Mt. Kilimanjaro
June 1998

Don's Really Cool Adventures Home Page


KilimanjaroThe Climb

23 June 1998 We arrived at the hotel in Arusha after a very long bus ride from Nairobi airport at about 4:30 a.m. We ended up getting about 3 hours sleep before having to depart on the trip to Moshi for the beginning of the climb. (Part of the adventure, I suppose.) We went to the Mountain Inn for an orientation and to check baggage, and rented a couple of sleeping bags. There were 17 in our party, including my son Donald (Bud). We had the orientation, then headed back on the bus for the 45 minute trip to the base of the mountain. Elevation 6000 ft.

(text in italics is from tape recorded log) 

1:25 p.m. We're on our way up the mountain. Stopped for a prayer by "Reverend" Rich. Seventeen of us, on our way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. We have about 35 or 40 minutes of this leg of the trip, the plant life has suddenly changed from being a total jungle to being more of a thinner, almost like willow type trees. It was very steep for a while there, lots of tree roots, lots of Spanish moss. We're now out of the Spanish moss, it's not quite so wet. Every once in a while we see little streams of ants going across the trail. Donald's back there somewhere, keeping up pretty good it looks like, I guess. I haven't seen him in a half hour. Time for a short break.

Our first leg of the climb took us to the Mandara camp, a three-hour walk through rain forest. We spotted monkeys in the trees several times on the way up. We would move up constantly until we arrived at Mandara at 9000 ft. We stayed in a building there that was big enough to accommodate our whole group. All the camps on the mountain had bunks with mattresses and pillows, so we stayed in relative comfort. Temperatures got cold at night. Most of us were taking Diamox to prevent altitude sickness. (Speaking of altitude sickness, my son and I had a bet going as to who would puke first on the way up the mountain. No money, just one of those battle-of-the-generations bragging rights things.) The problem with Diamox is, it is also a diuretic, so going out in the cold several times a night was a necessity.Kilimanjaro text

24 June 1998 Day two of the climb. We woke to a rainy morning, which would make the walk to Horombo quite wet. After a good breakfast in the dining hall, we set out for Horombo. Rich Reaves and I stayed at the back taking a few pictures, and our group took a detour to see Maundi Crater. We didn't know it, so Rich and I followed some porters and continued up the mountain.

We got up about 6:30, breakfast at 7:00. We had porridge, more food than we needed. Toast with jam and avocados, and all kinds of stuff to put on the toast, porridge, and when we thought we were all done, there were plates with tomatoes, cucumbers, scrambled eggs and bacon. We are at the Mandara Hut. We had a pretty good sleep last night, with everyone going to bed early after the bus fiasco kept us up most all the night the night before. Everybody got here ok. I know Ken is feeling pretty bad with the altitude. He doesnít do altitude too well, and heís really hurting. Leaving Mandara hut about 8:20.

Almost to Horombo, weíre looking at a tree called a snison. Itís beautiful, itís got a trunk with leaves sticking out the very top, and as they die they fold down and make it look like thereís a big husk or something. Weíre at 11,500 feet, they tell us thereís about an hour left to hike, and weíre ahead of everybodyóthey apparently took a different trail than we did. Rich and I had thought we were behindóweíve been trying to catch up all day.   Gaudins, one of our guides, is with us.  OK, Rich and I have arrived at Horombo at 12:45, we got signed in, got 4 cabins for our group. Itís been misting all morning. Every time the sun comes out, as itís doing right now, the steam just rolls off the ground. Finally getting a chance to get dried out a little bit, get warmed up. My bag made it up here. Donaldís sleeping bag still isnít up here, I donít know where it is. Still trying to find huts 11 & 12,kilimanjaro location map where the rest of our group will stay. Took the legs off my pants and Iím going to the stream to wash them off in a minute. The whole mountain is steaming. The huts are all A-frames, with a front and a back door and a partition down the middle, with places from 4-6 people in each of them. We have a lot of beautiful vegetation here. Flowers all over the mountain. Behind the camp is a little stream running down the mountain, the sound of running water can be heard constantly in our cabin. Good place to go wash out our stuff.We just came back from supper, weíre standing looking down on the clouds. The sky above us is finally clear, the clouds are below us, what an awesome sightóstanding on the ground above the clouds.About 7:30, almost dark now, the stars are magnificent. On our way up the tallest mountain on this continent, we see the silhouette of the summit in the distance. We see where weíre going. We can see the Big Dipper from here too. Weíre just south of the equator, so some of the northern constellations are still visible. Directly opposite the Big Dipper in the southern sky is the Southern Cross. The sky is so clear that you can see the ďcloudsĒ of the Milky Way, clearly visible behind them. Rarely in my life have I seen such magnificent stars. Everybodyís settling down, itís just after 7:30, weíre all going to get in our sleeping bags pretty shortly to get rested and get ready for tomorrow. We have a long trip ahead of us tomorrow, about five hours.

Rich and I were keeping a good pace, and figured we'd catch up with the slow people at least, but we never did. When we were almost to Horombo, Gaudins caught up to us and told us that all the people we were trying to catch were actually behind us. So, we arrived at Horombo about 30 minutes ahead of everyone else. Elevation 12500 feet. Dinner and trying to dry out followed. Our head guide, Thomas, came to our cabin and took our shoes to the fire hut to dry them overnight, and delivered them the next morning. The skies cleared and we saw lots of stars, including the southern cross.

25 June 1998  We awoke to the most awesome sight I've ever seen. The sky was totally clear, but BELOW us was a blanket of clouds for as far as you could see. We also got our first good look at the peak of Kilimanjaro, the object of our quest. It was like being in a dream. Breakfast at 7:00, leave at 8:00. We had about a 5 hour hike ahead of us through Alpine Desert.

Thursday morning, about 7:00, beautiful morning. Not a beautiful morning down below usóitís clouded over down there. But weíre standing here above the clouds, looking out at a panorama more beautiful than Iíve ever seen. Iím standing on the ground and looking down at the clouds. Turn around, and we can look up at the summit of Kilimanjaro. We can see somebody right now working his way up, almost to the summitósome who left from Kibo very early this morning. Itís very cold here. 

We left about 8:30, headed for Kibo camp, this is the last day before the summit. Should be about seven miles, about five hours. Walking in slow motion, going up the mountain. The porters are passing me. Iím still ahead of the group with John and Kathy, about 100 yards. Iím probably too impatient. Around 10:20 a.m. Weíre above 13,500 ft. About halfway in todayís journey (we hope). John and Kathy, Ginger and I are the lead group. Just having a good time, a nice leisurely stroll up the mountain, no ill effects yet. No ill effects. Forget the ďyet,Ē we arenít having any.

At Kibo hut, elevation 15550. Rich, John, Kathy, and I were the first ones here. We got here right at 1:00.

There was little vegetation, no shade on todayís trip. We arrived at Kibo hut, 15550 feet, about 1:00. We had tea, and then some of us went for a walk up another few hundred feet to help with the acclimatization, followed by a run back down to Kibo. We went to bed around 7:00.

This is young Donald Kern, whoís at his first time at his level, along with his father. Tell me what you think, Donald.

Donald: ďYay.Ē

Thatís Donald He managed three letters in that word. Feeling very talkative today.  

Dave, John and I just went up about an hour and a half, probably another 750 feet or so, and we ran back down. It was so invigorating to come running into camp. It felt good to run, after walking for three days. Everybodyís sitting around, making journal entries, thinking, talking, writing. Psyched up, ready for tomorrow. Michel dropped out, heís headed back down to Horombo camp. Weíre down to sixteen.

I asked Dave how much higher he figures we went. He says it was 682 feet. So we got some extra acclimatization., so weíre looking good. Iím about to waste some water and wash my eyes out. Theyíre feeling gritty. Between my toes is feeling gritty too, since I just ran down the trail and got my shoes full of dirt. Iíll take those off tonight and wash my feet before I go to bed. Iím going up this mountain tomorrow. Iím not going to be sick. I feel so good right now.

26 June 1998 Midnight. Rise and shine. Tea and cookies at 12:30 and leave for the summit for a 5 hour climb to Gillmans point at 1:00 a.m. We left in the dark with the goal of seeing the sunrise on Kilimanjaro. This was the most strenuous climbing day of all. The farther up the mountain you go, the steeper it gets, and the looser the gravel. By this time we were down to 16 people, having lost one to altitude, he decided to go back down to Horombo and wait for us. 

Itís midnight. Weíre getting up. Itís summit day. Everybodyís excited, getting ready to go. Iím about ready to go higher than Iíve ever gone before. At 1:00, we begin our assault on the peak. The sky is clear. You can see the Milky Way. The sky is so full of stars. Iím ready.

Weíre walking up Kilimanjaro. Going very slowly, having a good time. All the way to the top. Our guide Dustin is walking in front of me, reminding us to go pole pole, Swahili for slowly, slowly. The time is just about 2:00 a.m. Behind us we see a cloudless night. We can see Mombasa, Kenya. Weíre going pole pole.

Itís 2:45 a.m. on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Going through a series of very steep switchbacks. Weíre all having fun.

At Hans Meyer Cave, 17000 feet.

4:22 a.m. going through some real slippery gravel here. Weíve reached the snows of Kilimanjaro here to the right.

I was with the lead group of 6. When we got nearly to Gillmans point, which is the first summit, I found that I couldn't keep up with the group I was with. The guide told me to wait for our next group, but after a couple minutes, I decided I didn't want to. I was feeling good, just going slowly, stopping to breath as much as I needed. I took my flashlight and started following tracks. I could see another group coming up on me, but it wasn't part of my group. They were speaking German as they passed me. I still couldn't see the lights from the group behind me. So I continued.

5:10 a.m. Iíve dropped behind our lead group. A group of Germans just passed me, and Iím all by myself now. Iíve fallen back from the lead group, Iím still ahead of the others of our group. Just going real slowly, real easy.

5:35 a.m. Iím still all by myself. What solitude. What wonderful solitude. Iíve just crossed through an ice field. I know Iím on the trail because I keep finding little wrappers and stuff along the way. Other than that thereís no trail thatís obvious, because footprints donít stay here with everything frozen. The water in my water bottle is turning to ice. Once in a while I hear Rich go ďWhoo!Ē out in the distance so I know heís out there. This is OUTSTANDING. I donít know when Iíve ever done anything quite this cool. Iím on top of the tallest mountain in Africa. I can see the summit, and itís only about a half hour away from me, and Iím going to go kick it in the butt.

The solitude of these moments was wonderful. Alone, at the rooftop of Africa. I moved up onto the snow and kept following the trails of footprints, discarded wrappers & water bottles. I realized that I was now traveling around the inside rim of the crater, and didn't realize that I must have passed Gillmans point. I almost caught up to the Germans once as they stopped to rest, but then realized it was time for a much needed break.

5:50 a.m. The sun is rising in the east behind me. Itís almost light enough to see without a flashlight now, except Iím trying to find my way through an ice field to find the trail. I can see people ahead of me, theyíre almost at the summit. Iím on my way there. This is so cool.

The sun was starting to come up, and I turned off my flashlight. Now I moved on to the top of the rim of the crater. In the distance, I could see people all along the summit. I caught sight of our guide and Kathy Granger from our party. She had broken off from the group because she was afraid of slipping. The guide had given her one of his crampons, and she was going up the mountain virtually arm-in-arm with him.  Meanwhile I was wearing my New Balance 851 running shoes. No problem with slipping on the way up, before the sun hit the snow. They waited for me to catch up. Well, Kathy was more worried about me than I was. I asked them how much farther to Gillmans point, and they said I passed it over a half hour ago, and we were halfway to Uhuru. I let out a yell celebrating the fact that I was on top and was almost at my goal.

Iím on top of the world. I already went past Gillmans point. Kathy had stopped and wasnít going any further, but Dustin gave her a crampon, so sheís OK, sheís going to the top. Weíre walking around the rim of the crater. I didnít realize I had hit Gillmans point. This is wonderful.

Still a while to walk, however. One, sometimes two breaths per step. I looked down at my feet and saw that my steps weren't even as long as my feet, but I was making progress. We were above 19000 feet. The four who went on ahead soon met us on their way back down. They were still celebrating the moment, and of course were very encouraging. 

Kathy and I continued to Uhuru, elevation 19340 ft.

7:00 a.m. Kathy and I and Dustin are at the summitóUhuru point.

The highest point in Africa! We took pictures, enjoyed the moment, and then, it was time to start back down. I was going to go back and walk up the rest of the way with Bud.

I didn't get more than a couple hundred yards, and I spotted a young man in a striped stocking cap. In the thin air and my well-worn state, it took me a second to realize who it was. "Is that you Bud?" Sure enough, my son was right there, just a few minutes behind me making it to the top. He was walking with Kate, who had become his walking partner most of the way up. I hugged him and told him how proud I was, and then we walked to the summit together. I walked just behind them, and I don't think they noticed the tears of pride in my eyes at that moment. What a moment in the life of a Dad, standing at the highest point of Africa with my 17-year-old son.


kilimanjaro summit
Father & Son at the top of Africa

Well I hope this recorder works right now. I'm on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro with Kate and with Bud! He made it all the way to the top. About 20 minutes behind his dad (had to throw that in there), but he made it ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP. And the puking bet was a draw.

So the bet between father and sonówho would throw-up first due to altitude sickness, was won by both parties, as neither of us did. Many others on our trip, including some experienced mountain hikers, did.

9:18 a.m. Weíve been at Gillmans point now for probably 20 minutes, taking a break, sitting around, shedding some clothes, getting ready for the final leg of our journey back down the hill. Dan and Margaret, Kate, Bud, and me. And weíre having a good time. I missed Gillmans point on the way up here. I found out about it when I caught up with Kathy, which was quite a blessing.

The rest of the day was slow for me. We walked back to Gillmans together--5 of us. Just as we passed Gillmans and started down the mountain, we met Michelle Szukala and our guide Elege, only about 10 feet below Gillmans. Michelle was the last of our party to make the summit. Thats all sixteen of us who started up that morning nearly 8 hours before. While it caused considerable rejoicing on our parts, none of us had the presence of mind to go back the few feet and celebrate the moment with her.

Iím at Hans Meyer Cave, on the way back down. Bud and Kate, Dan and Margaret went down ahead of me. They go down the hill pretty well. Iím going slowly, kind of saving my legs for the marathon. Iím also kind of tired out. So I figured Iím just going to take it real easy, enjoy a little more of this peaceful mountain solitude, have some time to think, and enjoy the day. I have to go down about another 1500 feet, which isnít too far. Iíve been able to see Kibo huts for a long time. My heart rate is more rapid than Iíd like it to be, considering the fact that Iím walking downhill. So, Iím just taking it easy and making sure Iím OK. I donít think thereís anything wrong, just the thin air. I do want to make sure Iím in shape to run a marathon day after tomorrow.

After leaving Gillmans, I took it real slow going down, while the others bounded down the scree. At around noon, I got back to Kibo for a light meal and a half-hour nap. Several of the others headed back to Horombo, the rest of us would go down in a couple hours. As we walked down hill, the oxygen level increase was definitely noticed, and although tired, I felt much more energy as I went down.

  A much needed rest awaited us at Horombo. No more Diamox, so a minimum of trips outdoors in the middle of the night. We were all asleep by 8:00. I woke up and read my book for probably 4 hours total during the night, but felt quite rested by morning.

 27 June 1998. Saturday 8:20 a.m. Weíre just heading down the hill.

 We would walk about 15 miles downhill this day. I was eager to get going, and three of us set the pace going down the mountain. 

 11:02 Michel, Ken and I  just arrived at Mandara, so weíve walked two hours and 40 minutes, pretty good time.

 We arrived at Mandara in less than 3 hours and ate the sack lunch our guides gave us as we departed. The rest of our group was about 20 minutes behind us. Some black and white monkeys gave us a show, so we stopped for a bit to take pictures before continuing down to the base.

 Leaving Mandara at quarter to 10.

We set off for the base and saw lots of monkeys on the way down. Near the bottom we were accosted by a group of kids who wanted us to give them anything we would--hat, glasses, walking sticks, anything. No danger, just annoyance. At 1:50 p.m. we arrived at the bottom and had some much-needed drinks and rest. The rest of our group straggled in over the next hour and a half.

Of the 17 in our group, 10 made it all the way to Uhuru. Six to Gillmans point. Only one didn't summit the mountain.

We went on to the Moshi Hotel and got cleaned up for the pasta party. My first shower in 5 days felt really good. We rejoined my wife Nancy and my mom, who had been on safari for the past 5 days. What a great adventure. The pasta party was a local event, with the mayor, several other local dignitaries, and media coverage.

The Marathon

28 June 1998 Sunday morning. The marathon? Oh yeah. Since it's a part of the tour, it really ends up being a small race. Several Tanzanians from Moshi ran with us, maybe a couple ran the whole marathon, but I don't think so. Most all the runners were Americans who were on the tour.

 The marathon was scheduled to start at 7:00, but the usual lack of preparedness kept the dining room from opening on time, therefore the race start was delayed until around 7:15. After spending the previous five days on the mountain, I went out to just finish this one. 

Temperatures were probably in the 60s to start, and overcast, and I was wondering why I had put on all that sun screen. After a couple hours, I was glad I had, however, as the sun came out and it got quite a bit warmer. I would say around 80 by the time the race was over. The marathon was a 10.5K loop repeated 4 times. While the kilometer marks seemed a little erratic, the consensus was that the length of the course was about accurate. 

Our race numbers were handwritten on cloth and pinned to our shirts. They weren't numbers--they were our first names. The local people who could read English would see my name and say "Go Don." Many of us had locals running at least part of the way with us. A couple of young girls "adopted" me and ran (if you could call it running by that time) about 5 miles of the last loop with me. 

My wife Nancy got caught up in the hysteria, and with a previous long race walk of 4.8 miles, went ahead and did the half-marathon! I was really proud of her. My mom, also wanting to participate, did the 10K, as did my son. I think the total number of finishers of the full marathon was around 15.

Well, I finished 8th among the men, and took home a very nice trophy. Nancy won the 1/2 marathon walk. Bud won the 10K run. (OK, I know--cherry picking, but after spending that much to go to a race, one should win SOME award, don't you think?)

Overall, it was a very enjoyable trip. I climbed my first major mountain, and completed a marathon on my sixth continent. Life is good.

Don Kern
6 continents marathon finisher
and One of the seven summits