoiled a bit, seeing an almost indescribable beautiful landscape, and to simple sit motionless for a while. I almost did not opt for the safari but that would have been a huge mistake.

The flight from Arusha was about an hour, and a lot of fun. You fly due West over a prehistoric landscape of volcanoes, craters and gorges. You land on a little dirt airstrip, flying over giraffes and zebras. It was surreal. We were greeted by our safari drivers and began our journey in the Serengeti immediately. Wow.

It is not easy for me to summarize our three days in the Serengeti, or our one day in the Ngorongoro Crater. Northern Tanzania is easily the most remarkable place I have ever visited. It is also the furthest away from “civilization” i have ever been. It is serene, and peaceful, and quiet beyond description. We saw every animal that you would want to see, so regularly that they appeared almost on queue. We were there during the Great Migration, millions of Zebras and Wildebeest were moving as single herds across the vast open spaces of the Serengeti. They became old friends after three days.

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