Determined to Climb Kilimanjaro, Texans Make the Summit!

At the Summit, Uhuru peak of Kilimanjaro,19336 ft. From left: Ritesh Moza and Rakesh Shah on top; sitting, Diana Baker, Kuldip Kaul, Tej Kabra and Nadir Ali

At the Summit, Uhuru peak of Kilimanjaro,19336 ft. From left: Ritesh Moza and Rakesh Shah on top; sitting, Diana Baker, Kuldip Kaul, Tej Kabra and Nadir Ali

By Dr. Kuldip Kaul

HOUSTON:  This is a very inspiring story of a determined group of people of various professional backgrounds to climb Africa’s tallest peak; Kilimanjaro located in Tanzania, Africa.

The real planning started about a year and a half ago with five people from the Clear Lake area who were later joined by three more, including a couple from Spring, Texas.  The initial idea came from Ashok Moza, the captain of the group and others were myself, Nadir Ali, Rakesh Shah, Tej Kabra (who now resides in Denver), Ritesh Moza and Ross Baker and his wife Diana. We ranged in age from 37 to 69.  Even though most had run marathons and also were big time bike riders and snow skiers, as preparation for this gruesome hike, some of us did about 6 to 8 Fourteeners in Colorado.

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro ranks fourth among the Seven Summits in the world. The success rate for reaching these summits is between 50-80% depending upon the route. We took the longer Lemosho route in order to get acclimatized to high altitude. Most of us flew directly to Kilimanjaro Airport after a stopover at Amsterdam. We stayed two nights at Moshi, a small town at the foothills of Kilimanjaro Mountain and we visited a local temple the night before our hike.

Tusker Trails from Nevada assisted us in our climb and we had a team of three guides and over thirty porters to assist and carry our tents, food supplies, oxygen and other essentials including a portable hyperbaric chamber. We had two medical checkups every day, including oximetry and all were on Diamox tablets.

The group at the base of the National Park before going on their trek to the summit.

The group at the base of the National Park before going on their trek to the summit.

We started the hike at trailheads of Lemosho route at 7,392 feet on September 28 on a beautiful sunny day with some apprehension but a lot of excitement.  This hike took us through the rainforest with tall trees and dense vegetation on the way to Mkubwa camp for our first night stay. Next day, the hike to Shira plateau camp at 11,500 feet was more steep and crossed moorland.  On these trails “jumbo jumbo” (which means “hello hello” in Swahili) started all conversations.  Next morning, for six hours, we proceeded to Moir camp at 13,159 feet, passing spectacular scenery of volcanic rock with huge caves.  At 15,400 feet, we had lunch at Lava Tower where it was extremely cold and windy, but coming down from Lava Tower was tough and risky, so we went “pole pole” or “slowly” in Swahili.

To combat high altitude fatigue, we planned to “climb high and sleep low”, so the next morning we started early towards Barranco camp as the hike was very treacherous. At times we had to literally climb and crawl up Barranco wall with our hands and our guides and porters had to hold onto us at certain spots.  

The fifth night was spent at Karanga camp.  It was extremely cold – around 28° F – and all of us slept in multiple layers in sleeping bags.  It was a full moon and in front, you could see the breathtaking sight of Kilimanjaro peak.

Glacier along the top of Uhuru peak

Glacier along the top of Uhuru peak

Next day, the hike was very challenging and slippery to Barafu camp, which is converging point of several trails, and is one of the busiest campsites. Our group proceeded further to around 16,000 plus feet altitude to Kossova camp which was the base camp before the summit and just for fun, we played frisbee! After routine medical checkups and an early dinner, we slept for a few hours.

The final hike to the Summit started around 1 am. It was a full moon, extremely cold and of course, all of us were nervous and apprehensive.  With our headlights on, we followed the h multiple zigzag switchbacks of Rocky Trail.  There were multiple hikers one after the other in the darkness with headlights. Down the hill, it looked like the mountain was lit up with Diwali lights!  There was light snow and I could feel a mild headache and nausea – the effects of high altitude. In spite of 5-6 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom we were feeling cold. The water bottles and the tubing were frozen. The guides and porters were very attentive to our needs.  

Dawn started setting in and you could see some light and a spectacular view of the Sun rising behind the horizon. I have never seen such a beautiful sunrise in my life. We reached Stella Point in about 5 hours, all pumped up. The hike from Stella Point to the summit was amazing past huge glaciers on either side. It took us another hour and half to reach Uhuru peak. It was a great spiritual experience, difficult to express in words.  We were all thrilled with joy and humbled with this accomplishment being on the roof of Africa and the world’s fourth highest summit. We hugged and congratulated each other and profusely thanked our guides.  After taking multiple pictures, we stayed around the summit for about 20 min.

Coming down from the summit was fast but very hard on the knees. We descended almost 10,000 feet before he reached Millennium campsite.  Some porters sang “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, a popular Bollywood song on seeing us. There was a hailstorm in the afternoon and the landscape was covered with snow.  The next morning started early with a singing and dancing session with the porters and guides.  Some of us particularly loved the beat of the Disney song “Hakuna Matata” which means “Don’t worry, be happy”  in Swahili.  Downhill Trail was icy and slippery and we reached the park around noon time where we were pleasantly surprised to see family (Veena Kaul and Madhu Moza) who joined us on the last few miles of the hike.

This was our first exposure to the gorgeous, scenic, tropical paradise of East Africa. The people are very helpful, giving and humble, extremely helpful, polite and genuine. Our group bonded amazingly with no ego or competition on the trails, just 100% team effort and working for each other’s welfare.  Some of us went on to a safari, which was like icing on the cake!