Kilibowl PR Summary
Ten years ago this evening I was standing on the tarmac of Kilimanjaro Airport along with Sandy, Jennie, Frank and a small troupe of Swahili dancers as the
KLM 747 from Amsterdam set down on the runway. The massive plane seemed out of place in this simple airport set about 2 hours east of Arusha, our home
for the next 4 days. It was humbling to realize the nearly 200 visitors from America and Mexico were my responsibility for the next 14 days in Tanzania. As the
sun was setting over the jungle the plane settled onto the runway and proceeded to taxi to a stop. Right then, with my heart pounding with anticipation I received
a call from area code 515, Dr. Maxell’s (Drake U president) assistant advising me of ‘chatter’ the State Dept had picked up from area bad guys. They did not
suggest we should cancel our tour/event, but rather just advised us. God, please look over us!!
Everyone deplaned, the dancers went into full showtime in their traditional costumes and music while sweet-aroma leis were placed around everyone’s necks,
a welcoming sign from TAHA, Tanzania Agriculture Horticulture Association. Asante Sana. After customs and baggage retrieval we boarded the heavily-guarded
parade of vehicles- 2 large buses, 12 -twenty passenger buses interspersed with 6 armored Jeeps and 4 fully-loaded military trucks of Tanzianian Army security.
The 2-hour journey to The Arusha Hotel was a cacophony of friendly talk among all those just arrived and those who had been in the advance party. We arrived
at this nicely-appointed hotel which housed John Wayne and the crew of the movie Hatari decades ago, checked in, had a hearty first dinner and went to sleep.
So many teams and federations around the globe had been invited, but had said “no”. We were turned down by every major potential sponsor imaginable, from
Nike to Coca-Cola, from Under Armour to AT&T, but we persevered and arrived, ready to do something very special.
Africa….here we are, making history with the 1st College Football game on the Continent, and so much more! This is worth remembering Rafike, TEAM Global.
Ten years ago today the day was full of new adventures, albeit somewhat similar to team practices at home. Both squads and supporters boarded the 15-20
pax fleet of Coaster buses for a harried ride to the Tanzania Game Trackers Rugby Fields Center, protected by our omnipresent security force in Jeeps and
trucks in front, middle and rear of our caravan through Arusha. New sites never before seen by most! At the grounds we had each player and staff empty out
the 1,000 Baden rubber footballs we had purchased and brought in everyone’s luggage, along with the hand pumps and needles. As practice started for
both teams on the adjacent grass rugby fields, the parents and family members handled the pumping.
Coaches attempted to get players focused preparing for their game coming up in 3 days, buys broke a sweat while an ever-growing throng of students from
the nearby schools arrived. Following the 2-hour practice everyone gathered while Coach Creighton and Coach Maya quickly put together the mechanics of
the Youth Clinic they would soon conduct. At the tweet of a coach’s whistle some 500 Tanzanian teenagers, most attired in their school uniforms, boys and
girls and staff, all listened intently to the directives barked out by Coach Creighton. The 65 Drake and 45 Mexico players and their cadre of coaches and staff
jumped into action, with balls being passed about, kids sprinting out of newly-taught stances, running styles being watched and ‘coached up’, and an overall
wildly organized actual Football Clinic for 90 minutes. It was magical to watch the interaction, the personal care and friendship, the warm feeling that oozed
across the fields. American football was in Tanzania, but more importantly a bonding among student athletes of 3 diverse cultures now existed and was
being enhanced with every bounce or touch of the football.
This was a grand way to start the real Kili Bowl action! Yes, we are playing football in Tanzania and teaching local kids about the sport-and about people.
Ten years ago today, May 20 was somewhat similar to yesterday in that both teams practiced side-by-side on the expansive Rugby field following an even
more harrowing Coaster bus parade ride through Arusha. Our military escorts cared little about pedestrians who were often forced to leap out of the way.
The morning dew was still settled on the blades of grass as the teams which had journeyed thousands of miles put together their respective game plans.
Coaching staffs were stressed to be sure everyone knew where to line up for every situation tomorrow. They were going to take to the football field which
is usually used for soccer futbol tomorrow vs a virtually unknown opponent in front of a crowd nobody could estimate with TV cameras rolling and showing
this 1st American football game in Africa across the expanses of Africa, the Middle East and into parts of Asia. One had better line up right.
A separate group of 500 middle and high school-age kids eagerly waited their turn, and as soon as the college practices ended the throng took to the
field and began tossing and kicking those oddly-shaped balls that don’t really roll well. Day 2 of the youth clinic our coaches and players all had a far
better idea of what the children would enjoy. They had talked the night before how athletic many of those youngsters were, and how quickly they picked
up the skills being described, exemplified and absorbed.
Following the clinic there was a press clinic on the porch of the Game Trackers facility where Coach Maya and Coach Creighton gladly spoke of tomorrow’s
game and the preparation just ended. Sandy Hatfield Clubb and Enrique Ramos were eloquent in their comments and thank you’s given to our hosts in
Tanzania and were clearly engaging in all the activities. After lunch the teams were transported to a variety of different native areas while I left the group
to check on game stadium preparations being managed aptly by John Roslien of Central College. When I arrived there were proper lines on the grass so
that it appeared to be an American football field. There were large potted plants being placed by the TAHA staff all around the field at every 5-yard marker.
A large wire tunnel was being festively adorned with colorful flowers where the teams would enter the field through the next day. The final large task which
JR was ramrodding was the lifting and placement of the goal posts. These had been welded of 2″ steel pipes exactly to the specifications on the NCAA
drawing I had sent over months prior. They were really large, and the issue was how to actually erect those welded pipes in place. After numerous struggles
the cadre of manpower with large ropes realized they could not handle the task without help. The stadium manager then said a few words in Swahili, trotted
out of the stadium with a message that he would return. He did indeed return some minutes later driving a very large front-end loader which made John feel
as if he were home in Iowa. Quickly the loader bucket was guided under the crossbars, ropes wrapped around and easily the task was handled with piping
sliding into the hand-dug holes. Then to the far endzone with Mount Mehru towering in the distance behind. Another challenge overcome with multi-national
That evening in a totally atypical pre-game dinner our entire travel party which including local volunteers topped 200 dined in Arusha city in a local manner
where huge pieces of meat along with potatoes and veggies were dropped onto everyone’ metal plate. The entire barren dirt field was full of picnic tables
and benches with possibly 800 people dining with bare hands as is the custom. Pre and post meal staff brought around pans of water and soap with which
to wash our hands. Everyone was fed, filled up, happy to sit and dine Tanzanian style, and head to bed in our most comfortable hotels with dreams of
tomorrow when we would make history. Drake and CONADEIP, USA and Mexico playing football American style Africa-Arusha, Tanzania.
Game Day in Arusha, Tanzania 10 years ago today! Tape up and get ready to make history. No idea really what is to come at us in the historic
stadium where in 1961 the fledgling nation celebrated its independence from Great Britain. I do know that there are two highly motivated and well-
schooled college football teams preparing to play a sport the likes of which nobody in this country or continent has ever witnessed live. I also know
the team which is producing the game has done its job and all will be as ready as can be in and around the stadium. So Let’s Go! Play football.
The inaugural American football game played in Africa attracted a nearly full stadium of fascinated fans to complement the ITV global TV broadcast.
Where did those fans attired in Mexico colors ever get their game day costumes? Did Enrique sneak some costumes into Tanzania? When the TV
producer placed his high center cameraman on top of the tin roof housing the VIPs I was not surprised, but felt badly for the man who stood there
shooting game action for 3 hours.
The game was highly competitive, well played and entertaining inasmuch as the punts and long passes enthralled those in attendance who had never
before witnessed this sport. Our officiating crew led by Big Ten white hat Bill Lemonnier and flanked by friends from America, Mexico and Poland did
a stellar job throughout. Both teams were a bit rusty, but made enough plays on offense and defense to make their coaches happy in general. Mike
Preston crafted a well written article about the game which is attached here. Drake was ahead most of the game but were threatened by Mexico late,
then the Bulldogs defense made a critical turnover to ice the game.
Post game was beautiful mayhem as our military escorts worked to keep locals off the field, while allowing the myriad of VIPs to come meet the
teams, conduct interviews and congratulate all.
That evening we held an Awards Dinner in the garden area of The Arusha Hotel for both teams and key staff. It was a perfect cool African evening full
of well- delivered talks and recognition of earned awards for game performances. What a day! Next onto community service, safaris and the climb
As the day ended in Moshi,Tanzania 10 years ago today I settled back into my new hotel room in this much smaller town about 2 hours east of Arusha,
just south of Mt.Kilimanjaro. Our group was scattered across 4 different suitable hotels along with some families like the Clubbs and others staying with
most welcoming host families around the region. These had been graciously arranged by our IRIS hosts and others. The post-game day brought about
the next phase of the tour as the football action was now complete. Drake was thrilled with the outcome; Mexico not so much.However, every leader who
was aboard from day 1 of planning knew and preached that the three days of community service would truly be the most lasting, most valuable segment
of everyone’s journey.
As another testament to the TEAM aspect of the overall trip the IRIS organization from Iowa, led by Del Christianson took on this element and succeeded
far beyond what many had imagined. First they had to figure out what type of work these student athletes, staff and parents would undertake. Then what
jobs would actually be worthwhile and keep everyone busy for three days. Then how to secure all the tools and materials that would be needed to build
homes, paint and clean schools, plant trees, help at hospitals and more. Clearly the need is omnipresent, the manpower was eager and powerful, and
thankfully the organization Del fosuced to put together was overwhelming. He wisely formed mini-teams consisting of 3 Drake players, 2 CONADEIP
players, plus parents and staff as well as IRIS volunteer coordinators. Their job was to ensure everyone knew what they were doing that day, had all
the items needed to complete the job, and had it all delivered to the myriad of sites in the Moshi region. Once everyone arrived at their site this initial
day and received their instructions and materials it was full steam ahead. And it wss amazing what got accomplished.
As day 1, May 22 didn’t really get work started til afternoon, the amount of work actually done may not have been impressive, but the fact that everyone
had a place and a job and a Team with whom to work fo the next three days was in itself a miracle. Asante Sana Del and your IRIS helpers. While most
of the players were feeling a bit sore, with bangs and bumps from the Kile Bowl the day before, they quickly took on this new task of charity, together.
A wonderful day for everyone.
Just a brier 10 years ago today we, the entire travel party of nearly 200 persons, engaged in meaningful service partnership works with a variety of public
venues in and around Moshi, Tanzania. Each player and staff and parent can best tell their own personal account of this day, and I have been blessed to
hear some of them. The vast majority of them I am sure will remain unknown to me, but lie within the souls and hearts of each person who performed
selfless efforts these 3 days. We each should reach out to someone we know was on the trip to inquire and hopefully learn more about their personal
stories from this day of helping our neighbors far away in Tanzania.
As I had the pleasure of going to a few different sites I vividly recall the instant game of ‘ultimate football’ during break time where Chris Creighton
grabbed a football and suddenly had a swarm of local boys and girls wanting him to pass it to them. Quickly he asked me to take one half of the group.
he would take the other, and we simply played…we tossed and caught, fumbled and dropped, laughed and called out for the most flat-out-fun I
could remember within a half hour timeframe. It was raw play! This was how I grew up in my neighborhood with lots of boys and girls together, and
it was wonderful to have this brief moment in time with the local children of Tanzania. Then back to work….
A final day of community service taken on by our players, staff and families was undertaken with full-on energy to complete the variety of projects laid out
and supported by Del Christensen and his amazing IRIS group. One third of our group also got to enjoy their day of safari in Tarangire National Park, led
by the keenly-eyed David who is able to spot a leopard, gazelle, wildebeest or albino baboon hundreds of yards away. Having been raised and worked in
and around the wilds of Tanzania, David also is able to anticipate potential trouble in the wild, including when elephants are feeling our Land Rover was
getting a bit too close and began to trumpet and flap their ears, which many of us just thought meaning they were saying hello. Or when we were in our
open-top vehicle in front of a large pool of hippos totally absorbing the water, possibly 200 of them hip to hip, butt to shoulder, and I asked what might
happen if we just tried to walk on top of them; to which David simply replied, “you would die.”
The talk at dinner that night was fascinating as the guys retold their encounters in vivid manner, saying the animal names in both English and Swahili,
commenting on who fast some were, how slow others appeared and just how bountiful were such a wide range animals only seen by Americans and
Mexicans in zoos. This really brought us to the realization: This really IS Africa!
The other topic at dinner was what was next…the following day and for six days. for 126 of us it would mean staring the long trek up Africa’s tallest
mountain, the tallest free-standing land mass on the globe- Mount Kilimanjaro. In addition, there was a group of a couple dozen who for one reason
or another were about to undertake a 6-day camping safari in Tanzania’s most wildlife abundant parks. Different than trudging up Kili!
Critically informative meetings were held by our hiking guides, with the assistance of Dr. Freer, one of the world’s top high altitude medical experts who
had just completed climbing season on Mt. Everest. She flew from Nepal to Tanzania after finishing her time at Everest Base Camp, and joined us.
Wow. what an amazing addition to our hiking group! tomorrow, Tupande Kileleni!
Ok, here we go to Kili! Morning rose in Tanzania on this day 10 years ago, May 25, 2011 as it usually does this time of year with a keen freshness to the air.
The 195 intrepid travelers from the Midwest USA and across top universities in Mexico had now been in Africa for 7 days, had experienced a great deal of
local culture, performed at the top of their athletic abilities by showcasing the skills of two collegiate football teams from the Western Hemisphere. They had
also within that busy week been ingrained in the culture of the region, had given three days of themselves through community service to improve schools,
hospitals, orphanages and public buildings. They had seen a wide swath of wild animals only possible in Africa, personally met and helped coach youth
wanna-be athletes, learned firsthand about the daily struggles to obtain fresh water for homes, and gotten to visit Swahili villages surrounded by
sharp bushes to fend off the lions at night. What a week! And now the dramatic and dynamic outdoor adventure that would test each individual was
about to begin. For many this was the reason for their months of fundraising, months of personal sacrifice, weeks of dreaming.
Today we began the culmination of the journey for the 135 who had their sights set on hiking over 6 days to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro-19,341 ft.
This consisted of 77 from the United States and 58 from Mexico, with the remainder of the 195 total who traveled to Tanzania having now gone home
or part of the 20 headed off for 6 days of Safari. The summit of Kilimanjaro had been a focal point for Coach Creighton from the inception of this
dream of his, to take with him as many Drake football folks as could make it. And to extend the same life-changing moments to his new friends from
Mexico representing the private CONADEIP Conference of schools. Sure am glad you invited me, Coach!
In order to make this feasible Frank Mella has been contracted to arrange the very special needs for this massive undertaking, realizing that his Kileleni Savane
guiding service would be best fitted to handle the task. Sandy Hatfield Clubb had met Frank when he was a young porter on the mountain years ago, had stayed
in touch and readily recommended him to handle the massive task of transporting and guiding our travel masses. She was so right! Due to the raw numbers hiking, realizing that camping, meals, water and other personal needs would need to be handled expertly Frank and his stellar crew decided to have the groups split by
university team, Drake and its 77 persons were to approach Kili from a northern Rongai trail, while CONADEIP and their 58 members would start out in the
southwest on the Machame Route. Serving as guides, porters and cooks was a contingent of about 65 locals, most of whom had been born and raised in
villages on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. While their footwear was often simple sandals or tire-treads on rubber platforms, these young men moved gracefully
and with awesome strength up the trails, passing by our entourage easily. Drake had the benefit of leadership by university president David Maxwell, Director
of Athletics Sandy Hatfield Clubb, Coach Creighton and Dr. Lynn Freer, the world’s foremost altitude medic who had just arrived from Mt. Everest.
CONADEIP had their coaching staff led by Coach Maya, and me as translator/guide/producer/entertainer-as-needed. It all worked.
While the average of hikers making it to the summit of Kili is about 50%, I know that every one of our trekkers fully intended to reach the top. I actually had
great faith that due to the physical ability and mental toughness of the group that we would far exceed that number gaining success. My fear was actually
that some would push too hard, would not heed the warnings of altitude sickness which can be debilitating quickly, causing cerebral or pulmonary edema.
The annals of mountain climbing and hiking are full of otherwise healthy men and women simply pushing on and dying from the altitude. Actually, Dr. Steve
Meyer, the Iowa State alumnus who served so ably as our Teams Doctor for the game and entire tour, was able to prescribe an altitude pill which actually
helps the body maintain its oxygen levels when high up. Far beyond that is the fact the Steve and his wife Dana own and manage a large orphanage outside
of Arusha where our team work crews also worked over their 3 days of service. The Meyers were a wealth of great cultural insight ahead of and during the trip.
Just 4 days ago the two collegiate teams of student athletes had performed their skills in front of 12,000 rabid fans as they played the very first game ever
on the African continent. Just think of that….these two teams, one an FCS university from America’s heartland and the other a select squad from all across
Mexico had played a highly competitive game that ended in a 17-7 Drake victory. More importantly, the sport of American football had just landed on yet
another continent! And now these young men, most from the flatlands of their respective nations, were about to undertake a herculean task.
As Coach Creighton often does, he post-trip developed his Six Climbing Realities taken from the football and mountain hiking his team had experienced in
May 2011, and prominently posted these Realities throughout the pre, regular and post-season in the Drake locker room:
1. Climbing takes Preparation
2. Climbing takes Sacrifice
3. Climbing takes Teamwork
4. Climbing takes Going One Step at a Time
5. Climbing takes a Competitive Spirit
6. Climbing takes Overcoming Adversity
These reminders actually did work, as the Drake Bulldogs returned to their 2011 season and won the Pioneer League Championship for the first time!
As my group of Mexican student athletes and staff were about to begin the 6-day expedition we were greeted at the entrance to Machame Trail by a
Tanzanian Minister of Tourism who was thrilled we were there, and gave us some sage advise of a local: “For someone to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro
he must walk ‘pole-pole’, (pronounced Po-lay, Po-lay), as going fast will not work, If you want to make it, and you will, simply go slowly-slowly. “
All I could think was what it would be like to hike to 19,000+ feet quickly?
He shook our hands, the porters loaded up everything needed for the trek in boxes, bags and pails and we began with excitement and a bit of fear of the
unknown. I was a healthy age 59 and figured that it would be tough, but I had done tougher things. I had told Chris we would meet at the summit–Tupande
Kileleni–as our trip motto resonated through my head. “Let’s Climb to the Summit Together” is the English translation. Again I had given Coach my commitment,
that I would see him at the top and so nothing would stop me from reaching that goal.
At the trail gate stands a sign stating- Points to Remember Before Climbing:
1. Hikers attempting to reach the summit should be physically fit. (duh, ya think?)
2. If you have a sore throat or breathing problems do not go beyond 3,000 meters. (makes sense, unless you really want to summit.)
3. Children under 10 years of age are not allowed. (is this a rule or guideline? Maybe ask Sandy and husband Jeff?)
4. If you have heart or lung problems do not attempt the mountain without consulting your doctor.
5. Allow plenty of time for the body to acclimatize by ascending slowly. (well I am not going to run!)
6. Do not push yourself to go if your body is exhausted or you have extreme. (classically Tanzanian…extreme what?)
7. Drink 4 liters of fluid each day. Water is best, but fruit juices are a good supplement.
8. If symptoms of mountain sickness of high altitude disease persist, please descend immediately. (we did make sure all understood this!)
We all passed the sign as the gear-laden porters seemingly flowed by as if pushed by the wind, enjoying the damp morning on the ground and abundant foliage
above and all around us. This is a perfect start I thought, as life is so very good. What a blessing to be here, to have helped make this possible for so many
who would learn so much from the experience. Now just pole-pole, Kileleni-to the summit.
Day 2 on Mt Kilimanjaro, exactly 10 years ago today where I felt exhilarated by the cool morning breeze wafting across the top of my personal tent which had been
set up by the amazing porters the afternoon before in a moist area cleared among trees and big rocks. My early morning stretch encountered a few tight areas of
lets and hips, but nothing bad certainly. We all realized this would be basically a 5-day hike up, then 1 day down, so were just trying to get into the groove. As quickly became the habit a very nice young man would bring a cup of mint tea to my tent door and greet me with a smiling face and cheery greeting to start the day. Then it was to the expansive cook tent for a hearty breakfast of hot cereal, toast with jam, fruit and juice. Ready to go!
This morning, in real time, I checked my the book I had written and had published about the adventure, Tupande Kileleni, to review some of the factual data I noted in
the past few days writings. A critical number which I am happy to report I greatly underestimated yesterday was the number of ‘Frank Mella Team Members’ he hired to help our 2 disparate groups hike for 6 days. As mentioned, they did everything for us, from carrying our tents to the food and stoves and chairs and fuel and all else, to
cooking, doing dishes, delivering hot tea and singing beautiful songs into the evening darkness. This outstanding Team consisted of 511 individuals, 400 of whom were
porters who hiked up and down, restocking fresh food once the gear had gotten to lunch spots. They would always greet we hikers with a smile and “Jambo” greeting.
There were also 72 mountain guides among this Team, who walked with us the entire way, caring for those who were struggling and leading those up front. Then there were 27 cooks in the two separate groups on the two separated trails, who kept us totally full and satisfied with the food offerings, not simple for two college football teams. I had brought along 4 photographers/videographers who were shooting footage for the documentary we were producing for CBS Sports Network, which won
an African Tourism Award after it was shown back in America. Finally, there were six National Park Service security officers who simply made our hikers feel safe at all times, keeping track of everyone at various checkpoints within the Park.
This second day on the ever-steepening trail found the Latin young men, along with one lady who had raised much of the funds for Team CONADEIP, breaking out often into lovely Spanish songs set against the backdrop of boundless rocks and grasses, providing an idyllic tone for the scene of nature, humans, mountains and song. After lunch we reached an unmistakable wall of rock, standing some 100 feet above us. While it looked nearly impassable, our guides carefully led us up step by step along a staircase of rocks until we each slipped through and over the wall to a dirt path worn and leading to a smaller hillside of boulders. Suddenly we were struck by a distant wll of ice to the northeast which was our first real look at the upper reaches of Africa’s tallest mountain. It appeared to be totally vertical, not the type of climbing we were prepared to handle. We made camp, or rather it was already made for us when we arrived, in a narrow valley complete with a rushing snowmelt stream passing by our tents to provide the real natural sound and ambiance. The ice wall thousands of feet higher was omnipresent from camp and made all of us realize that somehow, step by step, we were going to reach the top of that wall of rock and then some.
As I sat down on my sleeping bag and slipped off my boots and wool socks I felt that odd ‘outdoor rush’ caused by the extreme exhaustion, at altitude, enhanced by the
magnificent vistas and memories of that day. I simply sat there staring off into the distance down towards the valley miles below, not really conscious of anything, yet
feeling very satisfied at where I was at that moment in time, in my life, with these special people, in Tanzania, Africa. Life is indeed good.
Day 3 on Mt Kilimanjaro, May 27, 2011 I awoke with the physical feeling of heavy legs but lifted spirits as we would continue to ascend over 10,000′ elevation on our way to 19,000+. My body, and those of my companions with the Mexico group of hikers was at a key day in this summit endeavor, much like affects anyone who is going
to spend 6 days pushing themselves upward and onward would encounter. The body was a bit stiff, weary certainly, but the breathing pattern was getting more normal
than it had been the first two days. The pace, while not quick, was indeed steady and continuous, without many rest stops which tend to wear down the climber. The freedom of thought brought about by this free sense of just simply walking, uphill step after step with little else to think about or worry about is always something I
find so wonderful yet also all too fleeting. For 17 months I had daily been preoccupied in preparations, mentally and physically for the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl journey where I was responsible for 195 great people who had put their trust in me, and trusted teammates. But not this day. There was no concern of the football game as it
was over and a huge success. No worries about flights, passports, luggage and all since everyone arrived in fine fashion and it was 4 days until the flights home.
I was indeed free this day, free to enjoy the Spanish songs being sung, free to feel fulfilled by what we had accomplished thus far, and free to have the strength
to be hiking up the world’s largest freestanding mountain- and I felt very confident that I would see the summit personally in just a few more days.
I was feeling immensely grateful for everything, and especially for this blessing of this day, with these people.
As morning broke today, 10 years ago, our entire team of hikers, 58 Mexican college students and staff including 1 woman who had been a key fundraiser for the trip and myself got ready for what was to be a very long day and a half of exertion. We had climbed from our starting point 3 days ago of about 7500’ elevation to today’s starting point of nearly 11,000’. We knew that ultimately we would have to achieve over 19,000’ to achieve our goal, and clearly understood the plan was to journey one more day around Kili from a southwesterly starting place towards a point further to the east from where we then headed steeply upward towards our designated camping spot. There the plan was to stop for dinner and about 4 hours sleep in the chilly air, protected by our two-man tents, before awakening about 11 pm for a brief hot snack and to begin the ultimate climb up the ever-steeper face of Kilimanjaro. The plan made sense, especially inasmuch as the massive land feature is so large as to create its own weather ecosystem whereby nearly every day starts clear up top but soon fills with ever-thickening cloud masses which block out any view of the flat terrain at the bottom. The plan was to reach the summit in the early morning light when we could gaze in every direction at the expanse of Africa below and truly marvel at what we had accomplished over our 4 ½ days of steadily uphill climbing. And so it was that we followed this plan, step by step gaining altitude, especially over the final 2 hours of late afternoon on May 28. I vividly recall arriving at s distinct rocky ridge with massive upthrust rocks where the guides gathered everyone to pronounce that we would now actually start going UP for real. And if anyone felt too drained physically, or had symptoms of altitude sickness which can be debilitating, then this is where they should turn back downhill towards the east and descend the 2 days. There were 3 very large linemen who had been struggling with the altitude and simply hauling 300+ pounds of the mountain who elected to head down; made perfect sense to me.
Everyone else continued up into the swirling clouds over rock piles into a whole other type of atmosphere than what we had been encountering the past 4 days. This was real high mountain climate complete with wind, rain/sleet and little visibility. The sudden change from the previous 3 ½ days of very nice mountain conditions, albeit difficult due to the terrain and thinning altitude, was dramatic. But after about 2 hours of winding among rocks of every size we arrived at our camping site tucked in among the head-high boulders. It was a very good feeling to be here at the launching point for our all-night trek towards the summit in just a few hours.
Just before one more filling meal there was a gathering of a half-dozen players, the one lady and our guides which I was requested to attend. It seems the most noteworthy player on the CONADEIP team, a tough running back who had starred in the game now wanted to head downhill. As he was the known leader of the team, there were now others who wanted to join him. I allowed them to talk freely, and finally just reminded them that this would very likely be the only time in their life to have this chance that so many others would love to do. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It fell on deaf ears as they were more focused on the fun they could have in town one day ahead of everyone else. So they gathered their gear and a guide and started down the mountain. I wished them well. Now, a decade later, I wonder how often they think back to that night, that decision, and wonder what could have been.
Dinner was consumed quietly, quickly, then off to bed for 3-4 hours of sleep, with visions of the all-night hike ahead of us. Tupande Kileleni-Let’s Climb to the Summit Together! Soon…..