Kilimanjaro Report - March 2005 By Rebekka Coakley
Most people take vacations to relax, sleep in and recuperate from the daily grind of working 9 to 5. Beach lovers gravitate toward the call of the ocean, while ski bunnies seek out snow-capped peaks and hot chocolatey drinks. Not so for Randy Caber of Altoona, who craves adventure. The 52-year-old PPG Industries worker doesn't spend his time off work taking it easy.
On Feb. 7 of this year, Caber flew out of Baltimore and arrived in Tanzania, a country in Eastern Africa that borders the Indian Ocean. His plan was to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. At 19,340 feet, it's the tallest mountain on the continent. "I'd been thinking about the trip since the summer when I read an article in USA Today about a football coach from Michigan State [John L. Smith] who had climbed it", Caber says. I picked out a travel company from the same paper and looked the trip up on the Internet. In December, Caber mustered up the courage to put a down payment on the trip, which he estimates cost him $5,000, including airfare and a five-day safari trip through the Serengeti.
Martin Charlton, assistant manager and senior tour leader for Adventures Abroad in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, says that the trips to Tanzania are offered twice a year -- in February and September. About eight to 15 people sign up for each 10-day trek, he says, and most people do the five-day safari in addition to the climb. When Caber read coach Smith's description of starting the Kilimanjaro trip in 95-degree temperatures and climbing into sub-zero climates, all he could think about was experiencing the venture himself. Once the money for the trip was down, he began to prepare himself physically. "We have to rate it as a strenuous trip because of the altitude," says Charlton. "With hiking experience, anyone can accomplish it, but the altitude does pose a bigger problem.''
Prior to his decision to go to Tanzania, Caber worked out at the gym about three times a week. Once he signed up, he said he increased the intensity of his workouts. "I never did any mountain climbing or real hiking," says Caber, "so to get in shape I walked on the treadmill and used the stair climber." Caber would set the incline on the treadmill to 14 percent and eventually, he wore his 30-pound backpack during his workouts as well. He also hiked up by the power lines near the Pinecroft interchange of Interstate 99 to get used to the outdoors and prepare his feet for the rugged terrain. "I read on the Internet to be ready for anything,'' he says about his climb. "It said whatever bad could happen to the human body might happen going up this climb." Charlton says climbers must have a form signed by a doctor that verifies their patient's physical abilities to climb in high altitudes before they can start their journey. Caber hiked in the rain and snow, because he knew Kilimanjaro could have both weather conditions. By February, he said he was nervous for the trip but confident in his physical condition.
Caber arrived in Tanzania a day before the trip began to prepare himself for the trek. He soon met up with the other people who would be traveling with him -- two brothers from Ontario, two women from British Columbia and another woman from Baltimore -- and their guide, Zawaldi Maullah who was from Tanzania.
On day one of the trip, the group headed out around noon toward their Camp Machame where they would spend the night. Caber recalls frost on the ground that next morning. They had started off in hot, humid weather just hours before and were already putting more clothing on to keep warm. The higher they climbed, the more layers they added to their attire. The entire trip was five days and six nights long. Charlton said that Adventures Abroad takes more time to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro than other treks do, allowing hikers to become acclimated to the altitude.
Caber took altitude sickness pills prescribed by his doctor and two Ibuprofren every day to prevent headaches caused by the altitude. "Nothing bad happened to me," says Caber. "I read about people getting sick from the altitude and throwing up, but I think I was right on target with my conditioning. But you do notice that every step you take takes a little more effort. You are definitely breathing heavier." Caber says the biggest challenge he faced during the climb was making sure he was taking in enough oxygen. "I had to continually concentrate on my breathing," he says.
On the fourth day, Maullah and his group left camp just after midnight in such windy conditions that Caber says it was like walking onto a wall. One of the brothers, who was about 72 years old, turned back because of the wind. The other brother temporarily lost his eyesight and had to be led back as well.
Caber says the remaining climbers reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro about 7 a.m. They had about 20 minutes to rest and look around before heading back down. Caber says climbers can't spend too much time at the top because of the altitude. Standing 19,340 feet in the sky, Caber knew he was experiencing an adventure he would be talking about for years to come.
"I'm pretty glad I accomplished it. Sometimes I can't believe I did it and it was only six weeks ago," he says. To wrap up his Tanzanian adventure, Caber and his group went on a five-day safari. But this time, they got to ride in a car all day and wore t-shirts and shorts. "It was my true adventure," says Caber proudly. Next for him will be a trip in October to hike the Inca trails in Peru.
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