Mt. Kilimanjaro; The Backstory

Part 2

No, the trip wasn’t fun. It wasn’t one of those sappy Lifetime Channel dramas about aIMG_0512 dad bonding with his two boys on an awesome adventure. It wasn’t a case where we yucked it up from morning to night and then cried around the campfire to stories of past mistakes and misunderstandings. It was more.

First of all, for a father to be blessed with a skill and a job that provides the resources to take his sons on a 10 day excursion to the other side of the world is incredibly awesome. But to put a challenge at the other end whereby each of us would have to dig daily into our bag of life experiences to pull out solutions and renewed sources of motivation – was quite another thing.

My own experience with climbing mountains was scant at best; a couple of 14,000 footers in California – Whitney and Shasta back when I was in my mid 40’s. Add a couple of weeklong camping trips in Maine’s Allagash wilderness and in their eyes I became the expert. I refrained from telling them I wasn’t the expert that was going to get them through this adventure. I would help, but really – they were on their own.

My two sons were brought up as suburban boys cum urban men where roughing it meant Holiday Inn and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Most of their equipment was borrowed, antiquated, or totally inadequate for what they were to encounter. They didn’t know it until they faced Kilimanjaro for the first time and took stock of its magnitude and the fact that turning back wasn’t an option. Who ever heard of freezing weather at the equator?

I think the first night was the toughest for one of my sons, realizing that he was so far out of his element and had not taken the challenge as seriously as he should. His story of success is probably the more compelling one as the other son seized each day with wild eyed excitement of experiencing something new. At the end of the day, both adapted completely. While trekking with a group that came outfitted out of the pages of Patagonia and North Face, my sons took on the harsh climate of Kilimanjaro in urban chic; they were the Goodwill Industries climbers. Our young Tanzanian porters saw a kinship and made them part of their family immediately.

Throughout the ascending trek all of us were overcome with the normal physical issues that accompany mountain climbing; sore joints, blisters, lack of sleep, decreasing appetite, altitude sickness of varying degrees from headache to nasty intestinal malaise. The silent, overriding presence however was the unanswerable question: How will I perform on summit day? We talked only once about the public failure of world-class athlete Martina Navratilova’s unsuccessful attempt and unceremonious rescue off the mountain.

There is a source of motivation that has guided me throughout my life whenever I found myself in a tough situation of my own making; fear of failure. I’m not sure where this came from however a psychiatrist would likely say I have deeper issues from my childhood. My recurring thought has always been – do my sons have the same predisposition of their own fear of failure? I think of this because, quite frankly I haven’t seen much evidence of a fear of anything within their generation at large.

They answered my question, in full. On summit day (actually beginning at 0100) they attacked the mountain. They met the driving snow, the heavy winds, the never ending switchbacks, and the cold temps in their refugee inspired climbing attire. They summited Stella Point and continued across the volcanoe’s rim to Uhuru Peak in the darkness and weather neither of them imagined. After all, every picture they had seen of Kilimanjaro’s Peak was of a beautiful sunrise on a crystal clear morning. There was none of that.

With our previously unanswered question now answered, we became the victors. My sons had proven themselves and I wanted them to celebrate that fact. How much prouder could a father be than to put a test before his sons that would take them completely away from their own life experience and comfort zone, challenge them to make it work, and then see them succeed on such a grand scale.

As our group paid respect to the incredible cadre of porters and guides in a traditional Kilimanjaro ceremony, we received in return a genuine confirmation of their acceptance. My youngest son offered simple words of thanks to a long list of specific porters by name. My oldest son, a linguist by nature had developed a native vocabulary of probably 50-60 characters whereby he gave his own flawless salutation in Swahili. Group hugs, singing, and dancing ensued as we bid our Tanzanian friends goodbye.

I consider myself incredibly lucky in that this was a life event whereby a father got an indication there was a degree of success as a parent – in spite of all those times when I thought I had failed. The exhilaration of ascending to the peak of the highest free-standing mountain in the world became secondary to seeing my own kids as adults successfully confronting difficult challenges.

Postscript

I took two things of ethereal importance to me to the summit; two pictures.

One was of my wife’s best friend from Georgetown University who recently passed away quite suddenly. Jan Quigley McGinn became a friend of mine as well. We shared fantastic conversations while espousing distinctly different political and social perspectives. She had depth, compassion, temperance, intellect, and a great sense of humor. I am a better person having known her.

The other picture was of my 8 year old friend, Daisy Merrick of Carpinteria, California. After following her short journey through life, Daisy passed away peacefully in her sleep last night (2/17/ 13) with her parents and brother present. She had finally lost her 3 year battle with cancer.

I was honored to have these two girls with me.

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87 Responses

  1. A former Coloradoan and dedicated peak bagger, myself, I understand the meaning of the words “summit” and “victory” when it comes to mountains. What I understand is that they are not mutually inclusive terms. Though I never met a mountain I haven’t summited, I learned that the real bulk of the value of the experience lay in the approach, literally and figuratively. The attitude I brought to the climb determined my level of joy at the top and the journey was the point. The mere accomplishment of standing at the highest point was peanuts compared to the accomplishments of seeing something new on side jaunts, meeting fellow climbers, sharing enchanted moments with wildlife, and attaining inner peace during sublime stretches of utter silence. Halfway through, the summit always feels like it is reduced to an afterthought on a truly epic climb.

    Wouldn’t it be fantastic if parents out there could see the value of their kid’s own personal approaches to their individual private mountains? If children knew that the bulk of their value lay in who they are, not in the tangible results of whether or not they summited their goals, what an amazing world this would be.

  2. Well done, all of you.

    Jim

  3. What a wonderful adventure and I can’t imagine how proud you must be of your boys. Congrats on being freshly pressed. Thanks for sharing Angelia @ http://dixielandcountry.com

  4. Great story, thank you.

  5. i stayed in moshi for three weeks volunteering, but didn’t brave kili. your experience sounds amazing!

  6. Well done! I can only dream of one of the 7summits!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story

  8. Very inspired to do Mt Kilimanjaro now!!!

  9. Interesting story about Mt. Kilimanjaro :)

  10. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  11. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  12. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  13. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  14. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  15. amazing. amazing story.

  16. Touching story. You discovered a common thing I think, that is, on summit day we all rally, big time! When I climbed the highest one in my life, in Nepal, I was sick as a dog the week before, but cajoled the guides to let me go anyway. I rallied on no sleep to summit. It’s the draw of the mountain I think that makes one find extra strength no matter how you’re feeling.

  17. I am sure Jan and Daisey enjoyed the climb as well.

  18. I summitted Kilimanjaro myself in 2006. At the time my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s and I was never able to tell him of my achievement or how thinking of him inspired me to reach the top. I left a photograph of him at the top, because in spirit he went all the way there with me. Well done amd I hope you have a long and happy life with your sons.

  19. Congratulations. It’s an incredible adventure!!

  20. Wonderful post! My father (70) and me (41) have been going on annual father daughter climbing/ hiking trips for the last ten years. I will never ever forget these memories. How wonderful you get to share this with your sons!

  21. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  22. What an amazing journey and I agree with Allthoughtswork that the point of any climb is in the journey rather than the destination. How inspiring to have reached the summit though. You have to be extremely proud of your sons for committing to the climb and not giving up despite the arduous conditions. I live on the Island of Hawai’i and we have Mauna Kea which is the tallest mountain in the world if measurement from the ocean bottom. But at the summit of just shy of 14,000 ft., the air is thin, the air is icy in the winter and I once had the opportunity to ski down the north face. Needless to say when I reached the 10,000 ft. level where the ground was almost visible through the snow, I had was so tired, I had no desire to try again. So, I packed up my gear and went to the beach!

  23. Congratulations on your many sucesses. Hope to read more of them after this!

  24. What a touching story. I can only imagine how it must have felt for you to stand on the summit, conquering your own fear of failure and sharing that moment with your sons. Beautifully written.

  25. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  26. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  27. Great story! I’m wanting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro within the next 12-months. What time of year did you go on the adventure?

  28. Wonderful story and that postscript – such a beautiful tribute…goosebumps :-)

  29. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  30. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  31. BAM, you nailed it Mike … Thanks for reading
    BasicMan, aka scott

  32. Russell, thanks for reading …. Your comment will be well received by my all readers … Pretty important stuff to keep close with you those who inspire …
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  33. Thanks for reading Teresa,
    Cheers, BasicMan, aka scott

  34. Thanks for reading T.E.M….. I hope, and probably know my boys thought it was a pretty big deal as well …
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  35. Thanks for reading, sorry but BasicMan’s (whatever your language may be) is a little rusty ….!?
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  36. Good story, thanks for reading …. I’m thinking the “climb” from the ocean floor up to sea level at Mauna Kea would be less painful on your quads than from sea level to the summit but infinitely tougher on one’s lungs ….
    BasicMan won’t be trying that gig!!!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  37. Thanks for reading, Mims!
    Two essays a month, just enough to sate my creative side and vent my spleen if needed!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  38. Jessica, thanks for reading and for your kind words … Pretty awesome experience! Here’s to never succumbing to that fear of failure!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  39. Thanks for reading. Climb began on January 26, the beginning of the good season for weather – regrettably, we were about a week early. Recommend the Shira route with The African Walking Company ….
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  40. Thanks for reading and for your kind words.
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  41. Thanks for reading and the kind words
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  42. Tony,
    The dream is where all the good stuff starts, my friend. Thanks for reading. My gut feeling is that you’ll be writing your own narrative of your experience on one of the 7 sometime in the future.
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  43. Hey Court, it’s time to return to Moshi and Arusha …. This time finish the job! You can so do it!!!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  44. Thanks Angela for reading, your kind words and frankly, informing me I had been “freshly pressed” …. I still haven’t any clue what that means but am getting the idea that it is a good thing based on WordPress’ and other readers’ responses!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  45. Shahnilpa, start packing, you can do it!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  46. Scott, sadly dream is where it will have to stay. I attempted Mt Rainier 4 times, and my body is done at 12500 feet. That’s why I’ve switched to biking. But that doesn’t stop me from living vicariously through you! Thanks for sharing!

  47. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  48. thanks

  49. Thanks for reading, Sara Mohamed … Come back and visit … 2 essays a month on American culture, business and politics —- enough to satisfy my creativity and vent my frustration!!!
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  50. As someone who lived in Colorado for many years, Pakistan for one and now lives near another mountain range in Southern California, (and enjoys hiking and sometimes climbing too),
    I appreciate your story a lot!

    Nothing like a family facing challenges together to bring out the qualities! I am glad you all made it!

    Sweeeeet!

  51. Thanks for reading and your kind words …. Best to you in all your adventures
    Cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  52. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  53. I came across this blog through “freshly pressed” and confess I was intrigued by the title “Basic Man”. More than pleasantly surprised. I am not athletically inclined beyond a high handicapped golf game or a pilates class but mindset and heart is everything in life which is what your story proves in spades…

  54. we enjoy…www.swaico.wordpress.com

  55. Olivia,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. I was an athlete back in the day but really, I am just a Basic Man …you hit the nail on the head when you wrote it is mindset and heart – and everytime we see it or read about it, it inspires
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  56. thanks for reading
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  57. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  58. Amazing story on many levels. Thank you for taking the time to share and include the post script. ~Ann

  59. What a wonderful story. I especially love that you were able to share this with your sons. They will never ever forget these memories and the challenges that made them “better” people for the future. What a great dad you are. Thanks for sharing.

  60. thanks for reading and for your kind words, Mz Zoomer …. great dad? nah pretty average …. just a basicman!
    cheers, scott

  61. Ann, thanks for reading and for your kind words …
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  62. I was excited to have stumbled upon this post about scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then I realized that this was “Part 2.” I found “Part 1” and read it without taking a breath. “Part 2” was also read without any conscious attempt to breath. The adventure and challenge of climbing the mountain captured my full attention. I feel privileged to have shared a father’s love and respect for his sons and family members during a time of incredible trial and courage. It seems like everyone overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to reach the tap. This was a great post about the human spirit, love and respect.

  63. Paul, you humble me. Thank you for reading and for your kind words. Nature, (dare I say God’s creation!) provided a magnificent and formidable challenge for all three of us and, as I hope I relayed in my post, I considered myself privileged to tackle and share with my boys.
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  64. Beautifully written. What an inspiring journey!

  65. Thanks Nico …

  66. Enlightening. I’ve considered summiting Mt. Kili. I met a friend while on a mountain gorilla trek in Rwanda who had summited Kili the week before we met. Her description didn’t include the less than desirable details in your post. Not sure about it now… Man, what an incredible life experience you shared with your sons. Love it!

  67. let me know what your concerns are … maybe I can put them to rest and nudge you to your next adventure
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  68. Just how physically taxing this is on your body. I’m in my mid ’50s in decent – not great shape. I do have bad knees, so the descent w/a 25 lb pack on my back would be ultra painful, I imagine. Not able to run any longer, so I bike and do yoga several days a week. I know you’re thinking yoga, that’s just stretching & relaxing, right? Not so…it’s probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Would love to give summiting a whirl.

  69. Reblogged this on The Recovery Blog and commented:
    A brilliant piece on why there’s so much more to climbing, then well, climbing.

  70. Thanks Dr. D for reading, reblogging and your kind words.
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  71. Living6,
    bad knees may be a problem on the descent. I am 57 and my knees are actually pretty sound however the descent caused some problems for them. If I did it again I would absolutely use walking poles as they take so much stress off the tendon, ligament, strap, whatever that goes over the top of the knee cap. The poles are pain in the neck on the ascent in my view but would have paid big dividends on the way down … also I would be wearing knee braces of some kind for the descent, just for added support ….. remembering that the descent isn’t just from he summitt to the base camp but the remaining 16,000′ as well over the next 36 hours. With all that said, you can do it if you take measures to mitigate the pain that you know you’re going to have to deal with .. oh and did I mention copious quantities of ibuprofen and muscle balm?
    cheers, BasicMan

  72. You are welcome and I say…to modest. Take care

  73. I love climbing mountain too. It offers an ultimate challenge of strength. It can be fatal and highly dangerous but It’s really rewarding and exciting experience. I enjoyed your post a lot. You have such an amazing journey together with your sons. Great Post and well deserved in FP!

  74. Thanks Jim,
    cheers BasicMan aka scott

  75. You are welcome. Good luck for another challenging climbing journey!

  76. Wonder is a great gift
    Loved the story
    My friends Anne and Mark just climbed Kilimanjaro
    The pics and the stories are wonderful
    I am so sorry to hear of your losses
    They both sounded exceptional

  77. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  78. Dr. Lynn,
    Thanks for reading and for your kind words. Yes, ‘wonder’ is a gift and it never gets old.
    cheers, BasicMan aka scott

  79. Wonderful story Scott and thank you so much for sharing. My daughter-in-laws family is from the Kilimanjaro area and we hope to make the trip there some day. However, it’s the sunny pictures, warm weather, and viewing that majestic mountain from a distance that I look forward to. :-)

    Seriously though – what an amazing opportunity to bond with your sons and I loved the insights you shared!

  80. Thanks Carly.
    BasicMan (Scott)

  81. A truly inspiring and touching story! You are so fortunate to have these people in your lives and to have shared such an unforgettable experience and an amazing journey with your father and brother! Loved this post!

  82. thanks for reading as well as for your kind words

  83. [...] Perspective‘s reflective post on summitting Mount Kilimanjaro with his two sons whisked us away from our urban reality to Tanzania. Before the summit attempt, [...]

  84. Hey there,
    I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get
    a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as you and I am just having trouble locating one? Thanks a lot!

  85. honestly Hollis … I haven’t the faintest idea what you are asking .. would help if I could ….. I simply write and post

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