Karel is a good friend of ours and was one of the first people to experience a Wilderness Trio adventure! Since meeting Karel, our team has had the opportunity to hike and adventure with her a few times! One thing is clear, Karel dreams big, climbs hard, and adventures like no one else we know! She knows how to make our team jealous because she always has some epic hiking adventure halfway across the globe on the horizon.
Karel was able to ring in the new year on top of Mount Kilamanjaro, a 19,341 foot tall beast located in Tanzania, Africa. Thankfully for us and all of you, Karel was kind enough to answer some questions we had about her journey. Check out our interview with the one and only, Karel Valentine!
What inspired you to climb Kilimanjaro?
In about 2004-2005, I made a bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish during my lifetime. Over time, I've met some of those goals, like completing my Masters degree. There are some that I won't get to meet, like learning Greek from my grandmother. However, one of the items on my list was climbing Kilimanjaro before the snow melts. So two things made me decide to climb Kilimanjaro now. First, I saw articles saying the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are only expected to be around for another 10 years. Second, I really got into hiking and backpacking over the last year and I had a milestone birthday just pass. I figured this trip would be a good way to celebrate. As a bonus, this was also my first trip to Africa.
What training did you do to prepare?
I did as much hiking as I could. I started hiking locally around San Diego, then visited Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks with Wilderness Trio for my first backpacking trips. I did the Six Pack of Peaks - a series of six summit hikes in Southern California. I did some additional backpacking in the Sierras, and culminated my training by summiting Mt. Whitney.
Tell us something random/unexpected that happened
As we were leaving for the summit just before midnight on New Years Eve, we saw fireworks from some of the towns below. It was also nearly a full moon on summit night and it was so bright that I didn't even need to use my headlamp!
How was the terrain compared to mountains/trails here in the US?
Most of my hiking experience has been in SoCal, so the terrain above the tree line was pretty similar to what we have here: lots of rocks and scree. Our first hiking day was through a rainforest, which is completely different from any location I've hiked! I did a hike in a cloud forest in Nicaragua a few years ago, but that's closest I've gotten. The different trees and vegetation on Kilimanjaro were also amazing. It was like being on a movie set!
What challenges did you have to overcome on the mountain?
My biggest issue was the altitude. I live at sea level, so from experience, I generally start to slow down above 10-11,000 ft. Some of the ladies in my group had worse altitude sickness symptoms when we were around 13-14,000 ft, but I was definitely moving slower than most of the group. To complicate things even more, I'd had the flu for the last few weeks before I left for my trip. I was feeling better for about a week before and on the first night, but then my flu symptoms came back with a vengeance! That definitely affected me both physically and mentally during the climb.
What tips would you give someone who is looking to climb such a feat?
It's a long hike! Try to get experience with multi-day backpacking or backcountry camping so that you'll be more comfortable on the mountain. And make sure you feel confident in your physical abilities to do whatever route you choose to take.
If you climbed it again, what would you do differently?
Other than not having the flu, I would be in better cardiovascular shape through running, swimming, etc. That would have helped my endurance on the mountain. Also to have more time at high altitude so my body would have adjusted better. Most of the companies that do Kilimanjaro hikes are based in Moshi (3100 ft) or Arusha (4600 ft), getting to Tanzania early wouldn't have helped. I wish I could have spent a few days above 10,000 ft so it wasn't so much of a shock.
Did you have a special moment where you felt reconnected back to nature? If so, what was it?
Personally, I like the silence of hiking and camping, which gives me a chance to disconnect from my daily routine and worries. There wasn't a lot of silence or solitude on Kilimanjaro. New Years is a very popular time of the year to climb, so all the camps were full and the trails were crowded. The moments I enjoyed the most were when I could get a little time to take pictures or hike with a smaller group at our own pace.
Where are you going next?
My next big trip is to Antarctica and Argentina in December/January! Machu Picchu is on my short list, as well as some of the other 7 summits that don't require advanced mountaineering skills. I'm in Oregon for the next few months for work, so I'm planning on doing some camping and hiking here once the weather breaks.
If you would like to follow Karel on her many epic adventures you can find her on IG @instakarel7 and if you have been on any epic and out of the ordinary adventures, feel free to send us an email for a possible interview!
Lets all keep reconnecting back to nature!
- Chris Duarte