19,341 Feet, 6 days ascent, 2 days descent
The Prouty Mountaineering Program
January 12, 2014
Preface: We founded Reach for the Peaks with a very simple concept – honoring people with cancer, supporting their care and funding research into the cure/amelioration of the dreadful family of diseases that we call cancer. The premise was simple, go climb mountains commensurate with the folks that we were honoring, and fly a yellow ribbon on the summit to support/honor them and their struggle. This year we had a team of 9 climbers successfully summit – flying almost 100 ribbons from the summit. For some fun videos click the hyperlinks throughout the blog.
The Shadow of dawn on Kilimanjaro from Shira Camp
Kilimanjaro – Animal, Vegetable & Mineral
Kilimanjaro is a unique mountain – it is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, and stands just 3° south of the Equator in Tanzania. It affords a vertical trip from the African tropics in Arusha National Park at an elevation of 4,000 feet, into the Arctic – on the edge of the stratosphere at Kilimanjaro’s summit – 19,341 feet. There are 5 ecological zones on this Hill:
Flora & Fauna
|Bush land||Up to 6,000 ft.||Abundant plains animals, grassland, forests||20-70 in.||Animal Zone. Safaris.|
|Tropical Rainforest||6,000 – 9,200 ft.||Abundant deciduous rainforest||40-79 in.||Plant Zone. Machame & Mweka Camps. Mud.|
|Alpine Heath/Moorland||9,200 – 13,200||Unique Afro-montane species||21-51 in.||Plant Zone. Strange unique species. Shira, Karanga Camps.|
|Alpine Desert||13,200 – 16,500||Limited lichen, small plants||10 in.||Mineral Zone. Limited water. Cold Nights. Lava Tower & Barafu Camps.|
|Arctic||16,500 – 19,341||Virtually no life||≤ 4 in.||Summit. Glaciers. Fun in the Crater. Marriage proposals.|
From a practical perspective, you start in the Animal Zone (Bush Land), move into the Plant Zone (Rainforest & Heath), and finally into the Mineral Zone – in the Alpine Desert and above.
At its base, Kilimanjaro bumps up against Arusha National Park and is within 100 miles of the Ngogongoro Crater – an UNESCO World Heritage Site for wildlife. Tanzania contains 20% of the species of mammals in Africa, and is a wonderful place for wildlife viewing. Over 25% of the area of Tanzania is reserved for wildlife in National Parks and Wildlife preserves.
Our climb of Kilimanjaro normally starts with a post-travel day in Arusha National Park, and 4 members of our team arrived a few days early for a more extensive wildlife safari including a visit to the spectacular Ngogongoro Crater. December is the peak month of the massive southern migration of wildebeests (over 1 million animals) to the edge of the Ngogongoro Crater and the Serengeti.
Giraffe and Zebra in Arusha National Park
The team this year was young, fit, and a whole lot of fun. We had:
- One high school student, Hannah, climbing to support her Dad who has been battling brain cancer,
- Two college students (brothers), John and Chris, also climbing to support their Dad who recently suffered a brain tumor,
- Three graduate student, Kate, Anna and Sam, MBA, MD and MS candidates respectively, climbing to support parents/friends with cancer,
- One recently minted grade school teacher, Matt, who also happened to get engaged to Anna at the summit (a tough show to top), and
- Two comfortably middle-aged pilgrims – Audrey (an MD) and me.
This was a learning trip for me as much as anyone – starting out the first day with a clear and practical lesson in concepts foreign to me (a generational divide) including Plan B (a short hand for morning after birth control), a “selfie” (a self-photo), your “junk” (private parts) and the use of a tablet computer as a high altitude movie theater.
The Team enjoying delighted success at the summit
Sam, Anna & Kate
A “Selfie” taken while watching movie on a tablet at 12,000 ft.
Incautious use of Junk in such situations may require Plan B
Our Route to the Summit – Starting at Machame Gate, finishing at Mweka Gate
Final Elevation Gain/Loss
|1||Machame Gate to Machame Camp||6 mi.||9,800 ft.+3,900 ft.||A hike through the rain forest|
|2||Shira Camp||4 mi.||12,300 ft.+2,500 ft.||Through the heath into the desert|
|3||Lava Tower||3 mi.||15,200 ft.+ 3,000 ft.||First high camp – minor altitude discomfort|
|4||Karanga||6 mi.||13,100 ft.-2,300, +1,300||In and out of vegetation. Barranco Wall|
|5||Barafu||3 mi.||15,300 ft.+2,100 ft.||High Camp. Edge of the Arctic zone.|
|6||Barafu/Summit/Barafu||4 mi.||19,341/15,300+- 4,000 ft.||To the summit & Crater & back. Life begins at 17,500 ft.|
|7||Mweka Camp||8 mi.||10,000 ft.-5,300 ft.||Relaxed day; from the Arctic to the rain forest|
|8||Mweka Gate||10 mi.||5,500 ft.-4,500 ft.||Down & Out – headed home|
Our route is determined more by the requirements for acclimatization than expediency. We take 5-6 days to do the climb, and a couple of days in the descent. While this hiking around the mountain chews up a lot of time, it allows us to enjoy the scenery, and prepare for the extreme altitude at the summit. The entire hike is around 45 miles, and affords a lot of down time – either while hiking or resting in camp. The first couple of days are just an easy ascent through the rain forest and up into the alpine desert at Shira Camp.
Matt with a Senecio Kilimanjari
We welcomed the New Year at Lava Towers Camp – at just over 15,000 feet and our third night on the Mountain. A New England Journal of Medicine article was sacrificed to provide the party hats, and a blessedly small amount of champagne was consumed – I can’t imagine a bubbly wine hangover at 15,000 feet.
Audrey becomes one with everything
Chris and John greeted the New Year by climbing the Lava Tower at dawn – in Crocs. While this is not typically the recommended footwear, it seemed to work for them. They remarked about climbing by some old rock bolts – and seeming a little out of place without a rope. The same day culminated in climbing the Barranco Wall – more of a scramble than a climb – but still a welcome break from hiking. It is a real test for the porters – they have to do the climb while balancing loads on their heads.
Lava Tower at Dawn
Audrey and head guide James welcome in the New Year at 15,000 ft.
Celebratory hats made from a NEJM article
Team Climbing the Barranco Wall
Karanga Camp (12,000 ft.) is the first stop after the Lava Tower, and is a great place to let the yellow ribbons fly. For me, the yellow ribbons are the essence of our trip – personalizing the commitment to people with cancer. I’ve always felt that waiting until the summit is imprudent for photographing the yellow ribbons – weather and potential health issues can limit time at the summit. Karanga offers a great backdrop of Kilimanjaro with no time pressure. Additionally, in Maori, a Karanga is a highly stylized greeting chant, occasionally including a special tribute to the spirits of deceased friends and relatives. While the name is certainly co-incidental, I find it a compelling to stop and get the first photos of the yellow ribbons at Karanga Camp.
Hannah honors her father with a yellow ribbon at Karanga Camp
The team with ribbons at Karanga
Sam demonstrates a Northern Hemisphere orientation at Karanga Camp
From Karanga, it is a short walk to Barafu Camp (Barafu means ice in Swahili) and up to the edge of the Arctic. The weather was terrific, the team was feeling good, so we grabbed the first night available for the ascent. The ascent to the summit requires a 2:00 AM start – and is predictably disorienting to folks not used to alpine climbing starts. This has to be the most gentle high altitude climb in the world – the trail is packed hard and is a gentle incline. It is several hours and over 4,000 feet to the summit, however, and sunrise is always welcome to break the monotony of climbing in the dark.
Sunrise on Summit Day
This year the team was in exceptionally good shape by the time we hit the summit. We made the ascent in the fastest time ever recorded our outfitter, East African Voyage – our team felt so chipper, that some even proposed marriage. The weather was glorious, and by common agreement we headed down into the crater. This involved a little bit of glissading – and was simply a blast. The ice in the crater is melting fast – it has retreated markedly since my last stop into the crater in 2010 – when I spent the night. We enjoyed the crater, and got out before we were absolutely fried by the sun.
Anna celebrates her Dad in front of some 12,000 year old ice
A marriage proposal at 19,341 ft. – She said yes.
Sliding into the Crater – a fast trip from 19,200 ft. to 18,500 ft.
Glissading tracks into the Crater
Sunrise at Barafu
Kili at dawn from Barafu
Yellow ribbons flying at Barafu Camp
Characters along the Trail – Hannah Green
When we were just starting to believe that we could make a trip up Kili work, Becky Gray of the NCCC introduced me to Hannah Green, then a junior in High School, and keenly interested in climbing Kili to honor her father – a victim of brain cancer. Hannah took the simple position that we were going to climb Kili to honor people with cancer – and that she was going to climb it with us, the second year that we did it. She couldn’t make the first year – I guess due to prior commitments. I was immediately struck by her quiet determination – and frankly found it contagious.
True to her word, Hannah was ready this year – raising a ton of money, and a lot of consciousness. She did the “frozen turkey” climb up Moosilauke with us in November, and showed up in Arusha ready to climb – after gaining early acceptance to Middlebury. Perhaps more than any other climber, Hannah was here for a reason – written all over a bunch of yellow ribbons. I heard a bunch of quiet laughs from Hannah over the course of the week, but never a whine or complaint. Hannah has contributed as much as anyone to the development of the Kili climbing program, and I was absolutely delighted to see her beaming at the summit. Thanks for all your help in getting this program launched.
Adios, from Mt. Kilimanjaro