Thank you for supporting Child Legacy International and our annual fundraising event, the Mt. Kilimanjaro Clean Water Climb!
Below you will enjoy reading Mike Navolio’s account of the 2014 Clean Water Climb, and see some of the spectacular photos that he and other team members took while abroad.
Simply click on any of the photos below to view them in their full-size, high-definition glory!
by Mike Navolio
A Quick Intro to CWC 2014…
Before leaving for Africa I had my obligatory Mohawk haircut, because of many of you – you who donated to help me reach my $100,000 goal! That was the deal. If I lost the bet, the Mohawk was my payment! This year it was Hot Pink in honor of all the women of Malawi who have to carry water on their heads, often for miles, to take care of their ‘s and their families need for water.
This year we hiked a new route – Lemosho, a 60-mile, 46-hour hike spread over 7 ½ days. We began our hike with 11 hikers and a Zara support team of about 33 guides, cooks, porters, and runners (to get more supplies)! Our hikers included a father-son combo (David and Dawson) who also happened to be the oldest (65) and youngest (17) people I have taken to Kilimanjaro. We also had a father-daughter duo (Monty and Erin). We had a fellow employee from Southwestern Energy (Desiree). Monty also worked for SWN at the time he signed up. Two of our members were born in Africa – one of Indian descent (Tish) and one of African descent (Maggie). Maggie was actually from Malawi! Two of our members were from my church (Brettina and Catherine). Finally, there was Josiah, the youngest of my nephews and nieces!
After arriving safely in Tanzania and after a 2 day Acclimatization Safari in Tanzania’s amazing Ngorongoro Crater, we drove to the start of our hike, beginning at Lemosho Glades in Mt. Kilimanjaro’s rain forest. We started at an elevation of 7838’ (about the same elevation as our incredible Sopa Lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater) in the middle of the afternoon. It was only a 2-½ hour hike (3.1mi) to our first camp – Mti Mkumbwa at an elevation of 9020’. Most of the day had been overcast, but that is not unusual as there is a very persistent cloud layer that surrounds Kilimanjaro most of the time. This cloud layer is what feeds Kili’s rain forest surrounding the mountain. I had a slight headache during the hike. After a great dinner prepared and served up by the Zara cooks in our dining room tent we settled into our sleeping bags in our personal tents. One day down – we were on our way!
After Zara’s team sang to us the “Song of Kilimanjaro” we headed out on a surprisingly clear morning, stopping for lunch at 10,290’. We arrived at Shira 1 camp, which is at an elevation of 11,485’, at 3:10pm. This was a 7-½ mile day. My headache came back as we hiked – a little stronger than the day before. I was starting to get a scratchy throat. One of our climbers fell down and bruised her leg, another one began having anxiety issues, and a 3rd nearly blacked out and felt nauseous. It was not a great day!
We broke camp at 8:45am, hiked 4.3 miles, and arrived at Shira 2 camp, which is at an elevation of 12,600’, at around 12:30, just in time for lunch. Despite it being a short “easy” day it was still very slow for our injured hiker. My headache was starting to get quite annoying. I could not figure it out. Plenty of water, taking my Diamox, well protected from the sun – still a significant headache. Anxiety still was significant for hiker 2, and hiker 3’s nausea turned into a full-blown migraine headache. It was decided that it was best to turn around the next day and head back down with her father and one of the guides. So we lost two of our climbers by the end of day 3! It was very sad to see them go, but a wise decision nevertheless. Safety is number one while we are on the mountain. I could tell the team was depressed. Three of us felt well enough to do a short acclimatization hike with elevation gain of only about 400’. We saw some amazing moss covered rocks! My throat started getting quite sore during the day, but I was hopeful it was just the dry and dusty air. But that evening when I settled down in my tent the congestion hit me hard. I slept very little.
We left camp at 9am with a very long acclimatization day – 2nd only to summit night – staring us in the face. It was going to be a 9.3-mile hike that would net us only 360’ of elevation, but we would have lunch at 15, 180’ at a spot called Lava Tower. So we go up 2580’, eat lunch, but then come back down 2220’ to 12,960’! Going back down really messes with one’s psyche! Before reaching Lava Tower, my headache had become so bad that the pain started going down the left side of my neck and into my left shoulder. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. This had not happened the prior 3 years. I mentioned it to our lead guide. One of our climbers – Tish happened to overhear and said, “Mike, why don’t you take that Go-Pro off of your head? Maybe the strap holding it to your skull is too tight and it is pinching your head.” I kind of rolled my eyes, but thought there was nothing to lose. 15 minutes later – headache completely gone and never to return!! Good Grief! Another lesson learned. I finally arrived at Barranco Camp at 6:15pm with most of the climbers ahead of me. Despite being exhausted, I still had a terrible night of sleep due to sinus congestion and sore throat.
We broke camp at about 9:30. What a crowd going up the Barranco Wall! We finally made it to the top of the wall, but it was slow going due to so many people – hikers and support teams alike. It was after reaching the top of the wall that I took my favorite photo of Kilimanjaro on this climb – the Western Breach Wall – a spectacular steep wall covered with glaciers and icicles. I arrived at Karanga Camp at an elevation of 13,780’ at 2:55pm. Despite only hiking 4.3 miles I was totally spent upon arrival. I had no desire for food, so never went to the dining tent for dinner. I was to weak to open up my sleeping bag. With no sleep, caused by what I’d now determined to be a full-blown sinus infection, I was done. I was finished. I could not go on. I told our lead guide, Bruce, I would be jeopardizing my life and therefore the Clean Water Climb if I went on. In years past, hiking to the summit, I have prayed this great promise: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As I lay there in my tent I began to question God and His Word. “God, is Your Word really true? Why am I having such difficulty? What is going on? What do you mean, ‘I can do all things…?’ I thought this verse was your promise to me and millions of others?” On and on the questioning went.
The next thing I knew I woke up in the morning refreshed and was able to continue! The 72 hours streak of little if any sleep had ended. I learned a valuable lesson. Always go to God. Talk to Him! Argue with Him! One way or another He will deliver. When facing adversity we must go to Him! Today we lost our third climber – too much anxiety. What a shame! This was her second straight year to be driven back by anxiety. She said she felt like a failure. I told her she was not a failure! She raised enough money to bring clean water to 8 villages! We were down to our final 8 climbers who would go for the summit later this same night, but first we had to get to Kosovo Camp at 16,000’. We broke camp at 8:30am and made Barafu Camp at 15,325’ just before noon where we ate lunch. We then proceeded to Kosovo Camp where we arrived at 2:30pm. It was 8.1 miles from the start of the day to Kosovo. We rested, prepared all our gear for the night’s attack on the summit (it’s always a struggle getting everything ready), had dinner, and went to bed. We had decided that there would be 2 departures. Group 1 would be woken up at 10:30; to be ready to go at 11pm. Three of us – David, Tish, and I – would be in the first, slower, as well as older group. The other 5 were younger and faster and would leave about an hour after us, or around midnight. My calculations were that they would gradually catch up with us so that we would all reach the summit about the same time.
We began our trek at about 11:00pm. Summit night is always the most difficult part of the journey. But now I had a sinus infection. I wondered if this additional adversity was going to prevent me from summating this year.
An hour into the hike, we have crossed the midnight hour and it’s now day 7! Everything was going great – my heavy breathing was to be expected due to 50% less oxygen on summit night! Peter, one of our guides, graciously took my pack for me. But the night never seems to end. On and on up the endless slope of Africa’s “Great White Mountain” we hiked in the dark, stopping every 20’ to catch my breath. All we had to direct us was our guide, our headlamps, and the full moon. Breathing became more and more labored despite what seemed a relatively gradual slope. It’s not steep! 50% less oxygen means you need to breath twice as much to get the same amount of oxygen your body needs. So when you are hiking at this elevation it doesn’t take much slope to get very winded! David and I gradually pulled ahead of Tish, but everyone gets a guide, so no one is left behind. We arrived at Stella Point, on the crater rim, at an elevation of 18,885’ in total darkness at 5:26am. The full moon was behind the mountain. After a few photos we proceeded on and finally made it to Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro’s and Africa’s highest point, just as the sun was rising at 6:30am! Group 2 caught up with us shortly after we arrived. The 2-group plan worked fairly well! It was only 4.3 miles from Kosovo to the summit, but it took about 7 hours!
Suddenly we find ourselves in the light and surrounded by Kilimanjaro’s spectacular glaciers! I never tire of seeing neither Kilimanjaro’s glaciers nor the eternal cloud cover far below us nor even Mt. Meru poking its head through those clouds in the distance. As the sun comes up Mt. Kilimanjaro casts it’s enormous shadow on top of the cloud layer below us. It’s a sight to behold!
So, we began our hike with 11 climbers and ended with 8 reaching the summit. Not my desired outcome, but not bad.
There was a mob at the summit. It was so crowded that we had to wait in line and jostle for picture taking in front of the summit sign! All the teams were anxious to get their pictures taken and head back down. Bruce, our Zara Adventures guide said there were several reasons why there were so many people this year as compared to previous years. During August the entire continent of Europe goes on vacation. Many come to Kilimanjaro. Also, it’s America’s last chance to take a vacation before school goes back into session (our 4 previous climbs were in July). This year’s summit night was also a full moon night. Finally, Kilimanjaro is getting more and more popular – it’s on many adventurers’ bucket lists. Those things combined to make for a very crowded Mt. Kilimanjaro! I vowed not to go again in August!
We left the summit and headed back to Kosovo Camp ~8:15am. We passed Tish coming up with her guide shortly after we began our descent. After reaching Kosovo, we rested, had lunch, packed up and headed for Mweka Camp at 10,000’ at 2pm. It took 4 ½ hours to go down 6000’! The trail was awful – the worst on the mountain I have experienced – and really the only part of Lemosho I did not like. 4 ½ hours of steep, rocky descent in what amounted to a dry riverbed filled with angular rocks and boulders. However, just before camp it turned smooth as glass!
We left Mweka Camp at 8:30. The trail leading to Mweka Gate – the end of the trail – was very, very smooth but very, very slick due to the moisture in the rainforest air. It was amazing to see porters carrying people’s gear running past us in old shoes or flip flops while it was everything we could do to prevent ourselves from slipping or falling down wearing our hi-tech boots. There were no handrails to hang on to! There was mist in the air the entire hike out. All the trees were covered in thick moss. The tree ferns were enormous – up to 50’ high! These last 3 hours of the hike were stunningly beautiful!
After 7 ½ days we finally made it to Mweka Gate! We loaded up the bus and went back to our hotel and all enjoyed long hot showers for the first time in over a week! Then the celebration began: passing out of certificates, singing, and refreshments!
Why We Climb
The next morning was a 6am flight to Nairobi and then on to Malawi. We went to the villages – repairing their wells with your wonderful donations; sharing the Gospel; taking their photographs; passing out a few Bibles, Frisbees, soccer balls; and just loving on them as best as we know how. In the end, despite our best efforts to minister to the people of Malawi, we come back ministered to. We come back in awe of them. They are the heroes. They are the survivors. They deal with true adversity. They are the ones so full of joy and peace. I come back every year reflecting on what they have taught me, more determined than ever to continue this vital work, and continuing my quest to bring 1000 people to Africa and clean water to every person in Malawi before I die. But, I can’t do it without you!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the climbers and other fundraisers who raised an amazingly successful $346,000 for clean water! Included in that was a Southwestern Energy dollar for dollar match of over $68,000 on it’s employees generous contributions! I am very, very grateful. Praise God!
I would also like to thank our corporate sponsors for donating $14,000 to cover the costs of our banner, our Webmaster, and prizes for the qualifying donors: polo shirts, hats, and water bottles. A huge thank you goes out to Southwestern Energy, Church Project, Tana Exploration, Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Painting, Strike, Texas Fence Company, and Blades of Glory Landscape and Lawn Care!
Join us in 2016! Go on an adventure of a lifetime! The full trip is July 7-25. The hike itself is July 11-18. Full trip includes: Safari! Hike! Water Well Repairs!