May 16, 2005

A family holiday gathering in 2003 brought a group of men together for an adventure of a lifetime. Sunolian Ken Feltrop and nephew, Dan Matthews, who had recently returned from military service in Iraq, were looking for an adventure. Ken and Dan had several other adventures hiking together so when Dan suggested Mt. Kilimanjaro, Ken said "OK let's go!"

The pair immediately started planning the trip with Ken's wife Bonnie's blessing. She said "By all means, you must go its one of those last chances in life to do something really exciting".

Ken, being the organizer of the two took over planning the trip and booked their trip with Tusker Trail & Safari Company which specializes in organizing trips to Kilimanjaro. Accompanying Ken and Dan on their journey was Ken's brother-in-law, Mike Cantu and brothers Rod and Rick Morgan.

It took the group one year to plan and train for the 17 day expedition, which left San Francisco on December 15, 2004 and after a stop in Amsterdam they arrived in Tanzania.

Ken is an experienced hiker and has even climbed Mt. Whitney but training for this expedition took him to Fremont's Mission Peak, where he hiked for 6 months with a 30 lb pack. He also used his stair step exercise equipment daily.

The group first took a five day safari in the Serengeti where they had their own safari jeep and driver, "You can't go to Africa without going on safari", said Ken. "We spent all day, everyday, cruising around the safari looking for critters. It's all open space, flat land as far as you can see, just full of animals. We had a lion so close to the jeep that you could have touched his tail."

I was especially lucky to view Ken's spectacular photos from the trip. Ken's pictures of the Serengeti captured every sense of the African wilderness that one could imagine. He snapped photos of ferocious looking lions, a gangly long legged baby giraffe, pretty pink flamingos, elephants, wildebeest and much more. Ken said, "There were wildebeest by the millions, as far as the eye could see there were long lines of wildebeest traveling, looking for water and looking for grass. We would get into our jeep and get in the middle of the herd and travel right along with them. It was absolutely magnificent! I would love to take Bonnie back; she would love that part of the trip". And of course there were pictures of trees; Ken has a special admiration for trees so of course there were amazing pictures of the African Acacia tree backlit by the setting sun.

They then descended on the majestic, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Ken says, "Mt. Kilimanjaro has become a major hiking phenomenon and the reason is because it's almost 20, 000 feet and it's not technical, meaning that you don't need to use ropes and snowshoes, when you climb it.". The five men were joined by a father-son team and were accompanied by 26 porters, guides and cooks to support the now seven member expedition.

They hiked an average of 6 to 12 miles per day, and had only mild altitude sickness problems when they reached 15, 000 feet in elevation. No one in the group had to use the oxygen they carried, but their guides checked their blood oxygen levels twice a day to be sure they stayed healthy.

One of Ken's final pictures is of the group surrounding a sign at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on Uhuru Peak, which proclaims that you are at the "highest point in Africa".

"My goal was to go someplace that was 20,000 feet tall but I missed it by just a little bit because it was really only 19,364. But it was close enough, I'll take it. I consider that a success."

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