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Kilimanjaro 2015 ~ The Roof of Africa

March 18, 2015

IMG_2187I just returned from Tanzania and my CLIMB to Fight Breast Cancer to the roof of Africa- the 19,340ft summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was an amazing experience from sightseeing around Arusha, Tanzania to summiting Kilimanjaro at sunrise to an awesome 3 ½ day safari in some of the best parks in east Africa.

Our group consisted of 5 middle-aged climbers from the United States plus Alpine Ascents guide Eric Murphy (he has 70 Kili ascents and he is heading to Mt. Everest to guide later this month), and Tanzanian guides Julius (325 ascents), Daniel (100+ ascents), and Daniel (70+ ascents). In addition, there were 29 other cooks, porters, and other camp staff to support our amazing journey.

We started in Arusha with introductions and a gear check before driving 2 hours the next day to our starting point, the Machame gate at 6000ft elevation. We began in 80 degree heat walking through the rain forest watching the blue and colobus monkeys in the huge trees. After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at a small clearing in which a large table, chairs, 2 flower arrangements, and toilet tent had been set up. We had a filling 4-course meal then headed up another couple of hours to camp. This was the typical day- a little walking (sometimes quite steep up or down), a filling sit-down lunch then another couple of hours on the trail. When we would reach camp, the tents had already been set up by the crew and snacks and water were ready. Another large dinner, and early to bed completed the day.

Day 2 was a little shorter hiking through the heather and moorlands zone (dryer, smaller vegetation as we got above 10,000ft). We reached Shira camp after 4-5 hrs with great views up closer to the mountain and its still significant south side glaciers. Day 3 was the longest day other than summit day with about 9 hours of walking. We started at 12,500ft, went up to a rocky volcanic pinnacle called Lava Tower at 15,200ft then back down to the prettiest camp at 12,900ft Barranco camp. There were very unusual lobelia plants and senesius trees that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book all around the valleys near Barranco. There were great views down the valley, up to the mountain, and across the valley to the next day’s initial objective-scaling the 1000ft Barranco wall. We arose at 5AM to our usual favorite hot beverage brought to our tent. We left early to beat the other groups on the mountain so that we would not get bogged down on the wall. It took a little scrambling to get up the wall, but nothing too difficult. At the top, incredible views awaited us–bright blue sky, tremendous glaciers, the whole mountain seemed like it was RIGHT THERE.

It was still another couple of days to reach the summit, however. We had a short day reaching Karanga camp at 13,300ft at lunch time, so we all rested that afternoon. The next day we finally started our push to gain more altitude reaching 15,800ft Kosovo camp about 1PM. We had the camp all to ourselves as most others use Barafu camp about 1000ft lower. This allowed us a little bit of a head start for summit night. We were awoken at 11PM for a short meal before leaving at midnight for the summit. After 6 hours of steep walking using our headlights to guide us, we finally reached the crater rim at Stella Point at about 6AM. We had tremendous views all around us as the sun rose over the African continent. 17,000 Mowenzi Peak, the glaciers, the HUGE crater all there for us to enjoy. It took about another hour of easy walking to make it to the true summit at Uhuru peak-19,340 feet of sea level. FINALLY, the whole group made it (in fact, of the 6 trips that Eric Murphy led this winter season, 100% made it to the top). We spent about 45 minutes taking in the views, taking lots of pictures, resting, eating, and drinking. When it was time to begin our real descent back at Stella Point, Eric asked us who wanted to go the “fast route” down. I, of course, volunteered. He said “follow me and if I spread my arms out, it means there’s a jump”. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into, but we took off running/jumping down the mountain plunge-stepping into the deep sand/gravel. We dropped almost 2500ft in about 20 minutes. What a great way to get back down to camp for a little rest. The others eventually caught up with us at camp exhausted after about a 6000ft descent. The next day we had another 6000ft to descend to get back to our final stop at the Mweke gate where we were met by an enthusiastic group singing, dancing, celebrating our successful summit. What a trip it was!

But that was only the beginning. After driving back to Arusha for LONG, HOT showers, rest and a celebratory dinner, the next morning we departed for Tarangire National Park. To say it was incredible, is an understatement. We literally saw more than a 1000 elephants, 100 giraffe, baboons, impala, zebra, etc. all in an awe-inspiring landscape of grasslands, acacia trees and the huge boabab trees (the tree of life in the Lion King movies). Next, we drove to the famous Ngorongoro crater for another afternoon game drive. There were animals EVERYWHERE-thousands of wildebeest and gazelle, lions, hippos, 3 black rhino (one of which walked just in front of our truck). More animals that I would have dreamed for one small enclosed ecosystem. We finished our safari at the famous Serengeti National Park. There we saw hundreds of lions, a leopard, tons of zebra, gazelle, and elephants just as you may have dreamed. The following morning I got up early for a sunrise balloon ride over the Serengeti with the highlight being about 20 feet above a huge group of hippos that were lounging, walking, swimming, just hanging out.

What a trip! It would be hard to imagine a more diverse experience from summiting the great Kilimanjaro to seeing up close the animals of east Africa all for a great cause-the CLIMB to Fight Breast Cancer.

~ Dr. Keith Heaton

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