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Trip of a Lifetime Hiking Kilimanjaro With My Kids

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A Dad, His kids and a summit

One team. One fight.

Closing in on 19,341 feet. We truly are, all in this together.

The sun is softly rising over the horizon, giving light to the beauty of the mountain and to an incredible journey. Furtwangler glacier is now below us---camped there last night. 

Our Tanzanian 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.

That starts with one of those, “easier said than done” situations. 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”. 
Concurrent with that, “surround yourself with good people”. Selecting the guide team, and associated support, is the single most important “prep” decision. As in life, the people you surround yourself with is crucial…in work, play and overall happiness.

Up here, same goes. Not a place to compromise on quality.

Finally, “have a positive attitude”. Stuff will happen. Everything won’t go “as planned”. My oldest daughter became ill one evening, about 36 hours before summit. I thought our journey was going to end when the sun rose. Our rule was that we all make it or none of us make it. We’re not splitting up on the mountain. Believe in angels, or she just worked through it that night, but somehow bounced back.

And, countless other mishaps. That’s just part of the adventure. Kinda like life…right?

There are several routes to summit Kilimanjaro. Some offer you quick up/down, trekking all-day to hit summit at sunrise. Quite frankly, those are pretty rough, lower chance of summit, increase chance of injury, and you’ll be beat when you summit. 

We settled on the Western Breach-Crater route. 

It is less crowded, allows ample time to acclimate to the altitude, and has some stunning views. It’s also more challenging. Let’s be clear, this isn’t Everest, you can do it. Yes, there’s an element of risk. But, manage it. Research and decide what’s best for you. 

Grab the challenge of the adventure, the people you are on the journey with, and the beauty of all that you pass through. 

Those nine months of prep went by pretty fast. 

Countless trips to REI, and managing the clothing/sunglasses/lotions/etc. selections pretty tight. Let’s see…can I do this rotating through 2 pairs of underwear…hmmm, it’s cold up there, maybe long johns…and so on. What you pack is what’s being carried, less is more.

Decided on a practice trek up and down Mt. Washington up in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Just making sure the boots were well broken in, essentials fit and were still comfortable after a full day. That was a good move. Lesson of the day….put more lunges into the training prep.

We traveled through London and Nairobi to reach our staging location in Arusha, Tanzania. Our guides met us at the Arusha Coffee Plantation, but there are plenty of places to stay, are safe and will lock-up your “other bags” while you are on the climb.

Our guide leader and his #2 went through all of our “gear” making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything essential, and walked us through the summit plan.

Outside of the jitters, and last indoor toilet for a while, the morning pick-up and start was pretty effortless. We arrived at the entry point, where we met the rest of the team. Over 30 of them. Each had specific tasks. Cooks, pot washers, water purifiers, tents, sleeping bags, 9 days of food for all of us, and a portable parabolic chamber. As I mentioned, stuff happens. At 19,000 feet you won’t be calling 911. 

The start was in a dense, low mountain terrain crossing paths with colobus monkeys, and lots of jungle birds. 

The climb, more of a high-altitude trek, progresses from a lush mountainous forest through to the final ascent night in the glaciers at 18,500 feet. 

Each day brings its own challenges and is an adventure. No cell phones, just you, your people, and the mountain. Incredibly peaceful. Per the guides advance request, we had a portable CD player (plenty of batteries), that the lead attached to his backpack. Their favorites: USA country music. Can’t tell you how many times we heard, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems…” 

But, during the long stretches, the music was welcomed and helped keep your mind “happy”. 

You rely on each other for support and encouragement. Every morning the porter team brought camp quickly, and we're moving well in front of us to established the next camp site. Every late afternoon, as we slowly arrived, we were greeted with song and cheers. Always lifting your spirits.

Evenings bring simple card games and light conversation.

Their English was a work in progress, but they all seemed happy. My daughters learned how some of the men were saving money to buy a goat or cow to present to families as a “dowry” for marriage. A completely different experience for them, and a broader understanding that while we all may be culturally different, we really are all more alike than we allow ourselves to think. 

In fact, every culture I’ve visited seems to have one consistent and common value: we all want our children to be happy in life.

After focusing on the most basic needs of the day: acclimating to less oxygen, purifying the water and prepping of simple foods. One of those “small details”…water is collected during the journey and filtered into large 5-gallon containers. However, we took the added steps of purifying each and every one of our Nalgene bottle ourselves. (It’s just not a good place to develop intestine issues.) 

We took it slow, or in Swahili, “pole` pole`”, and 

The journey was about more than reaching the summit. It was about reconnecting and having a common experience. The beauty of seeing a sky carpeted with stars and shooting stars, or camping in the glaciers or just the serenity of hiking and sleeping above the clouds. 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!

Coming down was tough. 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 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! 



clothes fit for a climb

beach vest

Embrace the easterly trade winds with our Early Morning Beach Vest. A perfect easy-on, easy-off layer for cooler temperatures.

all terrain

The most versatile shorts you’ll ever own. Period. What we toss on in the morning, frequently stays on through-out the day. These shorts fit the true meaning of the phrase “all-terrain”.

sportsman cap

Our signature cap features our fierce swordfish embroidery logo on the front and Madda Fella cursive logo on back. Made of 100% cotton chino twill and vintage washed for a faded appearance. 

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