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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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What would you do if you received an email from a friend that said, “Hello potential fellow adventurers! Please do not disregard this email until you have truly considered the proposal.”?
Swan River residents Stephen and Tawnya Tanner received such an email, and after much consideration and 18 months of preparation, they answered the call of adventure.
On Oct. 2 at 8:52 a.m. local time, along with their friends and travel companions, they stood on the Roof of Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro: the world’s largest free standing mountain, 5,895 metres – or 19,341 feet – above sea level.
“(Some friends of mine) were proposing a climb of Kilimanjaro, and they had reached out to 60 family and friends to join them on the trip of a lifetime,” said Stephen Tanner. “In the end, eight of the invitees made the commitment to join them and attempt the climb.
“We began researching what was involved in such a trip by meeting with Swan River’s Vicky Betcher, who had completed the summit in February 2016, reading books about the climb, watching videos on YouTube, and searching everything we possibly could about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.”
Tanner admitted that he and his wife Tawnya did not consider themselves ‘outdoor people’, and this trip was never on their bucket list, but the idea of going on an adventure with friends was very appealing.
In July 2016, they committed to the trip, and began preparing for the eight day climb that would utilize the Lamosho route – only one of six possible climbing routes up the mountain.
“We had to begin buying equipment and clothing for the trip as we had absolutely nothing, due to our lack of spending time in the outdoors for recreational purposes,” said Tanner.
“We starting exercising more, with lots of walking and treadmill hours, and took advantage of the hiking trails in the Swan Valley, such as Thunder Hill’s amazing Tread the Thunder trails, Duck Mountain hiking trails, Pikes Peak in the Porcupine Mountains, and the museum trails right on the edge of town. In retrospect, we should have done more work on building stronger leg muscles for the excessive amount of climbing up and over rocks.”
The Tanners flew to Arusha, Tanzania on Sept. 24 to meet up with their climbing companions, and had an orientation meeting with Summits Africa, their tour company, the following day. The 10 climbers being taken up the mountain were accompanied by one head guide, three assistant guides, two cooks, two camp managers, and 46 porters.
“These amazing individuals would carry all the equipment and food necessary to get us up and back down the mountain,” said Tanner. “Half-way through the trip, 16 additional porters would climb up a different route, meet up with us to restock our supplies, and leave with used equipment – like empty propane tanks – and garbage. Kilimanjaro is a national park, and everything brought onto the mountain must be carried off. We were very impressed at how clean the trails were during our trek.”
With one porter assigned to each climber to carry their duffle bag of clothing, equipment, and other amenities, the climbers only had to carry their day pack, which included clothing they might need, snacks, camera equipment, and water.
“The climbing strategy was to climb high and sleep low,” said Tanner. “Each day, we would climb higher than necessary, and then drop down several hundred feet to spend the night. This strategy helps you acclimatize to the altitude more effectively, minimizing our chances of getting altitude sickness.”
The final climb to the summit began on day seven at 1 a.m. from their base camp.
“Most climbers make the final ascent in the cold and dark,” said Tanner. “We were told the reasons include: the ground is frozen, making the climb on the loose shale easier, the sun rise from the peak is amazing to see and we not only had to climb to the top and return to our base camp, but we then had to climb down another three hours to our final camp – which took us 17 hours.”
The temperature at the start of the climb started at -4C, but dropped as the wind increased, with Tanner estimating that it felt close to -15C during the night.
“We were just one of many groups that summitted that night,” said Tanner. “With our headlamps on, you could see a chain of lights both ahead of you and behind you snaking its way up the mountain.
“As the sun started to peak over the horizon, our group had not yet made it to the top, but we paused on the side of the mountain to watch the sun rise, which gave us a boost of energy to continue.”
It took the group seven hours and 52 minutes to complete the final 1,000 metre (3,280 foot) climb from base camp to Uhura peak, the tallest point of Kilimanjaro. Tanner said that they had to breathe faster and deeper at this altitude, due to the oxygen levels being approximately half of what they would be at sea level. They spent no more than 15 minutes at the peak before beginning their descent.
“We read before we went that getting to the summit may be the goal of your trip, but it is important to enjoy the journey,” said Tanner. “We did that throughout the eight day journey: the magnificent views, the changing landscapes, getting to know our crew, a bit of their language and culture, enjoying the great meals, and experiencing it all with a great group of people.”
Tanner would encourage people to take the trip themselves, but only with plenty of preparation and training. Hundreds of tour companies eagerly await to take people up the mountain every day, with the guidance of researching what you pay for, because your mileage may vary.


A day on Kilimanjaro

• 6 a.m. – Wake up call; everyone gets a bowl of hot water to wash with;

• 6:30 a.m. – Meet in the mess tent for the first medical assessment of the day, testing blood oxygen level and pulse to monitor for altitude sickness; breakfast includes hot beverages or fruit juice, porridge, eggs, bacon/sausage, and fruit;

• 7:15 a.m. – Get our equipment ready, and ensure water containers were filled;

• 7:30 a.m. – Head off to the next camp, stopping for bathroom breaks, snack breaks, adding or removing clothing layers, and enjoy the views; usually a water refill along the way, collected from streams, filtered and treated with iodine tablets; days averages 6-7 hours of hiking;

“When we left camp, the crew would begin dismantling everything, pack it, pass us on the trail, and have it set up at the next camp before we arrived,” said Stephen Tanner.

• 2 p.m. – 15-20 minutes outside of camp, porters meet the climbers and carry their day packs the rest of the way to camp; sign in at the park ranger’s office at each camp; enjoy the musical welcome in Swahili from the crew;

• 2:30 p.m. – Lunch, including soup, bread, a hearty main course, salad, fruit, and sometimes a Snickers; relax in the afternoon, sometimes going on an acclimatization hike; get organized for next day’s trek;

• 4 p.m. –Tea time, with popcorn, coffee/tea/hot chocolate/juice in the mess tent;

• 7 p.m. – Supper – much the same as lunch – followed by the second medical assessment of the day;

“Our head guide always ate his meals with us, and supper was always the time to discuss the next day’s plans,” said Tanner.

• 8 p.m. – Bedtime; retreat to tents, organize for the next day, and crawl into sleeping bags for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

“Nighttime was a symphony of zippers!” said Tanner. “Most of us were drinking more water than we normally do, and most of us were taking an altitude sickness preventative drug, which was a diuretic. It was not uncommon to have to utilize the toilet 4-6 times a night. That meant 10 people unzipping sleeping bags and tents.”

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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