When four friends get together and start talking, anything can happen. That’s what Kristin Waters, Lindsey Diaz, Georgina Kesterson and Julie Canada found out back in August 2017 when one of them mentioned climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Before they knew it, the former co-workers had gone to dinner, talked about the possibility of taking on the African mountain, put in for vacation at work and started training for the 19,341-foot summit.
“It wasn’t really on my radar much to go to Africa and climb this mountain,” Waters said. “But once I started doing the research, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m down.’ So we started training, planning and it all just came together.”
Planning was surprisingly easy. They all work in the medical field and have to request their vacation a year in advance. Waters, Diaz and Canada are all certified registered nurse anesthetists while Kesterson is an anesthesiologist. Everything worked out to where they could take off work Sept. 6-22 for the trip to Tanzania.
The decision to hike such a distance wasn’t completely random, though. All four are avid hikers and have made trips across the United States to climb numerous mountains. Diaz said she’s made it to the top of 14 mountains with a 14,000-foot altitude.
For her, it started in college when she began dating the man who would become her husband. She really liked him and had to find a way to spend more time with him.
“My husband is a much more avid outdoorsman than even I am, and I just try to keep up with him, so I kind of go along for the ride a lot,” said Diaz, who works for Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Waters grew up in South Georgia. She said she remembers taking trips up to North Georgia for vacation with her family where they would camp and do a little hiking. Though her family likes to remind her she complained about it when she was young, she now has turned it into a passionate hobby.
“Since we grew up in flatlands near the coast, it was awesome to us,” said Waters, who also works for Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “I looked forward to it every year. So that, I think, is kind of what stimulated that and then it kind of blossomed over the years.”
When she moved to North Georgia for work, all the memories of her childhood came rushing back. So she started hiking and hasn’t stopped since.
As a medical professional, Kesterson knows training is an important part of taking on Mount Kilimanjaro. She said she’s increased her cardio activity and even taken trips to Colorado, like the others, to make a couple 14,000-foot summits.
“It’s a relatively new activity for me, just the last year and a half,” said Kesterson, who works for Pediatric Dental Anesthesia Associates. “But the dream of going to Kilimanjaro, I’ve had for almost 20 years.”
Each one has tried to get out and hike as much as possible in order to get used to higher altitudes before making the trip to Africa.
“Kilimanjaro is not a technical hike,” Diaz said. “We’re not going to need ropes or helmets or climbing equipment. Luckily it’s just a hike, so I think getting outside and doing as much as we can as far as just pounding our feet, that’s the biggest thing.”
They will only spend eight days on the mountain with a day of traveling to and from it. And this hike will be different than any other they have done for more reasons than the high altitude and distance. Diaz said it will actually be “major glamping” for them.
Hikers are required to have guides on Mount Kilimanjaro. The company they chose to go with includes a guide, cook and 18 porters. Those porters will do a lot of the more laborious tasks Waters, Diaz, Kesterson and Canada are used to.
“The porters carry all of your gear, so it kind of makes the hike a little luxurious,” Waters said. “We will just carry a daypack and the porters will carry the duffle bag with all our sleeping things and clothing, and they’ll transport that between each camp, and they’ll go ahead of us and have camp set up for us.”
The porters will also bring a basin of warm water to them when they wake up so they can rinse themselves off if they need. Porters are also responsible for a toilet carried between camps.
Waters said about 25,000 people attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro each year and only about two-thirds make it to the top.
“Your success rate is highly dependent on how many days you take to climb so you have time to acclimate to the altitudes,” Waters said.
Acclimating to the altitude is one of the most important parts of the hike because it’s one of the main things that can send hikers back to the bottom. Waters said “altitude sickness can strike anyone at any time. No one is immune to it.”
Diaz knows from first-hand experience.
“I’ve gotten altitude sickness before,” Diaz said. “That is not fun. So, I was really kind of worried about this trip because I’ve had to abort a summit because of altitude sickness.”
She said they will all be taking prophylactic medication to prevent it. If one of them ends up getting altitude sickness, she will be taken back to base camp by a porter while the others keep making their way to the top.
They’re hoping that doesn’t happen to any of them. When they get to the top, though only for a short time, they’re looking forward to the view of a lifetime.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” Diaz said. “I often find it amazing that people don’t believe there’s some kind of creator out there when I see that kind of beauty. It makes you feel small, makes your problems feel small. It’s hard to describe. It’s just super invigorating.”