Bimmerfester Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro for the Kids!
For a brief moment in time 26 people strived to touch the sky
At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Put another way, if your BMW was going 60 mph straight up from sea level, it would take it more than three and one-half minutes for it to reach the same altitude!
On September 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM (Eastern Africa Time) your "fellow Fester" Furball (aka "Furby076"), raised his hands to signify the personal success of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. This personal trek did not start five days prior to that, but actually started nine months earlier when I was sitting in a hotel room deciding if I would be able to raise the charity money necessary to qualify for this adventure. I found out about the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) charity through one of my Accenture co-workers who previously did the trek. VSO is a charitable organization that raises money to help impoverished children in some of the most devastated parts of the world (they utilize the money by sending teachers, doctors and construction workers to these areas). The volunteers, who give up a year or more of their lives, help build schools, provide an education and deliver medical care to those who do not have those resources. My chosen role for VSO is to raise the money to enable this work. For this climb, I would be joining 25 co-workers from the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, and Africa. All told, we were able to generate over $175,000 during the nine month journey.
I tapped each and every contact that I knew while fund raising. The list included friends, family, and anyone who had ever sent me an e-mail before (of course, I had to hit up my good friends at Bimmerfest). In addition to VSO, I have been involved in the Bimmerfest.com Climb to the Clouds annual charity drives that are organized by the "3 Series E9x" sub-forum members. These members annually drive to the gorgeous New Hampshire White Mountains area enjoying the well-paved roads which our RFTs love so much. The friendships built, the stories traded, and the spirited driving makes for a memorable weekend that supports fantastic charities year after year. This year I had asked "DSXMachina" and "CaptainAudio" if I would be allowed to run one raffle for my charity. They said 'no' to that idea and instead one-upped the idea by saying the 4th annual Climb to the Clouds event would raise money for my chosen charity (we ended up raising approximately $2,400 in a single night through direct donations as well as items generously donated for the auction).
In addition to the fund raising efforts, I began my training to summit Kili's daunting 19,340 feet. I did previously summit New Hampshire's Mount Washington three times, while sitting in my 2006 BMW 330xi. This obviously would not provide the kind of training needed while my feet sat in the Asolo TPS 520 series boots. Given that I live in the Philadelphia area the climbing options were extremely limited so I ventured to the gym. Workout routines included weight lifting, hitting the boxing heavy bag, running up and down stairs, jumping on platforms and more. The workout sessions were intense and would hardly prepare me for summit night - the night referred to as "The Death March."
(Death March: If you are wondering why we left at night, when it was difficult to see and that much colder…. First, the cold makes the loose gravel harder and that makes it easier to traverse. Second, the climb is so steep and daunting that it will demoralize you. Thankfully, we were unaware of both until after our summit.)
With my equipment list checked (six times), multiple immunizations (Yellow Card too), and enough medicine (including Malaria meds) to be considered a mobile pharmacy, I set off on the long travel from Philadelphia to Kenya where I would meet the rest of the team. From there, we had set off on a 608 mile non-rft and non-air conditioned bus ride to Tanzania.
Once we arrived in Tanzania, we noted that it does not look like what we thought it would. Some of the group members expected to drive through desert terrain, but it was more verdant than anything else, teaming with life. There was still plenty of desert terrain, but no sand dunes to be seen. We reached the hotel, Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort (which is close-by to the ever looming Kili), and here we settled in for one of our last night's of alcohol, showers and beds. After a good rest, the group headed out to one of the sponsoring schools the following day, the Marangu Teachers Training College. This school started off as a one building mission, and has expanded over the decades. It now provides education for primary and secondary students as well as being a teachers college. You notice many differences from this school as compared to the schools we have in the United States. The teachers college students all live on campus, no commuters, and they are all dressed in business attire. Supplies are hard to come by and they appreciate all donations (books, pencils, paper, etc). One of their most recent donations was a laptop and they were very excited to show it off – which is another thing you see at this school. The students are excited to be there. Competition to get into the teachers college is fierce and those who attend are extremely lucky to receive their education and they realize it. We not only had a chance to speak with the students, we were entertained with cultural performances by the college students and the grade school children. Towards the end of the stay, we were also challenged to a game of soccer – by children ranging in ages from 10-13. The children proceeded to win the game, 2-1, and it was a heartwarming experience to not only raise money for a wonderful cause, but to spend informal time with those who are receiving these benefits.
It was finally Climb Day! After our debriefing – with many more to come, and a restful night we headed onto a bus and made our way to the Rongai entrance. Our team of 26 trekkers would conquer 100 kilometers, five different climate zones, wet-nap showers, and frigid temperatures during the arduous climb up Mount Kilimanjaro – The Roof of Africa!
The first day of climbing was easy for everyone (understandable, as it was the shortest day at just four hours). We hiked through a temperate forest similar to pine forests that many people in the States are accustomed to. When the group arrived at camp we got a run-down of how things worked, including the portable "loo", how to "shower" in a tent, dinner, and a quick lesson about sleeping on an incline (do it improperly and you will slide down your tent).
The second day of the climb promised to be one of the most difficult. It was a great day, with amazing weather, but the trek was long – eight hours long. There were plenty of photo opportunities, including the K|kelewa Caves (the caves were shallow but fun to poke through). The most frustrating part of our day was to hike uphill for hours on end, only to have to hike back downhill, but such is the nature of mountain climbing. At night, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sky. For the first time in my life I have been able to see the Milky Way – something that two thirds of Americans cannot see from their homes.
We then moved to Mawenzi Tarn Peak where we would camp for two days so we could all become more acclimated to the higher altitude. As it turns out, the weather would change rather dramatically during our hike. At one point it was warm and sunny, and in a matter of seconds a cloud would fly right on top of us and it would be cool. While living at sea level a person is used to "slow" moving clouds, but when you are at their level you can see and feel their true speed. It won't move you physically, but it will move you emotionally as you feel the rush. The night at this altitude is no less impressive then having clouds fly around you as we were ever closer to the stars (at this point I noticed that we had been experiencing a full moon each and every night). I presume it is because of the high altitude, but to see the moon – so large and full at each night was impressive.
From this camp, we climbed up Mawenzi Tarn Peak, full of loose gravel known as "skree." Of course, this was only worsened by the steep incline. When we reached the top our guide had informed us that we were higher than any other point in the Lower Forty-Eight at 16,893 feet! We looked down at the high desert terrain and if we did not look at the mountain, then we looked at the tops of clouds.
As we descended Mawenzi peak, heading back to camp, we were instructed to get some rest as the next day would be a six hour climb to Kibo Crater. Once we arrived at base camp we had approximately five hours of rest before summit night.
Late that night, we were awakened by our guide after a two hour nap. He asked if we are ready for summit night. I looked at my watch, it was 11:30PM and with chattering teeth muttered towards my tent-mate, "It's cold, I have a headache, and nausea and I don't want to do this." Too late, I realized - like sitting in a roller coaster just as it passes the top rails - there was no turning back for me. We climbed out of our tents and checked our packs for the necessary supplies – water, goo packs, beef jerky, head lamp and camera. We lined up, and prepared for the long dark trek with only the full moon in the sky and the lights on our heads.
It was windy and very cold when we started to hike up. Each step, from the first, was laboring and I was exhausted. I felt like I had just finished a 100 yard dash, but it was only step one. We proceeded up the mountain and my tent-mate, who happened to be in front, asks if I was OK. I grunted a yes, and asked him a question "You know what's worse than climbing this hill?" He responds, "No, what?" "Going back and sleeping in that tent." My tent-mate laughs, "I like how you refer to Kili as a hill."
The climb was extremely difficult, and it required us to take a five minute break every hour (also problematic as stopping let the cold set in and it become extremely uncomfortable). Everyone did what they needed to keep going, whatever thoughts could help them put one foot in front of the other. Summit night is not just about being physically fit…. it's about wanting it. You have to want it to put one foot in front of the other foot.
The climb was not easy. Most of our water bottles froze solid and sharing is not allowed to prevent the spread of germs (many were already sick). As we continued towards Gilman's point I fell once. A guide who was instructed to keep an eye on me offered to take my heavy pack. I shrugged him off and told him, "It's my pack, my burden, no thank you." We continued hiking for what felt like hours more and again I fell down, the same guide was next to me, "Please, let me take your pack, you are not the only one." I look at my guide, Peter, and remember that he has done this over 150 times and knows what he is talking about. I gave him my pack and continued up to our first milestone, Gilman's Point. Immediately one of the other climbers grabbed me and gave me a strong hug and a pat on the back, "We made it!" I looked around – it's still dark and with confused words, "Yea, we did", but I have no idea what we made it to – this wasn't the summit of Uhuru Peak.
From Gilman's Point, we could see the spectacular orange beam of what would be a gorgeous sunrise. The lead guide, Rhiannon, came up to me and asked, "How are you doing Avi?" I looked at Rhiannon and remembered her earlier words on that first day, "You need to have energy to climb up the mountain, but enough to make it back down. Remember that." I did. I returned Rhiannon's question with mine "Is the rest of the climb harder or easier than this?" She responded, "The climb to Stella Point is about two hours, and then one and a half hours to Uhuru." I quickly responded, "I don't care about time, it's irrelevant to me. Is the climb harder? I can't continue if it's harder." Rhiannon then assures me that it would be easier. With a sigh, and tears in my eyes, I responded, "Then you have the next three and a half hours of the rest of my life."
We headed towards Stella Point, but not before one last glance at the stunning sunrise at 18,828 feet! We did not stick around Stella Point for more than a few minutes before proceeding to our final goal – Uhuru Peak.
The climb to Uhura was not as hard as the previous one but it still seemed to take forever. The lack of Oxygen made it hard to breath and each step took its toll upon us. We finally saw the summit, without obstacles in our path, and one of my fellow climbers walked back to me, "Hey, I know you didn't get your MP3 player working, take mine – you'll like the song." I did like the song; it was Little Wayne's "Sky Is the Limit." It brought a smile to my face and quickened my step. We arrived at the peak, reached the sign, smiled and enjoyed the moment as people grabbed each other hugging each other and patting each other on the back. It was gorgeous and very cold!
After nine months of preparations, countless hours of fundraising, and six days of climbing we had achieved our goal! We celebrated triumphantly before heading back down the mountain.
Not all of us made the climb, but every single one of us gave everything we could! The climb was a once in a lifetime experience, and we did it – not only for ourselves, but for the children. All told, we raised over $175,000.
The challenge is not over. There are many children who could use our support. If you would like to donate, please feel free to do so at http://www.justgiving.com/ClimbToTheSky
If you would like to see photos, please click here
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