A Branson family faced new challenges and reached new heights in a recent trip to Africa, as they attempted to hike the sixth tallest mountain on earth.
The Efird family, Dr. Chad and Amy Efird and their four children; Kyler, 21; Gaige, 19; Briley, 17; and Dane 15 recently got back to Missouri after the adventure of a lifetime, which included a hike to the summit of the dormant volcano in the United Republic of Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro.
Over 30,000 people attempt to hike Kilimanjaro each year. The success rate of people reaching the summit depends on the route chosen by the hikers. The overall success rate on Kilimanjaro is 70-80%. The Efird family chose to hike the Lemosho route, which has a 75 to 85% success rate, depending on the source. The Lemosho route is a remote trek that approaches the mountain from the south-west, which is generally a seven to eight day hike. It joins the popular Machame route on day 4. The route starts at a higher altitude than other routes, and can offer hikers a better chance to grow accustomed to the air, conditions and temperature.
The family also went on a safari and visited Zanzibar Island, while in Africa for the 19 day trip at the end of June. However, the main goal for the trip was to hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro, a life-long dream of her husband Chad, according to Amy Efird.
“When I met my husband in high school, he had a dream to hike Kilimanjaro and he’d always wanted to do Safari,” Amy told Branson Tri-Lakes News. “They were on his bucket. I was not so crazy about the idea. We were actually supposed to take this vacation last year, but couldn’t because of COVID. We had to push it back a year. When Chad asked me about this a couple years ago, I was like, ‘I’ll meet you at the bottom of the mountain like I’ll do the Safari. You climb the mountain and then I’ll meet you at the bottom and then we can go to Zanzibar beach afterwards.’ I was like, ‘This is your thing. You wanted to do this.’ He was like, ‘No, we go as a family or I’m not doing this at all. So they really had no choice. We told the kids two Christmases ago that we’re going on this trip and we were going to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.”
Dane said he was not excited to do it when they first told the family, but knew it was important to their dad.
“It was really important to Chad that we did this together,” Amy said. “It was incredible and I am so glad we did it as a family. My kids were amazing, they knew it was important to Chad, and they were all in.”
The Efird family had two guides and some porters during their adventure up the mountain, which they said were amazing and so helpful. The Efirds received a nickname from their guides and the other guides on the hike, due to the fact they do not see many families who choose to climb Kilimanjaro together…Team Simba was the affectionate name they were given, to symbolize their strength.
“We were the only family so they named us Team Simba,” Amy said. “They aren’t used to family and kids, not that Dane is too young. He’s just turned 15. But he and my Briley, who is 17, were young for what we did. They were really impressed with us. They call us the Simba Family, or Strong Family.”
“Simba means lion in Swahili and so it was a symbol of strength,” Gaige said. “Every time they would pass us they would be like, ‘Let’s go to Simba.’”
Even though the family prepared for the hike, Gaige said it was more difficult than they thought it would be.
“I mean, I knew it was gonna be hard. Anytime you go to 20,000 feet, it’s gonna be hard, no matter what,” Gaige said. “It was more of just a mental workout and struggle than it was a physical one. We were fed very well. We slept a lot, the guides were great that we had and everything. So it was more of just like, making sure you keep eating, making sure you’re sleeping a lot. Staying hydrated was huge.”
Amy said her big concern going into the hike was her children, but she was personally concerned about the cold temperatures and getting acclimated to the altitude.
“I think like point zero 3% of the population has done it. My biggest concern was I hate being cold. So that was like my thing is I don’t want to freeze for a week because I hate being cold. My body shuts down. I just don’t do good in the cold,” Amy said. “So I was more concerned about that than the physical aspect. Then on day four I was like, ‘This isn’t like a nice easy, like hike. It’s not like a normal hike, this is not the Missouri hike or even a Colorado hike.”
Another big concern for anyone hiking the famous mount is the potential of injury or sickness and potentially death. Approximately 10 people a year die trying to reach the summit, most from Acute Mountain Sickness, known as AMS. AMS occurs when the human body reacts negatively at high altitude due to a lack of oxygen. High altitude is defined as an altitude greater than 4,900 feet, with a summit which stands at 19,340 feet Kilimanjaro far exceeds the danger point for AMS. Altitude sickness can occur in some people as low as 8,000 feet, but serious symptoms typically do not usually occur until over 12,000 feet. At 12,000 feet there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath, known as “thin air,” so the body must adjust to having less oxygen. On the summit of Kilimanjaro, there is only about half the oxygen found at sea level.
Amy said the family had medical checks every morning and every night during the hike and if there were any issues the guides would stop, evaluate and take care of the issue.
“They did a medical check every morning and night to check our oxygen saturation, heart rate and asked us questions to make sure we were medically stable to continue,” Amy said.
The guides, porters and crew accompanying the Efirds had so much experience and knew how to slowly ascend, while keeping ’Team Simba’ hydrated and fueled for the daily hike, according to Amy.
“The biggest thing that we couldn’t control was altitude sickness. You just can’t control how your body is going to react to the altitude. They say some of the best athletes in the world couldn’t make it to the top, like professional athletes couldn’t make it just because of altitude sickness,” Amy said. “So that’s why staying hydrated was huge. We had to force ourselves to eat because we’d be so full, you know and our guides were like, ‘You have to eat, you need the energy, energy, energy.’ So they made sure we ate constantly.”
Dane said he wasn’t a fan of the food, which consisted of a lot of carbs, soups and rice. Gaige said he doesn’t think he will ever drink tea again, because they were given hot tea to help stay warm as the temperatures during the night can drop to an average of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides the constant eating and the hot tea, Amy said the amount of sleeping was a part of the trip she said she was surprised by.
“If you’re not hiking, you are at the camp. I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll go to the camp and we’ll hang out with all the other hikers.’ No, if you’re not hiking, you’re eating or you’re in your tent under your sleeping bag resting, which eventually you’re sleeping. They don’t want you walking around. They don’t want you mingling. They don’t want you to exert energy on anything other than the hike. They want you to conserve energy so you can make it to the top.”
“It was so tiring,” Gaige said. “We were asleep by 9 or earlier every night, except the summit night.”
“When it got dark. You were very cold. Like as soon as that sun went down…once we got above the clouds the nights were extremely cold. The days were a little warmer, especially when we were hiking. But as soon as that sun went down, like eight o’clock it was freezing,” Amy said. “So you’d want to get your sleeping bag.”
Gaige said having layers of clothes was a life saver.
“I mean, I think we started with maybe three layers on and at the bottom just kept adding so we were never wearing less than three layers,” Gaige said. “The higher we got the more clothes we added.”
“I never took my thermals off from day two, like I slept in them and they smell pretty bad. They (the porters) did have for us a portable man-made kind of shower that they’d set up if we got to camp early enough and it was still warm. So I think that was offered for maybe two days. I just washed my body, and I never washed my hair because it was just too cold. I thought this was disgusting, but it was too cold to get wet.”
Gaige said the shower after the day’s hike was great.
“I loved it,” Gaige said.
“I used it once, in the middle of the week,” Dane said. “It was cold.”
“You don’t want to have to dry out, because you can’t,” Amy said. “It was also pretty much you’re exerting energy showering when you are that high up. It also got harder to breathe. Yeah, from, probably, day three the air is just so thin you want to sleep.”
Amy said the family all did extremely well but they saw others, including one of their own porters struggling. Those who struggled were escorted back to the base by a guide.
“We saw a lot of people struggling and we saw people getting wheeled down or carted down. They were carrying them on stretchers,” We saw people on oxygen, people throwing up, a lady being carried by two guys like slipping in and out of consciousness,” Amy said. “But our family didn’t struggle like that.”
Braving the terrain, the elements, the lack of oxygen and the cold, the Efirds made it to the last trek of the hike, Summit Night.
Read more about the Efirds Summit Night hike of Mount Kilimanjaro in part two in the Wednesday Aug. 3 edition of the Branson Tri-Lakes News.