Terra Vista Middle School assistant principal climbs Kilimanjaro
When many Frenship residents were finishing up last minute holiday shopping, Terra Vista Middle School Assistant Principal Jill Jaquess reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa.
Jaquess spent just over two weeks in Africa on a journey that included a six-day climb of 19,341 feet to the top of Kilimanjaro. Typically the trek takes seven days, but the tour group which Jaquess was a member of had no problems during the climb.
To prepare for the climb, Jaquess said she had increased her workout schedule, including biking, swimming and running.
“It definitely helped. (But) you can be in the best shape ever and still get altitude sickness,” she said. Because no one in their group was affected, they were able to reach the summit more quickly. They also were able to ascend during a sunset instead of during a sunrise, which is more typical of that trip.
“I gladly traded a sunrise for a sunset,” said Jaquess, calling the experience both phenomenal and special. “It’s crazy to think that you’re one of a few people in the world at that moment at 19,000 feet watching a sunset.”
The view from the top was cloudy, she said, because the group was above the clouds.
“We saw the tops of all the clouds because for three days, we were above clouds. It was almost like we could see the curvature of the Earth,” said Jaquess. “When we were coming down, the clouds parted and you could see billions and billions of stars, and you could see the lights of one town.”
December marked the beginning of summer in Africa, Jaquess said. This time of year is just after a rainy season, so clouds remained but she said it never rained on the group.
Kilimanjaro is not Jaquess’ first mountain climb. She started climbing with her church group as a sophomore in high school, and continues to climb in Colorado regularly during summer breaks.
One major difference in climbing in Africa is the height of Kilimanjaro – at 19,341 feet, it is almost 5,000 feet higher than Colorado’s highest peak. The mountain also takes hikers through five climate zones, whereas Colorado mountains only have two climate zones.
Last Christmas, Jaquess said she read an article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal about a woman from Muleshoe who climbed Kilimanjaro. She contacted the woman and began dreaming and saving to make a similar excursion.
“There would be nights that I laid awake all night thinking about climbing that mountain,” she said. “How cool that a year later, I got to go for it.”
Jaquess carried a Terra Vista t-shirt with her to the top of the mountain and has photographs of herself with it at the summit.
One of the things that impressed Jaquess about her journey was how helpful the people were.
“People really did want you to get to the top. It was like they were sharing the mountain with you. One of the porters said, ‘Ma’am, the mountain will always be in your blood. It’s your flesh that grows old,’” she said. “They take such pride in what they do in helping you get to the top… If you don’t (succeed), they worry that it’s something they didn’t help with.”
A porter on the trip carried her 30-pound pack on his head up the mountain, while she carried a daypack with water in it. She tried to master carrying packs on her head, but said she was unable to master the skill.
“We saw cartons and cartons and cartons of eggs going up the mountain on their heads… The food on the mountain was so good,” she said. On the last day, they had fresh watermelon, she said, marveling that anyone would carry a watermelon up a mountain.
When the group descended the mountain, she said the people were celebrating that they had made it to the summit. She received a certificate of completion at the bottom of the mountain.
In the future, Jaquess said she would like to do more technically challenging climbs that require ropes and harnesses, but she said Kilimanjaro demanded none of that equipment.
“I think if I were looking for a good technical challenge, Ranier would be my next one, in Washington (state),” she said.
Mt. Everest is out of the question, she said, because it generally takes several months and a lot of money. A cheap trip is about $80,000, she said.
“If only the lotto were in my future,” she joked.
After her group descended the mountain, which took a mere day after the five day ascent, Jaquess said they then toured nearby Moshi. She spent four days on a safari in the Serengeti plains, where she saw the migration of zebras and wildebeasts.
“Some of the animals were so close, you could actually touch them. You wouldn’t, but…” she said, drifting off. “It’s like the Discovery channel, coming to life.”
Jaquess also visited a Maasai tribal village.
While in the village, she toured the local school.
“To get to that school, I bet I stepped over 20 goats,” she said. At the school, five to seven-year-old students were learning the English alphabet and counting by tens. At age eight, she said the children leave school to go with their fathers to tend to livestock.
In the village, she photographed small children sipping water from a muddy puddle using straws.
She visited another school at an orphanage.
“Most of those kids in the orphanage, they were there because their parents died of AIDS. So they were just left homeless,” she said. “It was very eye-opening… Drop people off in Africa for a day, and your view changes.”
In the final leg of her trip, Jaquess spent two days in Amsterdam, where she visited the Van Gogh museum, the home where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazis and a museum with a Rembrandt showing. She also visited a Dutch town where wooden shoes are still made and worn.
“I tried a pair on, and they were really uncomfortable,” she said, noting that she also ate Dutch cheese while there. “There were people who still wear the Dutch shoes and are still living the Dutch lifestyle.”
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