A REFLECTION ON MOUNT KILIMANJARO
BY WALTER GLOVER, AKA PAPA WALTER SIMBA, NICKNAMED BY GODLISTEN, MY TREK GUIDE FOR KILI
July 1 – 18, 2009
After Standing on The Roof Of Africa…Uhuru Peak
We’d climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro for five days in order to move into position to try for the summit of Uhuru Peak. The elevation of the village of Moshi, where we gathered, is 5,000+ feet, a little higher than Denver. We were heading upwards 13,000+ feet into the thin air to reach 19,340 feet, The Roof of Africa. Ascending the “Kili way,” “poley poley,” which is Swahili for “slowly, slowly,” we purposefully put one foot in front of the other in a kind of controlled slow-motion to, as best as possible, avoid altitude sickness. We climbed through the damp and muddy (and hot and humid) Rain Forest, into gathering clouds which are nicknamed the Cloud Forest, upward into the heath and grassy moorland. We then crossed up into the alpine desert and ultimately on Summit Night, we would, God willing, ascend to the glacial ice cap. Trekking up the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro takes the climber through all the climactic zones on the planet Earth.
As most of you know, my going to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, was not just about having an adventure. This was an awareness-raising and fund-raising initiative to establish a pediatric program at our health ministry to provide wellness programming to obese youth. Through education, exercise and nutrition, St. Vincent Jennings Hospital intends to combat pediatric obesity which is a major problem in our community.
So here I am, about to go through all the climatic zones on earth as we strike out for a point that seems near Heaven it’s so high.
With attention and intention, I drank water constantly. Powdered Gatorade provided flavor and electrolyte support. I drank at least three liters every day. I joked that I might leave a urine stream up / down Kili, but vowed that I would not under-hydrate. I was on a Diamox (altitude medication) regimen, as were most trekkers headed up the mountain. I also took Ibuprofen as needed for altitude headache and muscle ache. Bengay was my topical cream soreness reliever. Its smell also opened my sinuses! And those of anyone who got near, too! As there was no opportunity to bathe, it provided a kind of Hoosier cologne aromatic diversion! I carried Dexamethazone, a steroid, if I suffered the debilitating cerebral edema problem I experienced trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp 25 months earlier.
My Go-Zone pedometer from Virgin Health Miles must have taken a hit as I scrambled up boulders. Alas, somewhere along the way it stopped working. I hated that. I was walking 66 linear miles and was keen on what data Go-Zone would disclose. Alas. (Turns out it was functioning perfectly, but that when you walk this far you max out the memory. Now that I am home, it works just fine. Took a beating against boulders for sure, and kept right on ticking. Atta boy you Go Zone engineers!)
GODLISTEN MY GUIDE
Godlisten, or God-y, my trek guide, was so physically strong, emotionally calm, vigilant for my safety, he proved such a commendable match for me. In humility and honesty, let me be clear – I could not have made it without Godlisten’s support. We were on the Machame Route, the so-called “Whiskey Route” named for its toughness, length, steepness, and beauty as compared say to the “Coke Cola” route. God-y helped me climb and scramble up and over vertical boulder walls. Many, many times. His strong grip, assurance, gentle voice, encouragement, honest assessment, praise, and humor, all provided helpful stimulation. What a mentor. He also was a baritone singer who knew wonderful songs, including a Christian favorite which, when sung loudly in Swahili, is memorable for a lifetime.
Some days, particularly in the tropical Rain Forest, we fried in heat and humidity. Then we got hailed on and snowed on and rained on, thoroughly soaked, heading past Lava Tower (a 300 foot monolith), into the delightful Barranco Valley, “a garden,” God-y called it, of senecio and lobelia. These are huge pineapple like-appearing plants, and others which look like Southwest USA desert cactus with oversize flowers on top. Google these guys, so you may see two of the some 1,000 plants which are unique only to Kilimanjaro’s rich volcanic soil and freezing / thawing conditions of Summertime days and Winter at night. Unfortunately, hail and snow and rain made the Garden viewing slippery and treacherous as we descended through a streambed. It was starting now to get cold too, plus wet. Brrrrrr. Later, oxygen at 15,000 feet in Kili’s rarefied air, was in shorter supply. It was like breathing through a straw. What will 4,000 feet higher be like I mused.
I marveled at my four porters who ferried tents, cooking gear, expedition bags, food and whatever else by balancing them on their heads while customarily walking faster than my more snailish pace. What strength, what balance…loads always faithfully packed safely from one camp to the next. Without fail we greeted each other happily with “Jambo,” Swahili for “hello.” My cook had the most pleasant smile and wanted so to please…serving for breakfast as an example eggs, hot dogs for sausage, fresh fruit of pineapple, mango, avocado, pancakes that were more like kreppes (that went really good with Red Gold brand preserves), porridge, and hot water for whatever powered drink you might have, cocoa usually for me, with all my UK-based friends having their customary tea. The cooking was generally hot, fresh, and good and I hated to disappoint my fine cook on those days altitude just sapped my appetite. “You must eat Papa,” came the lament and advice. The crew always appreciated the gum I gave them every morning. It delighted me that when I inadvertently missed one of the porters he had a lot of fun feigning being overlooked while making sure he got his stick.
As we neared Summit Night and Day, I was grateful for my body, mind and spirit. I had some appropriate shoulder soreness from straps on my day pack, but nary a blister. Sometimes breathless, I had the dull throb of an altitude headache as did everyone else. No niggles or diarrhea. I was drinking as I promised myself, and so far I still had an appetite which, later, did lapse at altitude. Thankfully, there were no edema problems around balance and I was thinking clearly. I was sleeping fairly well although my inner alarm still awoke me at 5 a.m. IN time. Eight hours was the clock difference between IN / Tanzania. There were five of us trekkers, two 25-year-old Brits, and a newlywed couple, the husband from British Columbia and the wife from Egypt who made their home in London. We each had our own guide and crew, but the five of us formed a nice little mobile mountain cosmopolitan village, foregoing eating in our own mess tents preferring to eat together at what the Brits’ Martin and Josh jokingly called “The Ritz.” (A dinner discovery I made was Elwood, IN-based Red Gold products were on our camp table ! When I later told this to a friend at St. VincentMercyHospital in Elwood, Angie said, “I knew I was with you in spirit, I just didn’t know I was in your ketchup !”)
Everyone on the mountain seemed to notice my back pack large color photograph poster which proudly proclaimed that I was on “Trek For Kids for Pediatric Obesity for St. Vincent Jennings Hospital” and many, many people complimented the idea. A pretty lass from Paris made, with some help from me, the connection between the historical Vincent de Paul’s home and our hospital. “Oh, they must be so very proud of you there,” she said.
SUMMIT NIGHT / DAY
Summit Night arrived. We were finished eating at 6 p.m., we were in bed by 7 p.m., and would be up at 11 p.m. I set out all and I mean a-l-l my clothes in advance not wanting to be a truant school boy as my “final” exam loomed. Off to the loo and thankful to be void, I had pulled on seven upper layers and four trouser layers of clothes. I put hand warmers in my gloves, and in my pockets where I had cameras to keep the batteries warm, and then taped hand warmers to my water supply. (The h2o still would freeze !)
“Digala, Digala,” God-y boomed as we set off. Swahili translation = “Super Duper.” We were wearing head lamps. Between 7 and 11 p.m. the weather dumped buckets of rain hard onto our tents. And the wind blew so mightily it threatened to sweep the soggy tents and occupants off the mountain. What was Kili saying? Now, as we set off to climb, the Creator God’s night sky beamed clear, a vast heavenly host of stars gleaming. And a sliver of moon rose. And it was windless. Thank You for the weather. Reminds of the story when Jesus becalmed a storm saying, “Be still.”
We climbed across slick snow-covered lava boulders, up switchback scree, in the dark. We were going straight up at first…one miscue here and it would be a long dangerous fall. I trusted God-y implicitly marveling at how he route-found in the dark, save the headlamp. Guess when you’ve climbed Kili 150 times in 15 years you, as he said with a gesture, “You have the map up here” pointing to his head. We climbed. We drank. We climbed. I quit making the demoralizing mistake of looking up the mountain to see headlights high up ahead of us. My glasses fogged up…they came off and my ski goggles were pulled down. I was feeling fairly strong but knew we were in the middle of a huge ordeal. I focused on God-y’s boots in front of me and put my feet where his had just been. We found a rhythm, a nice deliberate pace. Boy was it cold. I needed every one of those layers for warmth even though I resembled the Michelin Tire Man. I needed those hand-warmers, too. But so much for engineering ingenuity as my water supply gelled as we neared the top. Oops. The only sounds were our footfalls on the trail and our breathing. I am comfortable in silence so I listened to those melodies.
About 2 a.m. I needed a boost. I had heard God-y sing before, songs including a Christian favorite, and a traditional mountain song about “No Worries.” I asked God-y for a few verses of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” A minor mountain miracle followed. He began singing in Swahili in his customary enthusiastic and loud way. A few seconds later from way up the mountain the guides in front of us heard the song and they picked it up. Meantime, well below us the guides down-mountain heard it and they too began their singing. Talk about one’s spirit soaring. Music is so universal a language. Gregorian chanting at my seminary St. Meinrad maybe was never this good ! Like Julie Andrews said, the hills, well mountains, were indeed alive with the sound of music. Later, I would even hear trekkers I didn’t know speak of this.
God-y brought us to a halt to check his watch. “Uh oh,” said he in his short-hand English. “We are way ahead of schedule. Uh oh. Papa Walter, you are strong climber. Simba, like lion. We will get there early. You climb very good, not just for 61 man, but for anyone, you are strong, very strong. We will get there early, before the sunrise. You are now Papa Walter Simba !” God-y and the other guides and crew had all been affectionately calling me “Papa” as I was the oldest guy around and the only silver hair they saw. And God-y added names. Thank You God for body, mind, spirit and for training.
We summited at 0610 on 17 June, minutes before the sun rose. Surrounded by the panoramic majesty and palette of the Creator God Elohim’s work…gigantic chalky-colored glaciers soared as far as the eye could see to my left…the volcano crater of Kilimanjaro saucered well below the Roof of Africa with more glaciers within it…The majestic red and gold hued sunrise silently beamed above the horizon line and the white billowy Cloud Forest thousands of feet below…cobalt blue skies were now overhead. (The play of equatorial light on God’s nature made me wonder how our beautiful Beatitudes stained glass windows at the Hospital Chapel would have looked awash in this celestial light.) The up-mountain journey required 6 hours and 10 minutes from when we left camp at midnight. Pictures shot, a Mallard Duck feather released in a ritual to remember IU college friends of 40+ years, prayers offered for family and friends, for those youth who would be involved in our obesity program and our sponsors and donors, and for Wings for the Journey parents who have lost beloved children, it was time to descend. God-y had agreed to my requests to trek into the crater, and to let me kiss a glacier. I called those off knowing it would add even more time to the customary five hour descent. “Hold on, God-y, I need to gather stones for souvenirs.” S-m-a-l-l stones…weight considerations…duh !
WHAT GOES UP….
Good decision to not take extra hours to trek to the volcano crater and to kiss a glacier. Because you see, what goes up…must come down…knackered knees and legs and all.
Traveling down-mountain, we were walking across BB and marbles-like scree. I couldn’t get my balance bearings in the downhill, switchback trail of snow, sand and scree. As strong as I was going up, my knees and legs got knackered on the way down trying to negotiate what seemed like a ski slope. God-y was so invaluable in getting me down the slippery slope. Arm-in-arm, two children of God, a Tanzanian and a Hoosier, ebony and ivory, one weak and the other strong, a Lutheran and a Catholic, he was the shepherd. When finally we crossed the land bridge separating a chasm on either side and got into camp, all I wanted to do was roll into my tent to rest my weary legs and fall alseep. Ah, but see, after nap and lunch, we had another three hour trek to reach the next camp. Make that more like four-five hours in my eroded and depleted weakness, arriving just before nightfall. What a day…make that a night and a day…12 midnight to 5ish p.m….From minus 4 below zero to 44 degrees…Descending 10,000 feet from the glacial ice on the Roof of Africa down to alpine desert down to grassy moorland down into the Rain Forest, and finally down on the ground into my tent and sleeping bag and breathing dense oxygen-rich air. Thank You oh so much.
The wash-out rate of not making UhuruPeak of 50 per cent fairly held. Our newly weds failed to summit. The Brits Martin, Josh and I did. So our tiny community exceeded the 50 per cent wash-out rate.
As fulfilling as this ascent of Kilimanjaro was for me and others, it is important to place the trek and summiting in perspective. During our week on Kilimanjaro, a 22 year old man trekking with his mother became ill on Kili from altitude sickness. He would later seek emergency room care at the hospital in Moshi, our village before / after the climb. I was told by someone who was at the hospital and familiar with the circumstances, that the young man died while at the hospital. I am a hospital chaplain and much of the holy ground on which I walk barefoot often involves being with parents who have lost children. Please say prayers for the mom and the family. In pursuit of an adventure, something went tragically wrong and life changed forever for a family. May the Master Comforter provide mercy, peace, solace, grace, and, ultimately, hope. A week after returning home, I have learned of an Indiana physician who last Summer climbed Kili with his wife. While we were at Kili this Summer, the doctor and his wife were on the same trek I had taken to Mount Everest Base Camp. The doctor, age 61, (my age), from Bloomington, (a nearby community I know well and where I lived as an undergrad student, as did the physician), has just died in Nepal having suffered, according to news accounts, pulmonary and cerebral edema at Everest Base Camp. (I had the beginnings of cerebral edema at Everest Base Camp.) The widow would begin mourning her loss in a land half a world away from home. I know mountains including Kilimanjaro and especially Everest claim lives. Because of parallel processes involving connections and timing, these two most recent deaths on Kilimanjaro and Everest have caused me to grieve. Two mountains I know well now have claimed more lives. Meantime, I breathe, live. Life, however, has changed for a mother and for a wife, without their permission. Again, I invite your prayers.
And now I am a flatlander again, home at 600 feet sea level.
The answer to the question that comes up frequently is…: As difficult as the trek to Mount Everest Base Camp was in Spring, 2007, and it w-a-s difficult, a real ordeal…Getting to Kili’s summit of Uhuru Peak and back to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro was clearly another level, much more difficult for me. It isn’t about judging or comparing the two mountains…rather it was the vigilant effort required every day, a test of my body, mind and spirit. Machame at Kilimanjaro was much more arduous.
Another question that comes up is: “So what are you gonna do next?” The short answer is: “Stay Tuned.” The longer, more thoughtful answer is: I took three extra vacation days after 48 long hours to travel home before returning to St. Vincent Jennings. Purpose: I wanted to percolate, absorb the trek without talking about it much. I discussed it with my loved ones, Michele, and sons Dom and Andy. But I wanted to silently treasure the memories in my heart, like is said of Mary and others (Hannah, Ruth, Esther) in Scripture right after their big transcendental moments happen. To give voice to recollections too early would diminish them, it seemed to me. And, having trained as a journalist, I have a bias to compose and record things at the keyboard, often having journaled some first-blush sentences. And, it seems to me, it’s bad form to talk about the next step without fully appreciating the present moments, what has been accomplished, being receptive to what blessings and messages we have received. It was an interesting process how Kili developed. My Ghana missionary friend Davey Ketchum had invited me to climb Kilimanjaro a couple of months before I left for Everest. “Put me in coach, give me the ball” was my glib response. When I returned home depleted and eroded from the edema, and travel fatigued, and weary from the 100 mile trek, I told Davey, “Forget that stuff. One and done.” And then as I gave my presentation “Capacity to Dream” about Everest to public gatherings and school groups, I began yearning for high adventure again. But it was two years later before I went to Kilimanjaro. So are we back to the answer, “Stay Tuned” ? The authentic answer is somewhere between the calendar and what my legs told me as I was going down Kili: “Try this again and there will be a revolt. We’ll go on strike.” Really, they said that as God-y and I took a rest ! I have some dreams, but they are for the calendar and my knees / legs to absorb, to resolve.
Headache, muscle pain, nausea, lack of appetite, breathlessness, light headedness, knackered legs / knees, tough sleeping…always are to be weighed in light of… euporia, seeing God’s first revelation of the magnificence of his nature, dreams fulfilled, peakness of training and accomplishment, tirelessness, seemingly unlimted and inexhaustible physical energy…. “So what you gonna do next?” Hmmm…. For now I think I’ll explore the uplands of Bartholomew and Brown counties on my bike Trigger…Take some walks with Michele, in my loafers, sans trek boots and backpack. That’s today’s answer to the question “Where’s Wally?”
I want, in gratitude, to thank Rabbi Arnold for his beautiful Jewish prayer for travel. I recited it every a.m., Arnold. Well, on Summit Nite / Day it was later in the day back at camp in joyful thanksgiving for getting up and down Kili. Thanks Arnold to you and your congregation also for your support. It was awesome knowing that Trek for Kids had interfaith spiritual and financial support. And to know Dick that you and the senior community at Franklin United Methodist Home were praying for me. Likewise, Phyllis you and Baptist Homes of Indiana. And ditto Mike and Mens Ministry at St. Bartholomew. Kids / teachers from St. Mary’s, too, and Tim and JenningsHigh School and Floyd and JenningsMiddle School. And a-l-l at St. Vincent Jennings. And Angee and the First Christian Church. And Connie and prayers and pennies from New Bethel and Alert United Methodist. My daily spiritual practice, in addition to meditation in motion while trekking, included prayers, also included my regular practice of beginning the day with Scripture reading, this time Psalms concerning nature and the created order, and Scripture memory recitation. And in my gear I carried three inch high purple crotched crosses which Margaret of our Guild gave me to carry on Kili…one of which she now has…one she gave to me…and one she gave to my beautiful grand-daughter Siena Grace Glover. Part of my morning ritual included looking at a picture of me holding Siena, and other pics of loved ones. Morning time was when I usually journaled. Another lasting spiritual joy was meeting David, the 10-year-old Moshi lad who is sponsored by the Youth Group of the First Christian Church of North Vernon. What an awesome experience our 90 minutes together was. As big as continental Africa is, as big as Tanzania is, to find that David lived in Moshi which was my village home right before and after Kili…what a God thing. Lithe, three feet tall, maybe 50 pounds soaking wet, sparkling eyes, with his lovely grandma, David was such a physical contrast to those whom our initiative will help. Countenances got so puzzled of God-y and others when I explained what our initiative was. It took me a moment to understand. Obesity, especially among African youth, is seldom if ever seen. It’s like trying to explain climbing Kilimanjaro to a Hoosier flatlander. Just as we have no mountains to climb…Tanzanians do not know about excess food nor excess body weight.
I am so grateful for Godlisten and his Zara company. God-y you are so awesome.
This trek and climb is dedicated to the young men and women who will go through our pediatric obesity program and to those medical providers and others who will support them, and to our sponsors and donors. May the Kili Trek for Kids offer them inspiration as they begin their own journey to wellness through education, nutrition and exercise. Donations are still being accepted:
Trek for Kids
St. Vincent Jennings Foundation
301 Henry Street,
North Vernon, IN, 47265.
To the Virgin Health Miles Team, thank you for your lead support. When I put my Go Zone pedometer on, it’s done mindfully of an organization which, like Godlisten, knows the value of partnership. Thank you VHM also for your inaugural “Eye on Wellness Award.” I am humbled and gratified.
Again, so many, many of you prayed, as I had asked, for the Summit Night / Day Climb. Thank you for your prayers. I felt them as I basked in that sunrise glow on UhuruPeak…the below zero mercury temp jumped up several degrees…even thawed my frozen H2o !
God bless you.
(A Tibetan Buddhist saying that means: The Divine in Me Greets The Divine in You.)
Possibility Think Your Dreams.
Final Thought: When we go to another realm to explore it, we have an opportunity to learn as much about ourselves as we do the environment we visit. We are obliged to do this investigation of our interiority, just as surely as we are to visit the earthly territory ahead of us. Mindful of that, I share some of my learnings from Africa, Tanzania, and Kilimanjaro with you. May they bring you some discovery, some inspiration.