Local dads conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro on first try


A group of nine local dads are on top of the world after successfully climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. The group reached the summit on the morning of Oct. 10 in what was their first bid to climb the 19,341 foot peak.

Led by John Spence, owner of Aardvark Safaris in Solana Beach, the local men undertook the climb as a challenge and, in a couple of cases, for a cause. Hal Dunning raised $21,441 to support Day for Change (www.dayforchange.org), a local nonprofit that benefits abused and disadvantaged children, while Spence raised funds for the tuition of a Masai man or woman to study tourism and conservation at Kenya’s Koiyaki Guiding School (www.koiyaki.com).

The group began the trip with a safari in Kenya’s famed Masai Mara Game Reserve, where they saw one of nature’s greatest spectacles, the annual migration.

“There was so much wildlife,” says participant Ian Stewart, “lion, hippo, cheetah, giant crocodiles, giraffe and of course, wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye could see.” Then, they flew the short distance to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania where they began their seven-day ascent accompanied by a team of 45 guides, porters and cooks.

Days were spent hiking, at first through rainforest at the base, then into progressively colder and drier landscapes leading to spectacular glaciers and mind-boggling vistas as the group neared the top. The nights were spent in small, surprisingly comfortable tents with real meals instead of MREs cooked by the camp team. Aardvark Safaris’ climbing partner is widely recognized for its superb equipment and guides, safety record and environmentally sensitive approach to the mountain. Upon their return, the men agreed that one of the most treasured parts of their journey was the camaraderie shared by the group and their local camp and climbing team.

Other than their usual workout activities, the men—ranging in age from 23 to 55— did no rigorous training in preparation. “Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb,” said Obie Roy, Stewart’s neighbor in Del Mar. “In fact, the only time I broke a sweat was shopping for gear.” However, all acknowledge that the last couple of days were no easy feat. At almost 20,000 feet, nothing works quite as it should. The days spent hiking and the thin air conspire to make the simplest tasks quite challenging. Still, according to the group, there’s no way to describe the exhilaration of the reaching Uhuru Peak at the summit and standing on the roof of Africa.

Says Spence, “We have so many clients who rank climbing Kili and seeing Rwanda’s remaining mountain gorillas at the top of their ‘bucket list’ adventures. In the last 20 years, I’ve done everything there is to do and see in Africa except climb Kilimanjaro. I finally understand why the Masai people call the western summit “Njage Ngai,” the House of God.”

Aardvark Safaris, with offices in the U.S,. England and Scotland, offers tailor-made safari vacations, including Kilimanjaro climbs, traditional safaris, trips to see the last mountain gorillas, horseback safaris, honeymoons, and family adventures.

The company’s unique trips have been covered in numerous newspapers and magazines, including Condé Nast Traveler, Tatler, Harpers & Queen, Outside, The Times (UK), Daily Telegraph, etc.

To learn more, visit Aardvark at


or email John Spence at