News: Spartan officers conquer Mount Kilimanjaro
Story by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith
MOUNT KILIMANJARO, Tanzania - After a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan, two Army officers from the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division rewarded themselves with a trip to Africa, and a climb to the top of one of the world’s tallest peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Army 1st Lt. Napoleon B. Dunn, the 1-501 Bravo Company Executive Officer, and 1st Lt. David J. Horn, a battalion operations officer, made the climb in December, 2012 during their block leave.
The two officers met while assigned to the 1-501st where they served as infantry platoon leaders in Afghanistan for the battalion’s Blackfoot Company.
They first thought about taking a big trip together in the summer of 2012 while deployed to Khost province, Afghanistan.
“Basically, we were just looking for a fun trip. We talked about the Galapagos Islands and other places. We said ‘Hey, let’s pick somewhere in the world that we don’t get to go to, and just go there and do something’, so we picked Tanzania.”
“As soon as we heard when block leave was going to be, we went ahead and purchased the tickets,” said Horn.
They embarked on their adventure shortly after redeploying to Alaska.
Horn said the people were nice in Tanzania, but they had a strong English dialect which was hard to understand.
“They are very friendly people,” said Horn. “It’s a pleasant culture.”
The Tanzanian Park Authority mandates all foreign climbers must have a guide and porters to help carry their gear. This helps with safety while generating money for the local economy and increases the chances for climbers to reach the summit.
Dunn said the porters and guides were really tough. The porters carry approximately 75 pounds each, with 50 pounds of it balanced on their heads.
Horn said his experience in Afghanistan helped a little with the climb, but the peaks were not as high. The highest elevations in Afghanistan they climbed were a few thousand feet, where they stationed observation posts and support by fire positions.
Both men said it was better to climb Kilimanjaro, than the mountains of Afghanistan because they did not have to carry combat loads.
“It was fun,” said Dunn. “We were able to move at our own pace.”
“The weather on Kilimanjaro is mild until you get to above 14,000 feet, so you are able to move pretty quickly,” said Dunn.
Horn said at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro the weather is pretty tropical. He said it was around 80 degrees when they started their ascent, but it was definitely cold at the top.
“At the summit, I would say it was below zero,” said Horn.
“The winds are brutal at the summit,” said Dunn. “I was very well layered. I had on really good outdoor clothes, and I was the coldest I’ve ever been outside.”
On Dec. 14, 2012, they reached the summit after five days of climbing.
“It was a really enjoyable experience,” said Dunn. “We took in as much scenery as possible, hung out, and enjoyed it as friends.”
Dunn said the upper parts of the mountain are semi-arid and desert like.
“The landscape almost looks like the moon,” he said.
Dunn said he researched and planned the trip well in advance and he knew a lot about what to buy and bring. He suggested to 1st Lt. Horn to buy a sleeping bag, but Horn did not want to because they are expensive and take up too much room in luggage. When they got there the guide supplied one to him. The sleeping bag they gave him was really thin and when they stayed overnight on the first night at about 10,000 feet, Horn shivered all night from the cold. From there on the two had to share Dunn’s sleeping bag and tent.
“The first night we slept at about 10,000 feet, he froze,” said Dunn. “I slept pretty comfortable. He woke up the next morning freezing, complaining about his hands and his feet. I laughed at him the whole time.”
“So for the next four nights, because I had a real warm sleeping bag and his wasn’t, we ended up having to share a sleeping bag. Army stuff; ranger stuff,” Dunn jokingly said with a laugh.
“Arctic technique,” said Horn, as he took part in the joke.
“So now I make fun of him about it, and he owes me a bunch of favors for letting him use my sleeping bag,” said Dunn with another laugh.
The final push at Mount Kilimanjaro was done at night. Leaving at midnight they trekked up the remaining part of the mountain to reach the summit at sunrise.
“You don’t realize it, but at about 19,000 feet there is about 50 percent less oxygen than there is at sea level,” said Dunn. “It’s really important to go slow and let your body adjust.”
Near the top of the mountain Dunn said he had to stop every 10 to 20 steps to catch his breath.
“The last movement from 15,000 to 19,300 feet in the darkness, wind and cold was pretty miserable, so when we got up there and the sun rose, there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction,” said Horn.
“You wish you could stay up there all day and take in the scenery, but it was just too cold,” said Horn. “We took as many pictures as we could, and we made our way back down.”
It usually takes two days to get back down, but they made it all the way back down in only one day because they wanted to make the most of the rest of their vacation.
In addition to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Dunn and Horn went on a three-day safari.
“We saw the ‘Big Five’ except for leopards,” said Dunn, “So we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, and lions. We actually saw a lion that had just killed a baby zebra.”
“A lion was right next to our vehicle, like 10 feet maybe!” said Horn. “The ones that were hard to get close to were the rhinos and the hippos.”
“Giraffes and Zebras; you could touch those if you wanted to,” said Dunn. “It’s the same with the elephants.”
After the safari adventure, they parted ways to explore more of Africa.
Horn went on to Zanzibar, Tanzania while Dunn went to Arucha, Tanzania which is noted for its safaris and mining.
After two weeks in Africa, Horn went home for the holidays, while Dunn stayed for the duration of his leave.
Dunn went on to Ethiopia where he visited rock hewn churches, (churches that are carved out of rock underground.)
Then, with recommendations from Horn, Dunn visited Zanzibar.
First Lt. Dunn said he plans to try to reach the top of Mount McKinley this summer.
“I am going to try to work it out with the command and the battalion leadership, and hopefully if things work out with leave dates and training I can get up and make an attempt on Denali.”
Horn said, “Me? Not so much.” To which Dunn replied with a laugh, “I’m still working on him.”