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Preparing for Kilimanjaro with my buddy Brando

Trekkers are always wondering how to prepare physically for the riggers of climbing to the 19,340-foot summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. During my own process I read many accounts from Herculean workout regimes to just showing up and given-er hell. Triathletes have failed and 70 year olds make it so I figured this 53 year old from flatland had as good a chance as anyone.

I realized that my choice of boots was the first priority and spent the better part of an afternoon making my selection. Then, break-in and mileage would carry me to the “hiking shape” I was looking for.

Wisconsin has a wonderful glacial area where I live that boasts many beautiful hiking trails. Stunning forests of Oak, Maple and Pine through rolling topography but alas, no altitude.

My dog Brando loves to hike with me. He is a Golden Retriever my family adopted. He spent the first 6 years of his life as a city dog with little area to wander and no practical dog experiences e.g., he doesn’t fetch, chase rabbits or swim (he only walks into the water up to his elbows, hence, the slightly derogatory Golden Wader). He is the only dog I’ve ever had that can loose at hide and seek.

But Brando is big, lovable, barks at the correct time and has the kind heart the breed is known for and he dutifully stayed at my side as I hiked all over the Kettle Moraine State Forest. We must have put 75 miles on my new boots and my “desk job” legs. Many times though he sat perturbed watching me ride away on my bicycle for some extra cardio exercise. He looked at me like he was planning something.

By the time my son and I arrived in Moshi to meet our Tusker guides I felt like I could handle the hiking. The way we adjusted to the altitude was by taking the 7 day Lemosho Glades Trail/Western Breach option and adding two extra acclimation days to our hike which would put us on the summit in the early morning of our tenth day. In addition, we drank 4 to 5 quarts of water every day.

Nine days up is almost twice the 5-day climb but 5 days will only give you a 50/50 statistical chance at success no matter how hard you worked out.
(10,000 climbers a year DON”T make it to the top) The 9 day ascent gave us a 96% chance to succeed. It takes more time and a little more money but I wasn’t going half way across the world to fail or force myself to use Diamox (a drug to help prevent altitude sickness).

Our route included, the now closed Western Breach, and an overnight at Crater Camp just an hour below the summit. Both these experiences were justifications to have left Brando behind. In the morning we shivered our way to the summit and thundered down the mountain covering the same distance in 1 day that it took us 5 to ascend. After an outstanding night at Millennium Camp, actually being hungry and able to sleep, we hiked down through the warm dry rain forest to the trice-blessed Land Rover having accomplished something very special. The relationship with my son has never suffered since.

A week or so after our return to Wisconsin I grabbed my hiking boots from their resting place and slipped my feet into my old friends, as I reached down to pull on the laces all I found was quarter inch stubs protruding from the eyelets…”what the hell!”

In an instant, I flashed to our rapid descent from the roof of Africa. We had sweated buckets on the downward trek. My laces had been soaked in the salty collection. Brando had turned the laces of my Asolo Climbing Boots into hors d’oeuvres! I laughed out loud because he had helped me prepare for an unforgettable adventure. The laces were a very small price to pay for his loyalty and friendship.

My epiphany was confirmed two days later when my son discovered the laces congealed in a pile he was removing from our yard. Brando, my unpretentious buddy, had rendered his revenge for my bike rides with out him…Golden Wader, indeed.