Kilimanjaro, Africa

My 5th of the Seven Summits

Despite the unexpected inconvenience of a collapsed lung that I earned in a soccer game a little less than two months before I was set to depart, I was able to head to Africa in the summer of 2010 as planned. It was a pretty good hit (his shoulder to my ribs) that caused enough of a compression to pop my right lung. Apparently, this type of injury typically occurs when a person hits the steering column of their car during a car wreck when not wearing a seatbelt. So, it was a fairly rare soccer injury one could say. And as it turns out, I was dumb enough to play with my collapsed lung for the final 20 minutes of the game. I certainly noticed I was out of breath, but who knew… x-rays the next day surprised us all when the expected broken rib didn’t materialize, and instead an air-filled gap where my lung was supposed to be appeared. However, after a week on the couch and month of taking it easy, I was able to ramp-up quickly with some local climbs to get ready for the trip to Kilimanjaro, although this expedition took the “off the couch” expression to a level I hope to never repeat.

Upon arriving in Cape Town, I met-up with my buddy Eric Remza, who is a full-time mountain guide. We were fortunate enough to see the World Cup semi-finals match between the Netherlands and Uruguay, which was one of the most exciting games of the tournament with some amazing goals in a 3-2 victory for the Dutch. Afterwards, I was amazed to see the Uruguayans still dancing and singing and partying in the streets all night despite the disappointing loss. That’s truly a huge part of what makes the World Cup such a special event.

The next day, Eric and I did a 5.10+ rock climb to the top of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. We didn’t get a very early jump and I was a bit slow having just come off the couch, so our nice afternoon climb nearly became an epic one when the sun set while we were still two pitches from the top. The real catch was that the cable cars, which stop running at sunset, were our only option down. Fortunately, we topped-out just as the final cable car of the day was departing with the tram’s staff that manned the summit station, and we managed to hitch a ride and avoid a long, cold bivy on top of Table Mountain.

We drove to Simon’s Town the following day to head out with the same outfitter that is often featured during Shark Week on Discovery Channel (Chris Fallows) and who also took the BBC out when they filmed their Planet Earth segments of the sharks that breach the surface in order to catch Cape Fur Seals. It was an amazing experience and we were fortunate enough to see these two-ton super-predators up close while in the shark cage and as they breached the water’s surface while hunting. It was worth the hour-long soak in the 50-degree water and gave me a newfound respect for these animals. They are amazingly agile and powerful. I can think of a lot of things I would rather be than a Cape Fur Seal. After a trip down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa, and a nice long day in Stellenbosch (South Africa’s premier wine region), we headed to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro.

Once we arrived in Moshi, where I was promptly bitten by a mosquito (the only one I saw on the entire trip) that somehow found its way INSIDE my bed netting (the malaria meds did their thing, fortunately), we met up with the rest of the group we would be climbing with as part of the trip that Eric was leading. We had a good crew of a father climbing with his college-aged daughter, a father and his two college-aged sons, a couple in their early 30s, and a 30 year-old woman from New York City. We had an easy group dynamic and a good time working our way up the mountain. We did a seven-day climb via the Machame Route (aka Whiskey Route) to provide plenty of time on the mountain to acclimatize. We had some beautiful camps along the way, especially the Barranco Camp. From here, it was up over the Barranco Wall and down into the Karanga Valley before heading up to Barafu camp, our high camp, at 15,000’ for our push to Uhuru Peak (“Freedom Peak” in Swahili) at 19,341’.

We had a beautiful summit day, albeit a bit cold (10 degrees with a wind-chill well below 0), and attained the summit just in time to watch the sun rise out of the Indian Ocean. After celebratory pictures on the summit, we made our way down to high camp and packed-up our gear. With only a short lunch break, we continued descending another 5,000’. So, in all, we climbed 4,200’ to the summit from high camp and then descended a total of 9,200’ to Mweka Camp and set ourselves up for a quick descent to the trailhead the next morning. It was a long day to cap a great climb, and the best part of the trip was still to come. After a day in Moshi to wash Kili’s residue from our nooks and crannies, we headed to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater for three days of safari.

Africa is truly a magical place and that becomes all the more clear while on safari. We had several days of beautiful weather and were fortunate enough to see four of the big five game, which include the leopard, lion, water buffalo, elephant and rhino. The rhino remained elusive during our 3-day adventure, but we saw the other four as well as countless antelope, hyenas, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, hippos, impalas, warthogs, crocodiles, baboons, cheetahs, etc. It was really an amazing experience and one that I hope to repeat at some point. The most amazing thing we witnessed was a leopard sleeping high in a tree next to the remaining half of an impala kill that it had not yet eaten and, therefore, dragged up into the tree with it in order to protect it from scavengers while it napped. An amazing thing to witness firsthand.