MOUNT KILIMANJARO, Tanzania — A Mount Airy man and his son recently reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent.
John Springthorpe III of Mount Airy, and his son, Jay Springthorpe of Winston-Salem, achieved the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on Aug. 16. They were accompanied by John Springthorpe’s long-time friend, Howard Janzen of Denver, Colorado, and his son, Michael Janzen of Edmond, Oklahoma.
The group began their climb at the Lemosho Gate of the Kilimanjaro National Park on Aug. 10 and exited the park through the Mweka Gate on Aug. 18. Over nine days, the route covered more than 70 miles and they climbed more than 3 miles vertically to reach the pinnacle.
Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,341 feet, is the tallest mountain on the African continent. The mountain is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It is not part of a range of mountains, but is a series of three active, but long-dormant volcanoes one on top of another standing alone on the East African plain.
“Standing there by itself, it looks a lot like Pilot Mountain,” said Springthorpe.
Kilimanjaro is the only one of the Seven Summits — the highest mountains on each of the earth’s seven continents — that does not require technical climbing. While strenuous due to the altitude, a person can hike up the mountain without using ropes and climbing gear.
That is not to say it is easy.
“The trail is much rougher than I anticipated,” said Springthorpe. “The vertical climb and slope are difficult. At one point, you have to hike a couple of miles over a boulder field to get where you want to be. And it’s impossible to describe the effect of the cold and the altitude.”
Though Kilimanjaro is only three degrees south of the equator in an otherwise tropical area in the heat of summer, Springthorpe said it was only 20 degrees at the summit with winds blowing at 15 to 20 miles an hour when his group was there. That put the wind chill factor between 10-15 degrees below zero with gusts dropping it to 25 below.
Springthorpe said he read several books and found out Kilimanjaro was one of the rare mountains that could be climbed by hiking.
“I hiked 250 miles in preparation, but there’s no way to simulate the altitude in North Carolina,” he said.
The former chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners said he was spurred to take on the climb by seeing friends take on similar challenges. “I wanted to do something physically significant. I am 62 years old and spent 28 years sitting behind a desk. A friend of mine bicycled across the United States and another friend climbed Kili at age 70, so I knew such things could be done.”
Jay Springthorpe offered, “This was Dad’s idea, but I am so glad that I did it. I went to Philmont as a Boy Scout, and now I have another accomplishment to reflect upon.”
John Springthorpe estimated that 35,000 to 40,000 people attempt to reach the summit each year, but only 60 percent make it.
Several internet sources set the success rate as low as 40 percent.
There are six different trails to the summit, and the Springthorpes and their party chose the one called the Western Approach.
“It’s a little longer, but it gets you more time to get acclimated to the high altitudes,” said Springthorpe. “There were times when I was in doubt if I’d make it. You try to be realistic, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and the time came when we were about an hour from the top when I realized I was going to make it.”
The Springthorpes and their party used the services of Thomson Safaris to guide them up and back. Their party of five climber/hikers was accompanied by a support staff of 35 porters, guides and cooks. Each climber was responsible for carrying his own water, rain gear and warm weather stuff, according to Springthorpe. The porters carried the rest of the camping and cooking gear.
Each day’s hike was flexible in terms of time but inflexible in terms of distance. It was necessary to reach the designated campsites each day. That required a 12-hour hike the day they reached the summit which only included a 15-minute break at the top to soak in their accomplishment, take a few photos and start back down in order to reach camp before nightfall.
Though it was not unusual to encounter one of the many other parties on the way up and back down, Springthorpe said his group reached the top when no one else was there, and they enjoyed their moment of victory alone.
“It gave me a sense of accomplishment,” said Springthorpe. “I’m proud of myself. I know not everyone has the opportunity to do this, but I did. So I set a goal, I prepared myself for it, and I achieved it.” He paused and added, “It wasn’t something I could put off.”
Now that he has Kilimanjaro behind him Springthorpe may have other adventures ahead.
“I’ve never been to Antarctica. I’m interested in what sort of opportunities exist that would allow me to go to Antarctica.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.