Every day of the week, Monday through Friday, a solitary figure with big boots and a backpack can be seen trundling the levees adjacent to Buffalo Bayou on Houston’s west side. If you watch closely, you will notice a pattern. He walks downhill to where the terrain levels out, turns right. Walks three meters to the right, turns right again, walks uphill. At the crest, left three meters, turns left, downhill. Repeat. And if you catch him coming back, downhill, left, three meters, left and up and so on.
If you stop and inquire about this seemingly odd behavior, you will find out that there’s 30+ pounds in the backpack and that the 4 times weekly hike is well over an hour in duration. And what is the purpose of such a strenuous program? Very simple: getting the legs in shape for a trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. If pressed, the profusely sweating individual doing the hiking will tell you that it started with a tough hike up Wheeler Peak in New Mexico in late October. Call it a reality check for want of a better description. When the would-be Kilimanjaro climber realized that you can’t simply ‘imagine’ yourself hiking several hours per day for 6 days consecutively, at altitude. Thinking about something and visualizing yourself doing it isn’t the same as actually doing it. You can’t simulate altitude in Houston and there are no big hills, so the best you can do is to walk a lot of small hills, over and over. Up and down.
Indeed, Fish Eagle Safaris founder Bert Duplessis will be joining a small party of 5 persons on an attempt to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in mid-February 2017. With the capable assistance of their Origins Safaris crew of guides and porters, they will embark on a 6-night trek along the Machame Route which is one of the more scenic paths up this 19,100 ft. colossus, the highest peak in Africa.
Warm-up Climb in New Mexico
In late October Bert and the rest of the Kili crew hiked Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico, in preparation for Kilimanjaro. Camping right at the trail-head, they hiked 7.5 miles to Wheeler Peak, then took the rocky 4 mile trail down past Williams Lake.
Here is Bert’s first-hand account of the experience.
“Wheeler Peak is a beautiful yet fairly strenuous all-day hike, particularly if you are not used to altitude. Some portions were quite tough and there were a few challenging stretches of scree near the top, particularly on the upper portion of the trail down to Williams Lake.
To be honest, by the time we reached the top at just over 13,000 feet all I wanted to do was leave. I was completely gassed and there was a gale force wind blowing, definitely in excess of 50 mph.
One huge lesson learned on this outing was that weight kills at altitude. My backpack was way too heavy and I was lugging a lot of unnecessary items. I definitely won’t be making that mistake on Kili! I started to lag behind over the last couple of miles to the top but thanks to Clemson Smith-Muniz – who swapped backpacks with me for the final stretch – I made it.
I was happy to be wearing my (then) fairly new Kili boots – a pair of Asolo Powermatic 200’s. They are heavy but extremely grippy on almost any surface, provide excellent ankle support, have plenty of cushioning and shock absorption and are very well insulated. So they should be good in the sub-zero temperatures on Kili (we shall find out) and by all accounts they are almost completely waterproof.
Over the course of that long weekend in New Mexico we summited Wheeler Peak and also hiked the Aspen Vista Trail, a gated dirt road starting at the picnic area which is a 12-mile drive up from the town to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. At around 12,000 feet elevation it has some pretty views as well, particularly when the Aspens are turning golden. We missed the peak colors by a week or so but it was quite stunning, nonetheless.
A great way to end the day in the mountains is an overnight stop to try the various steam baths at Ojo Caliente. It was a bit of a drive to get there but definitely worth it. Our camp site was a short walk away from the main resort and being able to soak away the aches and pains of two days of heavy climbing, was blissful.
Current Training Program
My Kilimanjaro preparation is going very well. I am hiking some nearby hills (actually steep levee walls) with a loaded pack, wearing the Kili boots and using a single walking stick, every afternoon Monday through Thursday. I’ve been adding 5 minutes duration and a pound or so extra in the backpack, weekly. By the beginning of December I finished up week 5 of 10 and the duration is up to 1 hour 20 minutes per day. I will then take a short break to run the Houston Marathon on January 15 and will resume Kili training soon after.
Although that was part of the plan, I can’t say that I’ve lost much weight. I suspect I am gaining some muscle which sets it off. Not gaining any though so it is all good. Plus I meet all kinds of interesting people who stop and ask me what the heck I am doing, walking up and down the same hill seemingly endlessly, like a demented person might do. Lots of questions. Training for a big trip? Heading for the Alps? Getting ready for next summer? I am happy to take a minute off to talk about Kilimanjaro. Then back to the task at hand. Downhill. Uphill. Kilimanjaro here we come.
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