Of the Seven Summits (highest peaks on each of the seven “traditional” continents), the easiest to achieve (even though it is not the lowest) is Mt. Kilimanjaro. Yet, at 19,341 ft (5,895 m) it’s no slouch either. What makes it easier, perhaps, is that it requires no technical gear. One does not require ropes, crampons, axes, or any specialized training. This isn’t to say that the mountain is easy, or that anyone could do it. But rather, it’s the most accessible.

When Seven Summits doesn’t really add up to seven

The reasons are varied. But perhaps the most obvious is that it is pretty close to the equator, which is generally hot year-round at sea level. Denali (Mt. McKinley) by contrast is so far north that it spends most of its time shrouded in snow. Climbing on snow-capped mountains brings with them all sorts of technical challenges. While there are glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro they’ve receded quite at lot in the past hundred years (or so) where much of the mountain is snow-free year-round.

Secondly, Mt. Kilimanjaro eruptions in the past have been lava-based, meaning that liquid magma comes out the top and flows downward. Over time the mountain builds up but depending on the flow of the lava indicates how steep the ascent will be. In contrast, mountains like the Himalayas were pushed up by the collision of tectonic plates, making a more violent and thus steeper. Thus, hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro is more like walking up hill for hours-on-end rather than steep vertical climbs requiring ropes.

So that brings me to my journey up the mountain. While I did climb the mountain way back in 2003, it was just a check box on a bucket list. That’s not to say it was unimportant, but rather these lists typically give the traveler little more than experience and bragging rights. It’s a human achievement to be certain, but nothing that necessarily gives glory to God. So, when the opportunity came up in the summer of 2021 I was initially intrigued but dismissed it as something that was overly indulgent and incompatible with my vocation. Until it wasn’t…

So what changed? First of all, I remember reading several years back that an FSSP priest had said Mass on the mountain. That was intriguing. The act of celebrating the Mass is always an expression of prayer for God on behalf of the people. That it had been done before had no bearing because the celebrations are the same—different from our perspective but the same participation in God’s perspective. Thus, the opportunity to enter into the Sacred Mysteries was a draw. Plus, the ability to witness to the Faith in Tanzania on the mountain to people from all over the world had endless possibilities.

Indeed, while the Europeans were a tad aloof (as their governments have become anti-Christian for decades), the Tanzanians were delighted. I cannot count the number of times that porters and guides asked if they could take a photo of me with them. Once, when one of the team’s porters was accompanying me down a steep incline and some other porters were passing us, he castigated them for not respectfully acknowledging me. While that was a tad embarrassing for me, it goes to show how much these men put on their Faith. I’m trying to phrase this in a way that won’t make me get all prideful, but indeed in a way that recognizes my role in making things holy (in my role as a priest).


2 Comments

Brenda Allor · February 17, 2022 at 1:21 pm

So glad that you did the climb. Many people need to see our light. You definitely are that light!

Bill Cambra · February 17, 2022 at 7:26 pm

You an inspiration and definitely deepen our faith. Well done!

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