Kilimanjaro… Hakuna Matata

On an HBS trek a little out of the ordinary, 22 students left Boston on December 29th to visit Africa and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the continent at 19,343 ft (5,896 m). The trip combined three days of safari with seven days of hiking up the mountain. The lucky EC’s were also rewarded with five days in Zanzibar for some much needed rest and relaxation before returning to the snowy Boston winter. To recapture our adventures, here is a timeline of some of our highlights.

December 30th, Safari Day 1: Lake Manyara National Park
Excitement runs high as we spot 4 lions sleeping in a tree, giraffes, hippos, elephants, a cheetah, monkeys and impalas, animals as rare as their Chevy namesake. A family of elephants play within 10 feet of the cars and a baby elephant demonstrates why you never want to stand behind an elephant in any circumstance. Overcome with excitement, first year student Mike Demichele falls asleep.

Safari Day 2: Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro Center is one of the most densely populated and beautiful animal reservations in the world. Wildebeests and zebras litter the horizon as far as the eye can see; water buffalos stampede past our car; divebombing hawks prey on our lunch and snatch Diana Hassell’s chicken right out of her hand.; a pride of lions and cubs stop by for a visit; ostriches, hyenas and warthogs mingle; we spot the endangered black rhino and its baby; monkeys invade our car, steal cake and pass up a tomato and butter sandwich (after we all did too); Mike Demichele falls asleep. Earlier in the day, we visited the village of the Maasai, a nomadic, cow herding tribe. In a real life BGIE exchange of foreign trade, Jessica Freireich garners an extraordinary offer of 7 cows to be a wife of a warrior while Cas Schneller is offered a spear for his Nike watch.

Safari Day 3:
Visit a local village and prepare to start the Kilimanjaro trek. Anticipation runs high as everyone has their last shower for seven days.

Kilimanjaro Day 1: The climb begins!
Our group of 22 climbers are supported by 5 guides, 3 cooks and 46 porters. The porters carry an amazing 20 Kg of food, equipment, gear, etc. on their heads, pass us on every day of the climb, and set up camp before we arrive. Everyday on arrival, we are met with teatime with popcorn and biscuits and in the mornings, we are woken up with hot tea. This is luxury.

Kilimanjaro Day 2:
It rains the first of many days to come and none of us are prepared for how quickly it becomes cold on the mountain. That night, the contest begins to get the tent closest to the outhouse. At dinner, our nightly discussion of bodily functions begins. After falling asleep, Mike Demichele does his best imitation of a baby elephant.

Kilimanjaro Day 3:
We continue our trek through a huge hailstorm. It looks like a scene straight out of an IMAX film and we’re feeling pretty hardcore. Glen “Rocky” Brenner makes an amazing comeback thanks to the modern miracle of Cipro.

Kilimanjaro Day 4:
We start our day scrambling over The Breakfast Wall, about a 100 ft cliff to the side of our campsite. Later, we have to traverse a huge valley (meaning we have to come down only to come back up again) to get to our next campsite. We get a few more hours of well-deserved rest than usual today and after dinner, our spirits are lifted by the surprisingly, phenomenal singing of our guides and cooks whose local hymns and harmonies bring tears to our eyes.

Kilimanjaro Day 5:
A thankfully short day before we attempt the summit at midnight tonight. In an attempt to match the beautiful singing we heard the previous night, Reggie Conner leads the group in an inspiring rendition of Gilligan’s Island. We try to sleep but anticipation runs high and we wake up at 11pm to start our last ascent.

Kilimanjaro Day 6:
Midnight and we start climbing in the total darkness. All you can see is 2-3 feet of light from your headlamp and the lights of the other climbers floating up the mountain. Everyone has their own struggle. For Taylor Smith, it’s throwing up 20 times. At the end though, it is a group effort to get to the top and 6-7 hours later, all 22 of us are standing at the summit, watching the sunrise over the roof of Africa. Given the average mountain success rate of approximately 70-80%, it is a remarkable achievement and a testament to our group that we all made it.

Unfortunately, it’s still a long way to the bottom and a few of us get pretty sick with the altitude coming down. It’s a really long day; the daylight shows us the crazy steep path we walked up in the dark; and after descending 10,000 ft (after climbing 4,000 ft), a very tired crew stumbles into camp around 4pm. A very big thank you to our chief guide, Augusti, and his assistants, without whom, we would never have all made it.

Kilimanjaro Day 7:
The climb is finally over. A band of 22 exhausted and very funky climbers head back to town for a well deserved shower and champagne celebration. Birthday girl, Elizabeth Brown, wows us with her stupid human tricks and Sangyoon Lee serenades us with a rousing rendition of the Korean national anthem. Mike Demichele falls asleep, but this time it is well deserved.

As our chief guide would say, “Kilimanjaro… piece of cakey.”

January 31, 2005
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