By Sheila Lackershire
In 2014 I wrote a story for the newspaper about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my brother Richie.
I ended it with the conversation between my good friend Honest and I.
The question I am most asked is if I will go back to Africa. Of course, at first I was thinking safari or the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar, until Honest said to me, “You know there are five routes to summit on the Kili?”
I replied, “Yes, I know.”
He continued with saying “You have accomplished three, you only have two to go.”
Goal, dream, bucket list? I thought and prayed about this long and hard. Not only do I have a special place and a love for Africa, but even more for Mt. Kilimanjaro. I have been told that I am a “magnet to the mountain.” With the support from my husband, family and friends, it’s a go! I will continue and by the grace of God reach the summit of the last two routes I have left, in memory of my papa.
A travel companion
I made plans to go back to Africa in February 2016. With help again from Honest the arrangements were made—and believe it or not, I had a travel partner—Ann (Propson Hanamann) of New Holstein.
Now if you ask Ann how this all came about, she will tell you, “and Sheila said to me, Annie let’s climb the mountain together. It will be fun.” But truly the more we talked about it and I answered the questions Ann had, after she had done much research, I truly felt Ann had a dream to go—the desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
But there was one thing we had to seriously discuss before she made the commitment to go. I wanted to do the “hardest” of the two routes I had left to do. This would mean Ann would be on a different route until, as Honest explained, we could meet each other at base camp and summit together. This sounded like the perfect plan. But, Ann still had a lot to think and pray about. Would she want to do the first part of the trek solo? Her answer was “yes.” She would be OK doing this. I told her she would be with guides and some porters I know and that helped comfort her.
It was exciting for me to have somebody join me—like when my brother went. Not only for the climb, but also to meet my friends, my “family” in Africa, go on a safari, take in the beautiful waterfalls and so much more.
Getting ready for the trip
We would spend the next year and a half working hard, physically conditioning our bodies and minds for the climb. I guided my friend Ann the best I could. The logic of traveling half way around the world, the climbing gear she would need to get, and all the immunizations needed—yellow fever, hepatitis, malaria, etc. We were set! Good to go—until...
December 2015, I had taken a fall and broke my left wrist, requiring surgery, plate and pins. Not only a hairdresser’s worse nightmare as my hands are my most important “tools” but now the worry about the climb only two months away.
My doctors were amazing, yet concerned when I told them about the climb. I was asked how much “rock climbing” and how strenuous this route would be.
After talking to Honest, he thought it would be best to do the Machame Route with Ann (which I needed to do anyway). Umbwe Route would be strenuous and the first two days extremely steep and muddy. Conditions are variable. Only 2 percent of all mountain tourists try their luck by choosing this route to reach the peak. It is only suitable for well-trained mountaineers, and for sure not for somebody like me with my healing wrist.
My doctor gave me a splint that went further up my arm and that I could adjust easier to use with my hiking poles. I promised to wear it—which I did.
I believe God had this perfect plan. Ann and I were happy and excited to be now doing the same route.
Feb. 15—We arrive safely at 1:30 a.m. with Honest there to pick us up and take us to our lodge, about a two-hour drive. Our lodge, The Country Lodge, is beautiful as are the staff. Friendly and attentive to our needs. We have the perfect view of Kili from our room.
Feb. 16—We take the next two days to “rest,” taking in the beauty of waterfalls and going out for local food. Our guide Ian Minja, Honest’s cousin, meets us the second morning (Feb. 17) at the lodge and we walk the breathtaking foothills of Maranga to Honest’s home for lunch. Along the way we see villages. The people are so friendly. We see children walking home from school and then a wonderful surprise—we stop at the home of my good friend Daniel and visit with him. He has since retired, but was our guide when papa and I were there in 2006. I see him every time I go to Africa.
Acclimating to altitude
Five hours later, finally arriving by Honest! They told us it was good to do this to acclimate our bodies to the altitude. We understood but were happy when we were told that we would be getting a ride back to the lodge. Early to bed, as tomorrow is the “big first day” of our climb on Kili.
Feb. 18—Awake at 6 a.m. Emotions of anxiousness, excitement, nervousness and wonder kept us from not sleeping good.
Honest and Ian joined us for breakfast and after hugs and good luck wishes from our staff friends at the lodge, by 8:30 a.m. we were headed to Moshi to pick up supplies and meet our team of porters.
When we arrive in the busy town of Moshi our vehicle is packed to perfection on top with everything we need. Now they must put our bags on top with it. It is amazing to watch them strap tightly everything in place. Along with our three guides and porters, Annie and I are strategically packed in like sardines with our friends/family we will have for the next seven days. (Well maybe not Ann—she has got the front seat.) After all, she was the “guest of honor” and this was a first-time experience taking in the ride to a gate on the Kili.
The first thing we do is sign in when we arrive. There are many other anxious climbers ready to start. It is hot. Ann and I are in shorts and T-shirts. We get our gators on and sunscreen, hiking poles in hand. 11:30 a.m., it is time to go!
Guides and porters
Along with our two main guides, God and my papa, we are joined by guides Honest and my good friend and owner of his company Kibo Safari Adventures, specializing in mountain climbing, Ian, also my good friend who guided my brother Richard and I. He is a cousin to Honest, also experienced in guiding on Kili for over 20 years. Our new friend Lucas, also a very experienced mountain guide, joins us. The job of the guides is to stay with us and watch us closely making sure we are safe and not affected by the altitude.
The job of our porters is to carry all of our supplies including tents, bags, food, water, filled propane tanks for cooking, table and chairs for dining, etc. Not affected by the altitude, they move faster than us, even with all the weight they carry on their heads and backs. They have camp set up and prepared by the time we arrive.
We leave the park gate and follow a winding trail up a ridge through the rainforest, pole, pole, slowly we make our way up and down, up and down, thankfully mostly shaded from the beautiful forest trees. We hear the colobus monkeys, but do not see them.
After a few hours on the winding trail it starts to rain. We stop to put our gear on. This makes it harder, as it is now slippery and muddy. Six hours later we make it to our first camp Machame Camp (9,940 feet). Our porters have everything set up for us. They bring us warm water to wash up with and have snacks of popcorn and almonds, coffee and tea prepared for us. Baraca, our cook, makes a wonderful dinner consisting of cucumber soup, breadsticks, then fish and chips (french fries), vegetables and fresh fruit. All of this is prepared on a little propane stove.
The night has turned cool and by 8:15 p.m. we retreat to our tent, in hopes for a good night’s sleep.
Feb. 19—We hear the soft voice of our Porter Lucas outside our tent, “Good morning.” He brings us warm water to wash with and tells us breakfast will be ready soon. Porage, eggs,
sausage, toast and fresh fruit was served.
8:15 a.m. We leave the glades of the rainforest and continue on an ascending path crossing the little valley walking along a steep rocky ridge entering the moorland zone covered with heather, until the ridge ends. The route then turns west onto a gorge—and it starts to rain. The last three hours of our seven-hour day, it rained. Honest, Ian and Lucas watch us closely and thankfully no slips or falls on our slippery, wet climb.
We arrive to Shira Camp (12,630 feet) and go directly to our tent to clean up and put on our warm Under Armour clothing.
Joining our guides, it is time for lunch. The food is always amazing. Leak soup, fried chicken and a huge plate of rice, steamed vegetables, vegetable fritters and fruit. All of this made on a propane stove in a tiny section of the tent we share when eating. A tarp divides our dining area and the kitchen where all the porters gather while Baraca prepares our food.
Keeping fed and strong
Back to the tent to rest and journal. As we leave, we are told dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. What? We thought that huge meal was dinner. They watch us closely as to what and how much we eat, so we stay strong and healthy.
Rain falls hard as we are resting. In the distance I hear a beautiful voice singing a song that is very special to me. Tears well in my eyes. Ann and I just looked at each other. I softly call out to Honest in his nearby tent and ask him if he knows who was singing. He answers, “Yes, it was Lucas your waiter.”
As I listen, I know it is a sign my two main guides are with us—God and papa. I silently pray, giving thanks for our good health and safety thus far. I pray for my husband, family and friends back home that they too are all well and not filled with so much worry.
Before we go to the dining side of the tent, I walk to the side where the porters are gathered as dinner is being made. “Jambo guys!” I say, and the tent is immediately opened and I see huge smiles on all of them. I ask, “Who made me cry?” Those who understood English just looked at me puzzled. I told them that my tears were happy tears and the song was very meaningful to me that I heard being beautifully sung.
With a shy smile Lucas answered, “It was me.” I thanked him and then asked if he would sing it again so I could video tape. Being a very smart man, he answered, “Yes, after you reach the summit.” This would be motivation for me. For us—Ann and I!
A perfectly prepared meal again,
although the altitude has now caused me the loss of appetite and restless, sleepless nights. I graciously eat what I can and toss and turn all night long. Even with this, I still feel great. Ann also is doing great. At this point eating and sleeping fairly good at night, I feel blessed to have such a great friend and travel companion, never once complaining of the long hard days, weather changes or bathroom facilities. She just takes everything in stride. We giggle when we agree we will come home with abs of steel not from the climb alone but from laughing.
Each night as we are ready to retreat to our tent, we call over to the other side of the tents, “Guys, lala salama” (good night in Swahili.)
We receive a cheerful group response, “lala salama!”
Feb. 20—Honest needs to go back home to attend to other clients. He leaves us in the good hands of Ian and Lucas. We will see Honest after the climb. As we say our good-byes, Honest tells us that today will be an easier day to our next camp.
It is much cooler this morning as we depart from camp. Our path rises up gradually towards the Kibo Peak, as we continue our direction changes to the southeast much to my surprise to LaVa Tower—an area I remembered my papa and I passed through.
We stopped to rest and take our lunch break there. Daily, Cook Baraca packs us each a lunch box full of food—fruit, sandwich, hard boiled eggs, fried chicken and a juice box. We share our extra food with our guides.
Light rain again today as we continue on the rugged, slippery route to camp. Exhausted after a hard nine-hour day, we make it to our home for the night.
Barranco Camp (13,070 feet)—it is like a maze of rock and we need to get to our tent. Ann and I look at each other, smile and shake our heads, “ya, right,” and Honest said it would be an “easy day.” Ha! Although we know his words, we use them for motivation and positive thinking. I had also told Ann, concentrate on each day, the very step you are on, not the steps from the day before or those in the days to come. Stay focused on the moment.
Ann is feeling a slight headache and does not eat much at all at dinner. We both keep our camel packs filled with electrolytes next to us at night. I encourage her to keep drinking as much as she can and I pray she will feel better come morning.
Feb. 21—Today is the 10-year anniversary of my papa’s passing in Kili. As I lay in my sleeping bag, my emotions get the best of me and tears stream down my face. My tears are a mixture of course of truly missing my papa and yet tears of thankfulness to God, having been the chosen one to be with him when he passed away. Ann comforts me and is supportive.
Slowly, I crawl out of the tent. The crisp mountain air makes me shiver. I smile, taking note of the beauty of where I am and why I am here. Thank you Jesus for your power in every part of my life today, renewing me physically, mentally, and spiritually.
(Please read the continuation of this story
in next week’s, May 5 Tri-County News.)