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."