Yellowstone: The Serengeti of North America

When you go to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, it's almost a requirement to visit the Serengeti; which I did and was blown away.  So I was a bit surprised as I was researching for my big camping trip to Yellowstone to learn that some call it the "Serengeti of North America." Really, the Serengeti? I've been to the Serengeti and it's pretty damn impressive; trip-of-a-lifetime impressive, see-things-you-never-imagined impressive. Can Yellowstone really compare?
Yellowstone, the Serengeti of North America

Yellowstone, instead of a pride of lions we have a herd of buffalo

The short answer is yes, it really can. After spending over a week in Yellowstone driving around its massive figure "8" roadway and exploring all four corners, I can honestly say, Yellowstone IS the Serengeti of North America. Here are three major ways the two are alike, and why you should definitely check out Yellowstone.
  1. Amazing wildlife - The first time I entered the Serengeti we drove for only about 20 minutes before the car pulled up to a pride of lion! A pride of real, live, wild lions just outside my window. In Yellowstone we drove for 20 minutes before the road and several cars we engulfed by a herd of bison. Sure, I'd seen bison in "Dances with Wolves" and the zoo, but these guys were just outside my window and some were even bigger than the VW Bug we had rented. And that wasn't the end of it. We saw a fox, coyotes, big horn sheep, grizzly and black bears, and TONS of bison, elk, and prong-horn dear. In most cases we could see all this wildlife right from the comfort of our car, just like the Serengeti.
  2. Lots of driving and cars - A wildlife safari in the Serengeti means lots of driving. There's nothing you can do about it. The park is massive and different areas have different personalities and views well worth exploring. It was the same in Yellowstone. The northeast corner held wolves, the southeast corner bison herd. On the west you could see massive geological formations in the northern corner or Old Faithful and other geysers in the southern corner. All were worth driving to and explore.       But they also required a bit of patience to get to. They weren't as close as you might expect.
  3. Lovely people from all over the world - Coming down for dinner the first night in the Serengeti I was shocked to hear almost every accent from the great wide world except for my own American accent.       Standing waiting for Old Faithful I was surrounded by tourist from Japan, China, Korea, France, Germany and the UK. They had flown from the corners of the globe to see the beauty that America had to share.
The Serengeti is REALLY far away. If you're not sure it's worth it, take a detour to Yellowstone. If you like Yellowstone, you'll love the Serengeti!
Yellowstone offers amazing wildlife

Yellowstone offers amazing wildlife

Yellowstone, get up closer and personal with the animals

Yellowstone, get up closer and personal with the animals

Yellowstone, gorgeous landscape

Yellowstone, gorgeous landscape

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You already know what altitude sickness feels like

Altitude sickness feels a lot like your worst day

Altitude sickness feels a lot like your worst day

I often get asked what altitude sickness feels like.  After collapsing at 18,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Kilimanjaro I have a pretty good idea.  But I don’t think you need to go all that way.  I'm betting that you already know what it feels like. The basic symptoms are straightforward enough; nausea, dizziness, headache.  Add on top of that confusion and frustration as your mind struggles to comprehend what's happening.  Still unsure what it feels like or how you might respond?  A recent personal experience reminded me, and it may help you too. A few months ago my best friend David died, and I've been struggling to make sense of it all (confusion).  My chest has been tight (difficulty breathing), my stomach twisted (nauseous), and I've struggled to keep my bearings (dizziness).  Yep, altitude sickness is just like the worst day you’ve ever had; the kind of day that made you feel like you'd been punched in the chest, knocked to the ground, and the air ripped  right out of your lungs.  Ever had a day like that?  Unfortunately, many of us have. So what do you do about it?  So far, the only thing I've uncovered is what I did on Kilimanjaro; you head down for a while.  You recover and when you're ready, you get back on the trail, head back up the hill and try again, one small step at a time. The second thing I'm learning from this experience is to look down every once in a while.  On Kilimanjaro I was upset because I didn’t make it the last 1,000 feet to the summit; so upset that I forgot all about the 5 amazing days I had on the mountain and the 18,000 feet I had already climbed to get there.  I recently stopped out to visit David's family; and if anyone has a right to lie flat on their back right now it's them.  But they weren't down and out, they were getting up.  Sure, they admit to having some pretty rough days after the loss of their father/husband.  But they also reminded me what a gift it was to have spent so much time with him.  While on their backs they were looking down the mountain to remember the wonderful journey that got them to this point.  I was on my back now, way up in the thin air.  But that's only because my friendship journey with David had been so spectacular and taken me so far. When I talk about failure I frequently remind people it's only a failure if you don't get up and learn from it.  But David's family put falling down into a new context for me.   Maybe when we fall down and feel like we're failing we should look back at all the successes that got us as far as they did.   And while my friend is gone, his friendship sure got me to the top of a lot of mountains.  And for that I'll always be grateful.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

My new favorite camping gear

My girls test out the new hammock

My girls test out the new hammock

I recently acquired my new favorite piece of camping gear...I received a 2 person Grand Trunk hammock.  I had heard about people camping out in hammocks but thought those folks must be weird or have back problems or something.  Well, welcome to the weird parade Danny boy! I recently took the family car camping and like most of you spend the first night fitfully sleeping.  I'm relatively thin, so every time I roll over on my side my hip bone grinds through my sleeping pad and into the ground.  As a result I don't sleep very well  and I wake up feeling like my great grand mother. I had packed the Grand Trunk hammock more for the kids to play in during the day.  But in an act of desperation I decided to spend the night in it.  At first I was worried the curve might hurt my back or make it awkward and prevent me from turning over.  Far from it.  I slept like a baby.  The hammock was more than wide enough for me to roll onto my side and still sleep comfortable.  And since I was alone in it, the sides rolled up over me and formed a nice warm cocoon, keeping me warm and all the bugs out. Aside from my own comfort, I've been impressed with how strong the Grand Trunk is.  My two daughters regularly relax or paly in it along with 1-2 of their friends.  Believe me, they know how to torture test something! The only down side for me are the sides of the hammock.  When I'm in it alone the fold up and cover me inside the cocoon.   This was great for sleeping, but I'd like it to stay a bit more open for my afternoon siesta.    My only other beef is that there aren't enough trees on Kilimanjaro to string this thing up.  I don't know if I want to go back to sleeping on the ground again!
Posted in Equipment | Leave a comment

No Shortcuts to the Top

kilimanjaro guideThe other day I was running during my lunch break.  I was trying to get lost in my music and feeling rushed to get back to work on time.  In other words, I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing.  As I came up to a turn I cut across the parking lot on the corner (instead of following the sidewalk all the way around) and continued on my way.  No big deal right?  I just cut one small corner along a much longer route. But as I got back on the sidewalk and continued along my run I realize what I had done.  As small as it was, I had taken a short-cut.  It make me think of Ed Viestures autobiography titled No Shortcuts to the Top where he shared what it took for him to climb all of the 14,000M+ peaks on the planet without supplemental oxygen.  In fact, he was the first American to ever do that. But back to my run, and my minor shortcut.  Sure, I only cut about a hundred yards off my entire run.  But I realized that wasn't the point.  I was practicing taking short cuts.  I was focusing more on completing my run quickly than having the best run I could, pushing myself the best I could.   And for those of us who want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or any other big mountain in our life, that's the wrong attitude. Have you been taking shortcuts?  Do you find yourself more interested in getting something done than doing it with excellence?  If we take short cuts in the small things in our lives, we are building a habit that is bound to carry over in the big things in our lives as well.   So next time, take the long way around.
Posted in Planning & Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

East Africans are so “out of touch”

Tanzania 1907. Is this your view of Africa?

Tanzania 1907. Is this your view of Africa?

On a recent flight I overheard a gentleman seated behind me talking about some volunteer work he did in Kenya.  His church sponsors work to build wells in rural locations.  This is a worthy project and one I'm passionate about myself, with most deaths in the developing world a result of poor water sources. But then I heard him add an interesting commentary.  "You just can't believe how out of touch these people are."  He commented.  "I asked the kids once if they knew who Justin Beiber was and none of them had ever heard of him." I will be one of the first to admit that East Africa could benefit from much the developing world has to offer such as modern medicine, water filtration and a number of other advances.  But Justin Beiber?  Really? Here's a crazy idea.  Maybe the people of East Africa are actually better off precisely because they don't know who Justin Beiber is.  One of the things Tanzania is famous for is their cultural focus on family.  In Tanzania, everyone is family.   On every one of my trips there it felt more like going home than going to my real home.  There is a sense of community, a focus on people and an emphasis on living in the moment. Americans and other citizens of the developed world are spending billions of dollars looking for ways to reduce stress, find a simpler life and build better relationships.  The people of Tanzania already have this.  Would you trade that just to know who Justin Beiber is? I took an important lesson away from my time in Tanzania.  When I arrived the first time I was arrogant; assuming I knew more because I was more affluent and lived in a more developed world.  But as I trekked up the slopes of Kilimanjaro I learned that these "poor" people still have a lot to teach, and this "successful" man still had a lot to learn. Yes, East Africa has a long way to go.  But then, so do we.  Maybe we have something to teach each other.  Maybe the focus of our NGOs in Africa isn't just to impart our own wisdom, but to learn a thing or two while we're there as well. I know I did.
Posted in Culture | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Met

Last year we lost a great man. David Kingston, my friend of 25 years, passed away and our town lost one of her greatest sons.

I used to dream about climbing mountains, of achieving greatness by conquering cliffs and peaks around the world; or writing a best selling book that might inspire thousands of readers.   But the recent loss of a dear friend has taught me what it means to be truly great. The man who taught me this lesson was a dairy farmer from a small town in western NY named David.  He isn't your typical hero.  He spent his whole life on the family farm, working with his brothers and raising his children.  For one week a year David and his wife Monica might pack up their four kids and head to a house on the coast or a cabin in the woods. Aside from that and the odd Friday evening high school basketball game, David could be found on the farm. That's where I met David.  I started working part-time with him when I was 17 and we've been friends ever since.  Most days I helped with the morning and evening chores; feeding the cows, carrying hay, bedding calves and cleaning out the milk tank.  This all had to be done two times per day, morning and evening.  And it seemed like we were always running late. "David, we've got to feed the cows."  I'd complain almost every evening as he rushed off to do just one more thing.  What made David's frequent delays so forgivable were the reasons; he was usually late because he was trying to help someone. I still remember one cold wet evening in November.  We were already running over an hour behind as the first snow of the season began to fall.  Damp fat flakes soaked through my jacket and dripped down the back of my neck as my face burned red with frustration at yet another delay.

Even while working on the farm David liked to have his family with him. Every moment was a time for friends and family.

"Brother Dan, just one more thing we need to do."  David announced as he backed the pick-up truck into the barn.  It was the "brother Dan" part and David's infectious optimism that always cooled my anger and within seconds I was joining him, throwing large bales of straw into the back.  We stacked it as high as we could before David pulled out and slowly made his way down the road.  We turned into an empty driveway next to a lonely farm house on the outskirts of town; a single light shone in the downstairs window.  The snow had quickened and wet lumps began to pile up along the side of the house.  David jumped out and started stacking bales around the foundation. "This'll give her a bit more insulation for the winter."  David explained as he jumped back in the truck, the brim of his hat dripping onto his face.   An elderly woman lived there alone and David knew the house got cold over the long winter nights.  He just wanted to help a little; to take a bit of the chill out of her life. And that was David.  Over the next 25 years of our friendship I saw him constantly doing little things like this to warm the lives of all those around him and take a bit of the chill out of their lives.  He always took that extra time to brighten the lives of complete strangers and old friends alike.  He might show up on your doorstep with a stack of fire wood on a cold night or a surprise birthday cake when others forgot.  He might offer you a word of encouragement or tell you just the right story (usually a pretty long one) to lift your spirits. David rarely left his small town.  He never climbed any mountains, never wrote any books and never made the evening news.  But he was the greatest man I've ever known, in all my travels around the world.

People stood on line for hours in the cold night to say good-bye to David, pay their respects and offer sympathy to his family.

Last year David passed away at 54.  He had spent the last year of his life fighting cancer with a smile, optimism and his chin up.  At his calling hours I spent the whole day at the funeral home, unable to leave him or the warmth of his family.  All day long people streamed in from far and wide to share stories of how David had warmed their own lives.  They waited for hours, the line snaking through the funeral home, out the back door, across the parking lot and into the cold dark night.  They stood around telling David stories and comforting each other as the whole town struggled to come to grips with the loss of its favorite son. David taught me and everyone he met that greatness isn't measured by the height of the mountains we climb, but by the depth of kindness and love we can share with one another. Good-bye David.  We will miss you deeply!  
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Join a Kilimanjaro climb…in 1909!

I just heard about this project and HAD to share this story and images!

View of Kilimanjaro from the skies © Charlie Bolden

Have you ever been on a flight and looked at a mountain thousands of feet below and wondered what its name is, whether it has been climbed yet, and if so, who was the first to do so? Using the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Hidden Journeys website and its interactive flight path guides to parts of the world beneath selected commercial air routes, passengers can now learn about the people, places, environments, as well as the mountains they can see from their cabin window as they fly over them. One of the latest regions showcased is from London to Dar es Salaam featuring Mount Kilimanjaro: Africa’s tallest mountain, and the tallest free standing mountain in the world.  Using stunning images from the Society’s Collections, visitors can learn about the lesser known story of the flamboyant American hunter and adventurer Peter McQueen and his attempt to scale the summit of Mount Kibu, in 1909.

1908 - Eternal snow amid equatorial jungles - Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa (© RGS-IBG MacQueen Dutkewich Expedition)

  The images provide a glimpse of Peter’s relationship with the porters and local Chagga community, as well as early 20th century mountaineering and its perils. From the start, the expedition was beset by problems and many of the porters were inadequately equipped and poorly treated: MacQueen and his companion Dutkewich were abandoned at the snowline, and Dutkewich also fell during the descent, breaking several ribs. The account of MacQueen’s attempted ascent is just one part of the Hidden Journeys website which features hundreds of points of interest across over 60 countries, with interactive flight guides to many of the world’s landscapes and cultures. The website, which is one of the Society’s public engagement programmes, also encourages visitors to contribute their own photos from flights they have been on through the “Contribute” section of the website or through the project’s Flickr page ( Ben Jarman, Project Coordinator, says ‘Millions of passengers fly every year, unaware of the fascinating parts of the Earth that they cross between departure and arrival. The Hidden Journeys Project allows people to explore the patchwork of people and places under a particular flight path, transforming an aerial jaunt from A to B into a fascinating journey through the scale and diversity found along the route.’
Posted in Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro – What does the name really mean?

kilimanjaro in the distanceOver the years Kilimanjaro has become synonymous with exotic adventure. Yet, surprisingly, the powerful name has no agreed-on translation. In the local Chagga dialect it can mean “Mountain of Greatness” or even “Mountain of Caravans.” In Swahili, Kilimanjaro might be “Shining Mountain,” “Mountain of the Cold Devils,” or even the unlikely “Little Mountain.” The nearby Maasai tribes call it the “White Mountain.” In the end, the translation many people have settled on is from the Swahili word kilima, which means “top of the hill,” and njaro, which presumably refers in some way to the snow. But no one really knows for sure. The origin of the name doesn't really matter though.  Once you start climbing it I'm sure you'll come up with a few of your own translations.  Share your personal nick-names for Kilimanjaro on our Facebook page.
Posted in Culture | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

5 ways Kilimanjaro is like fatherhood

Mountains and fatherhood are both wonderful experiences I enjoy...but also make me a bit dizzy

Whenever I do a presentation about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro someone almost always asks me what mountain I plan to climb next.  And my response is always the same: "I have two young daughters right now and raising them is the mountain I'm climbing right now." That leaves some of my more hardcore adventure fans lacking.  Surely I can't equate traveling to the far reaches of the globe and trekking up the largest free standing mountain in the world with sitting in a folding chair watching a ballet recital?  Actually, that's exactly what I'm doing.  Hopefully one thing comes through loud and clear in both my book and my talks: it's not about conquering the mountain, it's about the personal experience.  And if I think about what really mattered to me on Kilimanjaro; getting to know my Tanzanian hosts, meeting people from around the world, discovering new experiences and learning more about myself, then climbing Kilimanjaro really isn't that much different from being a father. Here's 5 things I learned from both experiences:
  1. It's about the smiles you get vs. the miles you gain:  Years after my first Kilimanjaro climb I can still see the smiling faces of Mik, Juma and other porters.   I remember the sense of welcome I had just walking down the street being greeted by the smiles of the people of Tanzania.   I get that same feeling every time I see my daughters smile.
  2. It's about the people vs. the places:  On Kilimanjaro it was the support of Mohamed and Mndeme, the warmth of Patience and the help of Lawrence that made the trip special.  Each day I get to know my growing daughters even more and the experience just keeps getting better.
  1. It's the depth of feelings vs. the height of the adventure:  Kilimanjaro wasn't great because it was tall, but because it changed me deeply.  Being the father of two young children has taught me so much about myself and the world I live in.
  1. It's who you meet vs. where you go:  Tanzania wasn't special because of a temple or monument or landmark.  It was special because of the people.
  2. It's who you become vs. where you've been:  After climbing Kilimanjaro I can honestly say I was a better man.  Now, as a father, I'm constantly being challenged to be a better version of myself, to keep learning and overcoming my own limitations.
Maybe you've found your own personal experiences that more than measure up to a mountain.  If so, please share them with us here or on our Facebook page.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Kilimanjaro legends – Chagga folklore

Wonder how Mawenzi got it's jagged formation? The Chagga people know.

[This is an excerpt from Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa.] A local Chagga legend explains how Kilimanjaro's 3 great peaks softened from treacherous lava formations to the more hospitable mountain we know today.  Long ago, there were two neighboring giant volcanoes in East Africa: Kibo was the taller and grander, while Mawenzi was smaller and constantly jealous of his more impressive neighbor (Shira was no longer a separate peak by this time). Kibo was also the more industrious of the two, and Mawenzi was forever taking advantage of him. Mawenzi would frequently let the fire go out of his hearth and come begging Kibo for help and food.  The generous Kibo would always stop his work of pounding dried bananas with a pestle and mortar to gather coals for Mawenzi and send him off with some sustenance.  Mawenzi was a terrible cook and always loved what Kibo would prepare. Sometimes he would let his hearth go out two or three times in a row to test Kibo’s patience. One day, after letting his coals burn out, Mawenzi sought out Kibo. But Kibo was not at home, so Mawenzi decided to help himself to what was there. Dragging the hot embers back to his hearth, Mawenzi grumbled and complained about having to do his own cooking. As Kibo returned, he saw from a distance the red glow of his coals being taken. He found his hearth barren and all his hot coals missing. He was so angry he grabbed his pestle, ran to Mawenzi, and struck a crashing blow on the head, rendering Mawenzi with the jagged formation we see today and himself dormant.
Posted in Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Is your brain limiting your mountain?

Is your brain limiting you?

A recent lunch with a friend has had me thinking a lot about how I define myself; do I think more about the things that limit me (bad knees, have a cold, busy with kids, blah, blah, blah) or do I spend more time thinking about the things I want to do and accomplish (another book, another mountain, grow relationships, etc.)?  Do you ever find yourself mired in the "can'ts?"   I hear a lot of the "can'ts" when I do my Kilimanjaro talks. I can't climb Kilimanjaro because I'm too old/young/injured/disabled/poor/inexperienced/… But my lunch with Bill has me thinking a lot about my focus because Bill has every reason to focus on his problems, but instead he chooses to focus on his dreams and ambitions.  I met Bill at grad school a few years ago. In spite of his genius level IQ (130+) Bill was slowly failing out of school and his marriage was falling apart.  After a rather painful burnout that eventually got Bill checked into a hospital for psychiatric evaluation we finally learned that Bill was a manic depressive.   Because of the chemicals in Bill's brain he had trouble focusing, was volatile  and struggled with some of the basic human interactions we take for granted every day. Since that diagnosis things have not gone well for Bill.  He had to leave school, his wife left him and he's been working hard to maintain his relationship with his son, now 10 years old.  Bill's biggest challenge is his own brain, it's something he can never escape.  He's got every reason to focus on what he can't do.  But as we chatted over lunch Bill kept focusing on what he wanted to do, what he wanted to accomplish. "I just want to do something of value." He said.  "I want to accomplish something again." Feeling somewhat sorry for Bill I invited him to join me for my next speaking event, thinking he might be able to help me sell some books afterwards.  It was a kind of charity in my mind; a chance to let Bill feel like he was helping and accomplishing something.  But the results were amazing. Bill was more than helpful, he was a godsend.  He networked with event organizers, sold books, provided invaluable support and offered me some phenomenal advice on how to improve.  In the end, I wasn't helping Bill, he was helping me.   Are you thinking of people for what they can or can't do?  Are you defining your ambitions by your limitations?  If Bill can overcome his own brain, certainly you might be able to do more as well.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Meet Mt. Kilimanjaro…fascinating history of a mountain

Kilimanjaro Landscape

Kilimanjaro started forming 180,000,000 years ago!

[excerpt from Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa] One hundred eighty million years ago, the continents as we know them didn’t exist. They were jammed together in one big land mass we’ve since named Gondwanaland. Slowly the continental plates separated and the various land masses ground across the earth’s crust, expelling tremendous heat and pressure as they shimmied along. Africa, however, held its ground and has been percolating in one spot for more than two hundred million years, unable to vent the molten furnace beneath. The relentless buildup of heat has pushed the land mass an average of a thousand feet higher than the other continents. The pressure became too much 750,000 years ago, and three massive volcanic vents ripped open in East Africa. They shot hot magma into the sky and slowly stacked layer upon layer of molten rock, eventually forming three mountains: Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. The Shira cone was the first to burst out of the fertile plain but soon collapsed on itself and became extinct. Mawenzi formed several miles away before Kibo rose up between them both and fused them into one massive mountain. Today the Kibo cone is the summit portion of the combined mass known as Mount Kilimanjaro. After Kibo usurped its neighbors, it spewed forth lava and ash until 360,000 years ago. For thousands of years lava rolled over the rim and filled in the gap between the separate volcanoes, creating the current saddle between the Kibo and Mawenzi formations.  The whole mountain eventually leveled off at 19,340 feet above sea level. It last erupted 100,000 years ago and has sat quietly ever since. Kilimanjaro is different from many of the world’s giant summits. It’s not a spire in a rolling chain of mountains.  It stands alone, a sentinel on the East African plain—the largest freestanding mountain in the world, covering more than nine hundred square miles. It is a long, massive mound of rock that almost anyone with enough time and energy can ascend. The three original volcanoes aren’t distinguishable any more as separate entities. The Kibo cone forms the flattop summit made famous in pictures, books, and movies. Shira, an extended lava plateau along the southwestern side, can be easily reached in two days of hiking. Mawenzi, a craggy rock formation jutting out from the mountain’s eastern side, is today a crumbling monument when compared with the more glorious days of old when it stood alone.   Learn more about Kilimanjaro and what it took for an ordinary guy to reach the top of the African continent in Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa
Posted in Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dangerous Kilimanjaro Success Rates

Daniel and Lisa Dorr enjoying tea on Machame trail

"Polepole" Take your time on Kilimanjaro. Rushing to the summit can be dangerous.

Recently an outfitter put out a press release about their 95% success rate in getting clients to the summit.  I have to say, my initial reaction was not positive.  When outfitters promote a success rate as the biggest reason to book with them people start getting summit fever and stop thinking about what's really important, safety! I took a mountaineering course on Mt. Shasta in the past with Sierra Wilderness Seminars and our guide and instructor Stephan made it very clear, our #1 priority was to get down safely.  "The summit is back at the parking lot." he kept reminding us.  Even the greatest American mountaineers of all time, Ed Viesturs, focuses on safety with his own mantra.   “Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” So when evaluating a potential outfitter, the first thing to look into is safety.  How many porters will be with you? How well trained is our guide?  What kind of safety equipment do they bring?  How many days is the climb? In the end, one of the reasons this particular outfitter has such a high success rate is because they take several extra days to make sure clients acclimate properly before attempting the summit.  With so many other outfitters trying to rush clients up and down, it's refreshing to see an outfitter taking their time.    As they say in Tanzania, "polepole,"  Go slowly.   Enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.  Even if you add a few extra days, it will all fly by very quickly.
Posted in Safety | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro Stories – Why Climb Kilimanjaro?

Our first date turned into a Kilimanjaro trek

[excerpt from Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa] I used to wonder what would ever possess anyone to trudge up a mountainside on the far sides of the planet, into harsh, frigid winds and thin air, thousands of feet above sea level. For decades men have died trying to reach Earth’s highest points, to survive in places where humans were clearly not meant to endure. Was it for the glory of standing where few had dared to tread? Was it to test oneself against the elements and one’s own inner weakness? Or was it simply another way to impress women? For me it was a little bit of everything. But if I’m really honest with myself, I probably did it to impress a beautiful woman. My journey to the top of Africa started in a small coffee shop in Laguna Beach, California. I was on a date with that woman—our first date actually. Lisa sat across the table from me, cupping her hands around a mug of hot cocoa. I couldn’t stop gazing at her—her long dark hair, deep brown eyes, and a smile that made me slightly dizzy. I had known her for almost ten years. Lisa and I had met in Japan right after college, where we were both teaching English as part of an exchange program in the early 1990s.  At the time I was in the middle of a long-term relationship, so I became Lisa’s “safe” guy friend—someone she knew wouldn’t hit on her at every opportunity. Together we explored the country, and over the course of a year we became close. After that year of adventures, however, our paths separated.  I returned to the United States to start my “real life” while Lisa stayed in Japan for another year. She moved to Switzerland to study French for a few months before finally returning to her home state of Hawaii, where she worked in a scuba shop. I moved around as well. My relationship had ended, and I decided on New York City as the place to start my career in the high-tech industry. I soon joined the other techies in San Jose, California, however, flocking to Silicon Valley for the Internet revolution. Lisa and I had stayed in touch throughout all these years, with infrequent letters and even less frequent phone calls. We couldn’t help but feel inspired by each other’s adventures and life changes, so we’d kept the connection alive. Everything changed in 2001, when Lisa settled in Laguna Beach, California—only four hundred miles away! We started to talk on the phone more frequently, rebuilding our friendship. The calls eventually got longer and the bond grew stronger. One Friday evening as we were chatting late into the night, catching up on old flames and failed relationships, Lisa posed a question: “Dan, how come you and I have never dated?” I was stumped, speechless. We had been friends living on opposite sides of the world for so long that the thought had never really crossed my mind. But a week later I was on a plane to Laguna Beach to find out if there was that kind of chemistry. We spent the day playing “remember when,” reminiscing about our free-spirited travels across Japan. That evening, sipping our hot cocoa, we dreamed  together about all the places we wanted to see: Alaska, Machu Picchu, New Zealand. The list went on. Then Lisa uttered five fateful words: “I want to climb Kilimanjaro.” “That’s perfect!” I blurted out, without thinking anything through. “I’ve been thinking about doing that for a long time.” Her warm smile melted my decision-making skills. “Let’s do it,” I said in all seriousness. “Let’s climb Kilimanjaro together.” And with that, I was committed.  Granted, if Lisa had suggested that we drive sled dogs across Antarctica, I probably would have signed on to that just as eagerly.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Kilimanjaro Summit Attire

Columbia Lhotse Jacket

Columbia's interchangeable Lhotse Jacket is ideal for beating the Kilimanjaro Summit conditions

Recently, someone who read about my difficult Kilimanjaro climb in Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa posted a question on Facebook about what to wear for the summit ascent. If you've read the book your know that on my first summit attempt I didn't wear enough and ended up with hypothermia, in addition to altitude sickness. On my second attempt I might have over-compensated a bit too much and ended up sweating profusely on the descent, after the warm sun started to beat down on me. So what should you wear for the summit? Summit Conditions: During your ascent of Kilimanjaro you will likely find temperatures swing from comfortably warm (70F/20C) to freezing (32F/0C) in a matter of hours. The temperature in my tent most nights hovered around freezing but once the sun came out things warmed up nicely, that is until the clouds surrounded us and it turned freezing again. For the summit you'll likely start around midnight (freezing) from Kibo or Barafu camps where you're somewhat protected from the wind. Once you've hiked a few hours you'll become more exposed and the wind-chill could easily take the temperature down to 0 degrees F (-15C)! When the son comes up the temperatures could warm back up to freezing again, but likely not much higher. What to wear: Since I tend to hike warm, I opted to skip the base layer on my legs for my first summit attempt and ended up freezing my butt off, almost literally. So I'd suggest you keep it simple: • Base layer - long underwear for your legs and torso (mid-weight is fine) • Pants - non-cotton • Fleece jacket if you hike warmer, down if you need a bit more • Shell pants, ideally ones that zip down the side so you can vent if you get too warm • Shell jacket, ideally with pit-zips and a full front zipper to cool down if you need to Be sure to test this combination out on a long training hike (if possible) so you get a better feel for how hot/cold you get while out in the elements. As an example, I got a Columbia Lhotse jacket for Christmas and LOVE IT. It's the perfect jacket for Kilimanjaro; down/shell combination I can layer any way I like, lots of vents and tons of pockets to store quick snacks. If you have any questions about your clothing or gear choices, feel free to post them on our Facebook community for additional feedback.
Posted in Equipment | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

3 Times failure might be your best option

After failing to climb Kilimanjaro on my first attempt I was in a pretty sour mood (not to mention smelly)

I frequently talk to business audiences about climbing Kilimanjaro and the lessons it taught me.  One of the big lessons I learned is about the value of failure and that sometimes failure might actually be the best option.  I like to ask my business audiences what they think about that and if failure is an option where they work.  This usually facilitates a very heated and usually interesting discussion about what constitutes failure in the first place. Of course, nobody likes to fail.  But in many cases it may be the best option.  As these business leaders discuss the topic, I've found it may be the preferred course in the certain situations: When success is even worse: Sometimes winning isn't everything.  Have you ever fought hard to achieve something only to hate the results?  Some businesses work so hard to win a customer or launch a new product.  However, in the end the customer or new product causes all kinds of problems and turns out to cost them more money than they make.   In that case you'd be better of failing than winning the customer.  On my first Kilimanjaro climb I was forced to turn back from altitude sickness and failed to reach the summit.  Maybe I could have pushed myself farther and succeeded in reaching the summit.  But the risk to my health was high and successfully summiting the mountain could have been fatal for me. When we learn from it: Most people agree, you "can't argue with success" and "if it ain't broke don't fix it."  In fact, we rarely learn a great deal from success.  If you ask most Kilimanjaro climbers what was key to their successful summit of the mountain many will say their training or the food or Diamox or any number of options.  But the fact is they really don't know.  They just know it worked.  But failure immediately exposes the weakest link and allows us to address and improve it.  Without that knowledge we could go on for years under-performing simply because it's working.  The failure is manageable: With the exception of Apple and Starbucks, few companies launch products these days without some kind of testing, if only internally.  Why?  Because it lets us take a big mountain and break it into small successes and better identify why we might fail.  Looking back to Kilimanjaro, I didn't fail to climb the mountain, I only failed to climb the last 1,000 feet.  I successfully climbed from about 4,000 feet to 18,000 feet.  Had I tried to climb the mountain all at one time I likely would have failed a lot sooner.  So not only did I learn where my really problem was, I was also able to spend 5 wonderful and successful days on the mountain before failing. I recently came across this great quote from Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney who turned the company around: “Succeeding is not really a life experience that does that much good. Failing is a much more sobering and enlightening experience." Looking back on my experiences I can honestly say that I've learned more from my failures than I have my successes.  Failure is a useful and necessary part of life.  But for it to fulfill its purpose in our lives, we have to acknowledge our failures; to be willing to face them and grow from them.
Posted in Safety | Tagged | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro – Follow your dreams to the top of Africa

I dreamed of running a marathon for years. But it wasn't until my brother asked me to join him that I finally took action

We all have dreams.  And many of us have those dreams we've been nurturing for years, just waiting for the right moment or excuse to take action and go for it.  That's what Kilimanjaro was like for me.  I had dreamed about climbing Kilimanjaro for years before I finally got off my butt and went.  Those of you who read my book Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving it All on Top of Africa know it was my girlfriend Lisa who gave me that gentle push I needed to finally follow my dream.  And in the end, finally following my dream has changed my life for the better in ways I never could have imagined. We all know how powerful it can be to follow our dreams.  And yet, for some reason we just don't seem to do it.  As I think back, I think for me it was a lack of clarity.  I didn't know where Kilimanjaro might take me or how it fit into the path I was already on with my life.  I should point out that I'm a pretty Type-A, structured, goal-oriented kind of guy.  Kilimanjaro and Tanzania were unknown quantities that I couldn't fully comprehend without actually going. As the years have passed I've come to realize how powerful friends and family can be in helping us follow our dreams.  It was Lisa who encouraged me to climb Kilimanjaro.  Years later my brother encouraged me to run the Chicago Marathon with him, another dream I'd harbored for years. With the encouragement and support of my friends and family I knew I could venture out into the uncharted waters of Tanzania without losing my connect to the world I already knew.  These people in our lives are the strong foundations that allow us to try new things and explore different aspects of our personalities. So if you've been nurturing a dream for a while and are wondering how to bring it to life, maybe you could start by sharing it with your friends, family or even co-workers.  Give them the opportunity to support you and help you make it happen.  And if you're friend or family member tells you about their dream, maybe that's an opportunity for you to be their safe-harbor, their strong foundation from which they can explore their own dreams. It's been years since I took that first step and followed my dreams to the top of Africa. And I can say with all conviction that I'm a better person for having done it.  Are you ready to follow your dream, or help someone you love follow theirs?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lost in Korea at midnight – the importance of planning

The airport went dark and I stood there all alone. I didn't speak the languge or know how to get to my hotel.

The other night I was on the last flight to arrive at the airport for the night.  The concourse was silent except for the soft shuffle of our feet as we all rushed to get our bags and go home.  Looking around at the dark stores and empty seats it reminded me of a late night flight I took into Seoul, Korea several years ago. At the time I was flying around the world for Hewlett Packard and frequently in Asia.  However, this was my first trip to Korea.  Travel had become pretty standard for me by then and the ritual of flying, getting some money, finding my hotel…had become almost mundane.  I didn't even think about it any more.  I just arrived and followed the well worn path in front of me. The 747 poured out passengers and businessmen like me into Seoul's main airport. We all rushed to grab our bags and find a taxi to our hotels before finally crashing for the night.  However, taxis in Seoul only took cash at that point so after getting my bag I wandered the airport to find a Cash Machine (ATM).  After circling the terminal the only one I could find was in a far corner and only offered Korean language instructions.  As people rushed around me and taxi drivers solicited fares I began the complex task of decoding this ATM. For 30 minutes I sat there testing different menu options until I finally got to a screen that asked how much cash I wanted.  The choices ranged from 100,000 to 10,000,000!  Since I hadn't bothered to check the exchange rate before arriving I had no idea how much this was and was terrified I was about to empty my entire life savings.  Finally, with Solomon-like wisdom I chose the middle number, it spit out cash and I turned around, victorious at having beaten the Korean-only ATM! However, in the 30 minutes it took me to do this, the entire airport had emptied out.  Everyone was gone.  The information booth was closed, all the passengers were gone and no taxis were left.  I stood there dumbfounded.  What the heck was I going to do?  I didn't know any taxi services I could call let alone how to operate the pay phone that was also only in Korean.  After flying for hours was I now condemned to sleep on the floor in the airport? Finally, a solitary man came through the doors and motioned to me.  He was a taxi driver; the last taxi driver at the airport.  This worried me.  This guy must be the worst taxi driver in Korea if he was still hanging around an empty airport in Seoul at midnight looking for fares.  But I was desperate and decided to give it a try. We drove through the dark streets for 45 minutes while I sat in the back seat worrying that at any minute he'd pull into some alley and rob me blind.  But of course he didn't.   He deposited me safely at my hotel and charged me 200,000.  I assumed he had overcharged me, but later learned that was about $8.  He was a fair man and had really saved my butt. Now, before I arrive at any international location I confirm the exchange rate, make sure I at least have 1 or 2 local phone numbers and have at least some idea of how to get to my hotel; just in case I get stranded at midnight again.
Posted in Planning & Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

5 Ways Tanzania Changed My Life

My journey to the top of Africa changed my life

Several years ago I flew off to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and try to impress a beautiful woman. In the end I failed to reach the summit, but I did impress the woman enough for her to marry me. It's been years since my first visit to Tanzania and I long ago reached Uhuru peak on my second visit. But as I look back on my life since that amazing trip, I have realized that I'm a better man today than the one who stepped off that plane so nervous and excited all those years ago. It wasn't my final victory in reaching the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world that really impacted me. It was the people and culture of Tanzania. The warmth, laughter and support of the Tanzanian people have left a lasting impression on me in many ways. The ones that come to mind immediately are:
  1. I laugh more freely - One the first things that struck me about the people of Tanzania was how eager they were to laugh, to simply enjoy the moment. As I climbed Kilimanjaro and porters passed me carrying heavy loads they always took a few moments to joke with me and share a laugh. Even under the burden of 60-80 pound loads these men took the time to laugh and joke.
  2. I enjoy life more fully - Almost every person I met in Tanzania seemed to live life fully. Yes, there was poverty and challenges beyond my ability to appreciate. But that didn't stop people from sharing a laugh and enjoy the few things they did have access to.
  3. I welcome new friends more openly - At one point on our travels Lisa (the beautiful brunette) and I ended up traveling on a local bus across Tanzania. We were the only white people on a bus packed to overflowing. At first I have to admit, I felt a bit intimidated and out of place. But as the bus cruised down the road we began to feel welcomed by these people; these strangers. We were all on a journey together, so why not enjoy each other's company? Smiles slowly emerged and we were welcomed as a fellow traveler, not a stranger or foreigner.
  4. I try more new things - Traveling through Tanzania and up Kilimanjaro we got lost, were confronted by "strange" people, tasted new foods and even got sick on the top of the African continent. But in the end, it all worked out. We tried something new, something a lot bigger than Lisa and I had ever tried before. And it was wonderful. Thanks to the warmth and generosity of the Tanzanian people we got through all the tough times and had a life-changing experience. We learned to be brave and try a few new things, even something as big as a mountain.
  5. Appreciate things more - As an American watching the news, my view of East Africa was pretty bleak. But my experience in Tanzania was quite different. I know there is plenty of poverty and problems in Tanzania. But I was struck by how much people appreciated the few things they did have, and how they appreciated each other more than anything. These weren't a "poor" people waiting for people like me to give them a hand out. They were proud, hopeful and lots of fun. They were my teachers and I learned to appreciate all the little things I had and the people in my life.
Thank you Tanzania! I'm a better man today because of you.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

5 Ways to Save on Climbing Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro togetherEvery time I do a Kilimanjaro presentation people ask about how much it costs and how they might save some money.  So here are a few suggestions I've come up with over the years and after my own research. 1.  Fly with Ethiopian or South African Air These days the biggest expense is definitely the airfare.  I was hoping to join the Dec. 9th Independence Day celebrations in Tanzania and checked out airfare prices.  Delta/KLM was over $2,500 from the US to Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO).  After poking around a bit more I found out that both Ethiopian and South African Air fly out of the US (from DC and Atlanta respectively) and the tickets were closer to $1,300 per person directly into JRO. 2.  Fly into/out of Dar es Salaam Another option, if you have more time, is to fly in and out of Dar es Salaam.  There are more carries, so lower prices, and you're still within Tanzania so you avoid any additional Visa fees like Kenya.  The only challenge is that you now need to get to Moshi or Arusha.  There are a number of different shuttles you can take with pretty reasonable costs, and you get to see more of the countryside (it's about a 6-8 hour drive). 3.  Book with a Local Outfitter Depending on who you choose, your outfitter is likely the other big costs.  High-end outfitters like National Geographic or Mountain Sobek offer amazing trips with the advantage of a certified American guide and extra amenities.  But they're usually about $4,000 or more just for the climb.  There are a number of reputable local companies you might consider that are usually between $1,200-$2,000/person.  You lose the safety of an American guide, but gain the fun and cultural experience of a Tanzanian guide instead. 4.  Buy Less Expensive Gear While climbing Kilimanjaro the porters will carry your pack up the mountain and have it waiting for you at the next camp.  It's recommend you keep your pack weight below 30 lbs so they aren't over-burdened.  But that's still a lot of weight.  You don't need the ultra-light super-new, latest-material sleeping bag or mat.  You just need something to keep you warm down to about 25 degrees.  If you do go with some cheaper gear remember to test it a few times before you get to Tanzania and don't skimp on your boots!  If you can't walk, you're done! 5.  Pick a Route with a High Success Rate Many people try to save money by choosing the shorter, 5-day hikes.  And that seems logical.  But the 5-day Marangu Route has the lowest success rate on the mountain.  So you may be paying thousands of dollars to fail to climb a mountain.  That's not saving you anything.   Almost any of the other routes, done as a 7-day climb are better. Kiilimanjaro can be climbed without breaking your life savings. But at the same time, please be smart about where you're trying to save.  You're #1 priority is to come home safely, #2 is to have a great time, and #3 is to get to the top.    Enjoy the mountain!
Posted in Planning & Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment