By Deborah Caban
Inspiration can come from anywhere. Some people are inspired by friends, family members, teachers, books, and numerous other persons or events. The motivating event for Bedford’s Denise Barnett, who recently summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, was the Boston Science Museum’s Omni Theater movie documenting a group ascent of the 19,341-foot mountain. More than a decade ago, Barnett viewed the movie with her hiking group and decided she would take on the challenge sometime in her life.
“I remember we all said as we were leaving the theater, we can do that. They made it look so easy and it was beautiful,” declared Barnett.
The outdoors is where Barnett wants to be. Her family always camped for two weeks every summer when she was a child growing up in Indiana. There were no mountains to climb but they took many hikes through the woods. Barnett’s parents loved being outside and her Dad often talked about wanting to one day take a safari trip to Africa.
Barnett placed her dream on hold for a few years. Her children were still in school and college expenses were looming. She continued to hike throughout New England and summited the forty-eight 4,000+ foot peaks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Denise also shared her love of hiking with her husband Tom and children Melissa and David, as they trekked together from rim to rim in the Grand Canyon. After a couple of international hiking trips to Austria and Italy, Barnett thought again of her dream.
“A friend tried Kilimanjaro and that reminded me that I wanted to climb it. It is also the highest mountain that you can climb that is not technical, “ explained Barnett.
Kilimanjaro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest freestanding mountain in the world. Located in Tanzania, near the Kenyan border, Kilimanjaro includes five microclimates of rainforest, heather, moorland, desert, and arctic. It is also the tallest mountain in Africa.
Barnett was not derailed when the first trip that she applied to was canceled. She waited for another opportunity and applied last winter to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Adventure Travel eight-day August hike to Kilimanjaro. The process included submitting three references, details of three major hiking excursions, and an interview with the trip leader. After earning approval, Barnett received a detailed preparation plan and an invitation to gather for a practice hike in New Hampshire with other participants.
“The trip was probably the hardest thing that I have ever done. I trained every day and hiked more than I ever had. I did some solo hiking and many sit-ups and push-ups. The White Mountains are actually a good training ground. The rocks and weather conditions prepare you. They want to make sure you are mentally ready. You might have a bad day when you are hiking and you have to be able to deal with it. It’s different than just going to the gym for a workout,” said Barnett.
The AMC group was a 12 person entourage, including the leader, with ages ranging from 24 to 64 years old. Some people were connected as family or friends and some signed up as individuals. There were nine women and three men. The AMC hikers carried their clothes, snacks, and water for the day. Porters were hired to carry tents and food supplies for the eight-day journey.
“I am very thankful for the porters and guides. We could not have done it without them. They allow you to save your extra energy for the hike. They are pretty amazing – men and women that do it – some of them in tennis shoes,” praised Barnett.
All but one of the group reached the summit. They maintained a slow, steady pace to acclimate to the higher elevations. Some of the group also spent two additional days in the city of Arusha before the Kilimanjaro portion of the hike to help adjust to the elevation. Summiting and night camping at Crater Camp was the highlight of the trip for Barnett.
“I would have felt like I missed out if I had not summited. Especially camping by ourselves that night – the quiet – the stars and glaciers that you see when you are still at 18, 865 feet. Most of the groups begin their ascent at midnight and hike during the night. We started at 6:30 am and it was just our group at the top and we were also by ourselves when we camped later that night after ascending,” said Barnett.
As her parents had fulfilled their dreams a few years ago by traveling to Africa for a safari, Barnett continued her journey after the hike with a one-week safari excursion. She enjoyed it after adjusting to the huge change of activity level. After hiking every day, the safari trip involved sitting, sometimes standing to observe the wildlife. They were advised to stay close to the camp and not walk on their own. Barnett loved hearing the sounds of a variety of animals surrounding you every day on the safari.
Overall Barnett thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning about a different culture, meeting new people, and living outdoors for a few weeks. She was part of the early arrival group that spent time in the city, visited schools, and a women’s cooperative in Arusha.
“It’s something everyone should do. I’ve never seen so many smiles on people – just enjoying life and not stressed out even though they don’t have the comforts that we do,” observed Barnett.
Is there another hiking trip on the horizon for Barnett? Not necessarily anything higher than Kilimanjaro but an extended trip on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail entices her. She would love to hike every day if possible.
When asked if she is going to encourage her recently born first grandchild, Hattie, to hike, Barnett did not hesitate, “Oh Yes!”