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A Dad, His Kids And A Summit

May 30, 2015

Closing in on 19,341 feet.

The sun is softly rising over the horizon, giving light to the beauty of the mountain and to an incredible journey. The glaciers are now below us---slept there last night. The porters are softly singing in their native tongue, no one talking…just absorbing the power of the moment…the summit is now in reach.

With the response “ All In!”, the real journey began nine months earlier. The prep is extensive…. guide and route selection, travel, medical, outfitting, training…and more training. Perhaps the greatest lesson in prep, and in life, is understanding how far you can travel with so little. 

two men on a cliff face

We settled on the nine day, Western Breach-Crater route. It is less crowded, challenging, plus allows ample time to acclimate to the altitude. With countless trips to REI, a practice trek at Mt. Washington behind us, and boots broken in we traveled through London and Nairobi to reach our staging location in Arusha, Tanzania.

a group of mountain climbers pose for a quick picture

The climb, although more of a high altitude trek, progresses from the first night in the lush mountainous forest at 9,000 feet through to the final ascent night in the glaciers at 18,500 feet. Each day brings it’s own challenges and is an adventure in and of itself. A team of 34 guides, cooks, porters, etc. supported us. If you think about being on the mountain for nine days…you’ve got a lot of food, for them and us, being carried!

We also focused on the most basic of needs: acclimating to less oxygen and purifying the water. While the water is collected during the journey and filtered, we took the added steps of purifying each and every Nalgene bottle by ourselves. (It’s just not a good place to develop intestine issues.) We took it slow, or in Swahili, pole` pole`, and each day we were serenaded with fun, spirited and joyful songs…that we never understood (it’s that Swahili thing again).

The journey was about more than reaching the summit. It was about reconnecting and having a common experience. One evening my son and daughters were in the mess tent talking with the Tanzanian men supporting our expedition. Several were raising money to buy goats and cows they could present as dowry to the families of women they wanted to marry. (Now that was an interesting “hum…really” moment)

a group of tents on the mountain with a sunrise in the background

But perhaps more powerful was the common experiences of seeing a sky carpeted with stars and shooting stars, or camping in the glaciers or just the beauty of hiking and sleeping above the clouds. Or…just being raw in the environment and dependent on each other to get through the tough moments…nighttime at 18,500 feet is pretty darn cold and half the oxygen than at sea level. It was a shared accomplishment and huge smiles all the way around at summit!

a man is triumphant in reaching the summit the group of climbers poses for a picture at the summit

Coming down was tough. I wished I had done more lunges in training! (hate lunges) At the end, through some tears and hugs goodbye, we realized that our guides led us further than the top of the mountain... this journey gave us a keen sense that life is about enjoying the simple things and appreciating each moment that we have together.

For me, as a Papa, the experience reinforced that while grades and performance are important, it’s really about their substance and character, and the awareness to stay humble. You never know what to expect in that kind of situation, but my three bambinos (who do make sport of giving me a hard time) made me very proud of who they are as people and their depth in difficult and very different surroundings.

Hey, one last one:  Saw a postcard the other day with the following quote: “If at first you don’t succeed… call Dad.”

Happy Father’s Day fellas! 

Mike

P.S. Here’s a link if you want to learn more details about  climbing Kilimanjaro


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