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The City Journals

In her 60s, Sandy mom achieves life dream of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro with her son

May 02, 2022 08:09PM ● By Heather Lawrence

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Pat Kimsey of Sandy has always loved hiking. But once she was in her 60s, she was afraid she might have to skip one of the hikes on her bucket list: Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I’ve always wanted to hike Kilimanjaro. I’m 66 now, and at Thanksgiving in 2020 I mentioned to my son Marcus that I thought I had missed my chance,” Kimsey said.

But Marcus didn’t agree.

“I’ll go with you. Let’s do it,” Marcus said.   

Kimsey and Marcus planned to go in February 2021, but had problems getting out of the country.

“Marcus is an attorney and Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. He lives in Florida and because of Covid his travel request was denied,” Kimsey said.

While waiting for restrictions to ease, Kimsey prepared physically.  

“In warmer weather, I’d hike in the Albion Basin. Other days, I went to the gym and did the Stairmaster, or walked on the treadmill at a 15% grade, sometimes with my pack on,” Kimsey said.

A year later, Marcus was cleared to travel to Africa. They made plans for the dry season, February 2022. Kimsey was excited to cross Kilimanjaro off her list, but also to do it with her son.   

“I love his family, but how often do you get to spend time alone with your adult children?” Kimsey said.

When they got to Africa, they found out that “dry season” was a misnomer.

“It’s actually just the ‘less rainy’ season; it rained nearly every day,” Kimsey said. Staying dry became a challenge.

Kilimanjaro is made up of three ancient volcanoes, and hikers walk through fields of lava rock. The ascent is dramatic and much of the climb is single file.  

“One ledge was very narrow—just 14 inches. Marcus followed me to make sure I was OK.”  

Kimsey learned that slow and steady really does win the race.

“We did a nine day climb. You can do faster routes, but we chose the longer one so that we could get used to the altitude.

“The challenge with Kilimanjaro is not snow and ice crevasses like in the Himalayas. It’s the altitude. Coming from Utah helps a little but not much,” Kimsey said.

Kimsey did enjoy the “street cred” she got for being from Utah and spending her life hiking. “The guides were following me, watching out for ‘the old lady’, but they quickly figured out that I knew how to climb a mountain.”

Early on in the planning, Kimsey and her son decided their goal was to get to the top. Not to be the first ones, or the toughest ones, just to be successful.

“We went with a guide and they told our group that the people who are the least successful at reaching the top are healthy young men.

“They think they are invincible. They try to reach the top quickly, and they won’t get help or use oxygen. They end up coming down off the mountain with medical assistance and having to be treated for altitude sickness,” Kimsey said.   

Kimsey and Marcus planned to use oxygen as needed. “We thought of it as insurance to help us achieve our goal. It worked. We didn’t get headaches or nausea.”

Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is in Tanzania. The elevation is 19,341 feet. By comparison, the mountains in Little Cottonwood Canyon range from 5,000-11,000 feet.   

Summiting the peak with Marcus is a singular experience that Kimsey will never forget.

“The last day was long, about 14 hours. We made camp at 15,000 feet. Then we started out at 11 p.m. and hiked through the night.

“We reached the summit on Feb. 5 and watched the sunrise. It was beautiful and clear. We could see Kenya and the Serengeti,” Kimsey said.

Kimsey and Marcus had their pictures taken at the elevation marker. Kimsey took notes on her experience and wrote them out into a journal entry when she got home.

“It was a real high. There was a great feeling of accomplishment, even more than I thought it would be. As I’ve reflected on it, I realized this was a big deal,” Kimsey said.

Going down was a much faster trip. Kimsey’s husband flew in to meet her and they took a well-deserved safari on the Serengeti. She posted some brag-worthy photos on Facebook. “That was mostly for me—I just wanted to remember it while it was still fresh,” Kimsey said.

Kimsey came back to Sandy and Marcus went back to Florida, but they have this shared experience.

“We shared a tent and talked about lots of things. We talked about camping, about our family and what it was like when he was growing up,” Kimsey said. “It was so nice to spend that time together.”