Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (2022)

The Efird family of Branson took on the adventure of a lifetime when they traveled to Tanzania to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (1)

As the family, Dr. Chad Efird, his wife Amy along with their four children Kyler, 21; Gaige, 19; Briley, 17; and Dane 15, who were dubbed Team Simba by their guides, made their way above the clouds, the temperature declined and the nights hit a blistering dangerous cold of -20 degrees. Mount Kilimanjaro is a unique hike for many reasons, but is best known for is the fact, from base to peak, hikers trek through five climates in their journey including: cultivation zone, rainforest zone, heather-moorland zone, the alpine desert zone, and the arctic zone. The average temperature at the base is in the mid 60 to 80 degrees, with temperatures dropping as the hikers climb to the peak.

Amy Efird said the last night at camp, which is known as Summit night, was an adventure in itself. The family reached the camp around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (2)

“The last night before the summit, they have you go to bed around 5,” Amy said. “You actually get to your camp before then, like we got there at 2:30. So they fed us lunch at like 4:30 and then we’re in our sleeping bags by 5 o’clock.”

Gaige said the last camp was stationed around 16,000 feet, which made the air thin and the day cold.

Amy said it was not only hard to sleep due to the cold, but trying to sleep with the sun shining so brightly.

“You really aren’t sleeping because you can’t breathe,” Amy said. “I was laying there trying to rest.”

At around 11 p.m. the family was woken from their rest to start their ascent to the summit.

“You gotta go outside and you’re freezing and so on the last night of the climb up, they wake you up at 11,” Amy said. “Then they fed us before we left, again lots of carbs to keep your energy up.”

“On the last night, the summit night, we left camp at midnight,” Gaige said. “And it’s freezing. It’s pitch black. We all have headlamps on. I think we had six layers on the top and five on the bottom. Double socks and everything. Then we hiked for seven and a half hours in the dark . We’d stop about every 45 minutes to an hour and they had us eat.”

“They’d give us, like Snickers or chocolate bars to give us energy because you don’t want somebody’s sugar bottoming out when they’re that high,” Amy said. “That would be terrible. You are so high up and exerting so much energy.”

The family made their way to Uhuru peak, which isn’t technically a peak. It is the highest point on the dormant volcano’s crater rim which stands at 19,340 feet above sea level and is the official summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Most guides start the climb to Uhuru peak at night to allow hikers to reach the summit around dawn to take in the views from the top.

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (3)

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The treacherous hike in the bitter cold and dark is something the Efirds said they will never forget.

“Briley was having a bit of a difficult time, with the cold wind,” Amy said.

“Dad was blocking her from the wind on the left side. I was on the right side,” Gaige said. “And I was pouring glucose powder straight into her mouth as she was walking, just to get the energy.”

Dane said the last night of hiking took a toll on the body. Two guides helped him carry his pack near the end of the hike up.

“You are just trying to make it to the top,” Dane said. “You are so close.”

Amy said the last hundred yards took the family about an hour.

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (4)

“The last 600 yards, took us a while. We could see it. The summit was right there,” Amy said. “You see it and you just know you are so close. We were right there.”

Gaige said the last 100 yards the air was so thin and it was so cold.

Around 7:30 in the morning the Efirds were finally at Uhuru peak.

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“You’re at the highest elevation but you can’t stay there for long. I think 20 minutes max is what we could stay at the top because of the oxygen,” Amy said. “You get there and you can take pictures and celebrate.”

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Chad got frostbite on his fingers when the family reached the summit, according to Amy.

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“So my husband took his gloves off,” Amy said.

Gaige interrupted Amy by explaining Chad only took off one layer of his gloves to take a photo with his phone camera.

“He took it off for a little bit and he ended up getting frostbite on his knuckles,” Amy continued. “It was just for a little bit of time. He said his fingers start tingling. He looked down and they were all white. He still has a little scar from frostbite. The wind was brutal. They also make you put on sunglasses as the sun comes up, you have to wear polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes because you’re so high up.”

Dane said it was so cold their water was frozen.

Despite the struggle the family celebrated a feat most do not ever reach, making it to the summit of the sixth highest spot on the earth.

“Chad had one of our guides carry a bottle of champagne to the top. So we popped the champagne at the top of Kilimanjaro,” Amy said. “Obviously we didn’t drink it because you know we couldn’t. We got a great picture with the bottle.”

The family started the descent down the mountain so after they celebrated. The trip down went much faster than the trip up, which was a slow hike to help the family acclimate to the conditions.

“When we started going down, we booked it down. Like they’re like we gotta get you down. And that was probably harder than going up for me,” Amy said. “You’re so exhausted, and they’re trying to bust you down.”

The family hiked for 19 hours straight to reach the summit and start their way down.

“We went from 16,000 feet at midnight to 20,000 by 7:30 (a.m.) and by 7 p.m. we were back at 10,000 feet,” Gaige said.”Hiking 19 hours in one day. But yeah, we went from 16 to 20 then all the way back down to 10.”

Amy said she felt the trip down was more difficult than the hike up.

“That was hard. Like we slipped I mean, because it’s so rocking. It’s so steep going down,” Amy said. “So we’re like sliding, they told us to dig your heels in. Obviously we had our poles, but it was the worst part, I felt. On the last day you had six more hours of downhill and at that point, there’s no anticipation or excitement to get to the top right, like it’s done and the adrenaline’s gone and you feel every ache in your body and you’re like I just wanted to be over now.”

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (10)

Dane said by the last day he was tired and ready for it to be over.

Gaige explained how sore you feel after such a physically demanding week.

“You can feel it in your knees and your hips. The absorption of, you know, stepping down. Yeah, it’s like, they kind of try to make some stairs but it’s not man made, just through the elements like of the mountain and everything and so it’s uneven,” Gaige said. “It’s not all the same step height and everything. So it’s like, you definitely feel it.”

After the life changing adventure the family headed to Zanzibar Island for some more African adventures.

Amy said the entire hike up the family stayed in their formation, helped each other, and bonded in a way she never knew they would.

“It was great. I couldn’t have done it without my kids. It was great that we all did it together,” Amy said. “They all got to experience something that was mental changing aspect. Like hopefully it showed them all that they’re stronger than they thought they were before.”

Gaige said the experience changed him.

“It just changes you. Like with sports and everything that you do, you know, you hiking you realize that your body is capable of beyond what you know,” Gaige said. “When you can put your mind to it, your body will catch up and do it. Yeah, it’s not going to be easy, you know, but you’ll be able to achieve or accomplish what you want in a physical aspect if your mind is there.”

Dane said he is proud he can say he did it, he hiked Kilimanjaro and he did it at the age of 15-years-old. He also said he doesn’t think he would ever do it again.

“I don’t think any of us would do it again. I’ve been there and done that. Yeah, I think all of us are good with checking that off. Chad is so proud of the accomplishment and was emotional the morning before we left,” Amy said. “Like I told you, when we met in high school 20 something years ago this was something he always talked about doing. He knew this was going to happen. He knew that he wanted to do it. I think if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. That’s why he ended up booking the trip because he’s like, ‘Hey, you know, we don’t know what tomorrow is gonna bring so we have to live life to the fullest. You know, go for your dreams if you’ve got them, accomplish them.’”

After the life changing adventure the family headed to Zanzibar Island for some more African adventures.

Conquering Kilimanjaro:Part Two Team Simba reaches the Summit (11)

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Read the first part of this story in the Saturday, July 30, edition in the Sports Section on bransontrilakesnews.com.

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