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Sandy Journal

Family climbs tallest mountain in Africa

Oct 04, 2017 10:38AM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

The Groves family and their guides and porters hanging out at camp on their way to the top of Kilimanjaro. (Jeff Groves)

In early July of 2017, Jeff Groves, his wife, Maria, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Eliana and 10-year-old Analina, embarked on a trek to climb the tallest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

“I think I was inspired to climb Kilimanjaro when I saw the IMAX film called ‘Kilimanjaro’ that came out 14 years ago, so it’s always been on my bucket list as something to do,” said Jeff, a neurologist at Lone Peak Hospital.

The family from Sandy were gifted the plane tickets by Jeff’s parents, who also invited his brother’s family along on a Tanzanian safari for their 50th wedding anniversary. The Groves family first flew out to spend seven days hiking up and down the mountain before meeting the rest of the family for the safari and visiting orphanages.  

“I thought they were joking at first,” said Eliana. “It didn’t seem like we would do that. My dad originally wanted to do it himself and then my mom said, ‘no, I want to do it with you,’ and so we thought, why don’t we all just do it?”

The Groves spent around four months preparing for their journey, researching, going to various sports equipment stores to ensure they had the proper layers and gear, and going on a lot of local hikes through the Wasatch Front as a family to get in shape for the five days of eight-hour consecutive hiking.

Maria especially had to carefully research and prepare because her type 1 diabetes can be severely affected by so much exercise. Along with her motherly worry about her family getting injured and altitude sickness that so easily happens in such tall areas of the world, Maria had to schedule meetings with her endocrinologist and diabetic educators to ensure she had all of the necessary knowledge and equipment that she would need to keep her insulin and blood sugar in check. 

“I had to worry about whether they would fail on the mountain” said Maria. “It was a lot of research to make sure I was prepared to go. I had a little bit more of a life and death situation to think about.”

With everything packed and researched as best they could, the family flew to Tanzania and then to the Mt. Kilimanjaro airport where, after 20 hours of flying and jet lag dragging at them, they met their guides and porters and began the climb up the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.  

“It was hot and stuffy cause there were a lot of people and I just thought, how are we here?” said Eliana. “It;s crazy to think that we’re just in Africa all of a sudden.”

Going up the Machame route, which Jeff referred to as the most difficult and most beautiful route, the family, loaded down with 25-pound packs, began at 5,400 feet. They walked through tropical jungle while learning Swahili words from their guides, being careful to follow their instructions of “pole pole” — which means “slowly slowly” — to avoid injury and altitude sickness, a common reason most who venture the climb don’t end up reaching the summit. 

The Groves were delighted by the wildlife that was present throughout the rainforest climate, like butterflies, blue monkeys and Colobus monkeys jumping through the trees.

“My favorite was the rainforest at the beginning because it’s so different from what we have here and there are monkeys,” said Eliana. “I think it was really cool because all of a sudden, the environment would just change.”

Mt. Kilimanjaro hosts a variety of biomes from rainforest to temperate to arctic, and it was the frozen arctic the Groves family planned on reaching. On the morning of the summit day, the group started out in the dark at 4 a.m. in -10 degrees Fahrenheit to make the long slog to the top.

“You get to see the arctic climate zone, which is really cool because you get to see these large glaciers, 200–300 feet sheer walls of ice,” said Jeff. 

Once they reached the summit at noon, the family rested a bit, then turned around and started the two-day, 14,000-foot hike back down the mountain.

“It was pretty easy at the bottom and then summitting was hard. I think I did pretty well,” said Analina. 

Maria felt that the best thing about the trip, — besides the opportunity to learn new things and accomplish something most people never will — was the bonding between the entire family. Hiking all day, playing cards in the tent at night, just talking with each other brought them together in a whole new way. 

“We’re super proud of our kids for doing it,” said Jeff. “My big hope for my kids is that the knowledge that they have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro will empower them to get through other challenges and hopefully inspire them to try other accomplishments and meaningful things in their lives.”