MICHAEL KEVIN FARRELL, 25,
of Billerica, and
GILLES JEQUIER SURSEE, 28,
of Switzerland WHERE: Mount Kilimanjaro, northeast Tanzania
WHEN: Three weeks in July
WHY: "I'd heard from a friend that Kilimanjaro is amazing. It's the highest point in Africa [19,340 feet]. Unlike most mountains, it's lush at the bottom, and when you get to the top, it's a glacier," Farrell said.
TRAVELING TWOSOME: They were hiking buddies in Ireland when they studied there on exchange programs.
WARMING UP: "We met our guides from the Shidolya Company [www.shidolya-safaris.com] in Tanzania. Mount Meru [14,979 feet] is the place to go if you want experience. In addition to getting you in shape, Meru gives you views of Kilimanjaro [19,340 feet] that can only be described as awe-inspiring. There are also relatively few hikers," compared with crowded Kilimanjaro 20 miles away, Farrell said. "Although both are mammoth, the routes to their summits are nontechnical, which means they require no special gear. You just walk to the top." The two did that on a three-day trip and a six-hour climb to the Meru's summit just in time to watch the sun rise behind Kilimanjaro.
GUIDING LIGHT: "The guides are amazing. They're wearing these old, beat-up sneakers. I have a North Face jacket and one guide's 'winter jacket' is pink-and-red striped, something a little girl would wear."
ANIMAL INSTINCTS: Also with Shidolya, they spent four "rest days" on a safari to the Serengeti and a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. "You're coated in insect spray and driving on roads that are a series of potholes. We saw lions, zebras, giraffes. When you see an elephant walk right past you, it's pretty amazing. I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did." Ngorongoro is "an impossibly large crater that you drive down into, and one of the few places rhinoceros can still be found." At the end of the day, they saw one through binoculars.
OOZY AND WOOZY: At the start of the trail to the summit, "it looked like we had entered the jungles of the Amazon. The mud was thick and made you sink to mid-calf. Rain kept coming." By the third day, the altitude was hitting Farrell. "I was feeling lightheaded, and the ground around me would start spinning periodically."
SUMMIT TIME: "You leave at midnight. It's pitch black. There's ice and snow and glaciers. If you do make it to the top, you see the sunrise. I was very tempted to turn around. I was dizzy, and kept having to catch my breath. I was so cold. I'm used to the cold. I've done winter hiking, running in cold. But it was just really intense. At Stella Point -- that's the place where if you're going to turn around, you do it there -- I looked at Gilles and he looked at me and we said, 'OK let's go.' " At the summit, "it became three times as cold when we stopped." All they could see in every direction were glaciers, "huge, awesome expanses of impossibly thick ice next to me."
AIR SHOW: "When I flew home . . . we'd broken through the clouds, and the pilot said we were at 17,000 feet. I thought: This is crazy -- Stella Point was above that."
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