Breathing the Free air |

Breathing the Free air

Jon Mitchell
Post Independent Sports Editor
Contributed photo
Staff Photo |

The biggest fear of Vanessa Caranese’s self-proclaimed “trip of a lifetime” came true.

“One of the biggest fears before going wasn’t that I wouldn’t make it, because I was pretty sure that I would make it,” said the 39-year-old Glenwood Springs resident of her ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. “My biggest fear was that I would not have the mental stamina to do it.

“That came true,” she continued. “It is true when you’re negative about things, negative things tend to happen. But it was more mental than anything even though my back hurt, my legs hurt and I was tired and cranky and my food was frozen. I was good 500 feet from the top, but our guide kept saying ‘No. You push! Let’s go!’ And if he hadn’t done that, I would have stayed.”

She’s glad she didn’t. That 500-foot ascent from Stella Point to Kilimanjaro’s summit was well worth it in her mind, serving as the cumulation of a four-day hike which covered 12,941 vertical feet to the mountain’s summit of 19,341 feet above sea level — the highest point on the African continent. The climb included sand dune-like footing, a barren stretch similar to the Martian landscape, and altitude acclimation, which suited her much better than her climbing counterparts who were used to sea-level air quality.

Those were just parts of one of the more memorable overseas trips taken by Caranese, who has been to Spain and, just this past January, saw Macu Picchu in Peru. She did, however, wish she would have taken in more while she was there.

“I do regret that I didn’t pay more attention to more of the little details there,” said Caranese, an adjunct geology professor at Colorado Mountain College and a natural resource specialist at the Bureau of Land Management office in Silt. “It was kind of chaotic at the top because everyone was celebrating, but I wish I would have focused more on other things when I was at the top. I also wish I would have taken more time to say to myself, ‘OK. I’m here. This is cool. Look at what I’ve done.’”

It took a lot to get there, too.

Caranese’s group of eight people, which included three Australians, a Canadian and a pair of trail guides, began the ascent at Marangu Gate, which sits at 6,400 feet — 2,700 meters — above sea level. From there, the group spent five hours hiking through the cloud forest to the stopping point, Mandara Hut, which sits at 8,923 feet. On the second day of the ascent, the group hiked for six hours and climbed 4,000 feet to Horombo Hut, the halfway point of the ascent.

The terrain following the cloud forest past Horombo Hut, Caranese said, was very similar to terrain found around western Colorado. The terrain began looking familiar around the Maundi Crater, a feature on the Marangu Trail which offers views east towards Mombasa and the Indian Ocean on clear days.

Obviously, the views of the ocean didn’t look familiar to the Glenwood resident. But the vegetation was similar to the areas around western Garfield County. “It really looked a lot like back home,” she said.

That turned out to be especially true on the way to Kibo Hut — with the third day’s leg of the ascent preceded by a “good-luck” cairn stone placement as the hike began. It took the group up to 15,429 feet through the alpine desert, going past the zebra rocks and passing over terrain which, Caranese said, “looks like the planet Mars.”

The final ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro began at 11:30 p.m. prior to the fourth day. Issa Risheddy and Issa Chikira, the group’s guides, told Caranese the logic behind the start time of the final ascent was to ensure the group could be at the summit at sunrise.

Doing that ascent in the dark made it that much more difficult, especially with a 500-foot stretch of loose, sandy conditions that took close to an hour for the group to clear. “But at that point,” Caranese said, “Everything took longer to do not only because it was dark, but because you were so tired.”

Then came Gilman’s Point, which was followed by Stella Point at 18,661 feet. It’s that point when Risheddy gave Caranese the pep talk to continue, and the remainder of the climb up included views of Rebmann Glacier — an item which, in theory, will be gone in 50 years.

On June 29, the group finally made it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak, which stood at 5,895 meters above sea level. Hugging and celebration ensued, with everyone eager to take in as much as they could for the allotted 45 minutes at the continent’s highest point. Caranese said the brief time allowed was because guides wanted to insure the group could get off the mountain prior to 11 a.m. for fear of being stranded in a spontaneous storm.

Caranese soaked in as much as she could while up there, then reveled with her fellow climbers during the much-shorter, two-day trek back to the Marangu Gate. And as much as she regrets some of the things she didn’t do at Kilimanjaro’s peak, she’s thankful she made it to the top — among other things.

“If [the guide] hadn’t done that, I would have quit at Stella,” she said. “I was good there. I was at peace with that, but he pushed me to get to Uhuru.

“And once I got to Uhuru, I was happy,” Caranese continued. “And as it is, Uhuru means ‘freedom’ in Swahili. So it was very freeing to get to Freedom Point.”

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