Chris Mitchell says he’s not a thrill-seeker but his recent trip to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa, leads one to believe otherwise.
“I’m more of a challenge and goal person,” the lifetime Zebulon resident said. “This was one I did to step up my challenges.”
Mitchell, 40, hadn’t dabbled in mountain climbing since his college days. It took rigorous mental and physical preparation to get himself ready for this particular challenge.
Almost a year ago, Mitchell’s preparation began by finding an Australian adventure company called Intrepid, which helped him plan the trip and placed him in a group of 11 climbers. From there, Mitchell took up a taxing cardio workout that included five- to seven-mile jogs and hours of stair climbing.
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“Honestly, to begin with, I thought he was kidding,” said Mitchell’s wife, Jamie. “It was a little bit of a shock. But once he started planning it, I guess about January is really when it sunk in – when we thought, OK, he’s really going to do this.”
Mitchell was never uncertain of his decision.
“I needed something to challenge myself that was outside the norm,” he said.
The preparation would only get Mitchell so far. Once he reached Tanzania on the east African coast, he had to execute.
There was a threshold at the 12,000-foot line, where the air got thinner and altitude sickness would set in. There, he had to remind himself of the reward and the reason he took on the challenge in the first place.
“You got to work through that and tell yourself, ‘Hey, I’m going to get through this,’ ” Mitchell said. “It’s a small price to pay to get that summit, all 19,341 feet.”
From the start, Mitchell’s goal was to reach the summit, which he did on the fourth day of the five-day excursion. Standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, he felt a blend of emotions, ranging from excitement to gratification to accomplishment.
“I did this. I still have it in me to do some great things,” Mitchell told himself at the summit.
Although the ultimate goal was to reach the top, Mitchell said the most breath-taking view came on the final morning of his ascent, at Gilman’s Point (elevation: 18,638 feet).
“Daybreak (at Gilman’s Point) was the first time I had ever seen the curvature of the earth,” he said. “So the sunrise over the horizon was curved. That’s probably the most memorable view of being on that mountain.”
While Mitchell scaled the world’s highest freestanding mountain outside the reach of the rest of humanity, Jamie was often concerned about the safety and well-being of her husband.
That might not be an issue on Mitchell’s next adventure, as he plans on bringing his wife and 10-year-old daughter Yancie along for the trip. The three have their sights set on Peru – more specifically Machu Picchu.
“One of the reasons I’m most excited about Machu Picchu is because you can take a train on the way up and then it’s only a couple-hour walk from there,” said Jamie, who is not nearly as enamored of hiking and climbing as her husband.
And on the way back, Mitchell says the family might hit the Galápagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador.
“That way Yancie can experience some international travel and see some places outside of her community – there’s a lot more out there,” Mitchell said.