In June, 10 Austinites between the ages of 15 and 50-something flew to Tanzania to climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. The idea materialized last winter, during a weekly exercise session in my driveway. Since my wife, Gretchen, is a travel adviser, she suggested that the group do something challenging like climb a mountain. Surprisingly, several of her workout buddies accepted the challenge, and the trip was on. We were eight females and two token guys.
What none of the participants fully grasped ahead of time was that we would be primitive camping on an African mountain for seven nights, including one at 16,000 feet and one in the actual crater on summit day at 19,000-feet plus. It is cold, there is no oxygen, and there is really nothing that you can do to prepare for it. Naiveté proved helpful, because on several nights whimpers and sobs to the tune of ‘What are we doing here?’ and ‘Why did we do this?’ could be heard emanating from one tent or another. Our little citified group, code-named ‘Austin Adventurists,’ would surely have been much smaller had everyone known what true camping really entails.
Wally Berg, who has been leading climbs on mountains all over the world for several decades, led our group. All we civilians had to do was prepare. Some of us began running the Hill of Life, hiking up and down with a 20-pound dumbbell in a backpack, breaking in our hiking boots, working on our breathing, running Lady Bird Lake and psyching up. Others, like our 15-year-old daughter, did absolutely nothing except bake great cookies and watch ‘Glee’ with her daddy.
Experiences like this are great, because regardless of the amount of preparation that one does, there are always surprises. Being able to adapt, overcome adversity and that little voice of doubt and persevere are what make things memorable. The toughest times are the most enriching.
Of all of the things that I took away from the Kilimanjaro experience, the most enriching was spending nine days with guys whose job it was to make our lives on that hill as pleasant as possible. Their grace and positivity under duress were exemplary, and all of us took something profound away from it because of them.
Written by Les Canter