By Kristina Houck
From Aconcagua in Argentina to the Himalayas in Asia, Ake Lindstrom has hiked some of the highest mountains in the world. Most familiar with Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the avid adventurer has reached the peak of the 19,341-foot mountain 50 times.
“Kilimanjaro represents something truly amazing,” Lindstrom said. “It’s an amazing destination, but it’s also amazing in terms of the impact it has on many lives. It’s a beautiful thing.”
As the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest freestanding mountain in the world, approximately 25,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year.
Born in Kenya, raised in Sudan and educated in England, Lindstrom founded Summits Africa in 2007. The company provides a variety of set departures and professional outfitting services for adventure trips in East Africa, specializing in Kilimanjaro climbs.
Lindstrom first climbed the mountain in December 1997 when he was 20 years old. He reached the top in six days.
“It was tough,” he recalled. “The first time I went up, I was young and cocky. I went up it like a bull in a china shop, and by the third day, I was as sick as a dog. I realized that taking things easy is the best way. That’s the best secret.”
Since his first trek to the top, Lindstrom usually chooses a seven-to-eight-day hike, which he also recommends for his clients.
Kilimanjaro has six starting points and three different routes to reach the summit, ranging in difficulty. He has led hikers ages 12 to 76 up the mountain.
“It’s in the middle of the African Plains,” he said. “It’s in a beautiful country surrounded by wildlife and really beautiful people. … It’s just one of those amazing mountains, that if you set your mind to it, is doable by anyone.”
Solana Beach-based Aardvark Safaris has worked closely with Lindstrom for 15 years. The local company, which arranges custom safari trips, coordinates Kilimanjaro climbs with Summits Africa every month.
Lindstrom talked about his experiences climbing and leading hikes during a March 30 event hosted by Aardvark Safaris at a Carmel Valley residence.
“Each of those clients return impressed by the quality, professionalism, safety standards and comfort of their climb,” said John Spence, owner of Aardvark Safaris. “Hopeful climbers contact us from all over the U.S. seeking an ethical, responsible and, above all, safe climbing partner. When we work with Ake — having climbed with him ourselves — we know that our clients are in the best possible hands.”
Spence noted that the standards set by Summits Africa sets the company apart from similar businesses.
With about 400 employees, Summits Africa serves roughly 1,000 people each year.
Summits Africa provides free bi-annual training for its employees. The company’s business model enables team members to start off as porters and advance their careers to become camp crew members, trainee guides, assistant guides, head guides, and eventually, trip leaders.
Every guide at Summits Africa is a certified Wilderness First Responder.
“People get a lot of training and opportunities in the Western world. In East Africa there is a lot of exploitation and opportunities are lacking,” Lindstrom said. “We’re heavily invested in East Africa. My mother and father live in Tanzania. I live in Tanzania and my wife is Tanzanian. This is our home. This is the place we love. This is where we live and where we’ll die. It’s our way of being part of the fabric of our community and trying to make things better.”
Although Summits Africa specializes in Kilimanjaro climbs and Lindstrom believes everyone is capable of climbing the mountain, he recommended prospective hikers research the trip and train beforehand.
“It’s the sort of mountain that if you’re serious about it, you can get there and most likely get to the top — as long as you prepare well and make a sensible selection on who you climb with,” Lindstrom said.
“It’s an empowering experience. You take yourself to a whole different place.”
For more information about Summits Africa, visit www.summits-africa.com.
For more information about Aardvark Safaris, visit www.aardvarksafaris.com.