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The Road to Kilimanjaro

Next week I’ll set out on only my second mountaineering adventure as I make my way to the top of Mt. Adams in the Southern Washington portion of the Cascade Mountain Range.

Assuming I make it to the top in good weather, I’ll look out over Mt. St. Helens, which I trekked up just last month. I’ll also look out over Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Rainier to the north, two more summits to be experienced before moving on to bigger, more distant goals.

I can already feel the momentum picking up as I prepare for Adams and look towards Hood and Rainier. In the same moment, though, I realize that my journey has only just begun.

I’m lucky to live in Portland, Oregon with easy access to so many of the Cascade peaks, but as much as I can learn from them, my ultimate quest is to join the Seven Summits Club by reaching the top of the tallest mountain on each continent. That means I have, well, quite a long ways to go.

Every good quest begins somewhere though, so naturally I’m planning my first of seven summits as early as possible and it will begin next summer on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on the African continent.

The Cascades are, without a doubt, an excellent place to learn the ropes, but taking on a mountain like Kilimanjaro will present a whole host of other challenges that, unfortunately, climbing in my backyard won’t prepare me for. And it’s the easiest of the seven summits!


Mt. Kilimanjaro towers over Tanzania at 19,340 feet tall (5,892 meters) and getting up and down it is at least a five-day expedition. It’s quite possible to ascend much faster, but doing so can spell trouble, and even death, for a climber that’s not careful to take his time.

At that altitude, a person needs plenty of time to acclimatize to an environment with less oxygen and less atmospheric pressure on the body. Many feel ready to climb when their bodies actually need more time to adjust.

If I ascend too quickly, it’s possible that I could end up with a severe case of pulmonary edema –  a fatal condition with only one cure: rapid descent. Unfortunately, by the time you realize that you’re experiencing it, it’s usually too late to make it down on your own. The chance that a rescue team could save you is slim.

Guide service

There are plenty of experienced climbers that organize their own unguided expeditions up Kilimanjaro every year, but I won’t be one of them.

Most people don’t realize it, but there is a lot of politicking that goes on when it comes to mountain climbing. Obtaining the necessary government permits just to get you legally onto a popular mountain can be quite an ordeal and navigating the often tricky relationships that occur on a mountain of that size can be difficult as well.

The usual Good Samaritan clause that governs most of us at sea-level doesn’t always operate the same at high altitude. There’s plenty of debate as to why that is and whether or not it’s a good thing, but suffice it to say that it’s not a bad idea to have a few people around that are being paid to watch out for you.

This is the service that a guide is supposed to provide you, but picking one is not as straight forward as choosing a loaf of bread at the grocery store. Just as in any industry, they all say they’re the best, but it can be hard to tell which one is right for you without asking a lot of questions.

Since I’ll still be a relatively inexperienced climber, picking the right guide service will be a very important decision for me.


It’s not usually the case, but Kilimanjaro requires a bit more medical preparation for westerners than most other mountains. Due to it’s location and the amount of time most people end up spending at low altitude before and after their climb, there’s a laundry list of immunizations that are either required to enter Tanzania or “highly recommended” by most western governments before you leave.

I don’t have health insurance at the moment, so this will be another hurdle for me to jump, but you can be sure I’ll be current on all my vaccinations before I head out.


After fear, cost is probably the number two reason why so few people choose to take on a challenge like this.

There are all kinds of direct and indirect costs that go into getting up (and back down) a mountain like Kilimanjaro. Hiring a guide, airfare, lodging, additional climbing gear, visas, immunizations, etc. are all things that I’ll need to account for in order to make this trip a success.

I estimate that climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro will cost at least $4,000 and it will be, by far, the cheapest of the seven summits.

Not getting to the top will mean having to incur all those expenses again and add a year to my overall schedule.

Since I’ll be over there anyway, I think it would be a shame not to go on a Safari as well, so I’ll be planning for that cost also.

Side note: I’ll be attempting to save money on airfare by running one my seven marathons while I’m there. Hopefully my body can take it.

I haven’t worked out all the numbers yet, but I expect that making it to the top of each continent’s highest summit will end up costing no less than $100,000.

Of course, I’m hard at work scheming up ways to cut that number down to a much smaller one for myself and anyone else that might share my mountain fever and we’ll talk about that another day.


All in all, the road to Kilimanjaro is long, and it’s only the very beginning. There are many things I still have to figure out and I’m sure there are many things that I don’t even realize that I still have to figure out, but I’m happy to know that I have such a journey ahead of me.

Of course, I have lots of reasons to wake up every morning, but I’m not lying when I say that this is the one that gets me the most excited to get out of bed.

What road are you traveling? And, does it excite you that you’re on it?


Image by: Picture Taker 2

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