A climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro before the storied snows turn to dust…
An interview with a top climber
By Michael C. Johnston
The first night on the summit of Kilimanjaro, a summit that has been described by many as a “giant tombstone,” was spent with my friend and climbing partner (and my wife, and some of my other climbing companions) Mike Biondo. As we climbed up, we were accompanied by a friend of Mike’s, and our porters, which had become a large flock of crows when all the sheep in the neighboring mountains had been driven off. Eventually, we made it to the crest and saw the sky glowing above us.
Mike, then 48, and I had hiked in together, climbed together, and hiked through the night until the sun rose over our heads. We had met in 1978 when Mike’s son, Dan, invited us to meet at the summit the following day. The climb up Kilimanjaro was a life-changing experience for Mike; it was for me, as well. My career in climbing is now at its peak, and my life has become a daily round of climbing in the Andes, and, of course, Kilimanjaro. I have seen Mike’s life and career as they have been unfolding, and it has been a source of constant inspiration.
Kilimanjaro is the third tallest mountain in Africa, after Kilimanjaro’s twin sister, Nanga Parbat, and Mount Kenya. It is an 8,145-foot volcanic cone, with its top capped by a 3,000-foot ice cap. The summit is so sheer that the only way to descend is by rappeling. The mountain was first climbed officially in 1938 by Frenchman Fr. Léger. It was climbed in 1935 by a group led by a Scottish climber named Andrew McGregor and the Sherpas, and it is often said that the climb was made with bare hands only. The mountain does not have a base camp, a place where climbers can stay for the night, because