R-C Neighbors: Valley couple make trek to top of Kilimanjaro, go on safari
Katherine Replogle and Roger Pierce have a lot in common.
They both moved to the Carson Valley about 17 or 18 years ago. Both are in business. Pierce owns Roger’s Magic Carpet and, until 1995, Replogle owned Carson Valley Physiotherapy. They love the same outdoor activities – hiking, biking and backcountry skiing. Yet until Replogle bought carpet for her house on Foothill Road, they had never met.
“We ran into each other again at Nelson’s and hit it off right away,” said Pierce.
“We got married in April 1997. It was a surprise wedding,” said Replogle. “Not for us, but for the people we invited.”
The couple was planning a honeymoon trip to Bermuda, with the intent of marrying once they arrived. But as the time for the trip grew near, they decided that they really didn’t want to get married without someone they knew being there.
“We each invited two couples for dinner the night before we left for Bermuda,” said Replogle. “We didn’t tell them why, but I really thought with us wearing a corsage and a boutonniere, and the photographer still here, someone would have caught on.”
But no one did. Not until Rev. Pete Nelson arrived to tie the knot.
“If I had thought about it, I would have surprised Katherine, too,” said Pierce. “But this way turned out great. We had our close friends to witness our wedding.”
Even after they were married, Replogle and Pierce continued to discover a similarity of interests, even travel destinations.
“I always wanted to go to Africa,” said Replogle.
“Me, too,” said Pierce. “But what really clinched it for us was that my dad wanted to go, too. As he is in his 60s, we knew we needed to make the trip soon.”
They left for Tanzania, the home of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Plains in February 1998, joined by Pierce’s father Dick, brother Dave and nephew Ryan Marsh.
“We arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport at 10 at night, and still had to get to camp,” said Pierce.
“Each of us had packed two duffels,” said Replogle. “One for the equipment we would need for the climb, and one for the safari. One of my duffels was missing, and, of course, it was the one for the climb. I thought I wasn’t going.”
n Jinxed? Replogle began to think that the trip was jinxed. “One flat tire and getting stuck in the ditch before we even made it to camp made me think, ‘Wow, this is just great.’ But my duffel arrived the next morning, and the trip ended up being just wonderful.”
The Kilimanjaro climb is referred to as a non-technical climb, but, even so, there are potential mishaps every step of the way.
“For us, the biggest, and really the only, obstacle was the altitude,” said Pierce.
“We could have made the climb in half the time at our altitude,” added Replogle.
Pierce and Replogle couldn’t understand why, when they were prepared to charge up the mountain, the guides insisted on taking slow measured steps.
“It drove us crazy,” said Replogle. “We wanted to take off at our normal pace.”
“But they made us stop, snack and drink,” said Pierce. “We didn’t realize what the altitude would do to us.”
The ascent up the mountain wasn’t what Replogle and Pierce expected. The climbing party of 13 increased by five mountain guides, four cooks and 42 porters.
“We each had a personal porter, and porters were needed to pack the tents, the food and all of the equipment including tables and chairs, up the mountain,” said Pierce. “It was a first-rate operation.”
“Although on the trail there wasn’t much privacy,” said Replogle. “We talked about our bowels a lot. And you did what you had to do.”
n Cheery “hello.” Every morning the climbers were greeted with a cheery “hello” and fresh steaming coffee delivered to their tents. Meals were a sit-down affair with soup before the main course, plus freshly baked breads and fruit, usually bananas and mangos.
“When we arrived to eat, porters would be waiting outside the mess tent with warm water and soap so that we could wash up,” said Replogle. “And while we were at lower elevations, at the end of the day we were able to take warm showers.”
Pierce said that every day they traversed through magnificent country and experienced a constant change in ecosystems as the altitude increased.
“The first day we were in a rain forest with lush green vegetation,” said Pierce. “But by the time we reached 9,000 feet, we thought we were back in Nevada. It was high desert with short vegetation that looked a lot like sagebrush.”
By the fourth day the climbers were at 14,800 feet, “Higher than any of us had ever been,” said Pierce. Day six took them above the clouds. And, according to Pierce, the day before the final ascent was torturous.
“We’d take a slow motion step, pause to take a breath, and then take another slow step,” said Replogle. “Your brain shuts down. You can’t really sleep, you don’t feel like eating, although the guides were pushing those carbs (carbohydrates) at us.”
That night the party camped next to a glacier. The next, and last, day of climbing was a short hike to cover the last 800 feet to the summit.
Mount Kilimanjaro has an altitude of 19,340 feet. Pierce and Replogle, with the rest of the party, climbed the steep terrain to literally stand at the top of the world.
“By this time my dad had to take seven or eight breaths in between each step,” said Pierce. “But he made it to the top. We all did.”
Replogle and Pierce elected to take a last little hike to the center of the volcano.
“A 30-knot wind and 30 degrees made it seem really cold,” said Roger.
“It was butt cold,” insisted Replogle. “We were there 15 seconds, long enough to take a picture and then we high-tailed it back.”
The adventurers immediately began the descent of the mountain.
n Toughest day. “We descended 9,000 feet in one day,” said Pierce. “It killed our quads. We couldn’t walk. It was the toughest day of the entire trip.”
“When we got to the bottom, our guides sang the Kilimanjaro Song to us,” said Katherine. “That’s when I realized that we made it. Standing on the top of that mountain was the most awe-inspiring feeling I have ever had.”
After a night of rest, the adventure continued with a safari tour of Tanzania’s wildlife.
“Lake Manyara National Park is more like a Disney World,” said Pierce. “You drive to the hippo pools or over in another direction to see something else. But it was still spectacular. It has just about every ecosystem within it, and the numbers and varieties of wildlife were unbelievable.”
The next day, they traveled to Serengeti National Park, home to literally over a million wildebeest, plus gazelle, topi, buffalo and zebra, and the accompanying predators.
“There were animals as far as you could see,” said Pierce. “And we were fortunate to be there during calving season for the wildebeests.”
The guide let them walk on the plains, an action that is expressly forbidden.
“We kept looking over our shoulder, and we understood how if felt to be a herd of animals constantly on the alert for danger,” said Katherine. “It gave me a deeper appreciation.”
“The first night on the Serengeti we were lying in our tents and we heard the “wouffing” of the lions, the zebras and the hyenas,” said Pierce. “It was tremendous.”
“Exhilarating,” said Replogle. “I remember feeling high.”
During the safari, a lion rose out of the grasses less than 10 feet from their vehicle. And they saw a mother cheetah teaching her young to hunt. After the kill, the cheetahs cleaned each other and then rested under one of the Land Cruisers.
“Even though they are wild, all of the animals have become accustomed to vehicles,” said Pierce.
“Including the zebras that were running through one of our camps when we got there,” said Replogle.
After three weeks, Pierce and Replogle returned to the comparative docility of the Carson Valley. They said that they don’t expect to find another vacation to compare to Mount Kilimanjaro and their safari adventure.
“I don’t know if we will ever top it,” said Replogle.
“Trips like this are a once in a lifetime occurrence,” said Pierce. He then laughed. “Besides, it was a savings account killer.”
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