Kilimanjaro – Prouty Mountaineering 2014

Kilimanjaro – Prouty Mountaineering 2014

          Reach for the Peaks Logo

Mt. Kilimanjaro

19,341 Feet, 6 days ascent, 2 days descent

The Prouty Mountaineering Program


January 12, 2014

Wes Chapman

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.

Kili at sunrise shadow

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

Annual Precipitation


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.

 giraffes 4

Giraffe and Zebra in Arusha National Park

The Team

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.

Team at the sunnit 1

The Team enjoying delighted success at the summit

 Selie in Tent

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.

 Senecio Kilimanjari

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 Relaxing

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

Lava Tower at Dawn

 New Year at 15,000 feet

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

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 2

Hannah honors her father with a yellow ribbon at Karanga Camp

 Team with Ribbons

The team with ribbons at Karanga

Sam simulates life in the Northern Hemisphere

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

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 with her Dad & some very old ice

Anna celebrates her Dad in front of some 12,000 year old ice

Love on High

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.

Sliding into the Crater – a fast trip from 19,200 ft. to 18,500 ft.

 Slide for life into the crater

Glissading tracks into the Crater

 Sunrise at Karanga Camp

Sunrise at Barafu

 Kili at Dawn from Barafu

Kili at dawn from Barafu

 Flying yellow ribbons at Barafu

Yellow ribbons flying at Barafu Camp

Characters along the Trail – Hannah Green

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 Kilimanjaro

Adios, from Mt. Kilimanjaro

Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

7 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    January 15, 2014

    What an extraordinary trip, Wes, and what a fabulous retelling of it – congratulations on not only your vision of this program, but your own determination and ability to execute to a height worthy of Kilimanjaro, itself! Thank you for your incredible passion and support of this Cancer Center.


  2. Avatar
    January 15, 2014

    Thank you Wes for leading this group…and bringing them all back home safely! You’re the best!


  3. Avatar
    January 17, 2014

    Beautiful climb Wes with a group of beautiful souls! Kudos for another summit and for starting Reach for The Peaks!


  4. Avatar
    January 20, 2014

    Congratulations to the entire Prouty Kili team! Quite an adventure.


  5. Avatar
    January 27, 2014

    Wes, Congrats on another fantastic voyage!! I’d love to update our FNCCC Facebook cover image if you could email me the summit photo. Thanks for everything you do for Norris Cotton Cancer Center!


  6. Avatar
    March 07, 2014

    As the proud grandfather of Hannah Green, I thank you and all who climbed with her for the support of Prouty. It was a remarkable achievement by every one of you. (Hannah’s dad, Mark Green, participated in the Prouty Ride for many years.)
    [This is not an ad:] I also thank Hannah’s cousin, Stuart Nelson, of sponsor Bare Bones Workwear, in Sacramento, CA, for the gear he helped to supply and the special benefit t-shirts he so generously created and donated to help raise funds.
    ALL the sponsors merit gratitude – but you were the key to success and I am deeply appreciative.


    • Avatar
      March 07, 2014

      Stephen, You have a wonderful granddaughter, and we appreciate the opportunity to help in the fight against cancer.
      Thank you for your kind comments, Wes