Like Jordan-Hare rises majestically above the rolling plains of Dixie, Mount Kilimanjaro stands unabashedly robust in northeastern Tanzania. Its peak sits at 19,341 feet above sea level, making it the highest mountain in Africa and the fourth of the seven summits—the highest peaks on each continent. But that just made the challenge more appealing for Tom Howard ’00 and his wife Melissa—who trekked into the sky to reach its summit in March.
“I am not a huge traveler, but Melissa always finds a great adventure to go on,” said Tom, who, ironically, now lives in Calgary. “So she finally persuaded me.”
But for Tom and Melissa, it wasn’t all about the adventure. Through their climb, they raised money for CARE, a global movement to empower women and girls living in poverty to overcome their personal mountains.
They started training in October by doing stairs and walking up hills after work. Intense sessions of “boot camp” followed as the next round of preparation. However, Tom said, the most critical point was not staying in shape, but rather staying healthy.
“Any respiratory problem or cold and you were done!” Tom noted. They saw a naturophatic doctor to stay in the best health possible, taking immune boosters and vitamins along the way.
Fast-forward four months to the end of February, and Tom and Melissa were jet-setting across the globe to eastern Africa. Their summit was strategically set for March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
For their first few days, they stayed in Moshi—the largest town in the vicinity. Home to 145,000, it is often considered the cleanest town in eastern Africa. Tom and Melissa explored the town and sampled the local brew and cuisine to get the full experience. However, they had to be careful to follow the rules on what to eat—self-induced stomachaches would not be welcome on the climb.
On their third day in Tanzania, Tom and Melissa began their ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro with 30-pound packs, 16 additional climbers, six guides and 71 porters. After a quick mountain orientation, they spent the afternoon climbing through a rain forest. When they reached the night’s stopping point, they were greeted by their porters singing welcoming songs for a successful first day.
“The most interesting experience was the mix of cultures and people from different places,” Tom said. “We had people from across Canada, and I was the only U.S. native. We had four people who spoke French as a first language. Breaking down the communication barriers and learning about everyone else’s lives and how they grew up was a great experience.”
For the next five days, it was one foot in front of the other for the crew. Tom said the view at night was spectacular, between the city below and the stars above. On day 5 the crew passed the halfway mark, and Tom said the summit looked to be close.
“At that time I was thinking it was going to be easy,” he said. “Boy was I wrong!”
On the night of their eighth day, sleeping was more difficult than usual. Anxiety swarmed the camp as the travelers grew nervous about the impending summit. They left camp at sun-up after breakfast and medical checks. Off the path was three feet of snow and in the distance were glaciers.
Although the average high for Moshi in March is 90 degrees, the ascent had led them into sub-freezing temperatures. On this particular day they were consuming glucose powder every 30 minutes in order to keep their body temperatures stable.
“Pole, pole,” Tom said the guides told them on the summit. It reminded them to continue slowly. It was not a race to the top, since one wrong move could be fatal.
A few hours later, Tom’s entire group reached the summit.
“The biggest thing Melissa and I learned was that it was about us as a whole,” he said. “We couldn’t control anyone else, what they did or how they did it. It was us alone attempting to summit the mountain. As a whole unit, the balance was right that helped us both make it to the top.”