Despite the fact that her fingers and toes were numb due to the high altitude, Abigail (Abby) Ascheman said that when she looked down at the view from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in July, that it was all worth it. The view was incredible and it was an amazing feeling to reach the top.
Abby, her two friends, a guide, and 17 porters reached the mountaintop seven days after they started the climb on July 6. Abby, who lives in Oregon, met her friends at an airport in Chicago and then traveled to Amsterdam for a short layover.
They flew into Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania and got a hotel where they relaxed for a day. On that day they went to the Chemka Hot Springs before leaving on their hike to the top of a mountain that is 19,430 feet high, the highest peak in Africa. They needed that day of relaxation before starting the grueling climb.
Abby met her friends from Indiana through her church. She is a 2012 graduate of Hancock High School and received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from North Dakota State University in Fargo in 2015. In 2016 she worked for State Farm Insurance Company Headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois until Covid hit and her office was closed. She returned to Hancock to stay with her parents, Tony and Peggy Ascheman.
She would occasionally travel to Oregon to visit her cousin Kendra (Schmidgall) Sinn and when a job opportunity there came up, she quickly applied and got the job. She now lives Salem, Oregon and works at Praham Co-op. She stays in contact with many of the people she met in Illinois through her church.
One of those girls, Kacie Klopfenstein, lived in Indiana where she had a friend who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The two met when Abby was living in Illinois. Kacie suggested that maybe they should do the climb too. Abby was interested but Covid put that initial invite on hold and Abby put it on her “bucket list.” Once covid restrictions were lifted, even though she was now living in Oregon, the girls began to talk about making the climb. Another friend, Kim Lehman, was also interested in joining them.
The first step was to contact “Kilimanjaro Experts” which became their expedition company. They worked with them to plan which route to take, how many days they wanted to do it in, and other accommodations along the way. They decided to include a safari after the hike and tour some other parts of Africa.
The girls decided to take the Rongai Route, which took 7 days to complete. The girls also started to prepare for the hike. Abby stated that the most challenging part of the preparations was the planning. Making all the air and hotel reservations, getting vaccinations, visas, itineraries and just praying that their luggage with the climbing gear would arrive in time.
As far as physical preparations, Abby made regular climbs at Silver Falls in Oregon and did some trail running to build up cardio and leg strength. She did most of her training on weekends and tried to increase the challenges each week.
Abby didn’t really fear the climb because death statistics for the climb are pretty low. There are only 3 – 10 deaths each year compared to 30,000 people who do the climb. Most of the deaths are due to altitude illnesses.
After the lay-over in Amsterdam, the girls were justified to worry about the luggage which took another day to arrive. However, it did get there in time and the girls were set to head out. When you look up at the mountain from the base, you really cannot even see the top which is usually engulfed in the clouds. It is hard to imagine reaching that summit.
Altogether there were 21 in the party including the three girls, a guide and 17 porters. The porters carried most of the luggage, tents, food, etc and went ahead of the other four to get things set up. The guide led them up the mountain path. The girls each carried a backpack with water and food needed. Abby estimated this weighed about 15 pounds.
Most of the hike wasn’t too bad until summit day. They went slow the first five days to allow their bodies time to acclimate to the altitude. Abby said the hardest part was sleeping in freezing cold weather when the thin air made it hard to breathe.
At midnight of the sixth day, they started hiking in the dark with headlamps. They hiked for 7 hours up to the summit with steep loose gravel and rocks. It was hard to get a good foothold. Abby said she started to experience dizziness towards the top which was even more challenging with large boulders making it hard to get your balance.
It was all worth it when they finally reached the top and sat down to watch the sun rise in the east. And it was beautiful. She said that the view was similar to what you might see out an airplane window but even better. They were above the clouds and on the top of a mountain looking down at where it all started just 6 days before.
Their guide told them that they could not stay at the top very long because if you stay at 19,000 feet altitude for too long, it can start to kill some of your blood cells and create health complications. After only 20 minutes of taking pictures they began the descent.
The way down was faster and easier. The path was mostly loose gravel and rocks so they found a way to slide down on their heels, similar to skiing. It took about 4 hours to get down from the summit and then another 3 hours to hike back to their camp for the night.
On the last day they hiked for 6 hours to get back to the hotel for the night. They didn’t have much time to rest as they left for the safari the next day. Luckily, they were able to sit or stand most of the time in a safari vehicle so it was not too tiring.
The safari lasted for 5 days where they toured the Serengeti. They also went down into the Ngorongoro Crater where the scenery was amazing.
“I have a new appreciation for the Lion King,” Abby stated. “The scenery and animals looked just like the live version of the movie.”
During the safari, they stayed in big, luxury tents out in the middle of Africa. They were not allowed to go anywhere without a guide because it wasn’t safe with the wild animals at night. There were zebras in the backyard and they could hear lions and hyenas close by. One night they heard a noise and when the guide flashed a light on the area, there was a male lion in the bush.
However, Abby said that the best part of the safari was on the last day when they took a hot air balloon ride. They flew over the Serengeti at sunrise and the views were breathtaking. They were able to spot different types of animals running on the ground below.
When they returned from the safari, they spent some time at the market in town and visited with some of the people they met from all around the world. They left Africa on July 18 and had an 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. They stayed one day in Amsterdam in order to explore the city. They visited the Museum of Modern Art, rented bikes and in the evening did a canal tour of the city.
Abby would definitely recommend this type of trip to others. “The feeling of accomplishment summiting Kilimanjaro alone is enough to make you want to find another challenging mountain to climb” Abby explained. “It also makes the rest of your trip way more enjoyable.”
What other exciting experiences can she now add to her bucket list?