Mount Kilimanjaro

Eric and Scott Winkler at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Scott and Eric Winkler are in the midst of their climb on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Scott said each night the guides would test everyone’s oxygen levels to make sure they were OK. He said during the climb, there was an area on the mountain called the “Kissing Rock.”

“There is only about a 2-inch ledge and your foot won’t fit on it,” said Scott. “We were tired when we got to this area and there is a 30-foot drop off the edge. You are literally “kissing” the rock as you go sideways to get across this area. It was exhilarating for me, but not to see my son. That made it a little scary.

“I asked him if there were provisions for a rescue if needed. He said there is a helicopter rescue, but it costs $5,000 and he told Eric to forget about a rescue. I told Eric we had better be prepared to climb back down. There are carts on the mountain in certain areas if someone is injured badly, but there are only a few places that a helicopter can land.”

On the fifth day, Scott, Eric and their group of climbers arrived at the base camp, which was at 14,000 feet.

“We stopped at the base camp and tried to rest before we began the climb at night,” said Scott. “We wanted to reach the summit in time to watch the sun rise.”

Scott said a rather funny moment happened while they were at the base camp.

“When we arrived at the camp, there was a group just coming down off the mountain,” he said. “We asked them how it was and they told us it was the worst thing they had ever done and told us not to try it. We didn’t understand because we felt that after you had made it to the summit, it should be exhilarating.”

At midnight, the group started their climb to the summit.

“We had to have a light on our heads,” said Scott. “If not, you could not see anything. It was a seven-hour climb that night and was a pretty vertical climb, and then we began to get into the ice and the glacier.”

Scott said that because of the lack of oxygen, their balance was not good and one of the guides had a canister of oxygen if it was needed.

“I was wearing four wool shirts, three heavy coats, three hats and four pairs of pants,” he said. “These were not to be warm, they were just to keep from freezing and to stay alive. I put my water inside my coat and it froze in about 15 minutes. It was a rough night.”

But Scott said because of the conditions, it made getting to the summit very emotional and special.

“It was a unique night,” said Scott. “One person in our group had to sit down on the way to the summit, but she did get up and finished the climb. We were having to use our hands because we couldn’t see much. Every now and then, I would look up to see if I could see lights from other people and I could barely see them so I knew we still had a long way to go.”

Scott said they were on the ridge when the sun started to rise and they could stand and see it. He said he felt like he was literally on top of the world. But he said they could only stay 15 or 20 minutes because it was not easy to breathe.

“We were tired, emotional and slap happy,” he said. “But for me, it was very emotional to have my son there with me. It is an experience together we will never forget.”

They made it to the summit at 6:35 a.m. July 18, 2018, and Scott said there was an old rickety sign at the top.

“You have done all of this and all you see is this old sign,” he said.

It took them only a day-and-a-half to go down the mountain because the route was more straight down than it was straight up. He said it was honestly harder on his legs going down than it was going up and they were slipping and sliding down the rocks. But each step they took going down, Scott said they had just a little more oxygen and that felt very good.

All of the group made it to the summit and Scott says, statistically, that is quite rare.

Once they were back to where they had started their climb, Scott said most everyone in the group was going back to a hotel for a big party.

“But Eric and I were trying to do everything as fast as we could and we had a two-day safari scheduled. We had someone to pick us up once we were off the mountain.”

Scott said he made the arrangements for the safari the same as he did for the mountain climb: via the internet.

“I wasn’t sure who was supposed to pick us up, but there was a man with a sign when we exited the mountain and he starts driving and we had no idea where we are going. He pulled up to this place that looked like a compound, removed our luggage from the car and left us standing alone. But eventually someone came and greeted us and took us to our room.”

Scott said he and Eric talked a lot about food while they were on the mountain. The food on the climb was different from what he and Eric were accustomed to. The Europeans seemed to be more familiar with the food.

He and Eric went into what looked like a restaurant and a man came over who spoke a little English and put down a bowl of soup in front of them and said it was goat soup and was a gift to them.

“The soup looked like they cut up parts of a goat and just put it in water,” said Scott. “The hair was still on the pieces. Since I know anatomy pretty well, I could tell one piece was part of a spinal cord. I am trying to be polite and thinking maybe someone is playing a joke on us to see if we really will eat this. I did try to eat a little but that was it. I think I even saw a hoof in the bowl.”

The man came back and they ordered chicken thinking that would be pretty safe.

“I actually heard them kill the chicken while we are sitting there,” said Scott. “Now that’s a fresh chicken. They cooked it over a fire in foil. It was a skinny chicken, not like the ones we buy at the grocery, but it was pretty good.”

Scott and Eric left the next day on safari. Their guide took them to two different areas of the reserve.

“Even though this is a reserve, it is still out in the wild,” said Scott. “We were in a open-type Jeep and could stand and see all around us. We saw a lot, we even saw a lion taking away a water buffalo.”

Scott said he thought they probably would never get to Africa again and so therefore took two more days for the safari.

After the safari, Scott and Eric are finally on their way home. They flew from Tanzania to Dubai for their first stop. They arrived at 2:30 a.m. and had almost a day until their next flight.

“Everything is so futuristic in Dubai,” said Scott. “We did go into the world’s tallest building.”

They found a McDonald’s, a KFC and Pizza Hut in Dubai. Scott said they were eating all they could hold because it all tasted so good.

They finally arrived home, and Scott said the toughest part about the trip back was making that drive from Cincinnati to Murray. But they arrived at their house safely and to a home-cooked meal of their favorites prepared by Angie.

Scott said that running the 100-mile marathons was harder than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but it had its moments.

“It wasn’t overly strenuous if you are in good shape,” he said. “I was in shape, but I had never climbed a mountain. You have to be able to endure being uncomfortable for several days. We never took our clothes off and did not take any showers. We did manage to brush our teeth.”

Scott said Angie knew he and Eric were going to be doing something adventurous but she didn’t think they would do exactly what they did.

“There is no outside communication with anyone while climbing,” said Scott. “So we could not communicate with Angie. While we were climbing, she was looking on the internet reading about how many people don’t make it on Mount Kilimanjaro.”

Scott grew up around the Madisonville area. He came to Murray State University and then on to Dallas, Texas, and completed his doctorate at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been in physical therapy practice in Murray for more than 30 years.

“Murray was a place to start my practice and I remained here,” he said. “Angie is from Hopkins County, but we met at Murray State. She is a CPA, but has spent her life taking care of family.”

The Winklers are now experiencing empty-nest syndrome. Oldest daughter Ashley is a patent attorney in Washington, D.C. and is now a clerk for the chief justice for the federal appellate court. Amy is an advisor at the Deloitte International office in Chicago and a CPA, and Eric graduated from the University of Kentucky with three degrees – accounting, finance and economics – in four years, and is in private equity in Dallas, Texas.

I am sure when the family is together, conversation eventually flows to memories of the European trips the sisters made with their mother and the climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro and an African safari for Eric and his father. I would venture to say that there are many families who travel to Europe, but I doubt there are many father and son duos who climb the world’s fourth tallest mountain.

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