Posted on 7/6/2008 by irvin
I don't have a headache. I am not dizzy. I don't feel nauseated.
My vision is still ok. There is no reason why I cannot take another step.
And by saying this simple mantra, over and over, I managed to reach to top
of Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,432 feet. The top of the mountain is really a
big volcanic crater. I reached the crater rim at a point called Stella Point.
One has to walk along the rim for about 45 minutes more to get to the actual
highest point. By this time I was too exhausted to care. I had been
climbing for 10 hours, having started at 11:00 PM the previous night and had
reached the crater rim at 9:00 AM. The guide said that reaching Stella point
counts as a successful ascent of Kilimanjaro for the official record books of
Tanzania. That sounded good enough for me. So after eating an energy bar
and drinking some water, I started down.
I reached base camp about 6 hours later. The official guideline calls
for a celebration with a glass of orange juice and a meal; then a two hour
rest and then a continued descent down to 10,000 feet before nightfall. I
found the orange juice the best tasting drink ever. But I was so exhausted I
could not eat anything else. And because I was so slow, it was necessary to
continue on to the next campsite immediately. I reached it at 11:00 PM that
night, having been walking and climbing for 24 hours straight.
The next day was the last. The walk should have taken three hours. It
took me seven hours because it was all down hill through rain forest. The
trail was quite slippery and I chose to be very cautious.
The preparations for the climb started Fall of 2007. My son Tim had
climbed it the previous year had his enthusiasm was so catching that his
siblings and their significant others formed a group to go and asked me.
Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I had been enthralled by this place
since the 1950's and now I could go with a group that would be sympathetic to
my oldness and slowness. So seven of us: Anna Hentzel and Andrew Johnson,
Rob Hentzel and Emily Pike Hentzel, Tim Hentzel and Leslie, and
I made the trip.
The outfitter was Sunny Safaris. We had 3 guides, a cook, a waiter,
and 17 porters. We chose the eight day trip. Statistics show that there is
a 15% better success rate for the eight day trip over the seven day trip.
All seven of us made the top. There are trips which climb it in only five days.
The extra days allow the body to adjust to the high altitude and it makes a
big difference in preventing altitude sickness.
My training began with short walks, working up to six miles. Then I
spent two weeks in Leadville Colorado at 10,000 feet with daily hikes up to
12,000. I walked up the roads to the passes as far as I could. In effect,
I trained on easy trails. On Kilimanjaro, the trails were more difficult to
walk on than roads. There was a small amount of rock climbing on the third
day. But the guide was quite helpful saying "grab here," "put your foot
here," etc. I did not look down and managed the scramble quite easily. The
worst were the slippery parts of the trail. At one point, I thought the
trail looked slippery. The guide assured me it was not. Anna said to trust my
climbing boots, their soles were designed to get a good grip. She had barely
said that when she stepped on some wet moss, her feet slipped out from under
her, and she slid down the path and bumped into me. This was fortunate
because it stopped her from going over the edge of a 15 foot drop. For the
most part, the going was very easy. One simply walked up the mountain. The
last 1/4 mile to the top involved walking on snow at about a 30 degree slant
The U.S. government suggestions for Tanzania were to take precautions
against Yellow fever and Malaria. Do not eat any fruit that you did not
peel yourself, and never ever eat a salad. It also said the culture thinks
highly of old people. "If you are harassing someone older, a crowd may gather
and beat you up." I was treated well. Every one called me "baba" which means
father and seems to be used as a term of respect. The hotel staff, as well
as the street venders all addressed me as baba. However, because I was so
slow on the climb, the guides started calling me baboo which means
"grandfather." But still, in a respectful manner.
The hotel greets you with a wet towel and a glass of juice. Because the
roads are not paved, you are covered with dirt and the towel is most
welcome. Initially, I had reservations about the fruit juice. Some of the
party had mild symptoms from the water, but at first attack, they took "cipro" and it cleared up.
We passed huge fields of corn. I could not see the ears and asked the
guide if they pick they had been already picked. He said that drought had
stunted the ears. I did see other fields which had ears. And I have
subsequently found out from a Pioneer Hybrid Africa specialist that Tanzania
could increase corn production by 30% if they would use drought resistant
The country houses are essentially concrete block with a straw or
corrugated steel roof. A good many of them were deserted, maybe one out
of 10. The guide explained that it was caused by AIDS. If the man of the
family dies, the family simply abandons its house and goes elsewhere. He did
not explain why or where they go. On the airplane going over, there were
three groups of students going over to volunteer in orphanages in Tanzania
and South Africa.
I had asked if these orphanages were due to AIDS. They had said their
particular destination was not an AIDS institution, but there were others
that were. In Amsterdamn such a group had deposited all there belongings
in the waiting room so one could watch them while the others went off for
a meal or whatever. They had apparently not noticed, but those seats were
marked in English and Dutch as reserved seats for elderly and/or handicapped.
I really had a great trip. It was good to be with my (grown) children
and to get acquainted with those who are and those who may eventually become
their spouses. My wife Pat helped with all of the arrangements, because
we had to integrate over all four sets of participants who were in
San Francisco, Minneapolis, Germany and Ames. Of course Tim had the
best knowledge of the actual mountain, but Anna knew extensively
about back packing, and Emily, a medical doctor, explained the medical
stuff. All of this was filtered through Pat and her computer. And
it all came out fine.
I enjoy doing something exciting. This trip was tiring, but not
disgustingly so. I had opportunity to catch my breath and enjoy the
scenery. The guide did say that the snows were departing from the mountain.
Just 10 years ago, a climb would have required ice axes and crampons on the
shoes in order to walk on the ice. Now, the crater rim is clear. There is
ice near the top in crevasses and inside the crater. The loss of snow is due
to the dry conditions, not from increasing snow melt. It was 10 degrees
below zero Fahrenheit when I was at the top.
by Irvin Hentzel - 6/03/08