Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the tallest mountain in Africa at a skyscraping 19,341 feet above sea level.
Scaling it takes grit, determination and training.
North Branch residents Earl Hall, 56, and his grandson Dane, 16, had all three of those avenues covered when they traveled to Africa Dec. 20 with Earl’s wife Carol.
The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Hall’s daughter, Liza, who works for Barefoot Power, a company that provides solar lamps to disadvantaged people in Rwanda, but climbing the continent’s highest mountain was an opportunity too great to pass up, so Earl and Dane started training for the hike about six months before leaving for Tanzania.
The Halls had seen an IMAX film about Kilimanjaro, and decided ascending the mountain was a feat within Earl and Dane’s ability.
The training begins
In order to ensure they would be able to complete the non-technical climb—special climbing equipment and ropes were not required—Earl and Dane had to be diligent about getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise.
Earl focused on running more often, and Dane trained at Xplode Sports Training in North Branch with trainer Britt Baumann.
“I did weighted squats, running and I went on the treadmill wearing a 50-pound vest with it set on incline for about a half an hour (at a time),” Dane said when recalling some of his training.
In August, Earl and Dane traveled to Crested Butte, Colo., to do some high-altitude hiking in preparation for the trip.
Ascending the mountain
When the family landed in Tanzania, they had three leisure days before Earl and Dane began their trek.
While Earl and Dane were trudging up the mountain, Carol and Liza vacationed on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania.
Starting out, Dane said temperatures in the jungle were in the mid-70s.
He and his grandfather went up the mountain with other English-speaking climbers.
All the climbers had signed up for the trek through a company called Peak Planet.
Dane said in addition to climbers like he and his grandfather, there were four guides employed by Peak Planet helping them, and 35 porters—other employees of the climbing company who carried tents and food.
As the group made its way up the mountain, the going got slower and tougher.
“You can’t climb and talk,” Earl said. “You have to stop for a couple minutes before you get enough oxygen to speak.”
He noted the guides made the group “climb high and sleep low,” meaning they’d climb to a certain altitude each day, and then trek down a ways and make camp at a slightly lower altitude so their bodies would get used to altitude.
Climbing too fast could lead to sickness, and in some extreme cases, death.
Inclement weather was also a factor in slowing the pace of the climb.
“There were some long days, and the rain didn’t help,” Earl said. “Our clothes were just soaked. You were either wet from rain or wet from sweat.”
But the climbers braved the elements and reached the summit after about five and a half days of hiking.
The summit was much colder than the jungle floor, with the temperature hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
With a laugh, Earl described the feeling of reaching the summit as “relief.”
Relaxation before heading home
It took a total of seven days to ascend and descend the mountain.
When Dane and Earl made it back to the jungle floor, they were ready for an easy few days of sightseeing and relaxation before heading home.
The family visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, took a tour of a crater inhabited by monkeys, elephants, flamingos and lions and visited the Serengeti where they saw the start of the wildebeest migration.
Earl said he doesn’t plan to climb more mountains near the height of Kilimanjaro.
Dane, however, might have caught the climbing bug.
“I might,” he said when mulling over the possibility of future high-altitude climbs.