Outside Online: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

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February 19
Starting up the mountain
The climbers' warm welcome in western Kenya
With 66 porters helping out, the climbers began at the trailhead this morning and headed up into the high tropical forest. They climbed for about three hours, spotting some colobus monkeys, and made camp at 9,000 feet.

Via satellite phone, Peter Blomquist reported that everybody is in good spirits, the weather perfect. At 7 p.m. local time, after a fine meal of rice and chicken with peanut sauce, the climbers watched dusk settle and felt the air chill.

"The team is a very vivacious and lively group. We've been together for four days so far and it seems a lot longer than that," Blomquist said, with laughter in the background. "This is a really fun group of people."

Entertaining everyone are two groups: the Levitan Boys--Dan, the investment banker; Robert, the webmaster; and Richard, the climb's doctor--and the Westin Girls, with Charysse Wiley from San Francisco and Catherine Allen from Orlando.

Before beginning the ascent, the climbers visited a CARE project in a village in western Kenya. A dozen women singing and dancing to drumbeats greeted them. The villagers all gathered around, offering a warm welcome.

Thanks to CARE, the village is opening up a pharmacy to serve 2,000 people in nine villages. There are also vaccinations, and programs to teach mothers about keeping their babies healthy.

"For me personally, it was a life-changing experience," said Christi Masengill, a coffee taster for Starbucks.

"For all of us, it made the climb much, much more meaningful as well," she said. "We are really doing something by being here and raising this money that makes a tremendous difference for people."

They're also enjoying a helluva trip. Masengill said that driving across the savannah yesterday was like a dream, with the acacia trees, zebras, ostriches, owls, gazelles, and other wildlife. And, of course, Mount Kilimanjaro stands in the background, rising above the African plain.

Tomorrow's trek takes them out of the forest into the heather zone. They'll break out of that in mid-afternoon, hiking onto the Shira Plateau. The Shira Volcano was the original volcano that created Mount Kilimanjaro, but then collapsed into what is now a broad flatland at about 11,000-12,000 feet.

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