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Greg Bergner, Tanzania

Singing Our Way Up Kilimanjaro 

We all made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro (19,340ft) after a climb in the dark beginning at 1 AM. Kambona, our Wildland guide, estimated that we would be stronger than other groups, and said we could start an hour after the usual time (midnight), and still we would be one of the first three groups to the summit. We thought he had overestimated our ability, because when we awakened, we could see the lights of other groups, like a giant centipede going up the mountain as far as we could see. But, Kambona was right, we passed each of the other groups, and by sunrise we were the first to summit! The climb had been rather arduous (4,500 feet in the dark). We watched Mercury and the spectacular night sky fade as a bright crimson sunrise began.

Our group of seven friends from Tahoe had come to celebrate Paul Rork's 60th birthday (my medical partner of over 25 years). We rested and recovered from jet lag while waiting for our lost luggage to catch up by going on safari in nearby Arusha National Park. Now we were ready to start the six day climb of Kilimanjaro on the Machame Route. We passed various climatic zones, each with interesting flora, and some fauna. First was the beautiful rain forest, then the Moorland with it's giant heather, and then the Giant Lobelia and Senecia, and then up to the artic desert. We started at around 5,000 feet, then went up to 10,000. Next we went to 15,000 ft and back to rest at 12,000 and finally camped at 15,000 ft the night before the summit attempt. Kambona is one of the best guids on the mountain and made sure we were well acclimatized to the elevation.

By 10,000 ft we were mostly above the clouds, but at times, in the clouds. When the clouds were in close, it was cold, but otherwise it was pleasant, except cold at night. When we were packing for the trip, a friend offered me his expedition weight down coat which is unbelievable. That coat was the source of constant envy on the part of all of the other climbers once they saw it. They were all fighting over who would get if I were, perhaps, to fall off the mountain!

On the summit, we shared a bottle of Sparkling Cider which I had brought from the States, to celebrate the occasion of this trek and Paul's birthday. Chris Strohm and I then climbed down into the crater (everyone else went back down to the base camp) for a very special look at the melting glaciers, the ash pit, the fumeroles, and just stark beauty. What a wonderful world it is! We were quite short of breath on top and at 18,000 feet in the caldera, but Chris and I were so excited and happy, that after the ash pit and the climb back up to the rim, we ran all the way down the scree to the base camp (4,000ft), and we made it in less than 1 hour! We were quite proud of ourselves, as it took the others over two hours to descend.

The next day, we hiked down to an exit gate, and back to our hotel. We went shopping for souvenirs the following day and then flew home.

The Machame route was perfect for us, giving us great scenery, and time to enjoy the unique flora. Kambona was exceptionally skilled and great company (he visited us in Tahoe on his annual trip to the States). He had assembled a great team of assistant guides and porters singing as we hiked, and just having fun. One of our guides, Godfrey, is the Choir director in his church (over 100 members), and so was a great addition, teaching us Maasai songs and words, in addition to telling us stories, and educating us on the flora, geology, and the fauna. Rachael set this trip up for us, and did a great job....I recommend her highly!

Once down from the mountain the porters and guides had a Maasai birthday celebration for Paul which included singing, and presentation of a ceremonial club given to elders. It was very special, and memorable. It couldn't have been better.

We are now all safely back, and I go to work tomorrow. Kilimanjaro seems so distant now, but the memory lives on as one of the greatest to have shared with friends!