B y Jaime Thomas
Heidi Whitney had a pretty big item on her bucket list, but that didn’t stop her and her husband, Jami, from crossing it off.
The Granville couple recently made the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 19,340 feet. The expedition was a seven-day affair that Heidi described as a very well planned and executed itinerary established by their outfitter.
“The guides were great—they’re really on top of their game. They had a real procedure, and it worked well,” Jami agreed. In the Whitney’s group there were nine climbers with three guides. Though Jami carried a 40-pound pack the whole way up, there were 52 porters to accompany the group and carry the majority of supplies.
Jami said the government in Tanzania regulates the camp personnel system; there were at least five porters per person, and each is only allowed to carry so many pounds. One of the guides had even done the trek three times in a month.
Their pay, however, doesn’t quite match up with their labor—Jami said each guide makes $6 per day for a total of $76 after tip for each week long expedition.
“The local people work so hard for the people who come to visit,” he said, explaining that the hikes do generate jobs that might otherwise not exist for Tanzanians.
During the first few days of the trek, the Whitneys’ group made its way from 5,300 feet of elevation to high camp, which is at 15,000 feet. Then, they took a break.
“The few days leading up to summit day was just about resting and acclimating to the elevation,” Heidi said. Jami said the altitude and below freezing temperatures were the most difficult aspects to the climb to that point; only about 50 percent of hikers actually make it to the summit.
“Summit day was what it was all about,” Heidi said.
Reaching the top
On the day they were to reach the actual top, the Whitneys rose at midnight to 17-degree temperatures and had breakfast and packed up by 1 a.m. About six hours and 2.5 miles later, they reached the summit.
“You get there at sunrise. It’s amazing to see,” Jami said, noting that others in his group shared similar sentiments.
“Everyone was emotional and grateful, just to be able to do something like that—you consider yourself blessed,” he said.
Heidi, who has been wanting to climb Kilimanjaro for about 5 years, said it was a surreal experience to summit, and she felt like a zombie from climbing in the dark for so long.
“I actually just sat on a rock, taking it all in, staring at the remaining summit glaciers while the others were bouncing around, taking pictures, high fiving,” she said.
Both she and Jami, who are in their forties, said the climb was challenging, but they were able to complete it slowly and steadily. They did train, but not excessively.
“I carried a 40-pound pack on a stair stepper to prepare. And she’s a marathoner and an ultra-athlete, so she’s in very, very good condition,” Jami said. “Physically, we were very well prepared I thought.”
Heidi said she did a few day hikes in preparation, but both she and Jami said there is no way to prepare for the altitude.
“The pace of the climb was very methodical, and I had to keep reminding myself to respect the altitude, because I am used to spending a longer time on my feet than the climb plan called for,” Heidi said.
Jami said being prepared was a huge asset for the couple; they passed a lot of less-prepared hikers who were obviously struggling.
“Endurance background helped some, and there were a few parts that were hand over fist climbing, but mostly it was about keeping it slow and steady, resting and keeping the energy stored up until summit day, which was 14 hours of walking, half of that spent climbing in the dark with a headlamp,” Heidi said.
For a couple of days before and after making their way back down from the mountain, the couple was able to spend a few days traveling in Tanzania. They saw the Ngorongoro Crater, the eighth wonder of the world and other parks in the country.
Though Jami didn’t know where he and his wife would go next, the pair’s long history of adventure travel is bound to turn up something exciting.