– Nick reporting down from the mountain. Jambo. Part Two.
THE SUMMIT and THE PEOPLE
"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
On my plane ride to Africa I brought along a Hemingway compilation of short stories – I had forgotten "The Snows of Kilamanjaro" was only about 15 pages in length. I was about to find out that those 15 pages did not match the number of hours required to climb from high base camp to Summit and back again.
We awoke at 11pm on Summit Day and enjoyed a large late night breakfast to ensure we would have the energy to overcome Kilamanjaro. By Midnight under a relatively full moon we began our final climb. I found the first three hours very challenging in the dark with a quite steep incline. I was in the lead group and another group followed about 15 – 30 minutes behind. The mountain which had conjured up mystery for me for years had turned out to be little more than boulder and rock difficult to climb in the daylight and more than a challenge in darkness.
After about 3 hours, I found my eyes drying out in a high wind filled with grit. At our rest stop my blurry vision began to grow to total darkness. I had no other symptoms of altitude sickness so knew the dirt packed winds had played their tricks on my eyesight. The team needed to move on so as not to lose body heat and they did with the help of several Chagga guides. The second part of our climb team was still beneath me. John Hauf, Lead Guide Kili, Alpine Ascents, stayed with me to ensure safety on the high mountain boulders. He said he couldn't let me climb if I couldn't see, however, we had little choice to turn back at about 17,000 feet down a severely steep and dangerous trail. He encouraged me to close my eyes and rest them for a couple of minutes then put glacier glasses on to avoid further grit. Now darker than before, my vision slowly returned to a point where I could make out his feet in the darkness. He encouraged me to follow him closely. Over the next hour, follow I did with my head lamp directed closely to his dark shoes. My several falls and slips were always handled by his experienced and talented leadership and we moved on. After about an hour he returned to the lead group and left a Chagga guide (Gaudens) to lead me further up. Again, my eyesight allowed me to follow his shoes, and my climbing poles allowed for me to pick out the gradient of the rocks and / or ice.
After about another 7 hours we finally reached the Summit. While I couldn't see much of the distant surroundings (other than white – ice and snow) and dark (rocks and mountain), it was a moment of achievement never reachable without the help of John, Gaudens, or my fellow team-mates' encouragement. All of the FGA group summited.
We then made a fast descent to our 15K foot high base to break camp and go on further down to our final base camp of the night at about 10K feet. I could tell you about my significant fall and subsequent twisted knee, and the heroics once again of the Chagga's but I will leave that for my individual talks with each of you. I also expect to someday write about my 07 adventures focusing especially on this most unique climb to Kilamanjaro.
While I am proud of the success of the FGA team to Summit, and while I went to Africa to climb it's highest mountain of wonder, the thing I will always remember and hopefully participate in will be it's Chagga Tribe. (And yes, I now have learned my first few words in Swahili – Jambo/Hello! I've mentioned they were strong, fast, and very smart. But they also held tremendous personal beliefs about helping others, a wonderful attitude when things were toughest, and an ability to do whatever it took to conquer a challenge. They did it with team work and with a spirit one finds rarely today.
One such example was a young man named Michael who has been camp cook and server for 3 years. He hopes to soon claim a Safari license to drive those interested in wildlife as that will make him more money. The money he hopes to one day put into beginning an orphanage. Those are his dreams. Simple, honest, and yet far beyond those which most of us can ever claim to be ours. John Hauf, Alpine Ascents, and other climbers see his heroic nature as do I. They help guide him and further his dreams when they are on the mountain. I hope to also help in a part of his vision – for he truly knows the values that should be dear to humanity. Kwa Heri.