Jerry Vos and Pat Skeffington have been climbing mountains all throughout the United States for years. But after climbing Yosemite and Mt. Whitney in California, they decided a more challenging route was in store: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
"I wouldn’t describe it as a bucket list item, but after climbing mountains in the U.S. we looked at somewhere outside of the country," Vos said. "We thought Kilimanjaro looked interesting and do-able."
Vos would soon find out the physical aspect of the mountain was in-fact "do-able," but the mental aspect was more challenging on the 9-day excursion.
"We were totally psychologically unprepared," he said. "Clothes-wise we weren’t really that cold except for day two when it rained for five hours. It was the trail itself that was so difficult. "When you are six days up in the mountains you really don’t want to twist and ankle and be carried down. It’s just one of those things that you know in your mind that you have to keep going."
Vos and Skeffington chose to climb the Lemosho-Western Breach Route – one of four routes offered – due to it being the most exotic and least traveled routes. Then they started mentally and physically preparing for the journey.
"It takes about 6 months of planning including picking out a company to guide you along the path," Vos said. "We spent a lot of time and money on researching and buying the right equipment. We also worked out to help acclimate our bodies to the altitude."
Vos and Skeffington were two of five individuals who embarked on the Lemosho-Western Branch route. They were accompanied by three guides, including a trainee who carried the day packs, and a smattering of porters, who carried up all the food, tents, and other items for the 40 plus hikers who embarked on the other three trails before they reached camp.
"All of us didn’t carry anything besides water which was really nice," Vos said. The expedition started at 7,500 feet with altitudes steadily increasing until day five, which was a rest day, at 13,700 feet. The group then traveled 16,000 feet to become acclimated to the altitude and then continued on their journey, climbing to the top of the inactive volcano at 19,400 feet.
"Day eight and nine were the worst because at one point there was so much snow blowing that they (the guides) had to take out ice axes to carve out new paths," Vos said. "We had to climb up a steep trail and then go another quarter of a mile walking in a blizzard. By the time we reached 19,400 feet the snow was a foot deep.
"We didn’t really get the dramatic views one would think of on the mountain. We could look out and see lots of clouds below and above us, but not much else."
By the time Vos and Skeffington reached the top of the summit, they were ready to head back down to a lower altitude.
"We had to walk another 7 hours to get to the next camp which was dangerous because all the paths were wet," Vos said. "For 8 miles we had to make sure we were looking at our feet so we didn’t slip off of rocks or any loose scree. We saw a few people being taken off the route due to slipping and altitude sickness."
When they reached the end of their journey, Vos said he felt accomplished, but accepted that he wouldn’t hike that route or a similar route again.
"It (hiking) really gets in your blood, but we will never do anything to this extent again," he said. "I’m 65 and Pat is 61 (years old). We did alright; there wasn’t any doubt we weren’t going to make it, but it (the route) was touch and go sometimes.
"We still dream of it because it was a difficult adventure, not a vacation."
So, what’s next for the adventurous duo?
"Machu Picchu," Vos said, chuckling. "It’s only about 7,000 feet (above sea level), and there’s no snow."