Four wheels, three wheels, no wheels

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From my balcony in Moshi, Tanzania, I look down on a busy street. Traffic here follows the British custom; one drives on the left-hand side of the road. It sounds simple enough, but it can surprise you if you’re not careful. I check both ways before stepping into a street.

The three wheeled auto rickshaw are everywhere. These are known locally as a bajaji or a tuk-tuk and may be hired as a taxi for a very small price. It is amazing to see how much stuff can be packed in these overgrown (and underpowered) motorcycles.

Of course, “bus 11,” or your own two legs are the most dependable form of transport in the city.


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When it comes to overseas travel, I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Horse-camping in the Cascades

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A dear friend sent me a handful of pictures yesterday. Among them was this shot that he took along the trail nearly 40 years ago. We were horse-camping in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

At the time folks didn’t worry about cell phones, GPS units, or hi-tech clothing. Tough denim jeans, a T-shirt, a wool sweater, and a spoonful of common sense did the job.

Not only did we manage to survive, we had a darn good time doing so. We also made memories that last to this day.

Thanks Gale!


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I think of the Cascades as my boyhood home, but presently live in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The Smokies are gentler lot, but still pleasing to the eye.

When I’m not in the classroom, I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences in the lands of the Bible. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.

Knee-busting and ankle-twisting

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The trail coming off Kilimanjaro carries a lot of trekkers and, in certain seasons, a fair amount of water. In places it follows a rocky wash. This kind of terrain challenges the knees and ankles, especially after the rigor of summit night. I have no statistics in my pocket, but I’d be willing to guess that the majority of injuries on Kilimanjaro are not related to the elevation (that everyone fears) but are of the more mundane ankle-twisting variety. Most probably occur somewhere in route to Mweka Camp.

I can’t say enough good things about trekking poles.

Our little group takes a breather. Muhammad is behind the camera and kindly shared this image.


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Since Mohammad didn’t make the picture above, I snuck him in the thumbnail.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences in the lands of the Bible. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.

Full hands and heart

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This young lady from Tanzania has full hands and a full heart. Bryan, fellow Kilimanjaro climber, captured her image one day on the streets of Moshi.


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Our summer experience in Tanzania has ended and classes have started back home. Still we plan for future travel. If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.

A little touch up

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Moshi is a city located on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It is home to some two-hundred thousand people and a gateway to the country. Tourism is big business here with foreigners using it as a launch point for safari and summit (Kilimanjaro). We do both.

Fellow summiteer Bryan captured this evocative image of a sign painter in advance of our climb.


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If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Kandoo Adventures can do!

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Salute to these guys! What a great team! They got us safely and comfortably up and down Mt Kilimanjaro. Big hearts (and good lungs) and attention to detail set this group apart. Raymond, our lead guide is on the far left. His assistant, Ambrose is beside me on the right.

The trip was our second engagement with Kandoo Adventures (https://www.kandooadventures.com/) headquartered in the United Kingdom. I can’t say enough good things about this company or about Rachael Bode, adventure travel consultant in Kandoo’s main office.

We’ll be using Kandoo again next summer for our Everest trek.

The photograph above was shot by Bryan, one of our Kilimanjaro teammates.


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We left the mountain by minibus for a return to Moshi.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Going down

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Coming down from a mountain feels more laborious than going up. Our 2019 experience of Kilimanjaro proved this once again.

Going the distance no sleep is an effort, but that’s not what beats you up. It’s the elevation (and absence of adrenalin!). After climbing through the night to reach the summit, we turn and walk off the cap and lose 9,000 feet. It is a difficult 9,000 too; much of it follows a boulder strewn wash. The brain is tilted and the knees are gone.

Ambrose demonstrates how to skip from the top of one boulder to another with a full pack. I tell him that my shock-absorbers won’t let me do that anymore. I would lose teeth before it was over.

I turn and shoot one last pix of the mountain. We have covered the distance from that frosty head to the steamy embrace of a rainforest.


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Colobus monkeys clamor in the trees overhead. Their distinctive black and white markings make me think of tree-climbing skunks.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Eat cake!

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What does one do after stumbling down from the summit of Kilimanjaro?

Eat cake, of course!

Chef Julius and his assistant Richard provided us with a celebratory cake when we came off the summit. How in the world Julius managed to create such deliciousness in a mess tent on a mountain and bake it at elevation, I’ll never know.

What I do know is that this was tastiest cake I’ve ever had. We happily shared it with the entire crew.


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I eat cake in Africa, but I spend my summers in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Perfect timing

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Raymond timed it perfectly.

He led the way through the night, walking, scrambling, resting. Bryan, Karen, and I followed, headlamps bobbing in a line. Slaa, a strong climber and experienced porter brought up the rear.* No one said much; each life was lived within the confines of the illuminated beams.

The sky warmed as our little troop crested the rim of the caldera.** We rested one last time behind some boulders, stomping feet and rubbing hands back to life, then rose. We turned off the lamps. Passing walls of glacial ice, the silhouette of the Kilimanjaro summit sign swung into view. I walked up the rise and grabbed it with a mitted hand.

The sun cracked the horizon and I shot this image.

I continue to marvel at Raymond’s timing. He set a pace for seven hours that put us on top of Kilimanjaro within 15 minutes of the sunrise.


*Our assistant guide, Ambrose, returned to base camp with Muhammad after he began experiencing trouble.

**We rested at Stella Point on Kibo’s rim. Stella Point marks the end of a difficult stretch of loose gravel on a steep slope. From here the grade is gentle to Uhuru Peak, the true summit of Kilimanjaro.


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Raymond joins me for a sunrise selfie on the summit.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


On frailty and power

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One never conquers a mountain. That’s foolish talk.

The human being is a creature of frailty and mountains are primordial objects built by forces beyond comprehension. Those forces continue to operate right up to this very second, and, in the span of that second, can turn to fury. It takes very little to set one off: a rolling pebble, a drifting snowflake, a shifting wind, a growl that creeps up a volcanic throat. Conquer? I don’t think so.

Mountains are not alive, but they do pulsate. They have no feelings, no malice or joy, but somehow they stand among the proudest of all creation. They are impervious to the flags of victory that we raise above them and they are deaf to the claps of congratulations that we share (before scrambling back down to safety).

No. If someone claims “I’ve conquered a mountain,” they are either dull or worse—a liar. Mountains are climbed only when conditions are right, when the body cooperates, when supports are in place, when the other demands of life permit, and, ultimately, when it is within the will of God.

The truer claim acknowledges this constellation of conditions, peers into the dark haze and humbly says “thank you.” Thank you God for creating something as majestic as Mt Kilimanjaro. Thank you for the granting us the gift of its experience. I am so out of my league.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also” (Psalm 95:4).


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


A two hundred-mile shadow

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Kilimanjaro casts a shadow upon a veil of vapor. The colors are magnificent. Deep tropospheric blues are warmed by the rising sun. Striations build upward from the horizon: purple to mauve to grey and orange. Cutting through these layers are rays of light; these transparent slashes converge with the shadow.

It is frigid at 19,000 feet, but there is little wind today. It is a gift of the morning.

All mountain shadows have this same triangular shape regardless of the mountain’s profile. This is a phenomenon known as perspective effect. The finite size of the rising sun behind me causes the shadowed air to taper away to a vanishing (or anti-solar) point. It is not unusual for large mountains like Kilimanjaro to cast a shadow that is two- to three-hundred miles long.

I inhale the scene and its colors. It is cold in my chest.

The slope has become gentle. From here it is a stroll to the summit.


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

The sky warms, the ice glows

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Climbing through the night with few points of reference is a mind game. I focus by keeping my headlamp on the heels of the person in front of me. I think about breathing. Slowly. Breath hangs about each face, illuminated.

A companion rises over Mawenzi. He is not quite full, someone has taken a big bite out of this moon-pie.

Another companion loses touch with the group. A guides falls back to assist him. Their two lights grow smaller and smaller and then disappear. Time passes. The moon clears the horizon and floats overhead. We hear on the radio that the two of them are headed back down.

Previous experience on the mountain has taught me not to be anxious. Raymond is in front of us, minding the trail. Stella Point is above us, invisible on the rim. We’ll know we’re close when the sky warms with color and the ice becomes visible. In the meantime just keep moving. Poley, poley.

One of my water bottles is frozen. I sip from the second.

The sky warms. The ice glows.


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I play in Africa but work in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Frozen on the equator

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The glaciers of Kibo’s rim are visible above Barafu Camp. In order to reach that icy summit by sunrise we go to bed after dinner and try to get a few hours of sleep. The wake-up call comes at 10:00 pm. We try to eat something (altitude has a way of suppressing the appetite) and depart the camp by starlight at 11:00 pm.

Packs are stripped to essentials. Water bottles are wrapped in socks and buried upside down in the pack. Water freezes in the mouths of bottles carried right-side up and renders them useless. Exposed bottles freeze solid before sunrise.

So do fingers, by the way.

This photograph of Barafu Camp was taken by Mohammed my tent-mate.


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Even before summit night we’ve had troubles with ice forming in unprotected bottles. Drinking hoses and pack-bladders are useless in these conditions.


If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

High base camp

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Barafu in Swahili means “ice.” The name is given to Kilimanjaro’s high base camp where ice and snow are always possible. Barafu grips a hog’s back, exposed to weather on all sides. As viewed from above, colorful tents cluster along the trail that runs through the center of this last stop before “the roof of Africa.” Inside this scatter of gossamer fortresses, trekkers capture sleep or make preparations for an assault on Kibo’s summit.

Obstacles that stand in their way include loose scree, boulders, high winds, sub-zero cold, five kilometers of switchback and scrambles, and about 4,100 vertical feet. By themselves, these obstacles are not that difficult, but taking them on at extreme high altitude (anything over 18,000 feet) adds a new layer to the physical challenge that has carried the climbers to this point.


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Our team of four reaches Barafu Camp on a brilliant day. We nap for a few hours and wake up for a summit attempt before midnight.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Nice shot

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Karen and Bryan stand on Kibo and look toward Mawenzi. Kibo is the centerpoint of the Kilimanjaro massif and the highest peak in Africa (19,341 ft), Mawenzi, just six kilometers away is the third highest on the continent (16,893 ft). While similar dynamics created both, the two are a study in opposites (you really should read our stories here and here). Kibo rises gently to a circular flat top. Mawenzi soars abruptly and is topped by a series of crumbling pinnacles. While thousands of trekkers have a go at Kibo every year, Mawenzi is attempted by only a few technical climbers. In fact, numerous fatalities on Mawenzi have prompted authorities to close the mountain periodically.

The story of two fatalities sends shivers up the spine. It is told by John Reader in his book Kilimanjaro and repeated in many places.* After reaching the summit of Mawenzi successfully, two climbers attempted a new route down the mountain. One detached himself from the rope and fell to his death. The second, continuing, also fell and died, but because the rope snagged on an overhang, his body was left dangling midair. When the would-be rescuers found the cliff too dangerous to climb, they resorted to a rife. The dead climber was brought down by a marksmen who managed to sever the rope with a bullet.

Yikes!


* I read it on pages 100-101 in Alex Stewart’s Kilimanjaro: Ascent Preparations, Practicalities, and Trekking Routes to the ‘Roof of Africa’ (Cumbria: Cicerone, 2018).


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If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips. I promise we will stay off of Mawenzi.

Look down at the ceiling

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The trail upslope from Karanga Camp is a slow grind. There are plenty of opportunities to look around and contemplate the great alpine desert that begins where the shrubby moorland ends. Note the clouds socking in the African hills below.

By this point all of Kilimanjaro’s popular routes (Machame, Shira, and Lemosho) are joined for a single run (metaphor! metaphor!) to the summit. All trekkers are ferried to the base camp at Barafu (15,239 feet). The trail is not particularly difficult at this stretch; the challenge is simply one of physical adaptation and altitude.

According to Wikipedia (see here), the average summit success rate across all climbers and routes on Kilimanjaro is 65%.


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Bryan catches his breath on the trail to Barafu Camp.

I play in Africa but my “real” summer work is in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips.

Swapping stories

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Raymond, a mountain guide with Kandoo Adventures, greets a mountain guide from another team. Many (most?) of the guides and porters on Kilimanjaro are young men from the Chagga tribe who have grown up on or near the mountain. They work through the ranks of trekking companies like Kandoo, gaining not just an intimate knowledge of the mountain itself—its ways and weather, rocks and animals—but a knowledge of human behavior in all of its wonder and mystery.

I learned a long time ago that controlling the information needed to be an effective guide is the easy part. Learning how to deal with individuals who can be wonderful and generous and ill-prepared and difficult and gracious and entitled is the challenge. Mix these individuals into a group of diverse strangers, throw in a dollop of adversity and discomfort, put them in an unfamiliar environment for an extended period of time and (wowzer!) you have a potent stew. What will the outcome of this recipe be? And more to the point: how can it be managed?

Bottom line: mountain guides earn their wages honestly.

Now don’t you wonder what they’re chatting about?


The photograph above was shot by Bryan, a friend and member of our 2019 Kilimanjaro Kandoo team.


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I play in Africa but my “real” summer work is in Israel-Palestine.

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

See here for a list of future trips.

Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!

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The top of the Barranco Wall is a setting for celebration. It is still far from Kilimanjaro’s true summit, but with its menacing appearance, the Wall provides a mental test for every climber. Working hard at more than 13,000 feet of elevation is also good preparation for the physical challenges ahead.

Exposures on the Wall are limited but real. Serious injury is just one slip away. According to the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), the Wall is a Class Four scramble, meaning it is a simple climb with some exposure, serious enough to require both hands and feet (Class Five is rock climbing in earnest, requiring ropes, protection, and technical moves).

At the top of this 850 foot barrier we do a little party, a little food, and a little dancing.

Photographs demonstrate that old white guys can jump, just not very high.


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The Barranco Wall is a challenge. The good news is that it looks worse than it really is. Note the true summit (Kibo) rising higher on the left.

Most of my working summers are spent in Israel-Palestine. If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. We partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.

Preparation for the Wall

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The morning frost is heavy on Barranco Camp. Ice is growing inside my water bottle.

Mohammad and Ambrose discuss how to tie walking sticks into a daypack. Hands need to be free for scrambling.

Karen and Bryan contemplate the route up and over the Barranco Wall. The “Wall” is only an 850 foot obstacle, but it looks like more. No technical experience is needed. Just a little courage. And lots of coffee.

For more on the Barranco Wall, see our post here.


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Had a little traffic on the Wall, but everybody made it up safely.

My regular summer work is in Israel-Palestine. If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. We partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.


Five-star? Add a million more.

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Some hotel stays are forgettable—the location is noisy, the beds have standard sheets, the salad bar looks old, and the concierge is rude.

Others hotel stays you remember the rest of your life. They have it all: inimitable style, discreet (but sharp) service, destination restaurant-worthy food, a balcony view, and more.

You make your choice. I’ll make mine. Then we’ll compare notes.


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I spent several weeks in Africa this year but my regular work is focused on Israel-Palestine. If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. We partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.