He woke up at midnight, the temperature hovering around zero degrees. Sliding out of his sleeping bag, he broke down his tent at Barranco Camp and started moving towards the summit. Under the light of the moon, he climbed towards Stella Point, the second highest point on the African continent, the harsh alpine tundra in stark contrast to the vast plains of the Serengeti that lay almost 17,000 feet below.
Climbing under the stars, he reached Stella point at six in the morning, staying to watch the sun rise above the massive expanse that lay below him. His morale boosted by the light, he marched on, climbing higher and higher into the red zone. The oxygen became thinner and thinner, the freezing air burning his lungs with every breath.
As he climbed above 19,000 feet, it started to feel real. He hiked along Mweka Ridge to Uhuru Peak, the sun starting to warm the air ever so slightly.
Upon reaching the summit, he was overcome with a mix of joy and relief as he stood on the roof of Africa. He took a minute to soak it all in, before turning around and quickly descending back to the bustling city of Moshi, a quick, two-day journey from the top.
On June 18, 2019, Marlon Grandy (‘20) embarked on a 16 day journey to Tanzania, an incredibly rich cultural experience centered around the monumental climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
For Grandy, already a seasoned traveler, it was a life changing journey. “I knew I wanted to do something different for a summer program,” he said. “I knew I wanted it to be something that exposed me to a culture so different from my own, and something that would push me physically, so I did some digging and found a program that inspired me.”
“It was all Marlon,” said Grandy’s mother, Sarah Grandy. “I remember him walking down the stairs one morning and saying ‘I’m gonna climb Kilimanjaro.’”
After flying halfway across the world, Grandy met up with the 11 other students on the trip, and traveled to the city of Moshi, at the base of Kilimanjaro. The beginning, Grandy said, was all about cultural experience.
Grandy and the other students stayed in Moshi for a few days, learning about the history of the region, ecotourism on Kilimanjaro’s slopes, and local agriculture.
“We were cooking with old grandmas and learning the history of the Chagga tribe (one of the region’s native tribes that built their society into the side of Kilimanjaro),” said Grandy. “It was super cool learning their life outlook. Every single Tanzanian I met was super focused on being happy, and it’s something I carry with me when thinking about life.”
After six days exploring Moshi and the surrounding region, the main event began, the six day trek to Uhuru Peak.
Starting at Mweka Gate, only a few miles from Moshi, the group took their first steps towards the summit. As they hiked, the vast Serengeti quickly transformed into lush tropical rainforest.
After two and a half days of climbing, they reached Barranco Camp, elevation 15,318 ft.
“We reached Barranco camp around lunchtime,” said Grandy. “We ate lunch, then took a nap before waking up to eat dinner, before going back to sleep again. We woke up again at 11 at night, ate some porridge, and then starting summiting at midnight.”
Often, mountaineers will start the final ascent to the summit at midnight, in hopes of reaching the summit at sunrise. Grandy and his group were planning to do just that, and then hike the final, more treacherous mile along Mweka Ridge to Uhuru Peak during the full light of day.
“It was a crazy thing to see, climbing in the pitch black, following a trail of headlights under the stars,” Grandy said.
“When we arrived to Stella Point, it was genuinely the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” said Adam Boesky, one of Grandy’s friends on the trip. “At Stella Point, you can see Uhuru Peak, but also all of the hard miles you walked to get to that point.”
They moved on from Stella Point as the sun rose higher into the sky. Finally, after four hard days of climbing, they reached the summit.
They spent less than fifteen minutes on the roof of Africa. No time to really let it sink in. That would come later. They started rushing down the mountain, completing the four day trek to the summit in one and a half days.
Two days after returning to Moshi, Grandy was on a plane back home, flying across the ocean to a world he would never see the same.
“[The trip] felt like a jumping off point for more adventurous and really technical climbs such as Denali or Meru,” said Grandy. For him, this is just the beginning.