Kombe’s arc of success
When Eddie Frank met Kombe Happyfrais he was part of the Kilimanjaro National Park cleaning crew. Over a decade later Kombe is among Tusker’s top guides with a specialty in high altitude medical response. Kombe’s Tusker career arc reaches nearly as high as Kilimanjaro’s and Mount Everest’s summits.
“When I met him he was so nervous and couldn’t speak any English. He was scared that he would make a mistake, but I took him aside and we had a chat. I put him at ease, “Eddie recalls. “I had faith in him and saw his potential. He became a genius.”
Kombe’s success on Kilimanjaro has led Eddie to name him one of the first African guides to work on Tusker’s Everest Base Camp treks where he will serve as the head medical guide in 2018. No other company working in Nepal and Kilimanjaro has brought a guide from Tanzania to work on the EBC trek.
A member of the Chaaga tribe, Kombe, 37, grew up in Marangu with six other siblings. He lived in the same house as his uncle who guided on Kilimanjaro for eight seasons and when Kombe was 17 he got a porter’s job. Not surprisingly he didn’t like the dangerous work and low pay. Porters have the toughest job on the mountain and Kombe dreamt of becoming a guide someday like his uncle.
Eddie met Kombe several years later and saw his quiet strength and smarts. Unlike many guides on Kilimanjaro who get by on their charm and ability to get clients to laugh, Kombe is serious and his no nonsense approach is commanding.
His antenna is always up for problematic situations and he is quick to react like the time he saw a massive rock slide at the Western Breech. He hiked down to alert another group to change its route to avoid the slide.
Kombe likes to always learn and that is why he wanted to work with Tusker and its unique guide medical training course for high altitude sickness. Overtime he became a star pupil.
Heart of a lion
Perhaps the best testament to Kombe comes from Tusker clients. William Murphy climbed Kili in 2014 with his son and was doing fine until the group camped out in the crater. Kombe entered William’s tent at 2 am and would spend the next two days with him giving oxygen and the meds that tamed William’s altitude sickness. He also gave William the psychological backup to assuage the disappointment of going down. At dawn he walked William down the mountain to Mweka Camp.
“As we continued down the mountain, and in one of the most touching moments of my life, as I was making a rather pathetic explanation for not handling the altitude better, Kombe replied, ‘Papa, I’ve watched you and you are a very strong man with the heart of a lion.’
I will never forget that and it will be a moment I will always cherish. Kombe not only displayed his obvious competence, intelligence and dedication that night, but he also did so with such grace, modesty and humanity that it truly touched me. These few words cannot adequately describe how grateful I am to Kombe for his efforts and the high regard in which I will always hold him,” William wrote in a letter to Eddie.
Achieving the dream
Kombe has two children an 11 year-old boy and a five year old girl. “My daughter is always asking, ‘daddy when will you take me up the mountain.’ When she is 15 I will take her because if she gets a headache (mountain sickness) now it will be hard to explain to my wife.”
For Kombe climbing with clients and assuring their safety is a passion and he plans to stay in the game for another 20 years. He envisions himself working on a small farm in his retirement, but also passing on his guiding knowledge to the next generation.
The advice Kombe has for today’s Tusker clients is to listen and trust their guides. Don’t try to hide any physical problems they are having on the trek. “If you tell us when you first have a problem it will be easy to fix. Our goal is to make our clients happy, assure their safety and help them achieve their dreams. Teamwork is very important.”
Join Kombe’s team
Kilimanjaro’s guides are often overlooked, but these are your team members and also your first responders. Tusker has spent considerable time and money to train its guides and it shows when the program produces guides like Kombe. They make a huge difference in your summit success, but they are just not guides but amazing people who you can learn from and be inspired by.