Friends Take on the Challenge of Africa’s Highest Mountain
Brian, Andrew and Graham visited Tanzania and…
- Reached the summit of Kilimanjaro via the challenging Umbwe route
- Stayed on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater
- Saw wildlife on the vast plains of the Serengeti
- Visited a local pub and market
- …and more!
Taking on a Challenge
Three friends and avid outdoorsmen from Colorado celebrated a milestone birthday by hiking to the ‘roof of Africa.’ Brian, Andrew and Graham, armed with planning and guidance from AAC, chose to mark Brian’s 40th by conquering one of the world’s ‘7 summits,’ – the highest peaks on each continent. The trio trained for several months before attempting to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit via the Umbwe route, known as the most challenging route on the mountain. Understanding their own hiking abilities and fitness, the group chose Umbwe as a way to avoid other climbers. The choice paid off, as they were the only ones on the route for most of their climb!
They took the time to speak with us, passing along their stories and advice for those looking to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro.
Embarking on their climb, the group noticed one difference between hiking at home and climbing Kili. With the mountain’s summit reaching 19,341 feet above sea level, the climbing pace is considerably slower, with every step made deliberately. Knowledgeable guides build the trek around not pushing guests’ heart rates to an elevated level.
“It’s subtle – guides don’t talk about it, but it becomes obvious that the pace is dictated by the pace of breathing. The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to avoid overexertion, and the guides did a great job of controlling it. The pace also enabled lots of conversation – all the way up to 18,000 feet.”Brian, Andrew and Graham described their guides as “fantastic – personable and knowledgeable.” They enjoyed taking it slow, learning about plants and flowers as they hiked. They made special mention of their head guide Bernard who has been leading climbs on Kilimanjaro for 20 years and has climbed the mountain over 150 times. The whole team that accompanied them “took care of our needs sometimes before we knew we needed something.” They also learned local songs from their guides, one of which they have subsequently taught to their children!
It takes a village to get up the mountain (so to speak). For the group of three climbers, the support staff consisted of a head guide, an assistant guide and 24 porters. There are a number of reasons why support staff size is important, including ensuring that there is an average ratio of one guide for every two guests, and also to adhere to strict weight limits for each porter, including carrying important safety gear such as a hyperbaric chamber for emergencies and other first aid items. Additionally, we provide a minimum of two certified WFR (Wilderness First Responder Certified) guides on each trek. We are very proud of the fact that our mountain guides and core crew are recognized as the most capable and professional crew on the mountain.
One thing that stood out for the climbers was the quality (and quantity!) of food they ate on the mountain – 3 multi-course meals each day. Brian said he actually gained weight on the hike! The climbers noticed the ‘little things’– “the cooks were well prepared for Westerners’ expectations, and they were very food safety conscious.”
As you might expect, the top moment for the climbers was summit day – which they described as “amazing.” Their guide was tuned in to how well they were doing and gave options for summiting. Most climbers start summit day at midnight to reach the top before clouds roll in. The climbers’ guide had a high degree of confidence in their ability to summit, so they started at 4:30 am, and they were thrilled to get the extra sleep. As they climbed, the guides stopped them to turn around to see the sunrise at 17,000 feet – which they said was spectacular!
As they reflected later – reaching the summit was an emotional moment. They had planned the trip for 2 years and then suddenly they reached the point that they had dreamed about for so long. Once atop Kilimanjaro’s peak, they had the summit to themselves and enjoyed a lot of private time up top allowing them to capture great photos with no other people.
“It was a powerful moment for all of us. It was a special thing we could celebrate together.”
“…was a powerful moment for all of us. It was a special thing we could celebrate together.”
“It’s hard to plan something for 2 years – expectations incrementally increase the more you plan and dream. It’s hard to have the experience surpass expectations, but it did. The hike blew us away.”
Stay tuned to The Safari Journal Blog for a special follow up story detailing what it takes to successfully prepare for a Kilimanjaro ascent.
Brian, Andrew and Graham weren’t about to fly all the way to Tanzania without experiencing a safari, too! Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater was one safari highlight – it was a “great way to see a lot of animals up close.”
Throughout their safari, their guide Japhet did a great job finding animals for them to see. They enjoyed the comfort of their vehicle, and especially that it was private so they each had their own row of seats. The group found that after the excitement of seeing a variety of animals for the first time, they could then slow down and enjoy sitting back and observing wildlife behavior.
“We were blown away by our lodge on the crater – we would have stayed another night if we could have.”
“It’s a rare experience when you don’t have to do anything – you just show up.”
We are so happy that the group could kick back, relax and enjoy their safari after their climb up Africa’s highest peak!