Johnson, Jamieson conquer Kilimanjaro peak
Dustin Johnson, Bruce Jamieson and their Tanzanian guide “Julius” arrive at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa last month. The pair undertook their trip after a year of planning and preparation.
The legendary mountain climber Barry Finlay once wrote in his book, Kilimanjaro and Beyond, that “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
Two local men have proven that point by cresting the massive mountain – the tallest in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world at 19,341 feet above sea level – last month.
Wrangellites Bruce Jamieson and Dustin Johnson recently returned to Southeast Alaska after making the trip to Tanzania where they conquered the peak in just over four days.
“I did it to see if I could do it, and I give most of the credit to Bruce because he had it in his head for about four years to climb it,” Johnson said. “I jumped on board last spring and I told him I would have time to go do it in the winter.”
Jamieson, who experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2009, said the climb was about overcoming and achieving what he thought he might never be able to do.
“It was a major accomplishment for me because it was something I had been wanting to do since my accident,” Jamieson said. “The whole thing, for me, was to not let a TBI ruin my life. That was the main reason for this climb. I went through hell for the last three-and-a-half years, so this was a reward and I was making a statement.”
Overcoming the fear of climbing one of the tallest peaks in the world was something Johnson said he was able to do – though he did experience one night of discomfort on the ascent.
“Going into any high elevation above sea level is going into an unknown, so I could be in the best shape of my life and it doesn’t matter because if you get to 10,000 feet you might experience problems,” Johnson said, adding, “Luckily I only had a headache on the second night. It was behind my eyes and I wasn’t hungry at all, either.”
Of the six main routes to climb the mountain – Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame – Johnson and Jamieson chose Lemosho as their trek of choice.
“We took the Lemosho route and we came from the west as we climbed,” Johnson said. “It was neat because you start in the jungle and you work your way up to a plateau that used to be a volcano near the Shira route. It wasn’t really a hard climb, though we were carrying more gear than probably most of the others on the mountain. The last push was the toughest but it was great when we got to the top. You see a sign and you think you are there, but you still have to walk another half hour around the rim to reach the actual highest point on the mountain. We had about a half-hour up there, but it was great to be done.”
Jamieson said the route was one of beauty and that conditions were good going up the mountain.
“The weather we had, it was perfect conditions,” Jaimeson said. “In the beginning it was extremely hot and then the further up we got, it started cooling down. It got a little foggy now and then and only rained a couple of times with some snow at night.”
While the ascent took four days, the descent Johnson said, took “just a day-and-a-half,” and there was only one time he was frightened by the atmospheric conditions on the slope.
“About 8 o’clock, a thunderstorm rolled through and for two hours it pounded and you could see the bolt flashes through your closed eyelids,” Johnson added. “It was pretty intense.”
Johnson and Jamieson both reiterated that it was not a cheap endeavor to make the climb – and Johnson added that the groups going up Kilimanjaro were small.
“The hike cost around $1,200 per person and the permits to climb it are paid to the government for each day you are on the mountain, and the outfitters cook for you and each group has them,” Johnson said. “Each group has only about three or four climbers as well.”
Johnson’s girlfriend, Devyn Moody, said she was only slightly worried about Johnson’s safety both on the mountain and while he was traveling to and from the climb.
“I was afraid because I didn’t really know what he was getting himself into,” Moody said. “I’ve never known anybody who has gone over there, so I didn’t know what could happen but I was excited for him. He called me from overseas and the conversations were short and expensive. I was scared mainly when he got off the mountain and had time to walk around in the cities, but I am so proud of him and I love him.”
Johnson added that the pair traveled by caravan during the upheaval of Kenya’s presidential election and saw at least a few troops in the streets.
“It was eye opening for sure,” Johnson said. “There were troops we saw at the banks, so they were probably trying to protect them from a run or thieves.”
“We saw long lines at the election polls and there were armed troops everywhere,” Jamieson added. “In the Kenyan hotel we saw poll watchers that worked with President Jimmy Carter and even a guest who turned out to be the former president of Kenya who was running for re-election with his bodyguard.”
The first known mountaineers to climb the mountain were Europeans Hans Meyer, Ludwig Purtscheller and Tanzanian Yohanas Kinyala Lauwo in 1889.