The tale of the trek 

How octogenarians Martin and Esther Kafer climbed Kilimanjaro, set a world record and found both hope and despair

click to flip through (5) BY SUE OAKEY-BAKER
 

Page 2 of 10

Martin adds, raising his bushy white eyebrows: "We're just two old fools trying to be young."

We have done what we can to prepare. The team has everything on the equipment list, has trained hard over varied terrain, and has surpassed their fundraising goal. I have my worries as usual. Acute Mountain Sickness is a risk. One person has nerve damage in her feet. Another is afraid of heights. One team member is unsure on rocky terrain. Martin has two prosthetic hips. And Martin and Esther may die of old age at any time.

Given the added risk to the participants, why does the Alzheimer Society continue to support the fundraiser year after year? "The event raises incredible awareness for Alzheimer's," says the Society's CEO Jean Blake. "The hike to altitude symbolizes the journey that Alzheimer patients and their caregivers take." The team members will venture into the unknown and possibly experience symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness similar to Alzheimer's.

After 18 hours of flying, we step out into the warm, decomposing smells of Tanzania, where we are transferred by mini bus to the Marangu Hotel, the guiding outfit I have worked with for 15 years, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. We are disoriented and wait for our souls to catch up from the long journey. Some sleep well under the mosquito netting that night. Others fight jetlag, listening to the 300 species of birds on the grounds long before sunrise.

The next morning, our team gathers in the U-shaped, hard dirt courtyard next to spiked Aloe plants, blood-red lacey bougainvillea flowers and the 38 Tanzanians who will carry everyone's gear for seven days on the mountain. I have worked with most of these men the 14 times I have been to the summit. They have been to the summit hundreds of times.

We migrate to the parking lot and settle onto the bench seats of the overland Mercedes truck that will take us the 90 minutes to the trailhead. Esther and Martin bump along and I feel badly for Martin's hips. Broad, dust-covered leaves hang over the edges of the paved road that undulates with the ridges and rivers of the foothills. Women wrapped in flowing, bright, orange, blue, yellow and green kangas crane their necks under their loads to get a look at us. Children holding hands wave when we yell out, "Jambo."

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