Saturday, September 15, 2012

Going for Gold

WOW, so many emotionally charged events have taken place here in Africa since our last blog post. Sorry we have not updated you since then but after we said our sad farewells to our team at Kilimanjaro Int'l Airport, they boarded their flight home and we flew to Nairobi to climb Mt. Kenya. We were on the mountain for the past three days and now with Internet connection again we are finally able to share the most exciting and memorable part of the entire adventure (and that means a lot considering how many exciting and memorable experiences we've all had).

On September 12th after our final day on Safari we headed to the bustling city of Arusha for the long-awaited race chair presentation. As we pulled up to the Ilboru Safari Lodge we were pleasantly surprised by this lovely venue where the lush garden area had been transformed in to a proper celebratory setting. The owner graciously hosted food and drinks for all 40 of us. The group consisted of nine athletes, the leader of the Kilele Foundation, our CAFrica team as well as local media representation. Seeing these athletes entering the garden filled us with the same enthused anticipation that a kid feels on Christmas morning.

One by one they filed in and we greeted them with handshakes and hugs. We could see the excitement in their eyes. After introductions we said a blessing and expressed our gratitude for this enormous event to finally come to fruition. Some of us spoke a few words and then it was time to try out these race chairs. The athletes jumped in the chairs and took them for a test drive. Their competitive spirit shone through as they raced each other and their gigantic smiles from ear to ear told the whole story. Many of them have their sites set on the Boston Marathon 2013 and the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio was a hot topic among them. With the help of this equipment it would not surprise us to see some gold medalists come out of this fit and determined bunch.

Our hearts were filled with gratification and a bit of sadness when we had to say goodbye to our new friends. We look forward to seeing what their future brings and we are thrilled to have the honor of giving back to these most-deserving athletes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Life and Death on the African Plains

Swahili proverb: Kuishi kwingi ni kuona mengi. - To live long is to see much.

And WOW did we see much during our last few days here in Africa! Yesterday we drove to the Tarangire Safari Lodge perched on a hill overlooking expansive plains filled with wild game animals and a river meandering through the picturesque setting. Everybody loved the luxury tents complete with full sized beds, running water, electricity, and even hot showers. Definitely not the kind of tents we were living in for eight days on Kili.

After settling in to our accommodations we hopped back into the Land Rovers and went on an afternoon game drive that none of us will ever forget in our lifetimes. Not long after leaving the lodge we came across a fresh kill. A lion and her juvenile cubs were just beginning to feast on a zebra they had taken down. As we snapped photos of this incredible site, we noticed one of the young lions was pulling on something that appeared to be the zebra's tail or leg.

Upon a closer look we realized with a fascinated horror that the lions had killed a pregnant zebra and they were pulling out the baby zebra by the head! It was quite difficult to watch but we eventually realized that this is simply the way of life in the sometimes harsh world of the animal kingdom. Our safari guide told us he had never seen anything like this before himself and told us we were lucky to witness this event. I'm not sure if lucky is the right word but we are indeed privileged to be here on this continent and share this amazing learning experience with such a great group of friends. Thank you for allowing us to now share this with you, our friends back home, and we wish you all a long life of seeing much.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Elephant Never Forgets

We will never forget the tremendous feeling of working hard to reach the roof of Africa, but the last few days on safari have certainly provided us with many more memorable experiences.

The morning after our summit celebration party at the Marangu, we loaded into our three Land Rovers and headed out to Lake Maynara National Park for our first day of game viewing. After driving about four hours we received a call notifying us that Chad forgot his leg back at the hotel. Although Chad had enjoyed a number of Kilimanjaro beers the night before, he seemed pretty certain that he remembered to pack his spare prosthetic leg in his bag. In the end it turned out that the leg belonged to someone else, so we continued along to enjoy our first game drive.

Lake Maynara (and Ngorongoro Crater the following day) both proved to be prolific sites for viewing and photographing the incredible wildlife here. So far we have seen all of the "Big Five" with the exception of the Leopard, including: Lions, Rhinos, Elephants, and Cape Buffalos. We have also seen all of the following:

Giraffes, Hippos, Zebras, Wildebeests, Flamingos, Wart Hogs, Gazelles, Impalas, Vultures, Buzzards, Ostriches, Hyenas, and Jackals.

It has also been fascinating to learn all about these animals from our knowledgeable safari guides. The behavior of one animal in particular that we learned about yesterday is the Baboon. While we were stopping at the entrance of the Ngorongoro Crater picking up our permit, one of these baboons decided to jump up and crawl right inside an open window of one of our Land Rovers. Jen, Lou, and Fritz were inside and watched in astonishment as the brazen baboon grabbed a bag of cookies that were in the center console, and then he jumped back out to enjoy his loot from up in a nearby tree.

There have been many other memorable moments we have all shared together so far on this trip, but none would be as special if it weren't for the bonding relationships we have made with one another.

"The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships." - Anthony Robbins, as quoted in Steps to the Summit, Step # 12: Build Quality Relationships.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summit Success!

Apologies for the delay of this post due to technical difficulties on the mountain. Nonetheless, we are thrilled to report that all 20 members of our CAFrica team made it to the crater rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro at 18,938 feet! 16 others went on to the official summit of Uhuru Peak at 19,340 feet. It was a long summit night and morning that started out from Barafu Camp at 11:50 pm and subjected our group to  less than 10 degree cold temps until the sun finally made its way above the horizon around 6:30 am. Not long after we were treated to spectacular views of the crater and surrounding glaciers as we reached Stella Point.

Everybody is safe and healthy and we made it back down to Barafu Camp for a short rest and recovery of a few hours and then packed up camp and continued down to Mweka Camp. After enjoying a night of rest and extra oxygen at 10,000 feet we continued down to the gate and back to the Marangu Hotel. After much needed showers, we then celebrated with our team of 66 guides and porters and relished our hard-earned accomplishment together.

We are now enjoying our third day on safari viewing fantastic game animals and will share a few pics later.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preparing for the Summit!

"Before anything else, preparation is key to success." - Alexander Graham Bell, from Steps to the Summit, Step #6: Be Prepared.

The moment has finally arrived. All 20 members of our CAFrica team have been preparing for months and in some cases years to be ready for this moment. We are currently at Barafu Camp at 15,100 feet and everybody is feeling great. The hike up here from Karanga Camp took less time than expected and minimal or no signs of altitude sickness among the team.

Everybody is excited to be leaving for the summit tonight. Backpacks are being prepared with all of the essentials - down jackets, warm gloves, goggles, etc. and enough water, snacks, and energy gels to fuel us for what may be a 13 - 16 hour day.Our plan is to sleep for a few hours now and wake up at 10:30 pm (we are 10 hours ahead of Pacific time) then we will have a bit to eat and drink and start hiking.

All of us would like to take this opportunity to thank you (our friends and family back home) for supporting us and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, in this incredible endeavor. We feel quite fortunate to be here undertaking this great challenge for such a worthy cause, and couldn't be doing this without your support. As we head off for the summit, please send your good thoughts our way and we will make another post when we are able. Meanwhile no news is good news.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bucking the Barranco Wall

Today marks one week since we embarked on our adventure. During this time we've had ample opportunities to bond together as a team as well as opportunities for personal growth - there has also been noticeable facial hair growth among the male members of our group. We are really beginning to look like a rough and tough squad of mountaineers.

As we stepped out of our tents this morning into the cool crisp air of the shaded Barranco Valley, we were able to look up to see the full magnitude of the Barranco Wall. Yesterday it was partially obscured by afternoon clouds that rolled in and eventually sank over out entire camp as a heavy fog. A few members of the group were suffering from some mild symptoms of altitude sickness yesterday - headaches, nausea, etc. but fortunately they awoke feeling better this morning and ready to tackle the Barranco Wall! During breakfast I read a few inspirational quotes from Step #2 of Steps to the Summit - Live Courageously, and off we went! As we approached the base of the wall we watched the long line of climbers and porters ahead of us as they snaked their way up this steep, rocky route. Somebody commented how the porters who were carrying bags of gear on their heads resembled a colony of ants transporting their eggs.

It was our turn next and we all enjoyed the variety and challenge of scrambling up the wall using our hands to help pull ourselves up and over the obstacles. After a few hours every single one of us emerged onto the ridge above the Barranco Wall with a gratifying smile. We decided the view of the cloud covered valley below warranted a group photo and we all donned our 686 team jackets for the occasion. It was another 3 hours or so until we reached our current camp location here in the Karanga Valley at 13,125 feet.

We just finished dinner and all plan to get a good night's rest because tomorrow we hike up to Barafu Camp and leave for our summit attempt tomorrow night!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tales from the Trail

Day 4 of our Kilimanjaro adventure consisted of a 7.5 hour hike from Shira Camp all the way up to the Lava Tower at 14,765 feet and down to our current camp location in the Barranco Valley. Several members of our CAFrica team reached a milestone by hiking beyond the highest altitude they have ever been: Adnen, Chad, Tom, Thomas, Mike, Shane, Wendi, Byron, Cathy, John, and Jane. We have been testing our blood oxygen saturation levels each night with a hand-held pulse oximeter and all of us are registering 80 - 95% which is considered acceptable at this altitude (at sea level O2 saturation is usually around 100%).

Our long days of hiking have been filled with meaningful debates of intellectual, business, and philosophical subjects as well as highly entertaining discussions which many times have degraded to topics related to personal hygiene and the fact that we have another 4 days of living in tents without showers and without proper toilets. This has also lead us to coin Swahili nicknames for a few of our members. Starting with my personal favorite is:
Shane - Mbwa Uchafu=dirty dog
Jeff - Mbwa Mkubwa=big dog
And I will leave as a mystery the team member now known as Yuko Uchi=naked person.

On a more serious note, tomorrow we will be tackling one of the steepest parts of this route - the Barranco Wall. It is an imposing mass of rock at least 500 vertical feet in height. Although it is not a technical climb with ropes, it does require some skill, agility and courage. So until we check in again I will leave you with this quote:

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller, as quoted in Steps to the Summit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just Breathe

It is day 3 of our climb and our team has just arrived at Shira Camp at 12,500 feet after an exciting and scenic adventure thus far. Two days ago our CAFrica team's boots hit the trailhead at Lemosho Glades at 6,900 feet and we steadily made our way through the rainforest (absent any rain fortunately) all the way up to our first camp called Mti Mkubwa. We arrived after dark but enjoyed a hot nourishing meal together in our big red dome tent. As we sat and talked we all thoroughly enjoyed the moment appreciating the opportunity to be doing what we are doing here in Africa on this majestic snow capped mountain.

The following day took us beyond the rainforest and up onto the Shira Plateau over the course of more than 6 hours of hiking. Here we were able to catch our first views of Kibo (the middle and highest of the three mountains that make up Kilimanjaro).

Today, Sept. 3rd we awoke to a frost covered ground and relished the moment the sun warmed our bodies as we all adjust to the higher altitude. The day consisted of another ~ 6 hours of hiking reaching a high point on the top of the rocky pinnacle know as the "appropriately named" Shira Cathedral (picture attached - given that our transmission is successful). Kibo is in the background albeit partially hiding behind the clouds.

Our entire group is doing absolutely GREAT and we are all taking in the magnificent views (breathtaking actually). At the same time we are taking deeper breaths as we prepare our bodies physiologically for the altitude and the days ahead as we move higher yet towards our goal.

"Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure." - Oprah Winfrey - from Steps to the Summit, Step #14: Just Breathe.

Friday, August 31, 2012

From Marangu to You

Greetings from the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro! We have been enjoying the beautiful setting of the Marangu Hotel with cottages scattered throughout the lush green gardens. Our gear is now organized and all packed and we are preparing for the first day of our climb! A light rain is falling and our team has discovered how this area got its name. In the local Chagga language the word "Marangu" means "full of water.".

Soon we will be heading to the Londorossi Gate and on to the Lemosho Glades Route. All 20 of us are doing great and excited to finally begin our way up this mighty volcano. We will be accompanied by a crew of 60 including our local guides, porters, cooks, etc. necessary to support our small army on this remote route as we begin our way up through the rain forest and on to our first camp. We understand data coverage may be sporadic for the first few days of our climb so we will attempt to make another post whenever we are able.

Unfortunately this photo doesn't capture the beauty of the area but it's the only one we have so far of the entire CAFrica team taken upon our arrival at the Kilimanjaro Airport on Thursday night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Chair Jam-bo

The day has finally arrived for our CAFrica team to board our flight from LAX and on to Tanzania!  We have collected 14 race wheelchairs as donations from challenged athletes throughout the country and have now checked them on our flight.  Thank you KLM for not charging us extra baggage fees for our entire entourage.  We will meet the rest of our team of 20 in Amsterdam and continue on to Kilimanjaro International Airport.  It is fitting that our big adventure commences on this day considering it is the opening day of the Paralympics in London. 

If you haven't seen it already, there was a great article in Saturday's Orange County Register about Beth Sanden and our CAFrica team delivering these chairs to Africa. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Now let's do this!" - Mike West, Founder of 686

Another member of our incredible CAFrica Kilimanjaro Challenge team is Mike Akira West.  I'm proud to say I have known Mike for more than two decades, before he started the wildly successful, globally popular snowboarding and technical apparel brand 686.  During our college days at USC we were both working together as instructors at Bear Mountain in Big Bear.  I was teaching skiing and he was one of the few guys teaching that new sport called "snowboarding."  How long is this fad going to last, many of us ski instructors thought at the time.  And they dress so poorly too, we said as we carved precise turns down the slopes in our tight-fitting stretch pants with neat red racing stripes.

Mike saw an opportunity and rode the snowboarding wave to the top, creating some of the hottest apparel designs in the industry along the way.  Now he's heading to the top of another peak - the highest on the African continent - Mt. Kilimanjaro!  He's already at the top of our CAFrica fundraising ranks having raised more than $13,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation so far.  Mike and his designers at 686 have also  created custom team jackets that you will see our CAFrica members showing off in pics on this blog later.  (Have you subscribed yet?)

As for the quote from Mike: "Now let's do this!"   It appeared in this article published today called "Giving Back: 686 Founder Mike West on Upcoming Summit of Kilimanjaro"  Please check it out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

John MacLaren - Climbing in Honor

As we make final preparations in advance of boarding our flight to Africa in less than two weeks on August 29th, we thought we should tell you about one of our team members John MacLaren, and in particular some background on his brother Jim.

In his 20’s Jim was a Yale student, an All-American football player, and had a bright future ahead of him.  Then he was hit by a New York City bus, pronounced dead on the scene, but miraculously he lived and awoke from a coma 8 days after the accident, noticing his left leg had been amputated below the knee.  Jim didn’t give up, he recovered and went on to become the top amputee triathlete in the world and finished the grueling Hawaii Ironman in 10:42 – impressive by any standard.  

Fast forward to 1993, Jim was competing in another triathlon, and while on the bike course, he was hit again.  This time by a van, he was catapulted into a pole, and this amputee athlete instantly became a quadriplegic.  That didn’t stop him either, and with the help of his friends (Jeffrey Essakow, Bob Babbitt & others) they organized a triathlon to raise money to buy Jim a wheelchair accessible van so he could regain some of his independence.  That’s how the Challenged Athletes Foundation was born, and lives on stronger than ever today, having gone from helping one athlete, to helping more than 6,000.

Unfortunately Jim MacLaren passed away two years ago, on Aug. 30th, but his memory lives on in all of our hearts, especially in the heart of his brother John.  We are honored to have John as part of our CAFrica Kilimanjaro Team, and to climb by his side two years after Jim’s passing, as John proudly takes on this challenge to reach the roof of Africa as a tribute to his brother.  John is the Founder of Elite Fitness Training Systems in Santa Monica, he admirably served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL, and is one of our group's top 5 fundraisers.  Thank you for your support of CAF, John MacLaren, and the rest of our CAFrica team, and for following along on this blog as the adventure begins!
John MacLaren
Jim MacLaren

Monday, August 6, 2012

Africa Calling

Rising with prominence high above the grassy plains below, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest peak on the African continent and one of the famed Seven Summits.  We have formed a team of 20 incredible individuals who have responded to the call to climb this great mountain which reaches 19,340 feet into the sky ...and we are climbing for a worthy cause.  The CAFrica Kilimanjaro Challenge benefits the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and this blog is where you can follow along as the big adventure will soon be underway.  

Please take a moment to visit our website: with profile pics of our Team, itinerary details under the link About the Climb, and other fun details about this endeavor that promises to be outright life changing for many more individuals than just our climbing team.  In order to keep updated on our progress please "Subscribe" by entering your email in the box on the upper right side of this blog page.  It's free and easy to do, and you will only receive notifications when a new blog post has been made.        

 “After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk has not yet ended.” –Nelson Mandela - as quoted in "Steps to the Summit" from Step #1 "Dream Big and Step Up!"