Paul Steger and assistant leader Eric Hoem will guide the group, including Blanke, as all attempt to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Below, Steger shares some background on the group and what is anticipated during the expedition.

Eric and I met with Donovan Pacholl of Embark, an outfitter supporting climbs of Kilimanjaro, in January 2014.  Within a month we were committed to this climb and I completed the paperwork to have this adventure be recognized as an official Mazamas outing.  The Mazamas is an outdoor organization established on the summit of Mt. Hood in 1894 by over 100 Oregon outdoor enthusiasts.  Among the many activities the Mazamas sponsor are domestic and international outings.  Eric has led international outings in the past, and I have assisted both international and domestic outings.  Eric has also climbed Kilimanjaro, but by a different route.

The Mazamas conduct a variety of educational offerings throughout the year.  One of these is the Basic Climb Education Program (BCEP).  For several years Eric and I have co-led small cohorts of BCEP students.  These students participate in weekly lectures and a variety of training activities, including snow and rock practice, and conditioning hikes.  As our class progressed last year, we shared with our students and assistants our planned outing for February 2015.  Several participants noted interest, including Charles Blanke. We chose the outing title, “Kilimanjaro – A Route Less Taken” since few people attempt to climb this route.

The Western Breach/Lemosho Route is not a technically demanding climb.  However, less than one percent of those who attempt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, climb this route. This is the longest approach and affords us the opportunity to camp in the mountain’s crater at approximately 18,600 feet.  Unfortunately, this particular route had several fatalities a few years ago due to rock fall.  The Tanzanian government has reopened it after several years of closure and we are being very cautious, climbing the western breach during the dark hours of early morning when rocks will be frozen in place.

The demanding aspect to all of us attempting to summit Kilimanjaro is the high altitude, since we live near sea level.  We live in a mountainous region of the country and can simulate some of the outdoor experience, such as the cold and climbing in the mountains.  The Cascade Mountains of northern Oregon and Washington are north of the 45th parallel and provide some mountain challenges similar to Kilimanjaro, which is situated just south of the equator.  However, the elevation will be a challenge.

Climbers never know how moving at elevation will affect them.  Those who live high in the mountains can run circles around us sea-level folks when we venture into their domain. (Fans of the Cusco Peru soccer team believe that their city’s high elevation gives their players an advantage both at home and away.)  For those of us not living high in the mountains, a big concern is Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS).  Being high on Kilimanjaro will slow all of us.  Knowing that and the importance of remaining healthy, we intend to trek slowly up the mountain so that our bodies acclimate to the thinner air.  We will all experience symptoms of mild AMS at some point.  With this in mind, we will be monitoring one another so that nobody encounters severe AMS, which is life threatening.

Our efforts at physical conditioning prior to the outing should assist us in acclimating as we ascend the mountain.  Besides the mountaineering challenge, another reason we are climbing this route is that we will spend more days and nights at progressively higher altitudes that will help our bodies to acclimatize. We will be ascending approximately 1,000 to 2,500 feet and hiking up to eight miles each day.  The day we reach the summit we will descend over 9,000 feet to our final camp on the mountain.  The better shape we are in, the more enjoyable the climb will be and the safer for all members of the climb team.

As we ascend, we will notice differences in plant and animal life due to climatic conditions.  Climbers layer their clothing so that during physical exertion, when producing a lot of body heat, jackets, vests, shirts can be opened or removed in an attempt to maintain personal comfort.  As soon as one stops for any length of time, clothes are zipped back up and layered again.  Hot meals as well as high-caloric trail foods during the day will help us stay warm.  Our preparations for the elements are not necessarily dissimilar from the plant and animal life we will encounter.

Following our nine days trekking and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro we will be happy to return to Moshi for showers, clean clothes, possibly some libations, connecting with loved ones and rest.  All of us will have lost some weight, but after a night’s rest we will feel fit and know that we have accomplished a personal and group challenge.  Soon we will return to our normal lives with visions, stories, photos and videos of a grand adventure to remember and share.

– Paul Steger