Hiking Club reaches new heights

Five members of the Quail Creek Hiking Club recently returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. Kilimanjaro is the tallest stand-alone mountain in the world and the highest point in Africa. Its summit elevation of 19,341 feet above sea level also makes it higher than any point in Europe or Australia.

The Quail Creek hikers were accompanied by six friends and relatives from Canada. The group elected to climb the Machame route, taking six days to reach the summit. They then took two days to descend from the Barafu base camp at elevation 15,330 feet.

“It has been my life’s dream to go to Africa someday,” commented Rachel Slabaugh. “When I heard about the trip that included Kilimanjaro and a safari, my husband encouraged me to sign up,” For Robin Blais, the hike completed his dream to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

All members of the group trained extensively for the trek. John Oyala did a lot of distance running in addition to hiking regularly with the Quail Creek Hiking Club. All the hikers took advantage of the Santa Rita Mountains nearby and made several training hikes up Mt. Wrightson. They spent nearly a year in preparation, reading whatever they could find about the trek. The experience of Robin Blais, Joe Keegan and John Oyala’s hike to Everest Base Camp last May was a direct help to the group. “The training and preparation really paid off,” commented Dennis Day, “especially at higher altitudes as the thin air starved our minds of the confidence we started with.” At the summit there is only 49% of the oxygen available at sea level.

“The porters were a wonderful surprise in what they did and their attitude and friendliness,” commented Joe Keegan. In total there were 49 guides, cooks and porters for the 11 hikers. “I feel that the company that took us up the mountain was some of the best; the service and their knowledge were impressive.” “The food was outstanding and it was amazing to watch the mechanics of getting our group to the top and back,” added Rachel. The porters carried all of our food, clothing and tents from the park gate to the final camp at Barafu, 15,330 feet above sea level. The group was the second oldest group of hikers the guiding company has served. The Quail Creek hikers ranged in age from their early 60’s to early 70’s.

All the hikers commented on the hardships of camping in the exposed campsites on the barren volcanic mountainside. From the deprivation of sleep caused by high altitude to the ordeal of going outside to the porta-potty tent in the middle of the night, camp life was as much a challenge as the climb. Mornings did not bring immediate relief as Dennis described how they would get dressed by flashlight in the small, cold two man tents as you could hear the thin ice layer crackling on the outer tent shell as the cold wind played with the fabric.

The hardships they endured quickly faded as the hikers describe their accomplishment. Organizer Robin Blais recounts, “Although the whole summit day was special, it was very gratifying to get to the end of hike and realize that all 11 hikers had completed the hike. This was especially special as that seldom happens in a group this size.” From a personal perspective, Dennis described his feelings as they left the summit and began their descent, “The warm sense of accomplishment was mixed with a sadness that the culmination of all our planning, preparation, training, hardship and effort was now behind us.”

The groups’ plans for the future are as varied as their backgrounds. Although most of them say this is their last major hike, they all have plans to continue hiking in Arizona, the Canadian Rockies and the New Zealand fiordlands or to run marathons with their daughters.