To the top

Not many students can say they’ve been to Africa, let alone climbed the tallest mountain on the continent, but for sophomore Brennen Strohm and senior Jake Gipple, it’s just another accomplishment to cross off the list.

“It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Strohm said. “But once you’re up there, you feel a sense of achievement. It’s great.”

Strohm and his family vacationed in Africa in late June to visit the Ugandan school and orphanage that his dad helped fund. Before visiting, Strohm and his dad decided to take on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“First, you have the mentality of, ‘Let’s go. I’m excited to be here. I want to go up,’” Strohm said. “But it was harder than I ever could have imagined. Halfway up, I was sick every day because of the altitude.”

Although Strohm took health precautions before traveling to Africa — immunization shots for yellow fever and typhoid as well as pills to prevent malaria — but there was no anticipating of the physical toll that would come with Kilimanjaro.

“You have a constant headache,” Strohm said. “You throw up a lot and you can’t eat because of the pressure. I couldn’t eat anything. I had to force myself to eat M&M’s.”

Strohm suffered from altitude sickness. Along with fighting loss of appetite, he and his dad took water purifying tablets to keep healthy while retrieving water from local rivers.

“I was getting homesick,” Strohm said. “I wanted to be back in civilization where I had food and I was doing fine. Before reaching the top, I was on my last string, but I had to push myself.”

These obstacles wouldn’t keep Strohm from reaching the top. He attributes his drive to conquer the mountain to the locals who led him and his family up there.

“The tour guides were friendly,” Strohm said. “Their goal was to get you to the top, so they give you encouragement. And, on that last day, when my dad and I had nothing left, they sang songs to you — anything to get what you were doing off your mind. They were super friendly; they were probably what got me up.”

According to Strohm, his guide has hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro 250 times and once completed a route in under 20 hours. It took Strohm and his dad nine days.

“We reached the top during the day,” Strohm said. “It was a perfectly clear day outside. It was hard to soak it all in because I couldn’t recognize what I had done.”

Gipple’s experience at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was similar to that of Strohm’s, as far as the inability to recognize the moment goes, but his encounter involved some setbacks.

“I don’t remember being on top of the mountain,” Gipple said. “I remember throwing up, and I remember the sign, but I was so sick and delirious. I had a video camera and on the top there I took a lot of video footage of myself jumping around, being a moron because I was so delirious.”

Like Strohm, Gipple suffered from altitude sickness and fatigue, and he also accredits his will to reach the top to his guide.

“The guide was my biggest help,” Gipple said. “He was so cool. When he was 18, he had to kill a lion by himself with a stick. And the whole time we were going up on the last night, he was just screaming weird tribal sounds the whole eight hours. It was really motivating, actually.”

Gipple hiked through the night to reach the summit in time to see the sun come up.

“It doesn’t feel like much, but once you get down, you start soaking it in,” Strohm said. “You feel great about yourself. Everyone is happy there. You got done what you wanted to get done.”