January 26, 2016

Kilimanjaro Prep


summit sign


The Beginning 

One thing I love about my occupation is when the phone rings, I never know what my clients have in store for me. This was the truth for me when my old friend Sean Pamphelon called me. He and his production partner, Justin Bergeron, were working on a project about a group of amputees from San Antonio, TX. They have been training for a year towards a goal of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet (5,895meters), it is the highest mountain in Africa. The working title for the group was “Cloud Walkers.” I knew this story had great potential. Even better, there was footage of their training and their personal stories.  Sean and Justin gave me the responsibility of telling their story on their final push to complete their journey.  This was a big job, a lot of gear, technology and geography research needed to be done. I didn’t have too much time. I received the call on November 13th and was set to fly to Africa on December 27th.  So the race was on.


Before I began gearing up (mountain and production-wise), I wanted to know what we were up against. I knew about Mt. Kilimanjaro but I needed to become very familiar with it. It is located in Tanzania on the east coast of Africa.



During our hike we would cross through 5 different climate zones:

1-Cultivated Area 2,600-6,000ft (793-1799m)

2-Rainforest  6000-9500ft (1829-2744m)

3-Heath and Moorlands 9500-13,199ft  (2805-3993m)

4-Alpine Desert 13,200-16,400ft (3993-4999m)

5-Arctic 16,400-19,340ft (4999m+)

I knew these different zones would make packing interesting (with temperatures ranging from a tropical 90 degrees to the frigid summit which could reach below zero).

Next, I searched Kilimanjaro on YouTube and watched several documentaries to become familiar with the visual aspects. I also came across a few first person experience videos. I thought they were an interesting watch. A lot of videos showed what people were packing. They were informative but I was in the same situation, pretty much guessing on what I might need. Then I came upon this a video by MrSeaDog. This video shows him unpacking from his summit and commenting on what he used and should have left at home. I found this video to be the most useful.

A suggested packing list from our guide company, ClimbKili.com, was forwarded and I could use that information alongside my research.

Mountain Gear Prep

I had some mountaineering experience (Patagonia Trail, Inca Trail, Mt. Whitney as well as working in the mountains on various assignments), so I owned gear to wear and surround myself with. Our guide company, Climb Kili, supplied tents, sleeping pads and sleeping bags. I just needed to round up my clothes, boots and accessories. The challenge is to bring just enough without excess or missing something. The good thing about going with a large group (15 hikers plus guides and porters), is if you forget something, a solution isn’t too far off.

The secret to this trip is layers. Crossing through so many different zones, I found myself peeling off or piling on the layers throughout the day. These are the items I packed and used on the mountain (I had a two day side trip after the summit I needed to pack for as well).

My basics from head to toe:


-Baseball cap, skull cap, 2 winter fleece lined beanies, Water proof trekking sun hat

Buff (My first buff experience, these things are awesome!)

Upper Body:

-Compression shirt, light base layer, fleece jacket, T-shirts, Light trekking shirt (only packed short sleeve, I should have packed a long sleeve light shirt as well)

-Light gloves, wind breaking gloves, water proof gloves


-Marmot waterproof jacket (for rain situations and wind breaking), Down jacket for summit day

Lower Body:

-Compression shorts, lightweight base layer pants, fleece base layer pants (for sleeping in and summit day), cargo trekking pants, water proof trekking pants (waterproof and wind breaking), trekking shorts


-Compression socks (as a lining), hiking socks

-Asolo boots (waterproof and rugged), trail shoes (worn for travel, hotel and at camp)

These were the basics. I didn’t have to buy too much but I did decide to invest in a self inflating sleeping pad. This would give some comfort on our tent’s terrain as well as create another layer of insulation between me and the earth.

I packed my normal toiletry kit. I also brought other items like moleskin (for foot care), aspirin, Imodium, wilderness wipes (for a shower in the tent), flushable wipes (for, well you can figure that one out), small scissors, nail clippers, sunscreen (nothing under 50SPF, it is Africa and relatively close to the equator), Deet (nothing under 95percent deet. This repels the mosquitos that could be carrying malaria) and the prescribed travel medication (for malaria, altitude and travelers diarrhea).

I also needed to pack snacks for our in between meals on the trail.

As far as bags, I had 2 checked bags (Patagonia 90L and North Face base camp duffel). These bags are great because they can be transported as backpacks when needed but also don’t have a specific shape. The ability to use all corners because of the flexible material makes it easy to stuff items into corners. I needed a bag as big as the Patagonia bag because I needed to transport a small tripod and boom microphone.

I used the bigger Patagonia bag to pack the backpack I would be hiking with. Our guide company suggested a day pack for our hike but I knew I would be carrying more than just hiking supplies. I needed extra batteries, lenses, rain gear for me and my camera. A larger pack would be needed. I also packed a lowe pro belt pack inside of my backpack inside of my Patagonia bag (it’s like nesting dolls). This belt pack would allow me to stow and grab the camera whenever I needed it. It ended up being really convenient.

I utilized a ton of room by using 2 compression sacks . I bought two different color sacks. One contained my warm weather gear, the other contained my cold weather gear that I wouldn’t need until later in the trip. Nothing worse than dumping out all of your clothes in search of a particular item.

If I wasn’t required to bring my production gear, either bag would have sufficed as my only bag to take to hike Kilimanjaro.

I also had two pieces of carry on. One was a small backpack (5.11 Rush24 backpack). This is my normal travel pack and I put all of my items for the long flights for under seat storage.

My second carry on has became one of my favorite travel bags. Osprey Farpoint 40 is a fantastic bag because of it’s versatility. Here are some of the things I like about it: ability to open the back pack fully for ease of packing, it’s a back pack but the straps and waist strap can be stowed away and can be carried in briefcase mode, the top straps have two options for snapping which means you can really bear down and tighten up the straps (making the bag slimmer) for everything to be carry on compliant.

Although I had many flights, I didn’t have any extra baggage fees. I did however have to do some weight transferring between bags for one flight (Isn’t it the same weight going on the plane? I never understood that policy)


From my reading, Mt. Kilimanjaro is considered a non-technical hike. There was one comment I read that a sedentary person could do this hike.  I would consider myself a fit individual. I live an active lifestyle added to my profession that keeps me hustling. I also have been a part of the CrossFit community for seven years and have been involved with SealFit since 2014. Many friends who have been to the summit encouraged me that my fitness was fine it was more about the breathing and all about the altitude.

Altitude is another monster. I was concerned about documenting my group’s ascent and fending off altitude sickness. I understand with the lack of oxygen at high elevations can cause a bunch of issues:


-Loss of appetite

-Feeling sick to your stomach

-Feeling weak and tired

-Feeling dizzy

-Not being able to sleep through the night

I have hiked to 13,800ft on the Inca Trail, Peru and 14,505ft summiting Mt. Whitney, USA without any medication or altitude issues. Nineteen thousand feet was an X Factor and I didn’t want to deal with any symptoms during my climb so I got a prescription for acetazolamide as a precaution (more about my immunization and medication in a bit).

One of the biggest lessons I have learned through SealFit is breathing. If you control your breath, you control how you handle situations and adapt. I knew going into this project that my breathing practices would help me deal with stress (traveling, technical, creative, etc) and the altitude.

When talking to Mona Patel, Cloud Walker organizer and hiker, I mentioned my involvement in SealFit. Mona and fellow hiker, Scott Wilson were both part of an adaptive athlete SealFit event in San Antonio in 2013 called Transition Possible.

If I had any questions about their commitment, this cemented my opinion about the group. There was no doubt they would succeed.

Medication and Immunization (Ouch! actually it wasn’t bad at all)

I have been to many different parts of this world but I have never had immunization for travel before.  With this particular trip, I was required to get some shots although from discussions with the folks at Carolina Passport Health, I probably should have come in for some of my previous trips. I guess what you don’t know can’t kill you.

I was immunized for Hepatitis A, Polio (apparently it’s making a comeback), Tdap (tetanus-diptheria-pertussis) and Typhoid.

I was dreading getting shots. The last time I got an immunization was in grade school.

I received the four shots and it wasn’t a big deal at all. Very little pain and a little soreness over the next 24 hours.

I got a prescription for:

Malaria.  (mefloquine) My prescription called for me to start taking this once a week starting two weeks before the trip, throughout the trip and four weeks after (8 weeks). Malaria is a huge issue in Africa, if you are bit by a mosquito, it can get into your blood stream. This is why it is required to continue to take the medicine after the conclusion of the trip.

Acetazolemide to fight any altitude sickness.

Ciprofloxacin to fight any extreme case of traveler’s diarrhea. This is to be used as a last resort. It was suggested to use Imodium at first then if things get “extreme” then go for the Cipro.

Production gear

I will just give an overview of what camera gear I was bringing with an added blog for all the techies. I was tasked with supplying all of the camera gear (I had two other camera operators), I had to make sure we had enough ammunition (batteries and cards and camera gear) on the mountain. I brought 2 Sony Digital cameras (they are small hybrid video/still cameras), 2 DJI OSMOs (these are cameras on a handle that are stabilized), 3 GoPros (I wanted cameras that could shoot in extreme rainy conditions), I also brought audio gear, 1 small tripod. With all of the camera gear, I needed batteries and a solution to charge those batteries during our eight days on the mountain. To learn how I charged batteries.. you’ll need to wait for that techie blog…..and my solution wasn’t solar power based.


I flew from Charlotte to San Antonio on December 26th. Mona Patel picked me up curbside and I finally met the Cloud Walker leader. She is a force, she is someone who simply gets it done. No matter what the “it” is.

The other two camera operators flew in that day as well. This would be the first time to meet them in person. Philip flew in from California and Carrington from Washington State.  I would use this time to introduce them to the gear and the approach we would be using.  Sean had sent me information and individual character “pods” for each hiker so I could understand their specific back stories. I felt I was playing catch up. I only had met a few of the hikers and had this big hill looming in our future.
We had a little issue right out of the gate, Carrington’s flight ran into weather issues (snow in Texas?) and his bag was stuck on a plane about to leave for Dallas. Usually this isn’t a big issue but all of his hiking gear was in that bag. Last time I checked, there wasn’t an REI on the base of Kilimanjaro. A mad scramble allowed Carrington to grab his bag only a few hours before our departure.

Sunday, December 27th, we all met at the San Antonio airport. The hikers and their families were gathered in a corner of the airport. This was my first exposure to the genuine support and how real this goal was for them. I met the youngest hiker Johnny who had never even been to an airport much less taken a flight. I knew this trip was going to full of surprises.



“The Cloud Walkers”


As I do for all my international trips, I contact my credit card companies and let them know I would be out of the country.

TIP: Make sure you tell the credit card companies where your layovers are so you can use the cards as you wait for your next flight to leave.

I am not new to flying but these were about to be two long flights. I was happy with my neck pillow purchase (I’ve owned and forgotten dozens on planes throughout the years), it was made of memory foam. Soft and supportive (sigh.)

Obviously we crossed several time zones..

Amsterdam is 6 hours ahead of New York and Kilimanjaro is 2 hours ahead of Amsterdam (that makes 8 hours ahead of New York.. and no I didn’t use core math)

We departed on December 27 San Antonio to Atlanta then Atlanta to Amsterdam (5:45pm to 8:15am Dec 28).



Johnny on his first flight.



Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro.

Our flight was scheduled to leave Amsterdam at 10:15am and arrive in Kilimanjaro at 8:50pm but we were delayed out of Amsterdam and didn’t arrive in Kilimanjaro until after midnight.

The flights were long but there is a monitor in front of every seat (we flew Delta and KLM). There were plenty of options for TV shows, movies, or video games to keep me occupied. I know some travelers rely on medication (or alcohol) to help them sleep on flights. I used an all natural solution that I use when I am on the ground. It’s called Doc Parsley’s sleep cocktail and it works.

As we stepped foot on African soil (actually the runway), the trip actually felt real.

KILI AIRPORTKilimanjaro International Airport

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  • I love it! Keep writing.

  • Great stuff! Thank you for taking the time to put it all together and sharing. Looking forward to the next installment!

  • informational and entertaining! awaiting the next installment – ty boom!

  • Thanks for sharing!!!! I am looking forward to the next part the adventure. Also love the links to gear and other goodies.

  • Amazing found myself wanting to read more.

    • Thanks for reading, I am working on capturing the whole trek.. it was an amazing experience, glad to share.


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