Icon Above the Clouds
After nearly a week’s ascent, there it is in all its elusive, snowy brilliance – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Will Lyman’s voice-over stamps Kilimanjaro’s iconic status into our psyche.
“Ascending above the clouds toward the summit, there lies the most magnificent view of your life – the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro – a vast equatorial wilderness high atop a permanent glacier on the crown of Africa.”
WATCH: Kilimanjaro – The Summit
Achieving the summit of Kilimanjaro is both a dream and a harsh reality. “Getting to the top of the mountain can be elusive. Some of the hardiest, finely tuned athletes, even marathon runners fail to reach the top, while less conditioned have made it with ease,” Lyman intones against a backdrop of summiteers joyfully congratulating each other under the wooden Kili summit sign. After days of slogging through the jungle and the volcanic lava lands, the sign announces you have arrived into the snowy dreamscape at 19,341 feet or 5,895 meters. They are tired, but their joy overcomes their pain. Not everyone will summit however.
There is drama behind every success and failed climb. 77 year-old Frank is the last in the group and the guides dote on him. His age and cheery attitude, along with his red gaiters and cap stand out. He dances with the guides as they boogaloo up the slope. Frank’s son Mike watches while reflecting on their life outside together.
“He taught me from an early age and I did marathons with him. I did triathlons; it was all because of him.” Mike says as tears form in his eyes. “I didn’t realize this would be so emotional. I guess that’s what Africa does to you.” He envisions the father-son bond forever realized atop the summit. But the climb is no fairytale.
X-Factor at Crunch Time
Leader Eddie Frank is telling it like it is over 16,500 feet. He coaches the seated trekkers on the day before their summit attempt. ”Breathe deeply, it will be painful, it will be the hardest thing you have ever did, but I can’t describe the feeling when you reach the summit and that’s why I keep coming back. I get a contact high from watching you guys reach the summit.”
Talking into the camera away from the group Eddie puts the trip into a simple equation. “The hard part of these goal-oriented trips like Kilimanjaro is how well people do in high altitude. We have no control over it, we can mitigate some of the effects, but it all comes down to the last day, and the hard part is explaining to people that when their body fails it’s not in their best interest to keep going.”
77 year-old Frank didn’t make it. He is well below tree line explaining he hit the wall at 16,700 feet and Eddie told him that he had to descend. “Being the pro that he is, Eddie said I had to go down and that was emotional,” he says starting to cry. “I was unhappy I couldn’t make it to the top with Michael.”
But at the summit Michael has made it. He smiles broadly in bright sunshine and summarizes the crowning achievement of his life outdoors, “For Dad.”
As usual Will Lyman has the last words. “There are no sure bets. That is the challenge and that is the adventure.”