Story by Capt. Kevin Sandell, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade Public Affairs
A dual-military couple stationed at Fort Hood recently completed an expedition to Africa by climbing and summiting the continent’s highest peak. For the veteran travel enthusiasts, both of whom are less than 30 years old, ascending the “roof of Africa” proved to be a spectacular experience.
Capts. John and Kendall Gomber have visited all 50 U.S. states, vacationed at all of the 59 U.S. National Parks, and toured six of the seven continents; but the calling to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was an aspiration they both vied to complete.
“Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has always been a personal challenge,” Capt. Kendall Gomber, an intelligence officer with the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade and native of Ellicott City, Maryland, said. “It was something I’d heard about people doing. It’s something that felt accomplishable, and it’s just something that had been in the back of my mind as a challenge that I’d want to complete in my lifetime.”
For Capt. John Gomber, he said the mountain was often referred to as a “premier travel experience” in much of the travel reading he had perused.
“I think this has always been a goal for both of us, and we were thrilled to be able to do it this summer,” John, an AH-64 Apache pilot with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and native of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, said.
The multi-day trek to the summit of the 19,341-foot mountain – the tallest freestanding mountain on earth – is a feat attempted by approximately 25,000 people annually, but on average, only two-thirds of climbers successfully reach the peak, according to multiple internet sites devoted to Mount Kilimanjaro. Subzero temperatures and altitude issues are the most frequent major reasons for not summiting. For John and Kendall, the main challenges were the punishing environmental factors.
“Our guide said it was -18 degrees (Fahrenheit) with a 60 mph wind at the summit, so the right gear was essential,” John said. “The path that we took covered 70 kilometers in the five days, so it wasn’t terrible, but our feet and knees were definitely tired of climbing down the mountain when we arrived back in Moshi.”
Kendall said during the first two days of their five-day expedition, the trail was not “very technical” and said in some ways, the hike was shorter than previous ones she and John did in a day. Oftentimes, the guides would stop the couple to safeguard their adjustment to the altitude. She added that the guides even used oximeters to measure each climber’s oxygen levels throughout the climb.
“So you’re not covering too much ground, because they want you to acclimatize. Once you start to have altitude play in it, you can just tell you’re not getting your full breaths,” Kendall said.
Starting at midnight of the third night, the Gombers began the steep hike with their two guides from the final base camp to the mountain peak. The nighttime trip proved to be a unique, yet satisfying challenge.
“Sometimes you can’t really see the mountain in front of you, you’re just kind of putting one foot in front of the other and making progress,” Kendall said. “It’s dark and cold, but beautiful stars because you’re in the wilderness.”
The couple and their guides reached the top around daybreak on the fourth day. They both said the sun was just rising when the foursome took their group picture underneath Kilimanjaro’s congratulatory signs at the peak. Elated and exhausted, the couple said they were excited about witnessing the spectacular views from over three and a half miles high. The euphoria was hasty, however, as the group only spent about 10 minutes on the peak before making their descent back to the final base camp.
Planning their trip initially, the Gombers found a reputable tour company that offered hired guides and porters for the climb to Kilimanjaro. Departing from Houston, the couple flew to Istanbul and onto Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. The airport serves the country’s two major tourist destinations, Arusha and Moshi, and lies only an hour from the famed mountain. Upon their arrival, the couple was met by a support crew of nine personnel – six porters, one cook, and the two guides.
Kendall said the porters, whose job it is to carry the food, cooking equipment and the Gombers’ gear to the final base camp, were as instrumental to the climb’s success as the guides.
“They really do look at it that their goal is to get you to the summit,” Kendall said. “Anything they can do to make your hike easier.”
No strangers to mountain climbing, John and Kendall have extensive experience surmounting some of the world’s crests. John has climbed Mount Fuji, Mount Olympus, Mount Ngauruhoe (known as Mount Doom from the “Lord of the Rings”), Mount Washington, Pike’s Peak, and Mount Mansfield. Each captain also has visited Africa previously – Kendall visited Senegal, Lesotho and South Africa as a middle schooler, and John to Morocco.
Following their climb to Mount Kilimanjaro, the couple participated in a Tanzanian safari and visited a wildlife preserve to view wild gorillas in their natural habitat.
To conclude their visit to all seven continents, the Gombers hope to visit Antarctica in the near future.
For John and Kendall, the opportunity to experience cultures and interacting with people is what makes traveling so enticing. It gives new outlooks on life around us all.
“I enjoy seeing the world, experiencing the cultures, interacting with the people, watching the animals and seeing both our vast differences and our wonderful similarities,” John said. “It helps me appreciate my own life by providing perspective and creating memories that I couldn’t trade for anything.”
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