Climbing to the roof of Africa

<p>Usually you wouldn’t work harder on vacation than you would at your job, but when you’re ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro, relaxation is no option.</p>


Kilimanjaro ascent ends with view of spectacular sunrise



brian verkley

Looking from the Karanga Valley Camp on the morning of Day 5, climbers have a breathtaking view of what lies ahead. From this camp, there is one day left until the summit.

Usually you wouldn’t work harder on vacation than you would at your job, but when you’re ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro, relaxation is no option.


Meet Brian and Leanne Verkley of Ajax, Ont. In Oct. 2005, the husband-and-wife adventure team got away from the daily grind by taking a three-week Tanzanian safari, highlighted by an eight-day hike to the top of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and one of the world’s elite summits.

The Verkleys chose the longer, gradual Shira route to the peak, accompanied by other tourists, guides, cooks, porters and weather experts.

“It’s definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Brian says. “You spend about eight hours a day hiking, starting out at about 8 a.m. But the guides are really responsible and they always want to make sure how you’re doing. Our guide had been to the top 150 times.”

Brian Verkley

Above, Leanne Verkley takes a short break next to a Giant Groundsel, which some refer to as “Dr. Seuss trees.”

Leanne agrees that the climb itself was tough, but teamwork helped make a hefty trek more bearable in difficult moments, when energy was low and the trail was long.

“Travelling as partners really helped us,” she says. “You would get a one two-minute break per hour, taking turns. I would say to Brian, ‘Okay, this is your break, what do you need?’ And I would get him a chocolate bar or a bottle of water.”

The final summit push was the toughest test of the couple’s endurance. They had been on a hard road for six days and now had to hike through the night on frozen ground, above the clouds in thin air, and on very little sleep.

“The end of the sixth day, you get to the last camp before the summit,” Brian says. “On midnight of the sixth night, you start hiking to the top. The idea is that you want to get to the peak for sunrise. You’re tired but the conditions are good. The guides keep encouraging you to move. Ours told us, ‘You didn’t come all this way to stop, you’re going to the top.’”

As grueling as the ascent was, the Verkleys say, the work to get to the top was matched by the sense of collective success between guides and tourists alike, and a majestic view from the roof of the continent.

restus/african walking company

Leanne and Brian Verkley pose with a sign marking Kilimanjaro’s highest peak — elevation 5,895 metres!

“You get to the top and you just collapse. There’s tea, and hugs all around,” Brian says.

“It’s one of the most beautiful sunrises you’ll ever see,” Leanne says. “Purples, reds, every sort of colour you could imagine, it’s the most amazing thing.”

On a vacation about exploration, the Verkleys say that the trip would stay with them indefinitely, but the real discovery was about them, what they did and what they are capable of.

“You definitely figure out what you can achieve together,” Leanne says. “Every bit of it is challenging. I said, ‘If you can plan a wedding, you can do anything.’ Climbing Kilimanjaro might be close.”

climbing kilimanjaro

If you want to climb Kilimanjaro, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the company you’re with is certified and accountable. Many groups in Tanzania aren’t legally responsible for you, and could abandon you on the mountain if the going gets tough. Brian and Leanne booked with a certified U.K.-based company that referred them to African Walking Tours.

  • Save your cash. It will cost you around $1,400 to go up and down the mountain with tour guides, porters, cooks, weather experts, food and equipment. Sounds expensive, but it’s a small price to pay to stay safe and healthy.

  • A good guide will insist that you drink at least five litres of fluids per day, three of them being water. As you ascend, the air gets thinner and water gets scarce. You will suffer altitude sickness to some degree. Keeping well-hydrated can help stave off its effects.

  • Get fit. You’ll need to be able to hike for eight hours a day taking only short breaks.

  • Bring lots of layers. You’ll find it tends to get chilly the higher you go.

  • Most importantly, wear tough, comfortable hiking boots. Break them in before you go. If you get blisters, you won’t be able to continue.

  • Companies will more than likely rent out equipment. Check with them and consult your guide for everything you need.

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