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Travel

Jan 03, 2019

Climbing for a Cause: Returning to Kilimanjaro for Elephant Conservation

Sarah Kingdom returns to Kilimanjaro, not for the first time, but now with a team that are fighting for Elephants in Africa, that are under serious threat.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

This wasn’t my first time up Kilimanjaro and it won’t be my last, but it was the first time I had climbed with a team so passionate about the cause they were climbing to raise funds for… elephant conservation.

One elephant killed every 15 minutes!

Elephants in Africa are under serious threat, primarily due to large-scale poaching for ivory and also as a result of conflicts arising from elephant / human interactions. It is estimated that 25,000 elephants are being killed in Africa every year… this works out at approximately one elephant killed every 15 minutes!

A pair of the famous Tsavo Tuskers. Photo: The Askari Project

The driving force behind the group climbing Kilimanjaro with me this time was Bradd Johnston from The Askari Project. ‘Askari’ is the Swahili word for soldier, and a particularly appropriate word when used in connection to the current urgent need for elephant protection. Bradd, an Australian zookeeper, set up The Askari Project to raise funds to support elephant conservation, particularly the protection of some of the last Great Tuskers in Africa (an elephant with tusks reaching the ground is typically defined as a big tusker). The Askari Project supports the operations of The Tsavo Trust in Kenya.

142 arrests being made and 62 poached elephant tusks being recovered.

The Tsavo Trust is a Kenyan not-for-profit organisation which works with the Kenyan Wildlife Services. Since its inception in 2013, the Trust’s efforts have helped reduce elephant poaching in the project’s local area by 50%. Last year alone their plane flew over 700 hours, covering more than 52,000 miles, monitoring and patrolling the Tsavo area in Kenya. These efforts resulted in the recovery of more than 1,000 snares, numerous poacher campsites being located, 142 arrests being made and 62 poached elephant tusks being recovered.

The Askari Project Kilimanjaro Team were putting themselves to the test, lacing up their trekking boots and putting one foot in front of another to raise funds to support the conservation of African elephants.  

Looking across the saddle towards Kilimanjaro. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Every year, over 35,000 people set foot in Tanzania specifically to climb Kilimanjaro. As the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro is a place of myth and legend. Climbing this mountain may not require any technical skills or special equipment, however, the journey is not to be taken lightly, climbers need to be prepared and understand what lies ahead.

Many of the group had never trekked before and most had never climbed before. This was going to be a trip that took all of them out of their comfort zones and made them confront their personal inner strengths and weaknesses… after all the summit of Kilimanjaro at 5,895m above sea level, is not only the highest place in Africa, it is also one of the highest points in the world that can be reached without mountaineering equipment.

Kilimanjaro with wildflowers below and blue skies above. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

There are many routes up Kilimanjaro, but we had opted for the seven day Rongai Route as this was a route that would allow the group five days to acclimatise before their final assault on the summit.

Day one dawned and we set off for the mountain. After a fairly long drive, we finally reached the start of the Rongai Route. Our path wound through towering pine trees and the occasional colobus monkey was spotted. We walked at a slow pace up a steady slope, letting our legs get used to the idea of walking. The only way to tackle this mountain is inch by inch, unless, of course, you are one of the super fit porters who climb it a couple of times a month. We had 38 of these porters with us, and they speed past us with the group’s luggage, camping gear and water supplies balanced on their heads.

Reaching our first camp by afternoon, the group set about getting comfortable for their first night on the mountain. After dark, the temperatures on Kilimanjaro fall quickly. Our first ‘mountain dinner’ done, the entire group headed off to their respective tents for what would hopefully be a good night’s sleep. From my tent, I could hear them settling into their sleeping bags and getting used to the idea of camping life. I knew exactly the sort of thoughts going through their minds… “will I be warm enough or should I put on a pair of socks?”, “why didn’t I go to the loo before I got into my sleeping bag?”, “where did I leave the torch?… finally the rustling and fidgeting stopped and the group settled down to sleep, serenaded by the sonorous snores of one of the group.

Sunrise on the way to the summit. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Day two and the team were greeted with sunshine and a small bowl of warm water to perform daily ablutions. Despite having slept pretty fitfully, all were in remarkably good spirits. After breakfast, we set off for an uneventful day’s journey to Camp Two. Night two in the tents and I can see the group are becoming more accustomed to the discomfort of tent life and working out various ‘coping mechanisms’.

Setting off day three, we head to Kikilewa Camp; a pretty steep climb and the pace slowed as people began feeling the effects of the increasing altitude. Having told them all this camp was my favourite and the most scenic, it was a bit disappointing to see heavy mist roll in, hiding the view and blanketing the camp in clouds right up until departure time the next morning!

We reached our next camp, Mawenzi Tarn, by lunchtime the following day. In the afternoon, I dragged the team off, very much against their will, on a cold and damp acclimatisation ‘stroll’ up in the hills behind the camp, promising them a spectacular view of Kilimanjaro and the route we would be taking the following day. Sadly though the clouds once again refused to cooperate and having trudged for an hour up the hills there wasn’t a glimpse of the mountain to be seen at all!

Trudging past glaciers on the way to the summit. Photo: The Askari Project

oxygen deprivation for a number of the group really kicks in.

Day five dawns; we have a long day ahead of us, we need to reach base camp, at Kibo Huts, as early as possible in order to ‘rest up’, because, just before midnight tonight, we will set off for the summit. After a relatively short, undulating walk across moorland, we have a long haul across the ‘saddle’, the flat, barren, desolate area between Mawenzi and the Kibo crater. The path to the summit is clearly visible and, for many of the group, it appears terrifyingly vertical… reality starts to set in. The last hour of the walk is a relentless slog as oxygen deprivation for a number of the group really kicks in.

This is it…

Arriving at Kibo base camp in time for lunch and a summit briefing, everyone is a little subdued. Lunch, a nap, a light dinner, another nap (or at least some fitful snoozing!) then at 11pm it is time to wake up. This is it…

A cup of tea and a few biscuits later, I line them all up for a few last minute instructions and then we are off, at midnight, up a zigzagging route on the slippery shale slope.

The Milky Way lights the night skies above Kilimanjaro. Photo: Bobby-Jo Vial

In the dark, with only our head torches lighting the way, I can hear rasping breaths all around me. It’s a crisp clear night, the stars seem very close and the moon is full. It takes a while for the group to get into ‘climbing mode’; heads down, focusing on the feet of the person in front, not looking up, down or sideways. The cold bites hard, temperatures are around -10deg C. All around I can see the head torches of other climbing groups strung out along the trail like fairy lights.

Plodding on for what will ultimately be nearly eight hours, the team finally reached the top. Unfurling the banners they have brought with them, they pose for photographs to prove they have conquered the mountain and, quite literally, have the world at their feet! Everyone savours the moment. I’m sure they all felt it was hellish at times, and their bodies certainly took a hammering, but they are have achieved what they set out to do and raised both awareness and funds for the future of the continent’s elephants.

On the summit at last. Photo: The Askari Project

2019 will see a team from The Askari Project climbing Kilimanjaro again to raise funds for elephant conservation. This time they will be accompanied by renowned wildlife photographer, Bobby-Jo Vial and will be joining forces Kope Lion (www.kopelion.org), who strive to foster human-lion coexistence in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. , where intensifying human-wildlife conflict has been tough on the lions and where in the past few decades lions have begun to disappear from their former ranges separating the famous Ngorongoro Crater lions from the Serengeti.

Iconic Tsavo Tuskers. Photo: The Askari Project

The future of wildlife is in our hands. Their survival depends on generous supporters, so please assist these projects, however, whenever and wherever you can…If you would like to join the 2019 Kilimanjaro climb to raise funds for The Askari Project and Kope Lion please contact [email protected]

For more information about or to donate to the projects supported by the Askari Project’s Kilimanjaro expedition please visit:

The Askari Project, The Tsavo Trust, and Kope Lion.

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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