Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Soldiers To The Summit Dispatches

Follow Jeff and the Soldiers To The Summit Expedition while on this monumental Himalayan Adventure.

A new feature will allow viewers to follow the climbing route via Google Earth. Jeff will be carrying a device throughout the trip that will track the team's position and allow folks to share in the experience like never before. Once on the map, click on the "Fly In" link for a special 3D treat.
Live Dispatches begin October 2-20, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Adventure Leadership Training

is underway!
All 130 guys arrived into Moab this morning and we are full on into it.
We split the crew into pods of 30 for whitewater paddling, rock climbing, rappeling, canyoneering and skydiving.
Jeff will be facilitating leadership training each of the next 3 nights.
These guys are fired up!

Rock climbing

A few of the 130....pulling down on the rock

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Getting ready to rappel into the canyon

Group rock climbing

And there off...
All 130 participants arrived in Moab this morning....ready to go for it.
We have the groups split into pods of 30...climbing, whitewater rafting, rappeling, skydiving and canyoneering. Busy day. And we haven't even started the leadership training. More to come

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kili Blog Report from Buffalo's Own...Ed Kilgore

This is a well written blog from a client on my most recent Kili Grand Expedition...
Written by Ed Kilgore...Buffalo Channel 2 Sports Caster Extraordinaire

It only took 30 hours to get back home to Orchard Park from Arusha, Tanzania Africa, so forgive me if I repeat myself some on this quick recap of our amazing African adventure!

Eleven of the 14 overall climbers were people recruited by yours truly to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro - 9 from the Buffalo area and former Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers Larry Parman and Steve Anthony - along with Lona Parten and Claire Nuckles, who knew our guide Jeff Evans. We all went through a final training climb in Colorado with Jeff in June, so everybody knew everybody, and as a group, we were both confident and ready when we arrived in Arusha, Tanzania Africa to begin our adventure August 15th.

The 9 Buffalo area climbers joined me to help raise some cash for Kids Escaping Drugs, and the rest of the group quickly caught our spirit and helped push us. It turns out, we needed the "push" because climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,340') would turn out to be a much tougher task than I had anticipated.

Day one couldn't have started worse, when at breakfast, our guide Jeff informed us he was running a temperature of 102 degrees and wasn't sure if he'd be able to join us after a brief visit to the local hospital. But Jeff, who once led a blind climber to the summit of Mt. Everest, fought through it and wound up leading us every step of the way for the entire 7 days.

The first day began with an hour bus ride from Arusha to the Machame Gate, where we began our trek towards the majestic mountain with a gentle track through the jungle for about an hour when the trail began getting much steeper. We covered nearly 7 miles in about 8 hours, where we reached Machame Camp late in the afternoon. My first mistake was to pack all of our batteries and other equipment for a Ch2 special we were shooting into my own back pack, and eventually a porter noticed me struggling a bit and simply took it off my hands. The guys are amazing like that. We are now at a bit over 9,000 feet, and everybody is in good spirits.

Day 2 was another full day of about 5 miles, with much of it following the path of a steep rocky ridge before reaching Shira Hut, and it took us about 7 hours to reach the Shira Camp. The setting for our camp was spectacular, as already we're over 10,000 feet and looking down at the clouds below us with a terrific view of Mt. Kilimanjaro in front of us. My own spirits were much better than they were after day one, when I was seriously questioning if I'd bitten off more than I'd be able to chew.

Day 3 is when things began to go wrong, as we began about a 5-hour climb towards Barranco Camp. On the way, we reached the famous Lava Tower, which is just over 15,000 feet - an altitude not one of us had ever reached before - and 3 members of our team scrambled up the Lava Tower's treacherous rock walls for the fun of it, since Jeff told us that 200' climb would be optional. One of the 3 was Jerry Schaffer, a neighbor and good friend, and I sat next to his 16 year old son Austin while we waited for them to finish before we continued on.

Austin was quiet, but no big deal I thought, because he was usually quiet as we trained at Chestnut Ridge Park and other places the past several months.

By the time we'd reached Barranco Camp, had dinner and hit our tents for some shuteye, some unmistakable sounds of somebody getting sick woke me with a start.

It was Austin, who is probably in the best shape of anybody in our group, but he was suffering from a double whammy of altitude related symptoms, both cerebral and pulmonary, and Jeff - a physician's assistant who specializes in altitude diseases - gave Austin an IV and decided Austin needed to get back down the mountain to a lower altitude. His father Jerry handled it very well, giving up his own dream to summit to help Austin get back down the mountain with the help of a guide.

I'm happy to report Austin is doing fine, as getting to the lower altitude made him feel instantly better.

Still, we were all a bit sombre as we looked at the famous "Great Barranco Wall" - or "Breakfast Wall" as some call it, which would begin the days' climb. Jerry was one of the livelier people in the group, and everybody liked Austin, and now the dream they'd had with us for the past year was over. And then there's the wall - still there. It's a very steep, rocky wall that requires great concentration and effort, and frankly it was probably the most dangerous part of the entire climb.

And wouldn't you know it, with virtually no warning, I was hit with a "problem" that meant finding the nearest big rock, and quickly! Our guide Paul actually pointed at the trail, not understanding how I could have a problem when we'd just started! About halfway up the wall, the "problem" hit again, and now Jeff had me take some Cipro, and by the afternoon, I was fine again. In fact, Jeff thinks it was something I ate, and not the altitude, and I'd agree, since I didn't have a headache or stomach ache the entire trip. Training, although it sure helps your legs, etc., doesn't really help you cope with thinning air. It has a different effect on everybody.

Typical of the humor on our trip - and you'd better have a sense of humor about bodily functions and everything else with no showers or baths for 8 days - Jeff Evans did a fantastic impersonation of this tv sportscaster from Buffalo who suddenly stops in the middle of the sports cast because he "has to go"! Here we are, about halfway up this steep wall, and we're all - and that means me too - laughing so hard we're crying.

For the next couple days its more of the same as we continue to move around the mountain while slowly gaining altitude, which puts us in position for "summit night". Jeff's experience comes into play here, as he pays a bit extra to have us camp at little-used Kosovo Camp, which is several hundred feet higher than than Barafu camp, where most everybody else awaits their summit climb. They'll be starting at at just over 15,000 feet, while we'll be starting at about 16,000 feet. Every little bit helps.

A quick mention here of camp life. I'd never imagined how energy sapping packing and unpacking each day would be, as the porters carry your big bag which waits by your tent when you arrive. Out comes your sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, and air mattress - which has to be blown up each night but which is also well worth it - and then we gather in a big tent for dinner and to replenish our water supplies for the next day. Did I mention yet there are no showers? For bathrooms - I knew you were thinking that - we had two port-a-potties covered by tents. The guys carrying the port-a-potties, I later learned, are the highest paid porters on the trip!

One more bathroom item worth mentioning if you want the full story here; we all - even the women I believe - took our own special empty bottle to bed with us each night, so that when nature called at 3a.m. or so, you didn't have to get out of your nice, cozy sleeping bag in the dark and cold. Trust me, having that bottle was one of the best tips I'd received before making the trip!

We're now at 16,000 feet at Kosovo Camp and ready to summit! We go in two groups, and I quickly volunteer to go in group one, which would be the slower group. We're awake at midnight and hitting the steep trail at 1 a.m., and this is where the mind games really begin.

It's pitch black, and all you can see is the legs of the person in front of you, illuminated by your own head lamp. As you continue to climb, you notice many lights below you, and many more up ahead of you. It is down right eery. It's now getting colder, and harder to breath as the air gets thinner and thinner. We move slowly - "pole-pole" as they say in Swahili - but you are breathing deeply and heavily, almost as if you're running up hill. And that's for SIX hours! At one point about 3 hours in, I'm estimating, I fall on a steep rock right on my back and bend my trekking pole. Very scary, but I'm good.

We continue upward and upward, and I eventually lose all sense of time and even where I am. I'm thinking of anything positive to keep going - my wife Deb and daughter Shannon - but the effort is nearly unbearable. Never once the thought of quitting, but many times the thought of how much longer before I simply collapse? When I literally think I can't go much longer, I suddenly hear some shouting and notice I'm now on flatter ground. What's this??

This, it turns out, is Stella Point, at just over 19,000 feet and the edge of the summit. I see the crater below (Mt. Kilimanjaro was once an active volcano) and now the sun is just popping over the clouds below. It's also suddenly very windy - gusts of 20-30 mph - and bitterly cold. But that isn't why tears are suddenly running down my cheeks, because now I know we're almost there. Unbelievable, really.

It takes another hour, but now we're really pumped because we know Uhuru Point - THE highest point at 19,340 - is within reach. It takes another hour, as we get a great look at the great glaciers that still cling to the top of the mountain, and there's the famous little sign we've been dreaming to reach.

I call my wife Deb on Jeff's satellite phone, and again get emotional, but it's an indescribable feeling after trekking uphill for 6 days and over 30 miles to get here. It's now 12 degrees, but the sun is shining and there are smiles and hugs everywhere. Everybody in our group makes it! Charlene McGuire, who was quite sick at the start and actually wanted to turn back, decided she'd gut it out and she did. David Utech, Brian Kruszka - a KED graduate and great example of how a life can be totally turned around - Patrick Bauer, our photog Brody Wheeler, and Paul Barner, an Iraq Marine vet, make it! So do my Mizzou frat brothers Larry Parman and Steve Anthony, and Lona Parten and Clair Nuckles from Arkansas. We all think of Jerry and Austin Schafer, who had to turn back, and wish they were here too.

After taking lots of pictures and celebrating, we now have to start back down. That isn't easy either, but its' faster. Three hours gets us back to our camp, where we rest and then trudge another 5 hours lower, making it almost 14 hours of hiking in one day! Eight hours the next day - my buddy Larry slips in the jungle and dislocates his shoulder, which Jeff has to relocate - and we have a big celebration where the big bus will take us back to Arusha.

We tip our guides well, and my almost personal guide - Nicky - says goodbye again, not looking for anything more except to wish me a safe trip back. This smiling man helped me pack almost every day, and was always right there to help with water or whatever. I suddenly take off my running watch and give it to him, and he actually has tears in his eyes!