Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa; incredibly, this Roof of Africa straddling the Equator is capped by an Equatorial Glacier:

"As wide as all the world, great, high
and unbelievable white in the sun,
was the square top of Kilimanjaro."
Ernest Hemingway,
The Snows of Kilimanjaro

I have flirted with continental peaks from Denali (McKinley, North America's highest), Aconcagua (highest peak in the Western World in the Andes between Chile and Argentina), the Matterhorn (the classic Swiss Alpine peak), Mt. Kenya and the Ruenzori (the "Mountains of the Moon" between Uganda and Zaire), and the Southern Alps (in New Zealand's South Island.) I have even gazed longingly at the Roof of the World along the Karakorum and Himalayan Massif and Hindu Kush.

The Grand Teton

"I would not want to disgrace
any pile of rocks, with a
poor performance."
Glenn Exum, 7/15/'81
Upon completing the 50th anniversary
climb of his first ascent up Exum
Ridge, the Grand Teton, 1931

I have graduated (with Michael, as seen here) from the American School of Alpine Mountaineering under Glenn Exum, a commencement that took place on the 13,770 foot summit of the Grand Teton (also, seen here.) More recently I had glissaded down glaciers in the Rocky Mountain National Park (here saluted with ice axe rampant) during a week of "bagging" daily one of Colorado' "Fourteeners."


As often as I am poking through the equatorial rainforest (hoping my degree in tropical medicine and hygiene might be more useful in prevention than treatment--after, all it is a cruel and unnatural trick to have both frostbite and malaria at the same time), I thought I should give equal time to the African high points. Enroute to recording linguistic anthropology among the pygmies of the Ituri Forest, color coding Bantu and Pygmy languages among the patients on whom I was operating in Central Africa, the magnetic pull of Kilimanjaro's conical peak attracted me to climb to the Roof of Africa.

We followed the Marangu route from the base through the rainforest to Mandara (at 2,700 m), then through moorland marked by groundsels and senecios to Horombo (at 3,720 m), then crossing alpine desert to Kibo (at 4,703 m) where we tried fitfully to nap in the cold thin air bunked at an elevation higher than any of the Colorado Fourteeners' peaks at less than two thirds an atmosphere. "Pole Pole" they caution in Ki-Swahili: "Slowly, Slowly!" We began the assault on Kili's peak under a bright frigid full moon at midnight.

Seven hours in a funereal trudge over switchbacks casting long cold moon shadows over volcanic ash and scree, the surviving climbers reached Gilman's Point (5,685 m) to watch Africa's earliest sunrise in less than half an atmosphere, freezing fingers and gasping at the ice cap summit (5,895 m.)

Mount Ranier

If this experience had not "used up enough luck," I then set my course for another experience in "peak performance" to try to score another notch in my wish list. I headed to Mount Rainier (Tacoma) to do a bit of glacier climbing in ropes and crampons in an attempt on the 14,411 foot glacial summit. Are you ready for the next report through notes and pictures taken while hanging on to my ice axe on this snow cone?

We began with a trek through the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula from our Tacoma base, and climbed up Hurricane Ridge, wandered the streams and forests from Forks, Washington out to the Pacific where the sun set behind the seastacks seen here. A twenty mile hike into the Hoh River rainforest basin along the "nurse logs" and fascinating ecosystem along the slopes of Mount Olympus among Columbia blacktail deer and Roosevelt elk allowed me the comparison of the tropical rainforests with which I am familiar around the earth's equatorial beltline with this temperate Olympic Range that catches the onshore breezes off the Japan current and creates a rainshadow on its eastern slopes. There are fewer numbers of species, but the towering spruce festooned with clubmoss is an enchanted forest quite different than the jungles of the world elsewhere.

And, now, "Tahoma" ("The Great One", like the same name in a different indigenous language for its only rival as a glaciated North American mountain, "Denali"): we would do it the serious way, guided by Rainier Mountaineering Inc, taking no trails, making a new route to the summit if possible, and learning in an Expedition Seminar whatever we could in five days of glacial camping from whatever help resided in our backpacks or heads. We transferred quite a bit of those skills from the muscles and heads of the excellent guides in learning the "Rest Step", PEEP breathing, ice axe arrest for individual or group falls in ropes, and crevasse rescue. We had a baptism of ice in our route finding among the crevassed Nisquali and Wilson Glaciers in dense cloud fogs when our guides announced that we were lost somewhere on the unseen mountain for the first two days! But, after digging out the ice platforms for the tents one evening, the mountain came out in all its splendor above us, and we dug for our assault on the summit from a base camp established after steep climbing and puffing the following day.

We rolled out just after midnight on a clear star-studded night, and strapped on the crampons, gaiters, helmet headlamps and stripped down for the heavy exertion that would be required for 90 minutes of rest-stepping climbs up steep ice slopes around some treacherous hazards such as ice plugs over crevasses, punctuated by 5 minute rest stops for drinking melted ice, in so brief a stop that we would not have time to chill and pull out the heavy down and wool gear from our backpacks, necessarily carried in case of an emergency bivouac, required by one of our number just before dawn in "my rope" behind Ned the expedition leader.

Looking south as dawn colored the slopes, we could see Mounts Adams, Baker, Jefferson, and as we topped one ridge short of the crater rim, the blown out summit of Mt. St. Helen's. At this point we could smell the summit and made the lunge toward the peak, arriving at 9:45 AM on the clearest day Rainier had seen in over a month. So, for yet another year (Kilimanjaro one year ago to the day), I was high as a flag on the 4th of July!

In the descent following the summitting, the sun had warmed up the crust over the ice to make a slushy instability, that made the return to base camp possibly even more exhausting than the ascent. But we were happy campers, even if not awake very long to celebrate before rolling up in sleeping bags after chugging down several liters of lost fluid. We did not have to get up and out of the tent by night, if you know what I mean by that with our state of weariness and dehydration!

The climb of 14,411 foot Rainier was challenging and exhilarating, yet we were conscious of the dangers involved, and studied up ways of rescue and recovery along the way. I had taken courses in rock face recovery with the Wilderness Medical Society and also supervised a Wilderness First Aid (Sierra Club) course as recently as a month before the Rainier climb, and the scenario we had used for our contrived emergency for the last session of the WFA came to be startlingly real upon our final descent.

We had done several long glissades down steep slopes, dropping several thousand feet in only minutes compared to the hours they had taken to climb in the other direction. In one of the last of our long sigmoid slides of the final glissade, a rock slide was kicked loose, and the rock fall struck the climber in the rope behind me. He called out that his arm was broken and that he was bleeding. Posting a lookout for other incoming rock falls (which recurred twice), we managed to dress the wound and splint him and carry out the rock face recovery and evacuation.

We all gathered at the Paradise Inn's bar, drawn in by the smell of beer and comraderie--even before the first shower of the week took the worry out of being close! Each of us summiteers, including the one on his way to X-Ray in splints, was presented a summit certificate along with a gentle roast--beginning with me, the Old Man of the Mountain, for somehow just keeping on plugging along even if not looking graceful in some of the techniques. But there will be other mountains and climbs thereof on which to polish these continuously accumulating mountaineering skills!

The Mountains in My Life

One more sentimental return trek occurred in 1997. I went to Jaffrey New Hampshire, to re-climb the world's second most climbed Mountain--Monadonack, 3,165 feet. The world's most climbed mountain is Fuji, and that usually as part of a religious ritual. I summitted Mt. Monadonack this time in an hour and a half on a summer afternoon. The significance of this event is that Monadonack may have been my first deliberate real mountain to climb on the occasion of a special event. It happened in October 1969 when I was a Harvard surgical resident at Boston Children's Hospital (when any pastime not spent in slumber was a notable event!) but it was the first outing for one Michael Alan Geelhoed, carried up to the top at age 10 days.

Now Monadonack might be 11,300 feet shorter than the Rainier summitted just six weeks earlier, or two miles shorter than the Mt. Kilimanjaro summitted one year and six weeks earlier than the "second conquest of the Monadonack peak", but this New England mountain was my first, and we have to start somewhere! The question as to whether I was in better shape this time than the 28 years earlier attempt will remain open, but there have been many mountains in that interval that I thought of as I ascended this second time, reflecting on "The Mountains in My Life, and My Life in the Mountains". With that same small boy who was carried up the second most climbed mountain on earth, I had been on the most climbed mountain, Fuji, and he was also my climbing partner when we both graduated from the American Alpine School of Mountaineering through the encouragement of Glenn Exum, first to summit the Grand Teton on his route which we took to the site of our graduation.

The Next High Points in My Life

If all fingers and toes are still working and accessory functions like cardiac and CNS systems are "go", Mt. Chimborazo and Cotopaxi in the Ecuadorian Andes are calling, and the Alaskan Brooks Range will be targeted for what passes for late summer in Alaska. Another look at the other "Great One", Denali is awaiting. And then, the Roof of the World--back to the Himalayas which I have approached from the Pakistani Karakorum side, but now will see on trek in 1998 along the Tibetqan Plateau in Ladahk and Himachal. In 1999 in the Himalaya Rescue Association we will do the Annapurna Circuit, and then be among the first to enter the forbidden Mustang Valley in Nepal. I would like to punch a few more of these dance cards before I have to count out the number of digitalis pills I would have to pack for the estimated number of days I would be clinging to the rock face! I will be continuing to "Lift mine eyes unto the hills."

Magic Mounds of Majestic Mountains of 1999