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We made it up Kilimanjaro. In case you missed my previous post, I was given the opportunity to accompany a group of employees of Elanco, a Heifer International corporate supporter, as they climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and raised money for Heifer. 

It was a long day, for the simple reason that you must minimize your time between 15k and 19k ft, and so the distance up and down must be compressed into one day, while moving only as fast as your cardio system can handle. That's not very fast. (Baby step. Pause. Gasp. Baby step. Etc.) So, the summit climb started at midnight and ended about an hour after sunrise, at 7:30.

View from near Uhuru Peak

You get very familiar with the boots of the person ahead of you on such a climb. It's hypnotic by necessity. (I think if we had to do the climb in the light, seeing the endless, impossibly steep switchbacks of loose volcanic scree, we'd never have the nerve to do it.) So you think about your frantically pounding heart, your next foot placement, your fast deep breaths, your frozen feet and your runny nose. These are not deep thoughts.

Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak With Setting Moon

Until you see how high you are above the world. The 7-day climb (5 1/2 up, 1 1/2 down) accustoms you to seeing the tops of different varieties of clouds, as if from an airplane. But it's even more breathtaking seeing the sun rise over entire mountains that don't quite reach your shoulders, seeing the very curve of the Earth, spread out before you. And knowing that you got there on your own two feet.

Most of us did use the supplemental oxygen to some extent, and I think that was a good idea. It looked like a few climbers with other groups had to turn back near the top, but that was nothing unexpected or alarming. Time at the top was severely restricted - 15 minutes for pats on backs, getting pictures, looking at landmarks, eating and drinking, and adjusting clothes/sunscreen for the descent.

Elanco colleagues preparing to summit Kilimanjaro

The descent was rapid. We actually came down to about 12,000 ft today. You can sort of run/ski on your heels straight down the volcanic scree, past the switchbacks you took up. Randy's son and I were the only two in the group who actually did that. I don't care if my knees are wrecked tomorrow; it was so much fun it was worth it.

I think the group is still in a bit of shock from the physical exertion of today. One thing that many recent climbers say is "It's the hardest thing I've ever done." Locals also tell hopeful climbers not to be intimated - or listen at all - to recent climbers. I think most of our group would agree that this was the hardest thing they'd ever done, mentally, physically, or both. (I'm still deciding what I think about that.) But I also know that everyone gained a lot from the experience. Some members of the group had never really traveled internationally before, but they jumped in with both feet here.
Kilimanjaro summit Elanco
The Elanco team plus guides at the summit

I do know that when our guide spoke enticingly of the rainforest we'll pass through tomorrow, one guy, James, said blankly, "I don't care if a lion emerges and tap-dances in front of me; he'd better not get between me and a shower." I can sympathize. Right now I can't quite imagine being warm through-and-through, and I'm absolutely positive my fingernails will never be clean ever again.

Editor's note: The climbers' goal of raising $5,895 (one dollar for every meter in Kilimanjaro's height) is very nearly met. Celebrate their successful climb by helping them raise the final $219. Click here to donate.


Kelly MacNeil