Charleston South Carolina
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Mount Kilamanjaro Adventure

AUGUST 9, 2003 - Climbing Mount Kilamanjaro

pix 2We started our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro on August 2, 2003 at 5,900 ft and had been on the trail for 4 days gradually ascending to 12,7500 ft. Although tiring from 6-8 hour hikes, it had been fun.  There were twelve of us from all over the USA and we bonded from the start.  We joked, laughed, grunted, and sweated together.  At meal time we took turns assisting each other with the soup and porridge and pumping, filtering and sterilizing water.   A few of the twelve hikers had some degree of altitude sickness ranging from headaches, nausea, sleepiness, lassitude, and sleeplessness after being awakened by a pounding heart.  So far, I had not had mountain sickness.

Most of us begin to huff and puff going from 12,750 ft to a 15,000 ft.  Our guides continually tell us to go "pole pole" which means slowly slowly in Swahili.  We rest often, lean on the hiking poles and stop to take in the views which at times are spectacular.  At other times they are downright scarry.  More than once I looked over my shoulder to see where we had been and looked up, and ahead, to see where we had to go, and would silently ask myself, "What in the hell are you doing here"?

Our interest in East Africa was long standing.  Martha, my wife, and two children, Martha S. (Mottie) and Carl had been to Nigeria in the late 70's on a medical mission trip and had yearned to return to Africa, particularly to East Africa and see the wild life.  While on vacation at Bat Cave, N. C. in August of 2001, I read in the Sunday Asheville, N. C. Newspaper, a story of 4 men who had been to Tanzania, climbed Kilimanjaro and continued on a wildlife Safari at the Serengeti National Park.  Dr. Karl Bitter, a fellow Urologist, was one of the four.  I was enthralled by his story and gave him a call to hear the rest of the story and get the name of the Safari Company.  I called Thomson Safaris of Boston and started the planning.

We made reservations for August of 2002.  I started the training which included riding my bicycle 10-15 miles at a good clip.  I had some neck pain which I had never had and at first thought it may be arthritis from holding my chin up to see where I was going.   I consulted Dr. Keith Lackey, my internist and he thought I needed a stress test.  We did one and proceeded to Echocardiogram because of some minor changes on the Thalium stress test.  The Echo  was negative and Dr. W. B. Ellison, my cardiologist, said to keep on training. 

I twisted my knee one day and knew I had torn a cartilage.  The  knee kept creaking and hurting.  On November 4, 2001, I had arthroscopy and the torn cartilage was repaired.  This slowed me down for a month or so and as I began to get back into shape, I noted the neck pain again.  After consulting with my son, F. Carl Derrick, III, and my cardiologist Dr W. B. Ellison. We all agreed I needed a heart cath. This was done in early March of 2002 and much to my surprise, there were 4 partially blocked arteries:  a posterior descending one about 90% and the others about 70%.  After talking with Dr. David Peterseim, the cardiac surgeon, I decided to have the quadruple bypass.  On March 14, 2002, I had the surgery at Roper Hospital.  The first few days of recovery were tough, but slowly I began walking and went home in 5 days.  After 6 weeks of recovery at home I started rehab at Roper Cardiac Rehab Unit.  At first I was running in 1st gear but slowly got into 2nd gear.  It took about 4 months to get into high gear and somewhere about 6 months I felt I was back into overdrive.    

Along the way, I called Thomson Safaris and told them to postpone my reservation until 2003.

I went on the internet to find anything I could on training for mountain climbing and particularly high altitude training.  The first thing I learned was that the Olympic training area is near Flagstaf, Arizona at about 10-11,000 feet.  In almost every article I read, the idea of training at high altitude came through.  More information came from the armed forces  and the space program where the astronauts  and pilots train in hypobaric (low oxygen) chambers to acclimate to high altitudes.  None of these were available to the public.  Duke University has a hypobaric chamber which is used for research.  I spoke with their physician in charge and his suggestion was that I use Diamox on the climb and that should protect me.  I found a hypobaric tent which several athletes in America are using including Lance Armstrong.  Next I found a unit in Australia which was portable and could be used in the home.  It was called the Intermittent Hypoxic Training machine.  It was just being introduced into America and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Through several emails, and phone calls, I negotiated a lease of the machine for one month and it was shipped to me from Australia.   I used the machine for one month and delivered it to Hilton Head, South Carolina to be used in a Peak Training Facility.  In my opinion, the hypoxic training was a large factor in my being able to climb Kilimanjaro and not get high altitude sickness. 

August 4, 2003:  We hiked about 7 hours and lunched at 15,000 ft. We then descended to Baranco Camp at 12,750 ft.  We stayed here for 2 nights to acclimate.  

Over the next three days we went to Lava Tower (15,000 ft.), Arrow Glacier (16,100 ft.) and Crater Camp (18,750 ft.).  These were tough hiking days over rocks, some ice, and always uphill. However, with our great guides encouraging us to go "polepole" we all made it.  I think we all knew that if we had reached Crater Camp that we could make it up to the top.  

August 9. 2003:  We were awakened at 6:00 am and got out of our tents for breakfast at 6:30 am.  With the temperature at 10°F, and a 30-40 mph wind,  we were all cold, but after coffee, tea, and hot porridge we were ready to climb the final 600 ft to the summit of Uhuru peak at 19,340 ft.  All of us made it and I must tell you it was an exhilarating experience.  Jonas, our chief guide, led us up the trail.  We went very slowly, taking about 1 1/2 hours to get to the actual peak.  When we all reached the top, the group allowed me to lead up the the tippy tippy top. Something to be said for age.  We took pictures and did a lot of "Hi 5's" and started down.                              

pix 1Some of the younger trekkers went down the lava gravel and sand as though they were skiing.  I had to take it slow and easy, digging in my heels and pushing until I had a foot-hold.  I did this to keep from falling.  After just a short time, my knees and thighs began to complain.  After 3 hours of this I was lame.  We had lunch and started down again, by this time we were out of the lava gravel and the trail was firm.  Still, my knees and quads were sore.  We stumbled into camp just before night-fall, having descended to 11,000 feet from 19,340 in about 6 hours.  The next morning, we were all rested and ready for the next 5,000 ft descent.  We went through the rain forest again...and the muck and mud....We were again hot and it was "open the shirt time".  After being the first up to the peak, I was the last to enter the trail head.  My knees were sore, my quads were sore, but my spirit was very high.  Jonas, David and one of the young porters in training to be a guide, stayed with me all the way down.  In the deepest mud, I followed Jonas' tracks.  They really helped me, knowing I was struggling.  

pix 3As we rounded the last curve, I could hear the rest of the group talking.  I began to get excited,  not so much for finishing the trek, but to see Martha.  I knew she would be there....and as the group came into view, I spotted the blond hair.  A wonderful sight.  When we got closer she came running and at the last moment I threw down my hiking poles so I could give her a big hug.  We had a marvelous reunion. Thanks to the others we have a great picture of that hug.

After getting diplomas for climbing the mountain (I was # 118 for 2003), we were taken to The Impala Hotel for a much needed shower.  We were able to do our laundry as well.  We had a wonderful graduation banquet at the hotel that evening.  After a good nights sleep we were off the the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti to view the animals in their natural habitat.

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Mount Kilimanjaro Climb