Sig Brothers (and Father/Son) Summit Mount Kilimanjaro
According to David Westerbeck ’83 Mount Kilimanjaro was never on his bucket list of hikes/climbs. But Dave’s son, Zach ’14 had it on his. So when Zach, and fellow pledge brother, Nick Wells ’14, asked Dave to join them Dave couldn’t say no on what he viewed as an epic journey.
A Smart Idea?
Dave started training for the hike rigorously every day, spending hours on the treadmill and stair machine with a 20-30 lb. backpack on his back. Even on a cruise Dave and his wife took four weeks prior to his departure to Tanzania, he hit the gym on the ship every day. Dave, along with Zach and Nick went to Colorado two weeks before their departure to get a little elevation work in as well.
Even with all the training Dave commented, “I lost a lot of sleep in the months leading up to the hike, questioning whether it was a smart idea for me to do it. Also, if I didn’t make it to the top, I would be pretty embarrassed. My wife was very supportive of me going, almost pushing me to go.”
The Epic Journey
Setting out on June 16 with a 13-hour flight to Ethiopia and then on to Tanzania, Dave, Zach and Nick booked a 7-day 38-mile round trip climb on the Machame Trail to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Zach stated, “In terms of the nature of the climb, it was what the Tanzanian’s call “pole pole”, which means slowly slowly. For five days we climbed slowly at a steady incline, going from 6,000’ to 16,000’ of altitude, before making the push on Day 6 to the summit of Africa’s tallest peak at 19,341 feet.” **
Each night they slept on the ground in tents and dealt with temperatures as low as 15 degrees. At these altitudes any exertion quickly elevated their heart rates.
Zach continued, “It was challenging, but it wasn’t exhausting. There were beautiful sights in every direction and five of us guys (3 Sigs and 2 guides), so there was always something to preoccupy your time with, whether it be taking in sights or having a conversation. The summit night/day was when the climb went from challenging to extremely difficult. It was a steep gradient that lasted the entire ascent, which took us four hours to do.”
“The other challenging part was that it was cold on summit night/day. The wind whipped through and chilled me to my bones to the point where I could not get warm. If I stood still for too long, I actually started to freeze and shiver, which meant for me that the worst part of the climb was taking breaks. It was actually better for me to continue moving forward even if I was tired just to keep my body temperature at a survivable level,” noted Zach.
After starting out at midnight they reached the summit to see the sunrise and to take in the views and reflect on their accomplishment of making it to the top of Africa’s tallest peak. The Sigs then returned to their base camp at 16,000’ for breakfast and then they were supposed to go to their next camp at 12,000’, where they would rest, spend the night, and finish the descent the next day. But according to Dave, “Zach and Nick had a different plan in mind. They thought it would be great to just go all the way down so we could shower, have a beer and sleep in a bed. So, we went from 16,000’ to over 19,000’ and all the way down to 6,000’ in the same day. Their plan included about 15 hours of hiking and lots of miles. I have to admit the shower, beer and bed were a great treat, even though I could hardly walk for three days because my legs hurt so bad.”
Taking on this challenge according to Zach with his dad and close friend was everything you’d imagine. He stated, “Climbing that mountain with my dad (best man at his wedding) and one of my best friends will forever be one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done with my life. I know this is sort of a cliche, but you genuinely can’t put a price tag on doing something like that with people you care so much about. It was a life changing experience for all of us.”
** Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain above sea level in the world: 5,895 m (19,341 ft) above sea level and about 4,900 m (16,100 ft) above its plateau base. It is the highest volcano in Africa and the Eastern Hemisphere. More facts on Mount Kilimanjaro.