There were five members in our group: Steve, an Annapolis grad, now retired after 20 years a Navy pilot, and his wife Mary, who works for the Department of Defense; Kevin, a 35 year-old emergency room physician from Houston, Texas; my friend Mark, and me.
Of course there were also our two guides, Tobias and Urio, both Certified Wilderness First Responders who checked and recorded our oxygen levels and heart rates twice a day, and with stethoscope listened to our lungs. One always led while the other followed. Behind him came Israel who carried a bag on his head containing a stretcher, oxygen, and other items that in emergency might be necessary. The greatest danger at the higher elevations is pulmonary or cranial edema.
We usually wouldn’t see anyone but ourselves all day long, but each night at the tent areas we would encounter other groups, sometimes coming in from other trails converging with ours. Our first campsite was in the jungle. During that night I heard sounds of very large bats flying over my tent. Next day I learned the sound was coming from small monkeys taking turns howling from the trees surrounding the camp.
Seven days later, the final push to the summit was a series of very tiny steps. The guides were continually chanting poli-poli (slowly-slowly in Swahili) and drink, drink (in English). I thought, what are they kidding? You can’t breathe and drink water at the same time. I would have to wait for a standing stop rest, pause 60 seconds to catch my breath, get only one sip, then concentrate on next breath.
It took eight days to get to the top, and only two long days to get back down. Except for one day, it was hiking rather than climbing.
Only once early on during the second or third day of the 10 days did I look back over my shoulder and think, “What am I doing here?” The answer to that last question and epilogue to this story is Mark. “We’ve been friends since high school, and he has always been ready for adventure,” Dick said. “Back then from New Jersey, it was drive all night to ski in Vermont all day, and back to Jersey next night. More recently it was, ‘Let’s fly to Australia and ride up the coast, and then out to Ayers Rock.’ My response was that Australia was too huge, and this is a crazy idea. He called back, ‘How about New Zealand?’ I agreed, and we wound up riding the South Island for 12-days on rented motorcycles.”
This most recent trip began with Mark’s call suggesting that they climb to the base camp of Everest. Again Pinder said, “No.” Mark came back with, “How about Kilimanjaro?”
You know the rest of the story.