Heaven or Uhuru?


This is not 83-year old George Solt.
It's Ake Lindstrom.

Some people thought he was headed to heaven. But George Solt, 83, made the summit of Kili and came down to tell the world, Wednesday!

Briton George Solt hopes to be inscribed in the Guiness Book of World Records next year after the organization’s extensive verification process. But right now there’s no challenge to his own that he is the oldest man to have summited Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The climb was organized by a good friend and Tanzania’s most experienced and knowledgeable outfitter, Ake Lindstrom, owner/founder of Summits-Africa.

Ake himself belongs in the Guiness book. He was born in Kenya, raised on a sailboat in Khartoum, educated in Britain, plays rugby for the Tanzanian National Rugby league and races absurd looking vehicles in East Africa’s miserable road rallies.

And he has almost single-handedly raised the standards of treatment and pay for the previously maligned porters and occasional workers who are so essential to successful Kilimanjaro climbs.

Ake’s company said that Solt was accompanied by family including three grandchildren, and that the climb was two days longer than the normal Machame ascent. Solt organized the ascent in memory of his wife, who died last year.

My own son, Brad (Ake’s contemporary), was one of the youngest Americans to ascend Mt. Kenya, which is generally considered a more difficult climb though it is 2,000′ lower than Kili. We organize many Kili climbs year after year.

I don’t have current statistics in hand, but at its ‘peak’ the Tanzanian Tourist Board announced at a convention in London in 2007 that 25,000 people would attempt to summit Kili that year. Even if that is a slight exaggeration, it indicates that many more people try to climb Kili each year than any other known mountain.

For one thing it’s basically a walk, with only the last bit requiring any real scrambling. The challenge is the height (low oxygen content at 19,347′) and cold. A more recent challenge with global warming has been massive reductions in glaciers and avalanches.

Four weeks ago I was sitting at the Talkeenta (Alaska) Roadhouse restaurant for breakfast under a handwritten poster plastered on the wall lamenting the deaths of a variety of climbers who had tried to summit McKinley in the last several years.

There are about a dozen deaths on Kili each year, a fraction of the percentage of those who die trying mountains like McKinley.

The irony in climbing Kili is that more than half those who attempt it book the most difficult route: the Marangu 3-day up and 2-day down “Coca-Cola” path. The Tanzanian government has built dormitories to house the large numbers of people using this route. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to tackle the mountain, but also arguably the hardest.

A self-motivated climber can show up at the park gate, pay fees and hire a porter, and attempt the summit via Marangu for under $1000. But no matter his/her fitness, the chance of success doing it this way is hardly 50%.

Several years ago we booked a climb for four American Olympic hurdlers. Three of them didn’t make it.

The tough part for most people comes at around 12,000′. It has more to do with your body’s tolerance to less oxygen than its fitness, although that obviously helps. Many physiologies just can’t handle the altitude.

Ake’s company promotes much slower (and more beautiful) routes than the Coca-Cola Marangu. Perhaps the most popular one is Machame, which is a 5-day up, 2-day down trek. Ake’s staff and guides are all professionally trained. You get the right amount and types of food, oxygen is carried, and most important of all, you go slow.

Kudus for Solt, and great congratulations to Ake!