Kilimanjaro 2011 Summit
Africa
19,340 feet 5896 meters
Alan Arnette is an Alzheimer's advocate for individuals, their families and anyone impacted by this disease through his professional speaking, climbing and website.

His objectives for the Memories are Everything® climbs are:
  • Educate the public, especially youth, on the early warning signs and how to prepare
  • Increase awareness that Alzheimer's Disease has no cure
  • Raise research money for Alzheimer's non-profits
He has completed two major projects:
Donate to Alzheimer's • NO CURE, always Fatal
• No easy, inexpensive method of early detection
• 3rd leading cause of death in the US
• New case every 68 seconds, 4 seconds worldwide
• Impacts more than 5+m in US, 25m+ worldwide
• Devastating financial burden on families
• Depression higher for caregivers
• Issues are increasing rapidly as population ages

7 Summits Climb for Alzheimers

The Alzheimer's Immunotherapy Program of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy and Pfizer Inc. funded my climbs for the 7 Summits campaign and ongoing efforts between November 2010 and November 2012. All money I raised then and now from donations goes directly to the organizations I have selected. During the campaign, content posted here was my own but subject to certain limitations in conjunction with the support of the AIP.
Donate for Alzheimers

 

click to enlargeThe roof of Africa, KIlimanjaro, was a great cultural experience and also satisfying climb. It was exciting to climb with a team of 14 where 12 had never been above 14,000' and then having everyone obtain the summit! The safari afterwards was an experience of a lifetime.

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I left for Kilimanjaro only 3 weeks after summiting Elbrus in Russia (18,513') and four other of the 7 Summits the previous 7 months. So I was in excellent condition and confident I could summit Kili. I never expected to get injured on the descent thus requiring a massive human effort to get me off the mountain.

Meeting in Moshi

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I had thought about climbing KIli for many years more to experience the African culture and perhaps add a safari to my climb so when The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's project started, I especially looked forward to this climb. I left Colorado in mid September 2011 flying through Amsterdam to the Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. There I met our International Mountain Guides (IMG) guide, Eben Reckord and my 13 teammates.

We took a van to the New Keys Hotel in Moshi and settled in for two nights. We checked gear, went shopping in Moshi and started to get to know each other. I immediately had a good feeling that this climb would be fun. The third day we left the comfortable accommodations and took about an hour to reach the Machame gate by van to begin our climb of Kilimanjaro.

The RAIN Forest and Beyond

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It was cloudy and rainy as we started; depriving us of the classic view of the giant Kilimanjaro relief as it rises over 18,000' off the Tanzanian Savannah. With full rain gear, we left the gate after Eben checked us in and we said hello to our covey of local guides and porters. Our team totaled 49 people.

One of the unique aspects of a Kilimanjaro climb is that you must hire local guides and porters thus all you ever carry is water, snacks and some extra layers. We rarely interacted with our porters as they left after us after breakfast, then passed us with our gear to establish the next camp before we arrived. However, we got know our local guides well hiking along side them asking questions and sharing stories. They had an amazing wealth of knowledge about the mountain, wildlife, flora and history of the area. Many had summited Kilimanjaro over 60 times and had been working with IMG for decades.

The first day took us through rain forest and jungle complete with screaming Blue Monkeys in the tree canopy. The trail was groomed and terraced to prevent erosion. Even with the rain, the mud was not too bad but I was glad I wore my gators that day. With the cloud cover, the temps were mild and we never experienced the annoying heat that many report low on Kili. We arrived at the Machame Camp, which is near tree line, after six hours going at a very, very leisurely pace.

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Our tents were already set up as was the dining tent with table and chairs. After a nice dinner we crawled into our tents for the first night on Kilimanjaro. Dawn came early, around 6 AM . Another good breakfast prepared us to move for 4 hours to the Shira Camp overlooking the extinct Shira volcano crater.

The trail gained altitude steadily fro 10,000 to 12,300 feet and gave some people a few reminders that we were mountain climbing, not just walking. A few spots required basic boulder scrambling but overall the trail was smooth and well traveled. The flora was out of this world, strange trees but familiar flowers.

The Shira camp was in the middle of an open space with few trees. There must have been 200 people around including climbers, guides, and porters. We were rewarded at sunset with a clear view of Kilimanjaro's Kibo summit, our goal a few days later. The next day promised to provide more of a challenge so we went to bed early.

Day three took us from 12,300' to 15,000' and back down to 12,500'. This route took us over sparse vegetation and mostly smooth trails to the aptly named Lava Tower at the pinnacle of today's route. The landscape became barren and strewn with loose rocks. We felt isolated as we descended from the Lava Tower on a very steep and rocky trail, then the low clouds moved in. We didn't know it, but it would remain that way for the next day and a half.

Climbing the Branaco Wall in the Fog

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We arrived at the Branaco Camp in dense fog, not seeing a lot. However just before sunset, it cleared and we had our first view of the Branaco Wall and the route for day 4. From the camp, the wall looked steep and intimidating; especially for those with little rock climbing experience. However upon closer inspection there was a trail from bottom to top.

We left the following morning eager to get higher and closer to our summit bid. The first half hour took us closer to the Wall and soon we were in the middle of it. Basically it required Class 3 rock scrambling with a few big moves meaning that the climber must take very large steps with their legs while using their hands for balance and sometimes pulling on the rock to move their body higher. The wet rock made it slightly more difficult but the guides did well to help everyone. All in all everyone seemed to feel this was the highlight of the approach to the High Camp on Kilimanjaro and even those with zero climbing experience did well and had fun.

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Arriving at the Karanga Camp, it was still overcast and very cloudy so once again we had no views upon arrival but cleared by morning with our first good look at the goal. Another good dinner and nights sleep brought us to day 5 and a short 3 hour walk to the Barufu Camp at 15,000' and the launching point for our summit bid at midnight that same day.

From the Barufu Camp, the third volcano of Kilimanjaro became visible; Mawenzi. It looked other worldly with it's ragged crater rim. Also visible from this camp was our route to the summit of Kibo. We had a big lunch around 2:00 PM and retired to the tents to get some sleep knowing our wake-up call was around 10:30 that night. We wanted to be on our way around midnight.

 

 

Cleared for the Top

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I got a few hours of decent sleep and got dressed for the summit. I had been wearing light hiking pants and one merino wool top thus far supplemented with jackets and rain gear as needed but now I put on my full high altitude clothes starting with long underwear, heavy pants, two tops and my R1 Hoody plus a wind shell and gloves. The temps continued to be mild; around 40F as we left at midnight.

With headlamps glowing, our team set a very slow pace up the scree trail towards the summit from our 15,000' camp. We had planned on taking about 8 hours to reach the top so there was no hurry on this absolutely perfect night. The rain and clouds had moved on leaving us with excellent conditions. The trail was a bit crowded with other teams heading up and the higher levels looked like a well light street with a continuous line of headlamps.

Occasionally we passed climbers sitting down on nearby rocks, heads between their legs, teammates trying to offer encouragement. The altitude was beginning to take it's toll on some. Around 17,500' ; the thin air really took hold and everyone slowed down. The sun started to create a thin orange line to our right as the temperatures reached their low for the morning; around freezing. With no wind, it was not too bad.

I felt great. My conditioning was proving to be an excellent asset as we approached the summit rim at 18,800'. I was a bit surprised at how abruptly the summit appeared, similar to Rainier the crater rim is the entry point and here is named Stella Point. But I was focused on reaching the true top and didn't stop.

A Perfect Summit

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The trail follows the crater rim and was pure dirt and scree, no snow at all. In fact, I never touched snow throughout my entire Kilimanjaro climb. The trail continued to gain a bit more elevation as the summit is 19,340 making the gain another 540 feet. After about 20 minutes, I arrived at the world famous sign which, by the way, does not have the word 'Kilimanjaro' anywhere on it!

There were about 50 people gathered all taking pictures and videos; posing alone, with signs and with entire teams. There was a true festive feeling to this summit.  I made my audio post to this site, called my wife as is my tradition for every summit and sat down to wait for the rest of the team to arrive.

 

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I pondered the glaciers that are the canary in the coal mine for climatologists. It was clear they were melting as there were patches, not long expanses as I have seen elsewhere around the world. I have read that there will be no glaciers on Kilimanjaro by the year 2020. So I sat quietly and looked at these works of nature with respect and admiration.

The team soon arrived and we took our team summit picture. I was extremely proud to be with these fellow climbers. All had worked hard to reach the top and never gave up in spite of some nearing their limits.

Starting Down

After an hour and half, we departed for Barufu knowing we would make a pit stop there and continue all the way down to 10,000' for the night. We had already been on the move for almost 9 hours. The downclimb was easy but still a challenge (or annoying) with a lot of the trail over loose scree. It reminded me of several Colorado 14ers. We made excellent time getting back to camp in about 2 hours.

We packed our sleeping bags, changed from climbing to trekking clothes and enjoyed another good lunch before starting down. I was expecting a long day, maybe 4 hours, to reach the camp for the night but what happened next never entered my imagination.

The Injury

We left Barufu as a group but soon spread out with Mosha, one of our local guides, in the lead setting a fast pace. I was second behind him chatting away with one of my teammates, Ray, when he commented that the porters were coming quickly behind us. I turned my head to the right to look and immediately felt my right ankle fold over itself to the outside. The pain was searing.

I cried out that I had twisted my ankle and hobbled a few steps to a large rock. Catching my breath, I told my now surrounding teammates, that I just needed to walk this off. I knew where I was - about 14,500' on the exposed slopes of Kilimanjaro with clouds moving back in quickly. I stood up to take a step and felt the pain increase as my ankle refused to support my weight.

I sat back down, my breathing increased. I thought about my next climb to Carstensz Pyramid in only four weeks but quickly became focused on the present. Brook, a fireman with EMT training, suggested I take off my boot so we could see the damage. We all were amazed at the sight as we watched a lump, the size of a tennis ball, grow out of my ankle near the bone. I had sprains before but never like this. The torn internal tissue was leaking blood and creating a huge hematoma.

Docs on Call

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Our team had four individuals with medical training. I glanced at their faces and their expressions verified this was a serious situation. We put my boot back on and with no elastic bandages nearby used duct tape to make an extremely tight compression to try to stop the swelling. About this time Eben, our IMG guide, joined us as he had been finalizing our departure from the Barufu camp. All the porters and guides were there so now I had 47 pairs of eyes staring at me.

Once again I considered trying hobble down but calmer heads prevailed noting it would take 4 hours with two good ankles and if I tried, I would absolutely do more harm than good - even if I could make it.

They were right. I placed the pain level at 3.5 and I was now lying down with my foot elevated and I accepted the reality of my situation and participated in creating the plan; the rescue plan. Never in my wildest dreams ...

 

An Important Rescue

Helicopter rescue is available on Kilimanjaro but like most high mountains it is weather dependent and saved for critical events. My situation was important but not life threatening. The clouds had now moved in. Eben placed a call to IMG headquarters in Seattle to keep them informed. It was middle of the night in the US.

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We decided that I needed to get to the hospital in Moshi as soon as possible for an x-ray to determine if I had broken bones. The size and aggressive nature of the swelling had everyone concerned. As the swelling increased, the pain level did as well to my own estimate of around 5.

It was now clear that I would be carried down the mountain but I had no idea how they would do it. In a few minutes I found myself in a fireman carry in the arms of four of our porters. These guys are big and strong and I was being manhandled down the rocky high-altitude trail; literally.

After a few hundred feet, a strange stretcher contraption appeared carried up by some of the porters. It was basically a metal frame balanced on one fat bicycle tire on with two springs. I called it a uni-gurney aka uni-cycle or simply the uni.

They placed a sleeping pad on it along with my sleeping bag. I was picked back up, placed in my bag on the gurney while six porters took their positions: Andrew in front, Mosha in the back; two on each side. The swahili was fast, loud and determined. I adjusted my position in my cradle and looked up at the faces above me. What was happening?

The Run

Eben was now at my side telling me he was going with me all the way to the hospital. I found this comforting. The porters placed a tight strap around my legs and stomach as they started to push the uni-gurney down the rough trail. The ride was rough. I felt each rock, bump and drop. When we reached a section of the trail where a trekker would normally step down, they had to lift the uni and move it down by brute force.

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The porters seemed to have a sense of urgency that I never quite understood. They ran down the trail yelling out in loud swahili to anyone in the way. As I looked up, all I could see were sweating faces, heavy breathing and an occasional tree limb fly by. Amazingly, Eben ran behind them, sometimes beside, compete with his pack. Later he told me that they outran him from time to time; all while pushing, pulling, lifting and steadying me in the uni.

The mist had now turned into rain and my sleeping bag was getting wet. I simply rested on my back, face to the sky and watched the trees go by occasionally wiping the rain from my face. With each bump, I tried to steady myself with my good foot at the end of the uni while having a death grip on the straps. My head often snapped back in a whiplash move when we dropped over a steep step. The pain level was now at 5. I wiggled my toes every now and then to make sure the bandage was not too tight. But my foot was getting cold, felt wet and that worried me. I accepted the situation, ignored the pain in my ankle and looked at my friends with admiration and appreciation

The last Stretch

We reached the trees and soon the camp at 10,000', Camp Mweka. After a short break, another consultation with IMG headquarters in the States, and a short but focused conversation between Eben and I; we agreed to continue with the plan to get me to the hospital that night. This now required moving me in the uni along mud trails as the sun set through the rain forest.

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We added another layer on me and zipped the bag up a bit. The porters picked the uni back up and the pace seemed to get even faster as we entered the rain forest. It had been two hours already and I had another two reach the gate; a trip that normally took seven or eight hours.

The porters stopped a few times to rest and coordinate their grips. Each time they checked with me and made sure I had some water. I felt a bit sheepish in that it was a sprained ankle, not HAPE or a heart attack. But they were on a mission and were taking it very seriously. I relaxed in my gurney as much as I could in spite of being dumped on my side as a porter would hit a tree and drop his side of the uni. Eben never left my side.

The Hospital

We met a Park Service vehicle that took us to the hospital in Moshi. The ride took less than 30 minutes with the driver showing an equal sense of urgency even though I am convinced he had no idea what was going on.  I was transferred to a wheel chair, pushed into their version of an emergency room along with several people in various forms of trauma. Eben checked me in and loaned me the $50 "consultation" fee required to paid in advance and in cash.

A few minutes later, a well dressed man speaking perfect english came over to me and asked how I was doing. I had taken my boot off and was pleased that the swollen tissue had gone from tennis to golf ball size. I told him what happened, he glanced at my ankle and said an x-ray would show us the next steps. For the next three hours, Eben, Mosha and I waited for that process to materialize. It seemed the x-ray technician was having dinner so we had to wait for him to get back.

Eventually, I got my x-ray (US $15) and the results were negative - no broken bones. It had now been 26 hours since I had gotten up to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was tired. Eben was tired. Mosha was exhausted.

Safari

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A few days later I went on a safari in the Serengeti, elevating my foot the entire time, wrapped tightly in an ace bandage. It was still swollen a week later. The safari was simply amazing. I was finally getting to see so many of the animals live I had admired on television or in magazines. We went to the Ngorogoro Crater, the worlds largest - a previously collapsed volcano; and saw many more animals including the rare Black Rhino - only 3000 are in the wild. See the pictures.

As I sat in the land Cruiser, foot propped up, I thought about my Kilimanjaro climb and the rescue. What a fantastic job the porters had done and how Eben never left my side. I felt well cared for.

Epilog

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Kilimanjaro was designed to be the easy climb of my 7 Summits for Alzheimer's project. In some ways it was. The climb was good for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the summit experience, perhaps one of the best of the six thus far. It struck me deeply seeing the glaciers so sparse, receding and vulnerable

I wanted to experience the culture of Africa and I did to a tiny degree. The guides and porters were friendly, well educated and generous with their knowledge. The people in the cities of Moshi and Arusha were what I expected - places of emerging commerce, poverty but still with an open and honest style.

The injury was a test for everyone. Mine was the first for IMG in over 400 clients over three decades. The porters told me later they had not evacuated someone like this in a few years. Eben had never run from 15,000 to 9,000' in one push!

And I had never watched the stars come up, looking like meteors, trees fly by with the rain in my face was we rushed down like Olympic sprinters.

My deep thanks to Eben for his leadership, the porters led by Andrew and Mosha for their strength and dedication and my teammates for their support.

Kilimanjaro will always be a mountain of memories for me.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories Are Everything®

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