Salisbury man climbs Kilimanjaro
Every fiber of your body is screaming to stop. You just have to focus on your feet and keep going.”This is how Bryan Anderson of Salisbury described the final trek to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“We were told not to look up. It was definitely the hardest thing that I have ever done!”
He remembers being deprived of oxygen to the point of being unable to make simple decisions while climbing one of world’s seven highest peaks.
Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, is the highest summit in the world that is considered ‘non-technical’, meaning the climbing is done without ropes. The highest summit on the mountain is Uhuru at 19,341 feet. Uhuru is on the crater rim of Kibo, a dormant volcano that is the highest point of Kilimanjaro. Kibo has been dormant for 150,000 years but could still erupt again. Kibo also has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater.
Anderson lives in Salisbury, but is a member of the Top of the Lake Rotary in Mooresville. He is the Major in charge of Investigative and Support Services for the Mooresville Police Department. Anderson and Scott Melius accepted a challenge from the Rotary District Governor in July 2011 to raise funds for a program titled “End Polio Now!” They would work to raise those funds while training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Rotary 7680, which encompasses the entire western part of North Carolina, raised $100,000 while enticing 26 members to join the climbing expedition. Charlottean and Rotarian Macon Dunnagan proposed the package that challenged interested members to raise $3,000 each to end polio and another $3,000 to make the trip to Kilimanjaro.
Anderson, Melius and 24 other Rotarians flew for 30 hours to Moshi, Tanzania. In their group was an ER doctor who later came in handy treating minor scrapes and ailments.
While already an active runner, Anderson knew that he would need to be in his best shape to summit one of the seven tallest peaks in the world. He began to run the steps at Catawba College’s football stadium regularly. Every weekend was spent climbing at places like Crowder Mountain and Stone Mountain. Anderson learned to use trekking poles to help disperse weight to the shoulders and arms instead of the legs. He trained with Melius for much of this.
The climb to the top took five days, and distance covered was 54 miles. The first day and a half covered 26 miles, much of it in a rain forest and 100-degree temperatures. Anderson carried 40 pounds of water and rain gear as the altitude continued to increase. He took medication to increase his red blood cell count. Three guides for every climber kept close check on their physical and mental condition as the oxygen deprivation increased to 30 percent near the summit. Over the five-day period, Anderson slept about 3-4 hours a night.
Tents and food, as well as other supplies, were carried by porters ahead of the climbers. Some of them carried over 100 pounds. Anderson said, “They supplied our water too. It still had a green tint after boiling. We wondered whether to drink it or not, but realized that the porters were using the same water to cook our food. Some of the climbers ate big meals along the way, but I relied mostly on energy bars and gels. I just couldn’t eat those big meals.”
The pressure to summit the highest peak of Kilimanjaro increased as the days passed. Anderson heard time and again from the porters and guides ‘Poli, poli’. The Swahili phrase means ‘Slowly, slowly.’ The volcanic dust made it harder to breathe and small gravel made it hard to walk. “We kept making switchbacks, simply because we couldn’t go straight up. We would slip back more than we could walk forward.”
On September 13th, the day before the final try for the summit, the climbers were encouraged to eat up to 7,000 calories. The temperature fell to minus 20 for the 10:30 p.m. ascent. Batteries would die because of the cold. Anderson thought to himself, “I will either make it to the summit, or I will become a Tanzanian till I do.” He carried 30 pounds that night, mostly water to help stave off altitude sickness.
Of the 26 Rotarian climbers, 18 settled for the first summit of Gilman’s Point, 980 feet in elevation short of Uhuru. The other eight, including Anderson and Melius, continued on. Only 41 percent of all climbers on Kilimanjaro reach Uhuru. Anderson recounted the night by saying, “Your brain wants to give up. It is just a left/right ‘zombie walk.’ As we neared the summit of Uhuru, pent up emotion from the week let go and I felt tears. Closer to the top, I remember little. I made more than 30 pictures though.” Anderson was the third to summit that day, at 7 a.m., and therefore was able to spend extra time in the area. Once the sun came up, the temperature warmed to a balmy minus 10 degrees.
After summiting, the successful climbers spent another night on the mountain, but well down from the peak. Descending was tricky because of the loose gravel.
They returned to the hotel on the next day, a Saturday. Saturday and Sunday were spent resting. Anderson was able to speak to wife Christy and daughter Madison for the first time since starting the climb. There was no cell phone coverage on the mountain. The Rotarians spent Monday visiting at an orphanage in Moshi, then flew out on Tuesday for the long return flight.
Of the experience, Anderson said, “It isn’t something that I want to do again, but I will if my daughter wants to do it. She tracked my progress throughout the week and says she wants to climb Kilimanjaro herself.”
For the time being, Anderson is going to start training for sprint triathlons.
His personal motto is ‘Be Epic!”
“Do something on the grandest scale possible,” Anderson says.
“This qualifies; it was immense!”