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Pass-a-Grille Beach training prepared St. Pete Beach resident for Mount Kilimanjaro climb — but just barely

The mountain never let up.

But neither did Keith "Jake" Jacobus, a 58-year-old from St. Pete Beach who successfully reached the summit of the 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro with his 23-year-old son, Scott, two weeks and two days ago. Their training for the journey was featured in the June issue of LifeTimes.

The trek is uphill 99 percent of the time, Jacobus said, and the never-ending wish to see flat terrain — and a bit of a break — around the next corner seemed never to be fulfilled.

Jacobus, a wealth management adviser and vice president with Merrill Lynch, said the grueling training he and his son did five days a week for nine months was just barely enough to get them in the shape they needed to make the seven-day climb that starts in a muddy tropical Tanzania rain forest.

On the second day, the green had given way to a rocky, volcanic landscape dotted with rocks that almost ended Scott's climb on the third day. He rolled his ankle on one of the rocks and it swelled to twice its normal size. But, he soaked it in ice water and taped it up, determined not to become one of the beaten and downtrodden people he saw climbing down the mountain as he climbed up.

It was a little better the next day and, lucky for him, there would be virtually no walking that day. Nope, the 12 climbers, one guide and 24 porters would be crawling more than 800 feet up a cliff face called the Barranco Wall. He had no trouble doing that, and by the next day the swelling had gone down.

Altitude sickness, headaches and childlike anticipation — not to mention an 11 p.m. wakeup call (they turned in at 7 p.m.) — kept anyone from getting much sleep the night before summit day.

Wearing head lamps and accompanied by extra guides, they started out at midnight only to find the trail twice as steep as it had been. Tired, cold and in the dark, they trudged for six hours up a 45-degree slope.

"The reason that we left camp early and in the dark was because we needed the daylight hours to reach the summit and be back down to our 12,000-foot camp (an altitude that doesn't induce sickness) by the next day's sunset," Jacobus said.

"We could see lights far up ahead of us and far below. The whole scene felt surreal with oxygen deprivation and loss of appetite," Jacobus said. "After 10 steps, one was out of breath and had to stop and rest."

They stopped at the glacier's rim 300 feet from the summit to watch the sunrise, a spectacular and majestic sight. "As the sun rose, it revealed the cloud cover below, accentuating the curvature of the earth at 19,000 feet," Jacobus said.

And then, tired, sore, nauseated and oxygen-deprived, they gathered their strength and energy to make it to Uhuru Peak. The Roof of Africa.

They stayed just long enough in the subzero temperatures and 40 mph winds to pose for pictures on the summit.

It was all downhill from there.

"We literally had to 'surf the scree,' which is pulverized rock, not unlike beach sand. It was easier to slide down the 45-degree mountainside than walk down," Jacobus said.

Having come down from the glacier, through the scree fields, across the barren earth above the tree line, it was the last day of the incredible father-son journey. They only had a mile to go — mostly through rain forest — to get to the base camp from which they started.

But, finally, they were back.

Hakuna Matata," said the porters and guides who greeted them on their return. That's Swahili for "no worries."

5 Questions* with Jake Jacobus

1 What was the best thing about the climb?

That it was over.

Overcoming obstacles. What previously appeared to be insurmountable obstacles — getting fit enough, overcoming altitude sickness, handling the food and the primitive living conditions — were overcome. There was great satisfaction in knowing we could persevere and push to the top.

It was a wonderful bonding experience with my 23-year-old son, Scott. It taught him many lessons about perseverance, preparation and mind-set. By beating this challenge, he knows he can do anything in life.


2 What was the most surprising element about the climb?

I knew that I had done my conditioning — my legs and body were strong enough. We had the mental toughness to make the summit, but I was not prepared for the mind-numbing effects of oxygen deprivation above 16,000 feet and the nausea that accompanied it.


3 What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that all the elements that have made me successful in life, such as perseverance, working hard, preparation, mental attitude, transfer into an endeavor like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I wanted my son, Scott, to see and learn this so he can use these elements for success in business and in his life.


4 What advice do you have for 50+ers who want to climb?

As the oldest member of the group, I would tell other 50+ people to do it now while they can.

Preparation is the key: physical training, mental attitude, lining up all the right gear and making sure it fits and works.


* Well, 4, really. Wife Ingrid answered this one:

5 How were the safaris? (Jake and his son went on a four-day postclimb safari to the game reserves of Serengeti and elsewhere in Tanzania. His wife, Ingrid, and their older son, Sean, were in Kenya on a nine-day safari.)

"We had an incredible time and were so impressed with the Kenyan people and the beauty of their country," Ingrid Jacobus said. "We were able to witness the Great Migration where the wildebeest and zebras migrate from Tanzania to Kenya in search of food, the grasses of the savannah."

The Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya was their favorite, she said, because it had a lot of animals — including a rare sighting of a leopard and her cub — but was relatively small and easy to tour, unlike the 580-square-mile Maasai Mara, site of the Great Migration and contiguous to the Serengeti.

Want to nominate an interesting someone for 5 Questions? Email Patti Ewald at

Pass-a-Grille Beach training prepared St. Pete Beach resident for Mount Kilimanjaro climb — but just barely 07/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 12:57pm]
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