Our Daily Lives

Back on Top of Kilimanjaro, 46 Years Later

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kilimanjaro was a mountain that Jurate Kazickas had already climbed, many years ago and in her tennis shoes. But this summer, at 68, she found herself once again scaling Africa's highest peak and feeling pretty great.

(WOMENSENEWS)--When I was 22 I climbed Kilimanjaro in my tennis shoes.

I was teaching in Kenya and, always up for an adventure, didn't even blink when two Englishmen I knew suggested a trek to Africa's highest point. We had parkas, sleeping bags, two porters and the mountain all to ourselves. While the feeling of euphoria I felt when I summited to 19, 341 feet remains fresh, so is the memory of gasping for air as my African guides pulled and pushed me to the top.

So six months ago when a colleague invited me to join a group of women, most of them journalists, who were climbing Kilimanjaro in July, my first reaction was a genuine "been there, done that." Now I'm 68 with arthritic knees and this proposed trek was even longer than my first; seven days instead of five.

But the challenge took root in me and the enthusiasm of the other nine women in the group was contagious.

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I was soon onboard. While I didn't feel I had anything to prove, I wondered if I still had it in me to push myself to the outer limits of my stamina and endurance.

Our group was in our 50s and 60s, plus a 22-year-old college graduate who wanted to climb with her mother. Sadly the group organizer, Lois Romano, a Washington Post reporter, broke her foot just weeks before our scheduled departure. Only one other woman in our group had climbed Kilimanjaro before, when she was 14 in 1964. Everyone else was a relative novice to this kind of mountain experience.

Most of us knew at least one other woman in the group, but that was it. We connected quickly over our eagerness to conquer Kilimanjaro and our love for the news business.

Wearing Sturdy Shoes

Our trip was organized by Alpine Ascents International, a leading outfitter for mountaineering based in Seattle. Alpine provided the tents, food and the 75 porters who transported all our gear and supplies up the mountain. All we had to carry in our day packs were extra clothes, several liters of water, cameras and snacks.

We were led by Garret Madison, a 32-year-old wonder from Seattle who had just returned from his fourth conquest of Mount Everest.

We set out on the Machame Route, one of seven trails to the summit. This time, instead of tennis shoes, I wore a sturdy pair of hiking boots with gaiters to keep out dust and stones.

Machame is a less-traveled and longer path. That meant smaller crowds of climbers and more time to drink in the lush scenery of heath forests and moor lands that gradually give way to the rugged and severe terrain of volcanic rocks.

We hiked for six or seven hours every day and often had to claw our way over car-sized boulders. As we stumbled into camp in the late afternoons, the African porters greeted us with cheers and Swahili songs, "Kili! Hakuna Matata!"

As we climbed higher the air was thinner and colder. The extra days of climbing gave us time to acclimatize though. "Climb high, sleep low" was our mantra, so we camped at night at a lesser altitude than we'd hiked to during the day.

Our guides also cautioned us to walk slowly, "polepole" as they said, to maintain steady breathing and an even pace.

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