Red Deerians Don Wales and his grandson Thomas Zimmerman, with some of the Tanzanians who helped them summit Mount Kilimanjaro. (Contributed photo).

Red Deerians Don Wales and his grandson Thomas Zimmerman, with some of the Tanzanians who helped them summit Mount Kilimanjaro. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer grandfather and grandson reach peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

The best part was the journey together, say the men

Don Wales and his grandson Thomas Zimmerman shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience, watching the sunrise from the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro this summer.

With daylight coming up through the clouds below, there was no impediment to the spectacular view: “It was like a golden globe, illuminating everything,” recalled Zimmerman.

The two Red Deer men had taken seven days to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world in Tanzania. On June 18, they stood on the top, 5,895 metres above sea level.

“It was so great. I got a little emotional at the summit, it was so great to be there with him,” said 77-year-old Wales, of his grandson.

Zimmerman, 23, had dreamed of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro with his grandfather since reading the book Between Heaven and Earth, by Eric Walters, as a pre-teen.

“He was the person who first got me out hiking,” Zimmerman said of Wales. “Since I’ve been 12 or 13, I’ve never hiked without him.”

The pair began planning their epic trip to Africa seven months ago. Zimmerman said they saved up for the airfares, as well as the $3,000 cost of making the climb. (Tanzanian law stipulates exactly how many guides and porters must be hired to assist on Kilimanjaro, said Zimmerman.)

Wales, a member of the Red Deer River Naturalists and a retired science instructor at Red Deer Polytechnic, had first gotten his grandson interested in the natural world by taking him hiking west of Rocky Mountain House. It was, therefore, appropriate that the two returned to the Nordegg area to practice for their African climb by completing two hikes — up Coliseum Mountain and the Tuff Puff, near Two O’Clock Creek.

“It probably wasn’t as much training as we were supposed to do,” said Zimmerman, but it would have to suffice.

Although getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro has only a 50 per cent success rate, neither of the Red Deer men had any doubts they would make it.

“In my mind, not finishing wasn’t an option,” said Zimmerman.

Wales, one of the oldest climbers on the mountain, knew from the time he hit base camp that he could handle it, a day at a time.

While no oxygen is required for climbing Kilimanjaro, because its base is near sea level, climbers can still get altitude sickness. Zimmerman said he experienced it for four or five days of the seven. Nausea makes eating difficult. Yet taking in enough nutrients is vital when climbing what amounts to a long staircase for four to five hours each day, added Wales, who had difficulty shaking his jet lag from the 21 hours flight.

The men praised their team of two guides and nine porters for providing them with great help and advice. Wales recalled their manta was “polepole,” meaning, slow, slow in Swahili.

Although most daily climbs were made in the mornings, the last stretch to the summit was started just after midnight so they could reach the top of Kilimanjaro to see the sunrise at 6:30 a.m.

The Central Albertans and their guides were moving faster than other teams. Zimmerman recalled looking down the mountainside, while it was still covered in darkness, to see rows of tiny lights cast from other climber’s helmets.

While the temperature at the base of Kilimanjaro was about 25 Celsius, near the top it was about -18 C.

The pair, who at this point, were dressed in parkas, touques and gloves, recalled both of their water bottles freezing up.

Summit-ing “was pretty amazing. I was almost euphoric when I saw the final signpost near the top,” Zimmerman recalled.

Wales considers the journey with his grandson more important than reaching the peak.

He can recall the fresh air on the mountain, and the diverse vegetation that changed from rainforest to desert and then treeless, rocky slopes. Blue monkeys were chattering in the rainforest when they started, while huge billed, white-necked ravens made a nuisance of themselves — “much like the ravens we have here,” said Wales.

While impressed with the magnificence of Africa — the men extended their stay with a four-day safari — the pair don’t feel it spoiled them for the natural splendors in their own backyard.

Wales and Zimmerman are viewing Alberta with renewed appreciation. “I have been to many mountain areas, and every time I come back here I realize how lucky we are to have our wilderness,” said Wales, who believes it has less human encroachment than most other places in the world.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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Giant lobelia desert plants, as seen on Mount Kilimanjaro. Thomas Zimmerman of Red Deer is seen here with a Tanzanian porter. (Contributed photo).

Giant lobelia desert plants, as seen on Mount Kilimanjaro. Thomas Zimmerman of Red Deer is seen here with a Tanzanian porter. (Contributed photo).