Update: December 28, 2017 – DAY 6

Day 6 – Summit attempt via Stella Point (5752 m/18871 ft) to Uhuru Peak (5895 m/19340 ft) and descent to Millenium Camp (3820 m/12530 ft) (or to Mweka Hut)
Walking distance: 5 km/3 miles ascent + 10 km/6.2 miles descent
Walking time: 5-6 hrs + 1-2 hours up, 5-6 hours down (the overall walking time may vary from 10 – 16 hours)
Altitude gain: 1072 m/ 3511 ft (Stella Point) or 1215 m/3980 ft (Uhuru Peak)
Descent: 2075 m/6810 f

See the source image

As I said yesterday, “Expect the unexpected.” We’ve learned this many times over.  As much as you prepare, until you’re there in the moment, you never know what will happen. With that said, here is what happened today as best as I can piece together. I know that Howard will complete this blog with an update of his own upon his return.

Before bed, they prepared their day packs with everything they would need: rain gear, enough water, hand warmers, balaclava… The day will likely go down as one of the most physically challenging days in their whole lives.

They got up early and left at 5:00 AM to attempt the summit.  After an initial little scramble over some small cliffs to get out of the Barafu Camp, the path became easier to follow. But it didn’t take long until they reached a sharp turn to the left. And then it started, the endless succession of switchbacks, snaking back and forth, back and forth, up the steep slope of loose, volcanic scree that is the side of Kibo Peak.

A guide describes it as follows:

“As steep as the slope is, due to the many switchbacks the path itself isn’t all that bad. However, the scree is lose and you keep sliding down, and nothing’s easy without oxygen. The air is incredibly thin, getting thinner all the time. You may feel horrible. Don’t push yourself too hard. Take all the time you need and for goodness sake don’t let anyone pressure you into moving faster than you feel comfortable to. Steady, steady, one tiny little step after the other. It doesn’t matter if you reach Uhuru Peak or even the rim in time for sunrise. It only matters that you reach it and that you will be able to get back down safely! You can not move too slowly on Kilimanjaro. The people who do not feel the effects of the altitude are few and far between. Hopefully the worst you have to deal with is a headache and the occasional wave of nausea. Throwing up is not as uncommon as you might hope and is no reason for concern. It’s only awful. It’s impossible to have long breaks in these temperatures. The cold starts creeping into your hands and feet first, then into your whole body. When you cross a frozen stream and notice some boulders you are very close! It’s about 30 minutes to the rim from here, but that last bit of slope is cruel, the steepest and hardest part of the whole night…The more time you spend at this extreme altitude, the more you will feel it. The path rises steadily. It may not look steep, but by now every step uphill can be a battle.”

Howard has been moving slower so the kids moved ahead with George and their assistant guide.  Max, Ben and Shayna were about 800 feet ahead of Howard when Max began to feel altitude sickness. Being an intelligent young man he chose himself to descend and when he got to where Howard and Steve were they decided to escort him down so once again, Howard, at the very end, gave up his opportunity to summit because he is an amazing father.

Meanwhile, Ben, Shayna and George continued to ascend toward Uhuru Point.  At about 18,500 ft. Shayna experienced a very bad headache (probably due to the altitude) and when it continued to worsen the higher they climbed, Ben (because he’s an awesome brother and a smart young man) made the decision to abort the climb entirely and take Shayna back down.  I believe they reached Stella Point which means that technically they will get a certificate because this is considered the 2nd highest summit.

Meanwhile, the descent is no picnic either.

The guide describes the descent:

“You probably don’t have the tiniest little bit of energy left now. Well, guess what? The day has only begun and it’s another long day…You now have to drag yourself back down. From Stella Point it’s nearly 1100 m down, down, down… Until you get back to Barafu. The descent is cruel on the knees and you will appreciate the walking poles! If you scree run then this isn’t too bad. It’s actually quite fun. And fast! But pity those who have to stagger back down the same way they came up, switchback for painful switchback. You just want to collapse and sleep. But after what you have done to your body today it is not safe to remain at this altitude. You have no choice but to keep going. Down and down you go, for several more hours, to Millenium Camp or Mweka Huts, whichever your tour company chose. What will happen now is something of a miracle. Because as you descend further there will be air again. Oxygen! Lots of it! Oxygen is life and that is exactly what will be injected back into you. You may not believe this now, but there is a good chance that after this additional descent you may feel better and have more energy.”

When they called me they were all reunited at camp and literally crawling into their sleeping bags to go to bed. Tomorrow they still have a 3-4 hour hike to finish their descent and will call me when they are back at the hotel.




Early morning on Machame summit dayVery early morning on summit day on the Machame route. © Uta Philipp.

It takes most people five to six hours to reach Stella Point.

Stella Point SunriseStellar sunrise at Stella Point, photo by Abir Anwar
Tomorrow, according to the guide, should look like this:
“After breakfast you set off, down, down, down again. It’s your last day on the mountain and you may have trouble getting enthusiastic about your last hike. What you will probably notice more is the fact that the path is rather steep, and that the steps on the steepest sections are hell for your abused knees. The day takes you through some really pretty forest with lots of birdlife. Try to muster some interest. It may distract from the pain.Once you get to the gate you’ll have to endure some more formalities, but eventually you will say good bye to your guides (a sad and emotional moment), climb into the vehicle waiting for you and be whisked away to your hotel for hot showers and real beds.”
I want to sincerely congratulate my dear husband and children! What they just accomplished is truly impressive.  I know how many years of training they have put in towards this.  I know how they have struggled with disappointments, time to train, etc. There is no way to describe or imagine the experience of climbing to nearly 19,000 feet altitude. I am impressed with each of them together and individually for so many reasons:
Howard – I know you have been dreaming of this since you were a teenager. I am so glad that you had the opportunity to attempt this with ALL three of our children three times. I know that you had mixed emotions about going while leaving me at home but know that I have always supported you and your dreams and the way we have decided to parent together. These climbs taught our children perseverance and how to deal with disappointment and showed them that they can achieve anything they want to do.  I’m sorry you didn’t get your triumphant moment but I love you so much and truly you are the best father ever!!!!
Max – I know you had to train this fall at school on your own and that you may not have chosen to do this again…but you did it to be with your sister on her attempt. I am proud of you for making the right decision for yourself when it mattered.  Altitude is not something you can play with and I’m really so proud of you for deciding to come down when you could literally see the summit within reach.  You traveled to Tanzania by yourself and your independence and self-confidence continue to impress me every single day.
Ben – I am always amazed by you! I know it wasn’t easy to apply for colleges, train for pole-vaulting, train for the climb and continue to ace your classes all at the same time! But then to have the responsibility for your sister on the mountain and deciding to descend at the point you did, is remarkably mature!  I don’t know many adults would give that up so close to the top…but you did.  You made the right decision.  You chose what you needed to do which is different from what you wanted to do and believe me…there is a big difference between the two.  I’m so proud of you!
Shayna – Wow!!!  Stella Point! You are a rock star, my awesome daughter! I’m told the porters are all impressed by how strong you are and how you never, ever, complained…not even a little!  I know how hard you worked for this and you proved you can do anything you set your mind to do!  I am sooooo very proud of you!  Now you get to go to Gombe National Park and see the chimpanzees!!!
Congratulations to all of you!  I can’t wait to see you on Wednesday!
For all of you following this journey with us; thank you very much for your support!



December 27, 2017 – DAY 5

Day 5 – Barranco Huts – Barafu Huts (4680 m/15360 ft)
Walking distance: 9 km/5.7 miles
Walking time: 9-10 hours
Altitude gain: 640 m/2105 ft

I just spoke to them and they have now reached the Barafu camp. The word “barafu” is the Swahili word for “ice”, which refers to the cold climate at this altitude. The temperature grows colder and colder as they near the summit. At this point the landscape is bleak and sparse. Barufu Camp (at 4630m) is set on an exposed ridge and is the staging point from which they will make their way to the artic summit zone tomorrow morning. Here is a photo of the sign at Barufu Camp (I don’t know these people – I google all of the photos).

See the source image

Barafu Camp has an otherworldly feel to it, perched on an exposed ridge in a bleak and barren landscape. They’ve been told to familiarize themselves with the area before the sun goes down! It is quite possible to simply step of the edge if you have to stumble around in the dark to find the toilet…

An overall photo of Barafu camp:

See the source image

As anticipated, they had a really hard day traversing the Barranco Wall.  The wall part lasted about 2 1/2 hours (remember the photos from yesterday’s update?) but the total day was 10 1/2 hours.  Again Max and Ben reached camp almost two hours ahead of Howard and Shayna.  According to Steve (their guide), the porters from other groups keep talking about how strong Shayna is on the trail.  She’s the talk of the mountain!  There are quite a lot of groups on the mountain at the same time because this is the ideal time to go and therefore Shayna has become a little bit of a celebrity sighting amongst the other groups porters.

They plan to summit tomorrow a full day ahead of schedule.  This trip is hard on the body as they have now been camping multiple days, moving into higher altitudes with less and less oxygen, eating the same foods, etc.  They have to drink 2-3 liters of water per day to stay hydrated.  They are taking pills for malaria and altitude sickness but still…it’s strenuous.

The other day I mentioned that our friend in Israel put a note in the Western Wall for the success of their mission and a safe return home. Well, my mother and I are in New Orleans.  Yesterday, we visited the famous St. Louis Cemetery Number One where the infamous voodoo queen, Marie Laveau is buried.  Yesterday on the tour I learned that Louisiana Voodoo is a religious offshoot of Catholicism which is even recognized by the pope!  Who knew?  Anyway, there is a legend that if you leave an offering to Marie at her grave and make a wish, then the wish will come true.  So I did that and I figure now they are really covered – there’s a note at the Western Wall and an offering to a Voodoo Queen.

Tomorrow morning I hope to update you with the news that all four of them successfully reached the summit together!  However, a lot could still happen.  As we’ve learned from the other two attempts: “Expect the unexpected.” So as you go to sleep tonight, please say a little prayer because while we sleep all night they will be attempting to summit and reach Uhuru Peak! They plan to leave Barafu Camp at 5:00 AM (8:00 PM our time).

Again, thank you for being on this journey with us!




Update: December 26, 2017 – DAY 4

Day 4 – Shira Huts – via Lava Tower (4640 m/15220 ft) – Barranco Huts (3985 m/13070 ft)
Walking distance: 9 km/5.6 miles
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Altitude gain: 135 m/440 ft (790 m/2590 ft to Lava Tower)

Barranco Camp

Since they camped at Shira Huts, the fourth day started with a good two and half hours of walking mostly gently uphill (and scrambling a bit for two short sections). Following the slope of the Lemosho Plateau they gradually left the heather and moorland behind and entered the mostly barren alpine desert region, enjoying breathtaking views all the way.

After some bends and ups and downs they reached the junction with the busy Machame Route. Shortly after that they came to another junction. At this point they headed towards the Lava Tower where they ate lunch.

The Lava Tower is a 100 m/300 ft volcanic plug, left over from times when Kilimanjaro was volcanic. The path towards it is a gentle slope and as they climbed towards it the short heather disappears altogether to reveal the rocky ground of the lava ridges.

The climb is often experienced as strenuous. After all, they’ve climbed up to over 4500 m and their bodies will surely notice the lack of oxygen!

After a much deserved lunch break near the Lava Tower they descended into the beautiful Barranco Valley, the result of a massive landslide some 100,000 years ago. The valley is sheltered by towering cliffs and is much greener. There is vegetation again, most notably the giant senecios and lobelias. They had great views across the plains way below and  also got their first glimpse of the Barranco Wall which they will climb tomorrow…

The Barranco Camp is without a doubt the most spectacular campsite of this route, with fantastic views of Kibo, the Western Breach and the first of the southern glaciers, a fitting reward after a strenuous day. They have been quite high today, but by climbing high and sleeping low they are giving their bodies the best chances to adapt. This was an important day for acclimatization.

From this point onwards all climbers follow the same trail to the summit. They are actually planning on reaching the summit a day early! Everyone is still feeling fine physically and they are in good spirit. When I talk to them I hear a lot of laughter in the background. This time they are actually completing the whole Lemosho route as they are not doing the Western Breach.  Their guide, Steve, told them that actually the last time he did the Western Breach was with them three years ago.  With the glacier melting so rapidly, the Western Breach is very unsafe and therefore, it is rarely used anymore.  It is estimated that within ten years there will no longer be snow on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro “the roof of Africa.”

When I spoke to them, they had just reached camp and were happy to be there. Max and Ben actually reached camp 40 minutes before Howard and Shayna.  They are all ready to rest and sleep so they can continue tomorrow which is scheduled to be an exciting day as they traverse the Barranco Wall. Below are some images of the Barranco Wall. I think these photos illustrate exactly why I am not with them on this trip.

More tomorrow!


See the source image

See the source image


December 25, 2017 – Day 3

Day 3 – Shira I – Shira Huts (3850 m/12630 ft) via Shira Cathedral
Walking distance: 11 km/6.8 miles
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Altitude gain: 370 m/1210 ft

See the source image

Shira II campsite

Today they walked directly across the plateau. The walk lead steadily uphill but was nowhere near as steep as yesterday. After 4 hours of hiking in they rain, they reached their final destination, the Shira Huts camps. They called me from there (7:20 AM for me, 4:20 PM for them) and everyone was in good spirits.  They all feel fine and are acclimating to the altitude.  Shayna is really rocking it!  She was determined to do this!  Tonight they are happy to have a longer rest in camp because tomorrow is a long 7-8 hour hike.

I also want to send a sincere thank you to our dear friend, Itzik Yanai, who called me from the Western Wall in Jerusalem to share that he has placed a note in the wall asking for Howard, Max, Ben and Shayna to successfully complete their journey and to come home safely.  This act gives me sincere comfort.  It also never ceases to amaze me that I can so easily talk to my family on Mount Kilimanjaro from a satellite phone and then an hour later talk to a friend in Israel – both from my cell phone.  It’s crazy!  My mother reminded me that in 1963-1964 when she lived in Paris she was able to call home once a year (on Passover) for $12 a minute. She spoke to her grandmother but her mom missed the call and was sooooo upset!  I can only imagine!  This has been hard for me and I’ve talked to them nearly every day – sometimes twice a day. I can’t imagine how my grandma felt missing that call.

More tomorrow…and for those of you who celebrate it! Merry Christmas!







December 24, 2017 – Day 2

Day 2 – Big Tree Camp – Shira I (3480 m/11420 ft)
Walking distance: 8 km/5 miles
Walking time: 4-5 hours
Altitude gain: 830 m/2725 ft

Shira Plateau

The second day may be “only” four to five hours worth of walking, but it’s not a short day. The trail is very steep today and they will take many breaks.

Once they reach the first major ridge, they leave the forest behind and enter the moorland with its giant heathers as they work their way up towards the Shira Plateau.

There are a couple more steep ridges, offering great views, and a descent in the valley on the other side.

Eventually, some time after lunch, the path flattens out. (Did I mention the path is steep?) They will be standing on the edge of the Shira Plateau at 3612 m (11840 ft): with Kibo  straight ahead, the Shira Ridge to their right and they will be overlooking the plateau below.

Yes, below. It’s all downhill from here. Their next camp, Shira I, is at 3480 m (11420 ft).

Many climbers say that this is their favorite day of the walk.

If you’re wondering how I know all of this when I haven’t heard from them; its because I have researched the route.  I did speak to them last night (Face Time is amazing!) while they were eating breakfast about to leave for the mountain, but since then I haven’t heard from them.  I will continue to update with general information about what that day’s climb is expected to be and will let you know when I hear specifics from them.  I can tell you that they are really ready and excited and already the fellas are looking scruffy with their growing beards.  As I write this, they are asleep and therefore this update is really what they expect to do tonight while we are sleeping.  Make sense?  No?  That’s ok.  Just remember they are 9 hours ahead of us.


December 23, 2017 – DAY 1

Hello!  Today Howard, Max, Ben, and SHAYNA (for her first time) along with our good friend or as Shayna says “my other brother” George, start their 9 day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.  They have a satellite phone but communication will be spotty.  I will attempt to keep you updated as best I can.  They will try to call me when they camp for the night. With the 9 hour time difference, our days and nights are mixed up so they are waking up when I am going to bed.  It’s kind of funny because I say “Good night.” and they say “Good morning.”

They are climbing the Lemosho route, which is the most scenic route and also the one that gives them the best opportunity to acclimate to the altitude which gives them a greater chance of success.  I was informed this morning that Steve (their guide and George’s father) decided that they will do the entire Lemosho route and not diverge to do the Western Breach because Shayna’s arm length would make it very difficult for her to do the bouldering required for the Western Breach.

Lemosho is a fairly demanding route, due to both the nature of the terrain and the duration of the trail. The trail begins on the western side of the mountain. Lemosho is a narrow wilderness trail right from the beginning, passing through pristine and remote rainforest with good chances of seeing wildlife. Lemosho sees a very low number of people.

Londorosi Gate

Starting Point: Londorossi Gate (2100 m/6900 ft)

Day 1 – Londorosi Gate/Lemosho trail head – Big Tree Camp (Mti Mkubwa) (2650 m/8695 ft)
Walking distance: 6 km/3.7 miles
Walking time: 2-3 hours
Altitude gain: 550 m/1795 ft

Colobus Monkey

The starting point for the Lemosho Route is the Londorossi Gate. In the morning, they will drive 2 hours from Arusha to the Londorosi Entrance Gate where they will register with the park rangers. They expect to spend more time driving and waiting around at the gate than walking.

They hope to see some wildlife on the first days.

In fact, a troop of the beautiful black and white Colobus monkeys like the one in the photo above have taken up residence in the trees right next to the park ranger quarters.

After the registration at the gate they will return the way they came, about ten minutes through some fields and cypress plantations, to get to the trail head. Some call it Londorossi, some Lemosho Glades, some Simba.

They will follow the muddy road for another 20 minutes until they finally get to the real trail head.

Their trek begins in dense, misty rainforest. The forest is beautiful, like out of a fairy tale. It is full of smaller wildlife, Colobus and Blue monkeys being the most conspicuous. In the early days, shortly after the route was established, you had to be accompanied by an armed ranger here because of the water buffaloes. Today, the much larger number of climbers means bigger animals are rarely seen.

This very first day on the Lemosho Route has several steep sections to get the pump pumping, but it will only takes two to three hours for them to reach their fist campsite, the Big Tree Camp or Mti Mkubwa.

It’s a lovely camp, located, as the name says, under a big tree and with plenty of monkeys and birds around. Even if they don’t see them, they should hear them in the evenings and mornings.

People have asked me why we do this.  Well, that’s not an easy answer but I’ll try:

Many years ago, Howard and I decided that we wanted to raise our children to be global citizens with an appreciation of each other’s cultures.  By forming personal relationships with people outside their lived world, they can build bridges to a greater understanding of the world.  To this end, today they have friends all over the world from many cultures representing different races, religions, and ways of viewing the world.  We also felt that it was necessary to require them to have a purpose: a goal to strive toward where they have to learn how to persevere, to deal with disappointment and setbacks and to live a life where the concept of “Tikkun Olam” (Jewish concept of charity) was embedded into their daily lives.  The Kilimanjaro climbs have accomplished just that, multiple times over.  To date, they have not all successfully reached Uhuru Point (the summit).  Only Ben and George did that the last time.  Both Howard and Max had serious health issues on the mountain that required them to return to lower altitudes before reaching the summit.  They have continued to regroup after each climb and continue training.  Their training hikes kept them talking to each other and maintaining open and close relationships with us during their teen years.  They have bonded uniquely with each other and George.  They have impacted George’s life dramatically as we are trying to help him come to the USA for college.  Shayna has never known a time when they haven’t been training and was determined to do it too.  This third trip (probably Howard’s last) is her turn to go.  These trips have become the topic of both boys’ college application essays. It is a hard physical challenge but it has shaped each of them in immeasurable ways which are not quantifiable but can be seen in each of their personalities.  It is very possible that they would be different people today if they hadn’t focused on these climbs for the past 9 years.  They are also trying to finish raising money for the Magen David Adom ambulance.  This has had a life of its own and they are only halfway there. However, they’re not quitters.  I am sure that eventually they will pay for the ambulance.  This connects the climbs to a greater good which they are very passionate about and that is Israel.  So the climb has meaning beyond just them.  Which brings this to me: the non-climber in the family.  Well, for the first time in 25 years, I am on my own at home, discovering who I am when I’m not defined as a wife or mother…I’m climbing my own mountain.

Thank you for joining us on this journey!