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Conquering Kilimanjaro

My Own Recent For-Real Adventure

 

I took an adventure trip last month and I’m still processing everything that happened.

As a life-long skier, I truly believe that every trip to the top of a mountain sets up an adventure to get down, whether you are skiing America’s northeast or riding in the high peaks of Colorado, Europe, South America, or Japan. Remember—our business name is Alpine Adventures. But my trip in October to Tanzania was about conquering a different type of mountain. I trekked up to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.

My decision to do this started in a bar in Las Vegas this past August. I was there with two travel industry friends and they were signed up to go with a group trek in six weeks. Something about that experience, at that moment, seemed like a must-do for me. I called to see if there was still space available, then checked for flights. It all came together seamlessly.

In the following weeks I did try to train for this very physical event, but in hindsight, I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing it to find a way to train at altitude. Working from my company headquarters in South Florida did not have the same effect. I jogged, I walked, I used (and I recommend) the stairclimber at the gym. But in the blink of an eye, it was time to get on a plane and fly to the other side the world. It was wise to arrive early in Tanzania to begin to get acclimated, but it was unwise to spend a week diving off the coast of Zanzibar first. Don’t do that, I’ll just tell you right now.

A big thing that I did get right was to have the best gear for the endeavor. It gets cold, and I mean very cold. Take what you need to stay comfortable for the weather extremes. Our trip leader was a man named Dismas. He has summited Kilimanjaro 250+ times. The day before our trek began, he went to every person in his group to personally go through our gear. Some had to go out and buy different gear to get his approval to make the climb—it’s that important. It takes 5 days to go up and 2 days to get down. There is no running to the outfitter store 3 days into the climb.

Understand that you are required to have a guide and porters for your trek up and down, and that there are degrees of comfort you can sign up for depending on your budget. There are basic group trips where trekkers carry more of their own gear and they sleep on the ground rather than on cots. Some prefer their Mt. Kilimanjaro experience to be this way. There were 20 people in our group, and we had several porters to help carry our gear, and to port and set up sleeping tents, cots, the mess tent, shower tents, etc. Many prefer to do it that way also.

This journey starts at around 5500 feet above sea level, and in the first day you will climb to over 10,000 feet. You continue uphill for the next 4 days. For me, that first day was one of the hardest, but it’s the last day of this trek that is certainly the most dramatic. You go to sleep around 6pm the day before you summit. You wake for breakfast at 11pm. Then you finish your climb in the dead dark of night, with a headlamp for illumination. It’s steep. Remember that: dark and steep. The sun is rising when you reach the summit, and it’s recommended that you stay there only 6 minutes before you start your descent. That’s enough time to take your picture with the sign. Don’t look down until after you take that photo. When you realized by the light of day what you just attempted in the dead of night, it’s a good thing to be in motion going down as the enormity of your accomplishment sets in.

If you aspire to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, let me advise you to focus on the aspects you can control: what kind of shape you are in, how good your mountaineering gear is, and how much help you will accept. Don’t spend time fretting over things you can’t control like the weather, and the timeless majesty and dominance that is the mountain itself. September and October, by the way, are the best months for this lifetime experience.

This Adventure Doesn’t Have To End On The Last Day Of The Climb

When we were done with the trek, several of us went straight on safari, and I recommend that or moving into any activity that keeps you on a schedule of regular sleeping and waking times like you just had on your trek. Get up early and engage in something interesting. Sleep—you will be tired already. Stay at least moderately active and ease out of the intensity of your previous 7 days of bouldering in the thin air. Your body will take some time to readjust, and I can’t even guess how long it will take to get a handle on the mental challenge of this adventure. Now that it’s over, I think I am proudest of how I responded, inside my head, to the mental challenge. My body, of course, complained for days after about what it was put through.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you put together such a trip, at Alpine Adventures and Adventures Africa we are happy to talk to you about any kind of travel to Africa. Whether you want to see the continent from the top of Kilimanjaro or you want to know the wildlife from game drives and river trips, I can promise you that Africa will stay in your heart forever.

“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai’, the House of God. Close to the western summit there is a dried and frozen carcas of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Rick Reichsfeld trekking up to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Rick Reichsfeld is the founder and owner of the global travel companies Alpine Adventures, Adventures Africa, and Anywhere Adventures. These specialty travel companies offer soft adventures ranging from snow sport trips in North America, Europe, Japan, and South America, witnessing firsthand the Big 5 of lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard and elephant in southern and eastern Africa, group cultural and culinary trips in Asia and Europe, and adventures like whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, tango-learning intensives in Argentina, horseback expeditions through Patagonia, and any other life experience you can dream of.