Summiting Kilimanjaro

Very early in the morning (around midnight), we begin our push to the summit. This is the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. The wind and cold at this elevation and time of day can be extreme. We ascend in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short, breaks. Near Stella Point (18,900 ft), you  will be rewarded with the most magnificent sunrise you are ever likely to see coming over Mawenzi Peak.

Ultimate Kilimanjaro – Machame Route

This is a challenging post to write, but it is the post that needs to be written now – how we summited Mount Kilimanjaro on April 7th and 8th.

We trained very hard for this climb and our training never let us down. We were able to trek for days up the Machame Route, considered a high difficulty route, especially in the rainy season.

Because of the roundabout nature of the route, we saw the summit almost every day, although for days the summit seemed elusive and distant. How we were going to summit such a massive peak remained a mystery.

Our route up the mountain recorded by my InReach tool and translated to Google Earth
The summit in the distance

We worked our way up through the camps, dealing daily with less oxygen, to the point where it was a major struggle to put your socks on in the morning. Scurrying up a short incline would leave you breathless and all our Canadian and Tanzanian guides had to warn us not to rush – ever.

Our approach to the summit involved a 5-hour climb to Karanga Camp (elevation 13,106 ft). We realized that we would never sleep at this camp. We ate a great lunch (the food was always great!) and then rested for the afternoon. At 6:30 PM we all gathered for dinner and were organized into three summiting groups, each led by a Canadian and Tanzanian guide. I was part of the first (slowest) group and we were instructed to be ready to summit by 11:00 PM that night.

Karanga Camp

At the appointed time, we gathered up in a straight line in complete darkness, illuminated only by our headlamps.

We were in utter darkness, totally dependant on our guides, heading now to a summit that was invisible. Soon, the weather turned vicious. The group was buffeted by very strong ice cold winds that cut through all of our clothing layers. We hid behind rocky outcrops to get respite from the wind and to layer up. Eventually, I was wearing everything I had with me – two tightly woven merino wool layers, a hard rain shell, my down-filled Kilimanjaro puffy and another hard shell.

This bizarre combination seemed to do the trick, allowing me to move without being cut in two by the winds.

We climbed very slowly through the night, sometimes with our guides who encouraged us to dance and sing to keep warm, sometimes on our own. The night went on forever. Far below, we could see the second group coming up the trail by their bobbing string of lights.

At some point, probably around 7:00 AM, we found ourselves on a broad, steep slope. We were scattered all over the mountain with no real sense of where we were heading.

dawn on the mountainside

This is when high altitude really began to kick in. Nothing can prepare you for this. It is very easy to get disorientated above 18,000 ft and as a group, even with the encouragement of our Tanzanian guides, we really didn’t know what we were doing.

We decided as a group to continue up the mountain face, even though it was impossible to see the summit! We were reaching for the crater rim – Stella Point (elevation 18,884 feet). The summit was really a long ridge and I really didn’t know we were at the summit until I stumbled up to it.

The crest of the summit – Stella Point

We had probably been climbing for around 11 hours at this point and our little group was totally exhausted. We could have continued to move on the Uhuru Peak, but almost all of our group was wiped by the night climb and only three of 30 climbers made it to the next peak on the volcano rim.

This was an incredible feat. As I wrote about the Barranco Wall, it takes a few days to realize what an achievement this is. It is starting to sink in at this point, especially the incredible will power it took to make that night climb.

We did really well – 28 climbers summited at Stella Point. The general overall success rate is around 65%, so we did much better than the average. I think our success has a great deal to do with the incredible training and leadership of our Canadian guide team – Shawn Dawson, Kristi Johnston and Jason Colley and the amazing support of our families and friends back home.

The climb is over, we are safely home, we have achieved something special.

 

Team Meeting before Kilimanjaro

In the morning you can see Kilimanjaro from our hotel. It is a stunning sight and hard to realize that we will be at the summit in 5 days.

Now we are in our first team meeting and Shawn Dawson is going through what we need to know before we set out.

First – control your stress, we are all trained, but we are coping with extreme heat already and altitude will affect us soon. The most important thing is to relax and don’t let your mind defeat you. We can do this, we just can’t defeat ourselves.

Go slow. This is not a race. We take this one step at a time, keep to your own pace and keep to what you know about yourself.

Water – drink all the time, at least 5-6 litres a day. Today, even before we head to the mountain, Shawn has told us to drink at least 3 litres of water today.

Rely on your tent mate – this person is your partner, they can also let you know if things aren’t going well. Share with your partner at all times.

Sleep – try to sleep. There’s lots of time to sleep, it is sometimes hard to sleep on the mountain. Just do your best.

Eating – sometimes people have difficulty eating. You can lose your appetite. It is important to eat and we will have great food. It is important keep your strength.

Living, our chief guide and Shawn talking to the group.

The routine – we get up at 6:30 every day.  Before that – keep quiet, people need their sleep, respect that with you are in a very large group. You leave your tent, the backpacks and duffels come with you. By the time we finish breakfast, the porters are already gone – all 93 porters.

Pacing will be important. On summit night, climbers will be going out at different times depending on the pace climbers have established over the past few days. The goal is to get everyone there at the same time. One point, on summit night if you can’t carry your bag, you stop at Stella Point.

Car – means get out of the way. Porters are coming up and down the mountain all the time. Our job is to get out of the way – and stay on the high side. This is how we have trained since September – now this becomes really important.

group members getting the details

Today we also have to weigh our packs. The main duffel has to be no more than 15 Kg. Our personal pack can be no more than 7 Kg. If we go beyond that, extra weight will be taken out before we are allowed to climb.

Today, I will be packing and repacking to get everything just right.

 

 

First stage on the way to Kilimanjaro

We are in Amsterdam! The first stage on our way to Kilimanjaro.

For the first time, our group is all together – 29 people collected in the waiting lounge waiting for the eight-hour flight that will bring us to Kilimanjaro.  Everyone is tired after the first flight, but excited to be one step closer to our objective.

It is great to meet people who we have only seen on the group website!  These are our climbing partners and the people we will all depend on for the next seven days.

We should all be exhausted – its 3:30 AM Ottawa time, but we are about to start something very special.

Also, the coffee in Holland is really good.

Next stop – Moshi and Kilimanjaro!

Many hands on the way to Kilimanjaro

Tomorrow we leave for Kilimanjaro. There are 30 climbers in the group and up to 70 others who will be guiding us up the mountain starting on Sunday.

Start at the Machame Gate (1,490 m/4,890 ft) where the group will register and begin climbing to Machame Camp (2,980 m/9,780 ft). Hiking time: 7 hours Distance: About 18 km Rainforest Zone

As I climb up Kilimanjaro, I will be thinking of the team we have all left behind, all those who raised money for us, supported us, cheered us on and said ‘yes’ to the entire experience.

In particular, I will be thinking and giving thanks to my wonderful wife, Heather. Without her love and support this venture would never have happened. Apart from running a really successful fundraiser, she has been with me every step of the way, right from the moment we decided that to do this properly, I had to retire at Christmas so I could focus on training for the climb. She has been my wonderful emotional support every day since this venture started. Retirement was a really good idea!

I will be thinking of my family and all the work and support they have given me throughout the fall and winter, right up to today when my son Liam spent an hour working with me to set up the right ESRI Story Maps to allow for live tracking during our climb.

Liam’s new map that will show Tweets from the mountain along with waypoints recorded by my InReach GPS. Liam’s map is best found at this link: http://arcg.is/2oaUoYc

Then there are so many people who have sent notes of encouragement and who have helped sustain an incredible fundraising campaign that is almost at $10,000 at this point – twice the amount I was expecting to make. What an incredible community of support.

The best thing I can do now is climb well. For Heather, my family and all of you who have helped so much. I am humbled and blessed to have such a beautiful community of support.

Dream Mountains gets ready for Mt. Kilimanjaro

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We leave for Mt. Kilimanjaro in 31 days.

This has been a very intense experience on many levels.  First, the physical training has been incredible.  Stair climbing, now as many as 4200 stairs over a two-hour period has been gruelling.

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Every second week we do a trek on the Wolf Trail – a good 2-hour hike up one of the ridges in the Gatineau near Ottawa.  Each of these treks is an opportunity to try out new equipment, new food types and most importantly, a chance to get to know the people you will be climbing with and depending on during the climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro – 5,888 metres (19,318 ft).

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Physical training aside, the next great challenge is raising money for the group we have been assigned to support throughout this entire journey.

For me, this is what makes the Dream Mountains experience unique.  It’s not about you and your own bucket list.  It’s more about the fundraising each of the group members is doing for a great collection of local and national charities.

Our current fundraising totals
Our current fundraising totals

I don’t think I would be doing this if it weren’t for the community connection that has been created between ourselves and the groups we are working to support.  What really would be the point?

For me, another important part of the preparation has been my attempts to explore various communication tools that will allow people to follow the climb while we are in Africa.  I have taken my inspiration for this part of the planning from Elia Saikaly who is a master at telling adventure stories using social media. There is no way I can do what he does during one of his expeditions, but I am doing what I can.

My main tool is one that Elia has used – the ESRI Story Map, a wonderful media tool that has allowed me to tell our story from our early training climbs right up to treks along Wolf Trail.  With incredible help from the ESRI team, I have been able to improve my story map and have learned how to add waypoints from my tracking tools – InReach and Suunto to the Wolf Trail base map.  I am really hoping that I will be able to add points during our climb to a 3D map of Kilimanjaro I have added to the story map.

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The money I am raising is going to Rec Link a group here in Ottawa that is doing so much to help the families and children I used to work with while I was principal at St. Anthony School.

 

our-canadian-kilimanjaro-journey-clipular It is such a privilege to be able to give back to a group that has done so my for our kids and I have the coordinator of Dream Mountains Shawn Dawson to thanks for this. Shawn is a truly selfless individual who has an incredible commitment to give back to the community while supporting over 20 novice climbers in our long journey to Kilimanjaro.  It is such a joy to work with someone who is so positive and supportive and is willing to give so much of himself for others – a very rare commodity in my experience.

Finally, none of this would be possible without the great group of family and friends who have supported my fundraising efforts. It has been truly humbling that so many people would donate so much to help me reach my funding goal.  At this point, I have raised more than $8000.00 for Rec Link and have received wonderful support from my wife and family – without them, this would never have happened.

 

I hope people follow us up the mountain.  I hope the technology works.  I hope we have all trained hard enough.  Whatever happens, this already has been a truly unique and wonderful experience and I am happy to part of this great group.

You don’t climb without support Blog Post # 9

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As I get ready for our big fundraiser for the Sens Foundation next week and look beyond this to the Kilimanjaro climb, I decided to write those who are supporting this great effort.  To date, we have raised $4385.00 and over 70 people have signed up already for next week’s event.  Here is my note to them.
Hello everyone
You are receiving this e-mail either because you have donated to my Dream Mountains charity – the Sens Foundation or because I just want to keep you informed on our progress as we get ready for the Kilimanjaro climb at the end of March.
First, to all those who have contributed, I want to thank you so much for your support.  We now have raised $4385.00 and have sold 75  tickets for next week’s fundraiser/retirement party.
You can still get tickets by going to our ‘donate now’ page.  Everyone who donates $25.00 gets a ticket and a tax receipt from Canada Helps.  Here is the link
There is still time to donate, even if you can’t make it to the gala, we are aiming at reaching $6000.00 for Rec LINK (through the SENs Foundation) before the end of next week.
I have also been working hard on a few sites that I hope will help tell the story of the climb.
First, there is my blog that I am using more as a journal on preparations for Kilimanjaro.  It has a new look and a new title to better reflect the current purpose for the blog.
I also have two story maps, both have their strengths, and I am using both as a way to tell our story as it unfolds.  Both get updated weekly and they act as a running record of the Dream Mountain experience.
The first is Our Canadian Kilimanjaro Journey – a story map from ESRI
The new one is from Sutori, a great new tool.  This one is simply called Our Kilimanjaro Journey
This one includes an on-line forum so students (and adults!) can ask questions about the trip, training or anything else that people may be interested in.  This is very new to me, I hope this is one way to engage students.
I also have a site called Kuula where I will be putting photos from my 360 Theta camera. There is not much there now, but I will add more photos, especially as we climb Kilimanjaro. You can find this site here.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me.  I hope to see lots of you next week at our fundraiser – January 27th at Fatboys in the Market.
Paul

Switching over – Climbing Kilimanjaro Blog Post # 6

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I find that my priorities are beginning to shift.

While I will still continue to include lots of education posts in my 31 days of blogging, more and more of my mental and emotional energy is going into the immense physical challenge of getting ready to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with Dream Mountains.

I took this challenge on as a way of starting retirement and I guess as a way to rewire (or reprogram) myself after 31 years of working in the education world.

What is important to me is that in doing this climb, I have pledged to raise $6000.00 for the Senators Foundation – a charity that does lots of important work in and around our school community for our families.  I wouldn’t be doing this if this was a bucket list thing, I’m not interested in projects that don’t tie into my former school community.

I was fortunate to meet up with Shawn Dawson who leads the Dream Mountains Foundation.  Shawn is a very accomplished climber who is giving back to his community every year by recruiting and training 20 non-climbers to take on the challenge of a lifetime.

In the years Shawn has run these trips he has raised close to $1,000,000 – in fact, we will break this barrier very soon as we raise money for our different charities.

dream-mountains-clipular-1 The training for this experience is brutal – probably some of the most challenging training I have ever done. It comprises walking up more and more flights of stairs in a 31-storey building.

Our ultimate goal is to do 10 stories in 10 minutes per set.  Right now, I am at 8 stories completed in under 13 minutes each.

I have a way to go.

We change things up by hiking an 8.5 km trail  that quickly ascends 310 m.  This past weekend, we did this ascent in 55 minutes – a good pace!

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The group at the top of trail – great group to hike with

These hikes serve many important purposes – the main objective is to get to know your fellow climbers – these are the people who you will depend on during the climb and it is important to know who has your back on an arduous climb. The climb also gives you the opportunity to try out your equipment – a constant experiment and most importantly at this point, it gives you a chance to test your fitness level.

For me, I realize I have work to do, but that’s OK – this is January 16, and we don’t leave until the end of March.  There is something wonderful in focusing on your physical fitness – it is so rare in this society that we have the opportunity to do this. After 31 years of working as an educator it is a very welcome change!

I am loving every minute of this experience – the training, the hikes, the constant learning and the team building.  There is lots more to write about – especially how I hope to share this experience in real time as much as possible, but that is for a future post.  Lots of time now to write.

Today, recover and get ready for another assault of the stairs.

 

Time to Go to Work! Blog Post # 3

Every Sunday, I try to read Brain Pickings. I used to read this to find something I could add to my staff blog. That is over now, but I still need to write and share. This quote from Marcus Aurelius seemed to be a great way to start as we all head back to some form of work.

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At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

Marcus Aurelius – as read in Brain Pickings

Now is my time to redefine what it means to work.  This is my first day without a formal ‘job’ in over 31 years.  How I will define work will have to change.

There is plenty of ideas to fill the gap – no problem.

First, I pledged to do 31 posts in 31 days.  This was to be the first real posting day, but I snuck in a few earlier.  There is also the great challenge put out by AJ Juliani to blog for 30 days. Signed up for that too #30daysblogging.

That could be enough work to get me started, but I have also taken on a different challenge.  I will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with a great group of adventurers at the end of March.  I am doing this because I need to break out and take on a physical challenge.  The climb also allows me to raise money for the Ottawa Senators Foundation – a group that does amazing work for our kids here in Ottawa.

my logo for the climb
my logo for the climb

No pressure, but if you want to donate to my charity (goal $6000.00) you can give on-line here.

This is my main work for the next three months.

I will also work on learning and reflecting on what I have experienced as an educator over the past 31 years.  The more distance I get from my conventional job the easier – I think – it will be for me to reflect, learn and of course write.  This blog will actually help me to focus my learning.  There are so many directions I can go in now that I am finally freed from my daily work obligations.  This blog may help me to focus on a few learning goals that I can move through over the next few months.

For today, an eight-kilometre hike in -30 C conditions.  A good start, I think for the first new day of learning.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Post # 1

As my first of 31 posts in 31 days, it makes sense to start with future plans.  This blog is names ‘Teach Talk’ and this has been my main vehicle to write about education issues and projects.  This really is no different, the trip to Kilimanjaro will raise money for kids in our school neighbourhood, helping them to get involved in recreation programming in their neighbourhood.  I also plan to use different forms of communication technology to reach back into the classrooms that I can link to.

So, here is #1 – the beginning of the next adventure.

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Hello Everyone!!

In 95 days, I will be setting out on a brand new adventure.  I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with a wonderful group of Adventurers led by Shawn Dawson.

I am writing this post for a  variety of reasons.  Some of you have already donated on my fundraising page – thanks so much!  I am already at 48% of my goal of $5000.00.  All this money will go to the Sens Foundation and then directly to Rec Link – a wonderful organization that supports kids and families in the Dalhousie, Ottawa Center West neighbourhoods.  I want to thank all of you for helping me get half way there!

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For you and all future supporters, I created this email group so I can let you know how the climb goes.  I have invested in all sorts of communication technology that I will use to connect to students in schools.  My main platform to tell our story is produced by ESRI and you can access it here.  This is a work in progress and I want to publically thank ESRI for all the wonderful support they have given me.

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Finally, I am looking for your support.  You can join us for our January 27th (Friday) Gala Fundraiser Retirement Party (see above).  Tickets are $25.00 and if you register on-line, we will get tickets to you and you will get a tax receipt!

This promises to be a wonderful night with live music and a great silent auction.

Many of you have supported me on past projects like the Aviva Community Foundation – you are a great, dynamic group that in the past has allowed me to raise $140,000.00 for St. Anthony School.  Now, I would love you to join me on this great adventure and contribute to a really important organization.

Thanks so much for reading this and for your support!!

 

Paul