2007: Return to Kilimanjaro

Postings from the 2007 World T.E.A.M. Sports Expedition

By Lon Dolber

Editor’s Note: Lon Dolber is Vice Chairman of World T.E.A.M. Sports and a past participant of many of the organization’s inclusive sporting events, including Face of America, the Coastal Team Challenge, and segments of Sea to Shining Sea in 2010 and 2012. His first event with World T.E.A.M. Sports was the January, 2007 Kilimanjaro expedition. He serves professionally as the Chief Executive Officer and President of Long Island’s American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc., which he founded in 2001. This expedition diary is adapted from Lon’s original online blog.

November 29, 2006

Kilimanjaro sunrise

Sunrise from Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

At this year’s APFS National Conference, I was approached by Jim Benson, Chairman and Founder of World T.E.A.M Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters). The organization uses the universal power of sports to create soul-stirring experiences by teaming disabled athletes with able-bodied athletes, forming a true T.E.A.M. After hearing of the Mt. Baker climb this summer with my 16-year-old son James and his friends in which over $6,000 was raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Jim asked me if I would consider participating in a climb of Kilimanjaro.

In 1990, twelve mentally and physically challenged athletes traveled with World T.E.A.M Sports to Africa to attempt a mental, emotional and physical challenge of a lifetime: to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet. Crowned by eternal snows, Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. This World T.E.A.M. Sports Kilimanjaro expedition was documented by Mike Tollin and was a national television CBS sports special. The film Let Me Be Brave was awarded an Emmy.

During their initial climb, the athletes were bombarded with some of the worst weather Mt. Kilimanjaro had seen in decades. After a three-day winter storm hit at 16,000 feet, their food was depleted and only five athletes could attempt the summit. The other seven had to be asked to abort the summit attempt that they had trained so long and so hard for.

In the past 16 years, the memory of their groundbreaking climb has helped many of these athletes face their many day to day challenges. And while they cherish the experiences they had, those who did not summit could only dream of a second chance. In January of 2007, the seven athletes who did not reach the summit will return to climb Kilimanjaro along with the World T.E.A.M. Sports coaches.

Elevation documentary poster

Wild Life Productions produced the 2008 documentary, “Elevation” about the January, 2007 Return to Kilimanjaro expedition.

The World T.E.A.M. Sports Kilimanjaro 2007 expedition will be filmed and produced by Wild Life Productions and made into a 90-minute documentary. The athletes now at the age of 40 will be challenged to recondition, build on the confidence they gained in 1990 and claim the goal that was denied to them by fate. The expedition will depart the U.S. on January, 2007 and return on February 1, 2007.

The opportunity to be a part of this expedition as both a supporter and climber was one that I could not pass up. In the time preceding the climb, not only will I be training, but I will also be raising money which will be used for the seven returning athletes and World T.E.A.M. Sports.

Please consider joining me on the World T.E.A.M. Sports Kilimanjaro 2007 expedition as I am asking for donations of one penny per foot or $194.00. All donations are welcomed and are greatly appreciated. For pledges of $100.00 or greater, I will send the “Team Contributor” a copy of the 1990 film “Let Me Be Brave”. For pledges of $2,500 or more, the “Team Sponsor” will receive a copy of the 1990 film “Let Me Be Brave” and will be listed in the new film’s credits. All checks should be made payable to World T.E.A.M. Sports and sent to Mary Ann Collins at the home office at: 4250 Veterans Memorial Hwy, Holbrook, N.Y. 11741. I plan on broadcasting the team’s progress live via satellite link through the front of our website.

December 5, 2006

African Guide Service

The 2007 World T.E.A.M. Expedition to Kilimanjaro will be using the Masai Giraffe Safaris Ltd. guide service in Africa. Nickson Moshi will be the trek leader. Nickson has been guiding in Africa since he was 15 years old. He now has a very successful business and is a leader of his tribe of 3,000 people.

Being the owner and founder of Masai Giraffe, Nickson Moshi offers his individual expertise as a game tracker, and as a dedicated, conscientious guide. His extensive knowledge about the wildlife, geography, plant life, the history, people, and culture of Tanzania adds an invaluable perspective to the adventure. Nickson’s appreciation for the environment, animal life, and natural wonders of his home country comes across in the manner in which he conducts his safaris, hikes, and activities. Being born and raised in Tanzania, he does not offer activities other than those about which he is personally knowledgeable. The guides and porters he has professionally selected to accompany the expedition are, in Nickson’s estimation, some of the most qualified and responsible available. The guides are fluent in English while some speak Italian, German, and other European languages.

December 18, 2006

Why climb Kilimanjaro?

Over the last few days, I have received numerous letters from colleagues and friends regarding my trip to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In light of these letters, I would like to take a moment and address the purpose behind taking on this great challenge.

James Benson, Kabao Messner, Jeff Messner.

World T.E.A.M. Sports’ team on the climb to Kilimanjaro. From left, James Benson, Kabao Messner, Jeff Messner. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

When I was approached by Jim Benson, the Chairman and Founder of World T.E.A.M. Sports, and asked to get involved with the climb, I was intrigued with the prospect of helping another human being accomplish their lifelong dream. As many of you know, I am a firm believer in charitable giving and taking an active role in the community. As a firm, we have sponsored child safety fairs, The Dome Project, and The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, as well as many other charitable organizations that have been presented to us by our colleagues. It should be said that the professionals at American Portfolios have also been extremely generous in their support of these charities, as well as the time they give towards doing work in their own communities.

It is inspiring to be affiliated with people who are dedicated to bettering communities on both a local and global scale.

Because many of the charitable donations I have made in the past helped to feed, educate and build homes for those who are less fortunate than I am, I felt this opportunity was something different one that would lift an individual’s spirit for the rest of their lives. There is much we can do and contribute to help our fellow human beings in the pursuit of their well-being and happiness. This is why I’m taking on this challenge; and as they say, maybe in the end these efforts do more to change us than those we are helping.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

January 8, 2007

What does Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Ronkonkoma Moraine of Long Island have in common?

Glaciers. While the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are retreating, the glaciers that created Long Island during the ice flow of the last ice age (Wisconsin) are long gone. In geological terms, Long Island was born yesterday. The sandbar that is Long Island has been continuously reshaped by colliding continents, crumbling mountains, shifting sea levels and yes, glaciers. The presence of an erratic in a landscape is an indicator of past glacial activity.

A couple of miles from my home I hike the hills of the Ronkonkoma Moraine in training for my climb of Kilimanjaro. Long Island is a pretty flat place so these hills offer a little bit of a challenge. An erratic that I call the “Cammilus Rock” may have been dragged here by the great Canadian glaciers. The Canadian ice sheet probably expanded and receded across the entire northern half of North America at least 16 times. Monumental in size and power, the ice sheets changed everything in the region and effectively built Long Island.

January 11, 2007

It was awfully quiet in the woods today!

Rumor has it that the Ronkonkoma Moraine where I’ve been training for Kilimanjaro is haunted. My children have warned me about hiking in these woods, citing specific instances of human beheadings and pagan sacrifices, native rituals gone bad and souls in limbo. A believer of fact, not rumor, I dismissed it all. There are no ghosts; there are no ancient spirits that wander the woods. Or are there?

Lon Dolber.

Lon Dolber hiking in Long Island, New York. Photograph courtesy Lon Dolber.

Every morning at 6 a.m., I hit the trail, pack on back, determined to conquer the four-mile circuit through the Ronkonkoma moraine. On most mornings, it’s just me, the birds, and an occasional dirt bike rider. However, the situation was different on this particular morning. There was no chirping. No revving engines. Not a sound since I started on the trail. I looked around. No squirrels. Not a bird or a deer to be seen. The woods were completely devoid of life.

Standing there, looking up to the pink sun that peeked through the morning sky, I found myself feeling very alone, very surrounded, by everything and nothing at once. I listened closer, my heart thumping against the walls of my chest. And then…

“Hey Buddy!”

I turned so quickly the leaves rippled in my wake. A man in camouflage clothing stood before me with a gun. He asked, “What in the world are you doing here?”

“I’m, um, training” I said, as I watched his gloved finger slip off the trigger of the double barreled shotgun.

“Well, you better train somewhere else. Don’t you know today is the first day of hunting season?”

Needless to say, my usual workout was cut short. I got down on all fours and crawled on my hands and knees out of the woods so as to pass the wayward bullets flying through the thicket. No one, not even those crazy hunters, wanted to bag a Lon to hang on their dining room wall.

January 22, 2007

Africa is a long way from home. From New York to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Tanzania, a total of 18 hours in the air. I landed at Kilimanjaro airport at 9 p.m. their time, 22 hours after I left home. The pilot landed the aircraft and it pulled right up to the terminal like a driver would park a car in a driveway. Door to door service.

It was dark when we checked into the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge so it was hard to assess my surroundings. But, when we woke up this morning, we were greeted by the most magnificent views of Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro athletes 2007

The Kilimanjaro athletes. From left, top row, Gary Stubblefield, Steve Sepulveda, Steve Hickey and his wife Zelma; bottom row, Damon Parker and his wife Shirley, Patrick Hulsbus and Tim Shorten, and Diane Williams. World T.E.A.M. Sports file photographs, courtesy Lon Dolber.

Most of the day was spent resting, sorting gear and working out last minute logistics.

Tomorrow, we hike seven and a half hours from Machame gate to Machame Hut which lies at 9,300 feet. Our day starts at 7 a.m. with breakfast at the lodge. From there, we drive 40 minutes to Machame gate where we begin our hike through dense forest. The hike follows the ridge, rising steadily with several steep sections. The gradient eases slightly as the forest merges into heather-covered ground. There we’ll reach Machame Hut which will shelter and feed us for the night.

Everyone is excited to start the climb and the adventure that lies ahead. For the athletes that are returning 16 years later, this is their last opportunity to conquer the challenge and their energy is palpable. They say that most who visit Africa inevitably return. I can understand now why this is true.

“Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngàje Ngài,” the House of God.” – Ernest Hemingway.

January 23, 2007

James Benson.

James Benson reviewing the itinerary for the day’s trek. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

These athletes are amazing. Yesterday we left the hotel and took a bus to Machame Gate where we started the hike to Machame Camp.

The climb to Machame Camp was quite a trek that took considerable effort and determination. The ridge we followed to camp rose steadily with several steep sections. We eventually left the rain forest and entered a heather covered area and then our camp at 9,300′.

With us at the camp are the 80 porters who carried expedition tents and gear.

Tomorrow we climb to Shira camp at 12,300 feet but not until a good night’s rest. The seven hour hike will cross a stream, where on its’ west bank, we will follow a path up steep rocky ridges, crisscrossing a few times before reaching Shira Hut at the base of a semi-circular wall of rocks. We will have ascended 3,000 feet in seven hours, about 3.72 miles of hiking.

Tim Shorten, one of our athletes, is relaxing in his tent after quite a workout which he says was very wet and very muddy. The team is tired too, but feeling great after a hard day of climbing.

January 24, 2007

Wild Life Productions documenting the climb

Wild Life Productions documented the trek and the climb of Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

“Poli, Poli.” That is Swahili for “slowly, slowly”…which is exactly the pace at which we hiked all the way to Shira Camp at 12,300 feet. Today’s climb was very difficult. It rained the entire time. Of course, as soon as we reached camp, the rain stopped. I hiked with athletes Steve Sepulveda and Damon Parker. They both have tremendous will power and legs of iron. We huffed and puffed all the way to the camp. We did what you call, “pressure breathing.” I had to put forth all I could just to keep up with Steve and Damon. Coach Lucy led the way, steering us through steep rocks and boulders.

We are all resting now and everyone is drying out, glad to be at camp.

Tomorrow we climb from Shira to Lava Tower at 15,000 feet. From there, we proceed to Barranco Camp via the Great Barranco Wall. The entire hike will take most of the day, but this route will offer us panoramic views of Kibo through Karanga Valley. We’ll be hiking high and then dropping back down to Barranco to spend the night.

January 25, 2007

Today I learned the one thing never to ask a porter…

“How much farther is it to camp?”

High camp.

Camping at altitude. The summit of Kilimanjaro looms over a high camp. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

They say something in Swahili, which they say means “30 minutes.” I now know that really means “two hours.”

The climb today was long and hard. We climbed to almost 15,000 feet and it started to snow. We had lunch and descended to our camp at Barranco, 12,800 feet high. It was a very steep drop but the camp here is magnificent and while everyone is tired, they’re in good spirits.

Tomorrow is a stationary day. We’ll acclimatize to the altitude and maybe take a short hike to The Great Barranco Wall. Mostly though, it’s a rest day and everybody needs it.

January 26, 2007

Relaxing at camp

Relaxing in the meal tent on Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

This morning we slept until the leisurely hour of 7 a.m. before having breakfast in the cook tent. At breakfast, athlete Diane Williams instructed us on the fine art of cursing in sign language. She has powered through every hike with a smile on her face leaving most of us in her dust each time. Patrick Hulsbuss has also been cruising up Kili with coach Terry Potter at his side, impressing the ladies with his Spanish-speaking and tango-dancing skills all along the way. We are hoping for a demonstration tonight as Tim Shorten proved today that the altitude has no effect on dancing moves.

We spent the day resting, taking pictures of the amazing landscapes and getting ready for the next three days. The film crew at Wild Life Productions who are producing the documentary on the athletes and the climb, have been interviewing the athletes and their coaches whenever the fog lifts from the valley. We will be in our sleeping bags early tonight and up again early for the climb to Kalanga Hut. We all are very happy to have a rest day. Everyone is tired but in good spirits.

As reported by Dana Chivvis.

January 27, 2007

The Great Barranco Wall

Technical climbing on Kilimanjaro

A technical section of the trail on Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

From the Barranco Camp, we climbed up the Great Barranco Wall, which is almost 800 feet high. There were vertical sections of the wall that required great care. Amazingly the porters carrying loads on their head tackled the climb like they were walking down the beach. All the athletes showed determination and scaled the wall safely.

We are now camped at the Karanga Camp and leave tomorrow for the highest camp at 16,500 feet. We will leave this camp at 1:00 am and head for the summit of Kilimanjaro.

January 28, 2007

The Magnificent Seven Head for the Summit of Kilimanjaro

Projected Approximate Summit Time:

Tanzania = Monday 7 a.m.
New York = Sunday 11 p.m.
California = Sunday 8 p.m.

All seven athletes have arrived safely at our high camp at almost 17,000 feet. We will start climbing before sunrise between 12:00 & 1:00 am (Tanzania time). We will avoid the mist that sets in later in the day. The scree and snow will still be safely frozen. The climb will take us about 6-8 hours. After a brief stay at the summit of the highest point in Africa – 19,340 feet, we will descend via the Barafu route to Millennium Camp, which will take about 7 hours.

Nearing the Kilimanjaro summit

Nearing the summit of Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

All the athletes are resting in their tents in anticipation of the final push to the summit. If all goes well we will be at the summit at 7:00 a.m. (Tanzania time).

January 29, 2007

SUMMIT SUMMIT SUMMIT

All “The Magnificent Seven” athletes make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro safely at 8:00 a.m. (Tanzania) in the morning.

Seven to the Top

We left our tents at 12:30 a.m. in the morning on a clear and cold night from our high camp at almost 17,000 feet. At first, the going was not too difficult but, as we climbed higher through the night, the temperature dropped steadily. We could see the lights of Arusha in the distance and the sky was filled with millions of stars as we made our way toward the summit. Even though the moon was out, we still needed headlamps to help light the slope in front of us. Every 45 minutes, we would stop for water and rest which was not too easy in the 10 degree cold weather. Most of the water bottles had frozen and at 18,000 feet you do not feel like eating very much.

The first light of day

The approaching daylight on the climb of Kilimanjaro. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

At approximately 6:30 a.m. as the sun was coming up, we made it to the crater’s rim. There was some celebration which was short lived when we realized that the summit was still almost an hour away. We would have to climb around the rim to the high point of Kilimanjaro which we ultimately reached the true summit at 8:00 a.m. It was very cold, but the athletes were so happy with their victory. It was a sight to see after being denied the summit 16 years ago. I wanted to cry, but my tears were freezing my eyes shut. I just felt very happy for these men and one woman who gave so much to reach the summit of their dreams.

We stayed on the summit for almost 45 minutes and then began the long climb back to our high camp. Going down is always very difficult and this is where most mountaineering accidents occur. Everyone is very tired and the adrenaline of reaching the top is gone. All that remains now is the long descent back down the mountain.

Summit of Kilimanjaro

The team at Kilimanjaro’s summit. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

We made it back to the high camp at about 12:30 p.m. after almost 12 hours of climbing. We had two hours to rest, eat and break camp and head back down the mountain to our last camp on the mountain at about 13,800 feet, which we reached at 6:30 p.m. Everyone was exhausted after 18 hours of continuous climbing. We had dinner and went to bed, which was not very difficult.

The morning arrived quickly and we ate, broke camp and started the long seven hour decent to the Mweka Gate and the end of the climb. Almost immediately, it started to rain and soon we were climbing down in a torrential downpour. The trail down was more like a stream. Of course, within one hour of the Mweka Gate and the end of our climb, it stopped raining.

Celebration at the end of the climb

The celebration with singing and dancing at the end of the successful climb. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

We arrived to the singing of the porters in Swahili who had lunch ready for us. Our climb now over, we all headed to the bus and the ride back to our hotel in Arusha where hot showers, warm beds and dreams of the summit of Kilimanjaro awaited us.

January 31, 2007

There’s so much to reflect on as I get ready to leave Africa and head back home to Long Island, but I want to tell you about my third night on Kilimanjaro.

It was 2 a.m. and I was having a hard time sleeping which can be normal at 12,800 feet. Unable to shake the feeling of restlessness, I opened my tent to take a look around. The Milky Way loomed above like a sparkly blanket of stars, filling the sky with light and illuminating the darkness around me. Africa is said to be the cradle of civilization, the place from which we are all connected, from which we all originate.

But that night, I couldn’t help but feel alone … despite the porters, coaches and athletes that were only a few feet away. I found myself thinking about my ancestors. I wondered if thousands of years ago, they were faced with this same feeling of separateness, of solitude. We seem to focus so much on our differences. We waste our time focusing on the things that separate us, that keep us farther from one another. In the end, maybe it takes a lifetime to realize that all we have is each other.

I crawled back into my tent, ready for sleep. I went out quickly, with dreams of climbing closer to the stars.

Athletes celebrate on Kilimanjaro

A successful and happy ascent for the athletes of the Return to Kilimanjaro expedition. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.

View of Kilimanjaro's summit from camp

Climbing Kilimanjaro is the ascent of a lifetime for many climbers. Photograph by Arthur Chivvis.