Team Parker Summit’s Mt. Kilimanjaro
When you are standing at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet, you truly have the feeling that there is nothing in the world that you cannot do! You forget how hard it was to get there and for a little while, you no longer struggle to breathe because you have arrived at the summit of this magnificent mountain! You have this amazing feeling that you hope will last a life time; and truly, a part of it will!
When you train for an entire year to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, and live and breathe a national fundraiser over twelve months time, it would seem that nothing could take the wind from your sails once your team has reached the summit! But, sometimes life can throw you a curve. I will talk about that a little later, but now I will share a little about the amazing Parker’s Climb for Team Fox!
The Parker’s Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro Expedition For Parkinson’s Research will forever be remembered as one of the greatest accomplishments of my lifetime, and I think I can safely say the same for the rest of the family! All six members of the Parker Family reached the summit of Mt.Kilimanjaro on July 10, 2011, (Geoff’s 57th birthday). We were energized by the good wishes and prayers from our loyal Parker’s Climb readers and supporters. This is truly what fueled our steps over the seven-day ascent and two-day descent, up and down this grand monadnock.
There are no words to describe how my family members pulled together as a team during the climb. We supported one and other from the first step, and all the way to the summit and down! When one of our team slowed or needed to rest, we all slowed the pace. We all pushed each other, we shared food and snacks to fuel us, and we looked out for each other every step of the way! The Tusker Trail guides and porters were a crucial element of our success and I would place my life in their hands again!
Every member of our family never forgot for a minute why we were doing this climb! We climbed in honor of Team Fox, and for all of the fundraisers who have worked tirelessly before us. We climbed for Team Fox because of their never-ending spirit as they continue to spearhead a cure for Parkinson’s disease, and we climbed to inspire those living with Parkinson’s disease to stay active like Geoff, to hopefully slow the progression of this disease, and improve the quality of life. We climbed for those that have been diagnosed already who struggle every day of their lives, and we climbed for those who have yet to be diagnosed, as Parkinson’s disease continues without a cure.
Speaking of Geoff, he did amazing during our climb! He started off incredibly strong and was still in top form as we reached the summit on day seven. When we were within 250 yards from the summit sign, Geoff walked up and took me by the hand to walk with me to the summit sign. It was by the grace of God that we were standing there together, and it is a moment in time that I shall remember for a lifetime!
They say the mountain air and the altitude can do strange things to people and let me tell you, this is a true statement! I became more quiet and reserved, and there were times that I could hardly recognize Geoff during the climb! For those of you who know Geoff, you might say he is the one who is quiet and a little reserved. You could say he is oftentimes “a man of few words”. Well, not during this climb! Geoff chatted his way up this mountain like I have never seen him before! Literally, he never stopped talking all the way to 19,340 feet! Really! One day he turned to me and said, “Pam, why you are so quiet?” My immediate response was, “I am trying to breathe Geoffrey, and you are talking enough for both of us!” And I said that in all seriousness, and with love! 🙂
Geoff was truly the hero of this climb and the reason we Parkers had the fortitude to do this climb in the first place. When you consider that Geoff’s Parkinson’s disease began possibly as early as 2003 or 2004, it speaks volumes for his ability to keep the symptoms in check, in order to be able to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. We so strongly believe through an aggressive fitness regimen that includes working in the gym, bicycling, tennis and golf, Geoff has been fortunate to slow the progression of PD.
To Geoff, I say “I am truly inspired and amazed at your tenacity to manage this disease day in and day out!” “The strength you exhibited on this climb was beyond my wildest imagination!” ” Your story will continue to inspire others for years to come, and if we have helped one person with PD to start their own fitness regimen as a way to battle their disease, it was worth every step we took on Mt. Kilimanjaro!”
Every member of the Parker family are heroes in my eyes, but they were even before this climb! Three of us caught colds during the climb but we trudged on. George III had a sore throat very early on and could barely swallow for several days during the climb, yet he kept on climbing! My cold settled in the lungs causing me to take very shallow and painful breaths and I was fortunate to make it! By the end of the climb Geoff had the sore throat and by day nine, he once again settled into his quiet stance, sharing the same pain as George. But I will reiterate, he was still talking up a storm all the way to the top! At one point George III said, “Geoff, are you breathing through your ears or what?”
Lulu, George IV and Maddie were incredible! Lulu is my amazing sister-in-law Larri, who started her training for Mt. Kilimanjaro in the airport on the way to Moshe, Tanzania! Really – she took the stairs instead of the escalator! You think I am kidding and I am being totally serious here! She did tell me her legs got a little tired one day! “Love this sister; and will stay in the gym just to keep up with you from now on!”
Geoffrey and I were fortunate to return to the continent of Africa for our 7th wedding anniversary! We were married in South Africa in 2004, so it only seemed right that we celebrate during our climb! The Tusker Trail team were incredibly resourceful in getting a homemade cake up the mountain on Day 4, by sending a porter down the mountain to retrieve a cake that was being carried by another porter from Moshe! We were surprised on July 7, 2011 after a day spent at the Lava Tower, the highest day of climbing so far. We climbed up to 15,500 feet for lunch that day and then descended back to just under 13,000 feet for a night of sleep. It was a long, hard day of climbing to say the least, but when about ten of the Tusker Trail team started singing and presented our anniversary cake, we forgot all about the day of climbing!
The Barranco Wall is the most physically challenging part of the climb (beyond the summit day) only because it is straight up and oftentimes you are using some skill to navigate the large boulders. The fact that you are now approaching 14,000 feet also plays into the challenge, but I think this part of the climb was one of the most enjoyable! (Easy to say that now!)
Different parts of the mountain seemed to almost reflect different parts of life to me during the ascent. I was at such peace through the rain forest and the Heath & Moorland zones. Once past the Alpine Zone on day 4, there was very little flora and the mountain terrain was covered in huge broken shards of rock that seemed to go on forever. This part of the mountain was harsh to me and very much reminded me of the broken lives of those struggling with Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders. I found this part of the mountain to be cold and depressing for a time, (could it have been exhaustion perhaps?),yet beyond this point came one of the most beautiful areas well above the clouds, after we climbed the Barranco wall.
There is no feeling like looking at life from above the tree line and finally above the clouds as you climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you ever doubted that you would make it up this mountain, you think again when you see the beauty from this altitude. I must admit however, the summit was still a very long, hard road ahead at this point, as we camped at 14,950 feet on the rocky slopes of the Barafu Camp. The winds and the cold set in covering your tent and sleeping bag with frost, and sleep the night before the summit really did not ever come.
One of the things that moves you as you climb on summit day is the people who are coming down from the summit. They are exhausted, some are sick and have little life in them and almost all are on a mission to just make it down again after their moments at the summit.
On summit morning Team Parker was summoned to breakfast at 3:30 am. Many climbers left our camp at midnight to make it to the summit near daybreak, but our plan all along was to arrive behind most teams so we could take in the entire summit day in daylight. With other climb teams coming through our campsite for the midnight exodus, in reality Team Parker was up all night. This combined with the fact that you are already six days into the climb made for a pretty exhausted group when we were finally on our way to the summit.
I hate to admit that my camera never came out of my pocket on summit day! Thankfully others were taking photos – I was just trying to breathe! Geoff never wavered – I never saw one sign of him slowing down on summit day, but why would he? We had come this far and I do believe if we had to crawl, we were going to summit. I must have asked fifty times, “how much further” and I think Thobias always answered, “just a little while longer!” Our last stop before the final summit was Stella Point – and as tired as we were, I knew at this point we would claim this summit!
The final push, that last 45 minutes to the summit does not seem so bad now! I remember Geoff chatting up a storm and I recall telling him to get photos of the glacier. Lulu smiled as we continued, and there was just something reassuring about this! When I could barely see the the Kibo Summit, Geoff took me by the hand and led me to the sign. That was a surreal moment in my life. A year of planning, a day of remembering most every comment on our blog from readers, many moments throughout the day thinking of all the emails people sent over the year, hours of the last day that I kept saying, “You can do this”, words my trainer said to me for a year in the gym. And the words I kept singing over and over in my head, “There’s always gonna be another mountain…”
Perhaps the most important moment for me during the entire climb is when I reached the summit and I placed the Team Fox bracelet that I had worn every day since the launch of Parker’s Climb over a sign post holding the Kibo Summit sign. I had dreamed of this moment for an entire year, and it was now going to be a part of the experience for everyone who follows in our footsteps! This in my mind signified success!
In many post over the year, I promised when you saw Geoff’s famous VICTORY SIGN, and my THUMBS UP, it would be for those of you who cheered us on – for those of you who so graciously donated to Team Fox on behalf of Parker’s Climb! Well here it is my friends – You were there with us! We knew it!
George IV and Maddie took this mountain by storm with little to no trouble. George had the greatest analogy when he pointed out that on the first night of the climb, we slept at a higher altitude than any of us had ever been before! He and Madeleine slept at a camp next to the Furtwanger Glacier at 18,500 feet the night we reached the summit. The amazing thing is that they actually slept, which puts them among a small ten percent of people who are able to sleep at this altitude.
We all just died laughing when George told us that he watched Maddie sleeping so peacefully that he wanted to wake her to be sure she was getting enough oxygen! He also shared that at this altitude, it took about five minutes to take off each boot that night. I think he felt a lot better when the rest of us admitted that it took us at least that long to remove our boots and we slept back at 14,500 feet that night.
Statistics indicate that about 80% of people who try to sleep at an altitude of 18,500 feet will get a pretty significant headache. The powerhouse Parker siblings breezed right through the headache and slept well! Parker’s Rock!
Since we were up at 3:30 am on summit day, George, Larri, Geoff and I decided to return to our base camp after the summit because we figured with an 80% headache rule, it would certainly consume us! This was one wild descent from 19,340 feet back to 14,500 feet. We truly skied through deep volcanic rock on the back of our boots at lightning speed, and for much of the descent we were in the dark. You literally had to feel your steps in the dark because you could not see the trail! This only proves that our guides were incredible and amazing. I have never been so happy to see a camp in my life! We did it – we went up – and we came down! And then we went into a very, very deep sleep until early the next morning!
There was one bit of unfinished business before leaving this mountain! On our last night, and one day after Geoff turned 57 on Kibo Summit day, the Tusker Team surprised Geoff with a birthday cake! This was our second cake for the week and in the true spirit, our Guides and Porters sang Happy Birthday while Geoffrey cut the cake. We are pretty sure that we are the only group to have two cakes ushered up that mountain in the same week – but it was a very special week indeed!