They're on top of the world! La Jollans climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Although climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a lifelong goal for some people, father and son duo Simon and Phillip Andrews of La Jolla hardly consider it a bucket list item. Without believing in “bucket lists,” they said they’re instead motivated by a sense of adventure and brotherhood, and the two completed the trek last month.

After two years of planning and five days of climbing, Simon said the moment he and his son reached the peak was “ecstasy.” A worldwide traveler, Simon was part of La Jolla-based surfers group that ventured to Israel in 2013. 

Also a longtime mountain climber, he added, “Some friends of mine and I had gone up the La Malinche volcano outside of Puebla, Mexico two years ago. We’re a brotherhood and we were so full of (ourselves) after that, we thought, ‘let’s do Kilimanjaro next!’ ” 

Of the group of five men, Simon is the oldest at age 73, and when it came to actually scaling the more than 19,000-feet-high mountain in Africa, some of them wanted their sons by their side. 

“Phillip was in Boy Scout Troop 506, so we did a lot of backpacking and hiking while he was a Scout. So both of us got involved in backpacking. I wouldn’t have considered this trip if we didn’t have those Scouting years,” Simon said. 

When he posed the Kilimanjaro idea to Phillip – who is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in environmental science – Phillip was immediately on board. “I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to experience something new,” Phillip said. 

Leading up to the adventure, Phillip said he exercised more to strengthen his muscles, specifically through cycling. “I mostly cycle in San Diego, up and down the coast, but I have been on a biking trip through the Scouts to Mount Laguna — and I use a bike for transportation,” he said. But other than that, he said he didn’t do any special training. 

Dad Simon, on the other hand, admittedly “anxious and nervous,” did as much preparation as he could. “I went up local mountains to build up my strength, and to get a little more altitude, I went up White Mountain (in eastern California, one of North America’s highest peaks) with some friends. I did what I could, but it’s hard to condition your system for that kind of altitude.” 

But local guides in Kilimanjaro, aware that many people struggle with the altitude, offered advice: polepole. “It’s Swahili for ‘slowly, slowly,’ ” Simon explained. “The route we took takes five days and four nights to complete because you are going in a big spiral to acclimatize. We had four guides who trained us from the very beginning to take a slow pace. You need that for the last ascent.”

Joking that the last leg felt like a straight vertical climb, he added, “On the last day of the climb, we left at midnight with headlamps on and we were just a line of glowing lamps. Moving slowly, we needed to breathe in step with our paces. I learned first-hand that if I started thinking about something else, I would get distracted from the meditative walking and have to stop, catch my breath and start over. It was very zen.” 

Phillip said he thought the whole process would have been more challenging if they hadn’t heeded their guides’ advice on the breathing and the pace. 

But once they reached the summit, Simon said, “The anxiety was completely swapped with ecstasy. As anxious as we were the whole time going up, that’s how exciting it was. Because we left during the night, it was dawn when we got to the top. So the sun was coming up, and we were looking out over glaciers and clouds. It was just beautiful.”

After a much easier descent, the family spent time in different areas of Africa, including a safari and time in Zanzibar and Madagascar. 

Having completed the once-in-a-lifetime trip, neither Simon nor Phillip know what’s next. Simon said, “We don’t have a bucket list, per se, so as for what’s next, we’ll see.” 

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