Temperatures hit a low, trekking the trails of Mount Kilimanjaro to reach Moir Hut, a camp situated upward of 13,000 feet along the Lemosho route. While many people set out to complete the climb, not everyone goes on to reach the summit.
For New Lenox Trustee David Smith, his quest to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro during the week of Oct. 8-17 was nearly marred by a bout of altitude sickness.
“My guide said it was a combination of altitude sickness and [the fact that] I didn’t wear a hat,” he said. “He said my head was cold. I took Diamox [to relieve the headache,] and I was much better from then on.”
Smith chronicled his trip up Mount Kilimanjaro over eight days in a journal. Braving the elements, he experienced a myriad of conditions, with temperatures dropping as the night fell and increasing as the sun rose.
On day No. 7, Smith reached Uhuru Peak—the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Standing at the famed summit sign, he flew the Village of New Lenox flag.
Call of the wild
The first leg of Smith’s trip included a separate 27-hour stop in Istanbul, and the second part of his adventure took place in Tanzania.
“Lately, I wanted to do something physically, and I wanted to go to some place a lot of people don’t go to,” Smith said. “I decided I would go to Kilimanjaro [National Park].”
At 19,341 feet, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the highest point in Africa, but also goes on to register as the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
In the past, Smith had hiked a mountain in Colorado to reach 14,000 feet.
“I’ve done some hiking, but not a lot [of climbing,]” he said. “I jumped into it both feet. I’ve never done this before.”
Smith said though he feared he was not in shape, he considers himself a runner and upped his training regime the month prior to his departure.
Upon arrival in Moshi, Tanzania, Smith found overnight lodging at Stella Maris Lodge, which is also home to a school and an orphanage, and explored parts of the town.
The following day, Smith, along with a group of nine people, took to the forested trails with the professional guide services of Ultimate Kilimanjaro, which provided them with four guides, a cook, server and three porters for each tourist.
Members of the tourist group were only permitted to have what they could carry, and their porters transported another 70 pounds for them on foot. From clothing and food to a book and first-aid, Smith came prepared to brave the elements.
No cellphone service? No problem
Smith said he found himself trekking toward the front end of the pack he traveled alongside, and that he, in conjunction with a father-son duo, were matched with one guide.
As the group traversed the mountain, the guides stopped from time to time to share information about the park, Tanzania and its history.
“As we were walking, we stopped every once in a while [to] take breaks,” Smith said. “I turned one of the corners on the trail and came face to face with a blue monkey. Monkeys—not small, not chimpanzee-size, but not very small, either. It was kind of strange being on a trail looking at a monkey.”
Smith spotted zebras, some birds and other monkeys, as well.
He enjoyed talking with indigenous people he met along the way.
On days No. 4-5, the group ascended toward to two sites, Lava Tower and Barranco Camp. Smith recalled traversing terrain with a vertical of a thousand feet, or an incline of 65-75 degrees.
“That was pretty rough,” he said, noting how physically demanding the hike was. “I was quite surprised.”
Smith retreated inside his tent the fifth night to prepare for the next day’s travels and said the temperatures had fallen so much by nightfall that no one went outside all too much.
Smith experienced what he called a “surreal, beautiful memory.” A gentleman seated on a rock, right outside his tent, sang.
Smith awoke the following morning and asked one of guides if he knew who had been singing the night before.
“They didn’t know,” Smith said. “The main guide didn’t know. He’s like, ‘Did he bother you?’ [I said,] ‘No, I wanted him to do it again.’ [That was] beautiful. It was just a very happy place.”
On conquering life’s highs and lows
On day No. 6, the group went on to climb roughly four kilometers of steep terrain and a series of switchbacks. As they kept moving upward, Smith remembers leaving camp to find that temperatures had dropped from 15 degrees to below zero.
They reached the first peak and later advanced to the second peak, Uhuru Peak, taking time to capture the climax of their journeys in photos.
“We got to the summit by six in the morning [and] probably were up there two hours,” Smith said. “We had no wind, but the clouds’ ceiling was at 15,000 [feet.] So, we walked out of the clouds and as you stood on the mountain [at 19,341 feet,] you could see the clouds and water all the way around you. ... It was beautiful—the glaciers. It was cold, but [the sky was] crystal clear. The glaciers were phenomenal. The peak, itself, was beautiful.”
Smith said the feeling of reaching the summit is “indescribable.”
For the remainder of the trip, the group descended Mount Kilimanjaro.
“It’s amazing; they have nothing [in Tanzania], and they’re happy, and we have everything [in the U.S.,] and we’re miserable,” Smith said. “You know, I bet you they have crime, they have violence and everything else, I’m not saying they don’t—everybody does, no matter where you go—but just as a general rule of the people that I met inside the camp and outside the park, … everybody was happy.”
Smith said it was a “complete culture shock.”
The journey had an impact on Smith so much that he is considering the idea of climbing Aconcagua, the tallest Andean mountain in South America, with his sons in the winter of 2018.