Lolapange – 2019 Kili Initiative # 11

After dawn the Kili 2019 crew washed in small individual bowls.

Face, hands, and arms.

I hit everything.

Old men smell bad in the heat.

We gathered their packs, as Johnny folded the tents to transport to our next campsite. I put my backpack on the three-wheeled tuk-tuk.

“You aren’t carrying yours,” asked Vanessa, as she helped prepare a breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs, and porridge.

“Nope. I’m carrying all the camera equipment; two cameras, a phone, chargers, batteries, mikes, and a book to record the where and when of the shots. “Do you need me to help you?”

“I’m fine.” The young Kiberan native frowned, wishing she was free of the weight, but this was all part of getting them into shape for the climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The highest mountain in Africa seemed far away that morning.

The sky was blue.

After cleaning up, we set off down a dusty path. The temperature was agreeable, but everyone was wearing wide-brimmed hats. The sun was strong on the equator. I took my place with JM at the head of the group. At 67 I was supposed to be the slowest and we followed the rules of the wild. The oldest keep the pace.

“There’s Lolapange.” Fast Steve pointed to a tall hill in the distance.

“It doesn’t look so tall.”

The Kili Initiative director had warned me of this climb.

“Thorns. Lots of thorns,” said JM in a low voice for my ears only. “If you fall into the thorn bush there are only two ways of getting you out. Chopping you out or burning you out.”

JM and Fast Steve laughed at this joke, but something in his voice told me that he was serious.

The morning was quiet.

“What day do you think it is?” I asked Larry.


“Sounds good to me.” School was open and the students were hurrying to classes.

Some of them ran barefoot with their shoes around their necks.

No one in the world ran long-distance better than the Kenyans and of the Kenyans none were better than those of Kalenjin, but the Maasai were darn fast too.

Vanessa came up to me.

“Can you run?”

“Not that fast.”

“He’s an old man,” said Fast Steve.

“M’zee but I will beat you in a 40-meter dash.

Everyone laughed at that.

Illasit was quiet too.

The wind whispered dust down the paths around houses.

The doors were shut to keep out the dust.

I tasted the grit on my tongue.

“What is it like?” Vanessa drank water. We had been warned to drink over two liters a day. The sun evaporated the sweat off our skins and the rising heat gave us thirst.


“How can dirt be clean?”

“I think we will find out on this trip.”

We left Illasit and tramped through the savannah.

“The houses are protected from lions and hyena by thorn bushes. Nothing can stop an elephant,” said Ma’we. “Nothing.”

“Where does an elephant sleep?” It was an old joke.

“I don’t know.”

“Anywhere it wants.”

Ma’we and JM chortled and we kept walking into a small Maasai village.

A young man and his grandparents waited by the door.

“This is John. He has on the Kili climb, because his grandmother came up to us several years ago and asked why we came this way. Tim explained about the Kili Initiative and his grandmother asked to take John. The next year we did.”

“It was a great thing for me. It changed my life.”

“And what about Lolapange?” asked Jackman. The hill was closer now.

I climbed that every day when I was a young boy tending cattle.”

We drank fresh milk. The Maasai live on cattle; the blood, the milk, and the meat.

They are reputed to be the one of the healthiest people on Earth.

We bid good-bye. John was going to meet us at Loitokitok in several days. JM stopped the group before a maze of eroded washes.

“We are all going one way, but you will go before us. To Lolapange. Guiding by a map.”

“If you think you are going the wrong way, then there is nothing wrong with admitting it and going back to the bad turning point,” I suggested to the young people and looked to the five women. “Men tend never to think they are lost. Don’t let them lead you astray.”

“Thank you for the warning.” Vanessa trudged away weighed down by her back. Larry, the pathfinder walked with the map in his hand. Ubah held the compass. The rest of the group followed them and once they were out of sight we waited several minutes before proceeding down the path.

A crack in the soil widened to a chasm. The group’s bootprints went to the right. I mentioned that something about that didn’t seem right and JR said, “They have taken the wrong path, but at least they didn’t walk down into the crevice. They will be fine. We are climbing Lolopange. Are you ready?”

“Never readier?” I estimated the hill’s height to be five-hundred feet. “It doesn’t seem that tough.”

The three Kenyans laughed at my ignorance and I soon found out why.

Thorn bushes abounded the rocky slopes.

Thorns with hooks.

I can’t remember the name.

I cut them off them with scissors.

I cursed them every step.

They caught everything without mercy. Bird skeletons festooned the trees. Bugs were impaled on their spikes, but thirty minutes later we were on the top. The rough rocks offered no comfort and we stood, wondering where were the young people.

“They are probably climbing the other side. Steeper and more thorns,” said JM. He knew this hill well.

“They will be fine.” Ma’we studied me and said, “If you can climb Lolapange, then you can climb Kilimanjaro.”

“It still looks tall from here.”

“It is always tall.” JM turned and walked to the top of Lolapange. We stayed quiet and he said, “I do not here them.”

“I will go look from them.” Fast Steve dropped his pack and took his water, then disappeared into the thorn bushes.

“Nothing. No one.” Fast Steve wasn’t even panting from his exertion and I remembered challenging him to a race. I didn’t stand a chance.

He came back again.


“They will be here soon,” said Ma’we. He was a guide. Steve worked for Kili Initiative. He was a responsible man. I was supposed to care for the three New Yorkers. I found a smoothish rock. “What’s the worse that can happen?”

Ma’we pointed to the ground.

A big print in the sand.

“Lion.” JM kicked away the warning. “Old.”

Not hearing any screams was a good sign.

“I’ll go look one more time.”

He went down the back of Lolapange.

Ten minutes later we heard voices.

We found the crew. They had stripped off their tops. None of them looked happy, as if we had played a joke on them. Their cold-weather jackets lay at their feet and Ubah explained, “The thorns were so bad we put on the jackets for protection.”

“I think I lost ten pounds,” crowed Larry.

Steve showed up in fine form.

“Everyone good?”

“Very good.”

“Really?” I asked and then added, “Would you prefer a night in jail or another climb up Lolapange?”

“Jail,” chorused the group and we laughed before eating lunch.

Twenty minutes later we descended a steep slope to the bottom of Lolapange.

Through the thorns.

Lolapange the Hill of Thorns

Never to forget.

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