At base camp we had the opportunity to meet the rest of our team - a first-rate staff of guides and porters from the Chagga tribe, which calls the base of the mountain home. These guys are for real, having done countless trips between them.
And, most importantly, we met up with Paul DeAngelis, the founder, director and head guide of Mountain Climbing Adventures. He's our head guide. Paul has guided and climbed all over the world. You don't want problems at 19,000 feet. But if you get them, then you want the dude who has experienced it all and trained in all elements of climbing, including wilderness medical procedure. That's Paul.
And Kilimanjaro, while non-technical in terms of mountain climbing, is extremely high (19,340 feet) and must be approached with extreme caution. Although no technical climbing skills are required, this is the mother of all hikes! It's on a rough trail with some cross-country trekking along the way. Since the primary concern for climbers is the health risk from the high altitude, guides always bring a Gamow (hyperbaric) Bag in case of altitude sickness, as well as a pulse oximeter to monitor each climber's acclimatization progress.
We know that being in the best possible shape is the single most important thing we can bring to this climb. The better our physical condition, the more likely we'll be able to perform well. (Dre, you're an amazing trainer - we know you're with us in spirit, buddy!)
We're going to be walking between 4 and 8 hours per day - and the toughest part is, of course, summit day. But let's not think about that yet. For now it's all about pacing ourselves and taking it slow.
One thing that we're anxious to know is how effectively my wheelchair will traverse the terrain. After all, we're first hiking through a range of ecosystems - like moors and dense rainforests - only to encounter a giant, snow-covered volcanic crater. If I'm going to be walking on my hands for any great amount of time, fatigue could become a significant factor. Paul pointed out that I should consciously try to take relatively shorter "strides" as I walk along on my hands. We'll see if that works.
Only Day One of the climb will tell. And that, my friends and supporters, comes at sun up.