#Climb4Cord: Tears and Triumph atop Kilimanjaro

This is Part 3 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 1 and Part 2

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The first #Climb4Cord group reaches the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro just before 2pm local time on August 12th, 2013.

The first #Climb4Cord group reaches the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro just before 2pm local time on August 12th, 2013. (Credit: Graham Sher)

We were a few hundred meters from the summit of Mt.  Kilimanjaro when the tears started to flow. Derek, Urio, Christopher and I were on the heels of the first  group, which was about to reach the summit. It was just before 2pm local time. Just as Eddie Frank had  planned.

The ground had flattened out. I no longer felt tired. In fact, I felt like I was walking down Yonge Street back in Toronto. I was tempted to run towards the infamous green sign I had envisioned reaching during so many months of training. But I held myself back, wanting to soak in each and every second while thinking about all the people in my life who had helped me get to this point in time. I envisioned how proud my wife, my kids, my family, my friends would be.

Moreover, I thought about my dad. The man who had such an influence on the person I am today. He was the man who taught me to treat others with respect, no matter who they were. The man who would sit and listen to every single one of my CFL radio broadcasts and then call me on my way home from the stadium to rehash the entire game, pointing out instances where I could have been better. The man who would wake up at 5am on a Saturday morning to take me to hockey practice before I could drive. Afterward, he would sit with me at the local White Spot and recap every single play I had made on the ice, while we wolfed down our breakfasts.

I imagined what our conversation would have been like had he still been alive. The stories I would share with him of Kilimanjaro – of how 25 of us came together in an attempt to make a difference in the lives of all Canadians.

I took off my sunglasses to wipe away the tears. By now, salt stains lined the plastic rims as each tear dried quickly from the harsh midday sun and dry alpine air.

By the time I reached the sign, it was chaos.

I was fired up beyond belief. I started hugging everyone in sight as the emotions of months of training and days on the mountain were released. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders at that exact moment. I felt relief.

Jaime Stein and Graham Sher

Jaime Stein and Graham Sher hold up the official Canadian Blood Services flag at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Credit: Graham Sher)

Summit morning had arrived quickly. Firstly, it was difficult to sleep at high altitude. The air was thin at Barafu Camp, which stood at 14,950-ft (4,556-m). Secondly, we had to wake up at 3:45am, so sleep was scarce to begin with.

It was bitter cold when Derek Amery and I woke up. It was a struggle to move through camp due to the darkness and steep, rocky footing. Making our way to the washroom was a chore. Tying our boots was excruciating. Even eating breakfast was a challenge. We drank as much tea as possible to try and warm our bodies up.

In an effort to get everyone from the #Climb4Cord team on the summit at the same time, the last group became the first group on the morning of August 12th. It was growing, too, as more people started to feel the effects of the altitude. As usual, I was hiking with Derek, but we were joined by Andrea Frenk and Daniel Schustermann. We were also assigned two out of the five guides as a precaution because we had a greater risk of getting ill. This would entail abandoning our climb and descending back to Barafu Camp.

It was eerily silent as we assembled outside the mess tent. The sky was clear. You could see so many stars – it was like the planetarium back home. And you could see the vapour of each breath through the beam of your headlamp – breathing at this altitude was no easy chore.

But most of all, it was cold. So cold that we spent two to three hours hiking in our parkas – a prospect I had laughed at when the big, bulky red down garment arrived at my house in Toronto on a 35-degree summer day.

We were also hiking with our headlamps on for the first time, on one of the most technical parts of the entire climb. We walked in a line. Slowly. One foot after the other, following the cadence set by the lead guide. There was little talking as we focused on each step and each breath.

Jaime in a parka

Hiking in a parka above Kosovo Camp as the sun starts to rise on the morning of August 12th, 2013.

The frigid morning was but a distant memory as I jumped around the summit, oblivious to the fact that I was now at 19,341-ft (5,895m). The adrenaline gave me strength and energy that I wouldn’t have believed possible just four days prior when altitude sickness nearly ended my climb prematurely. I was a new man.

I fired off a couple of Tweets via our Delmore inReach satellite tracking device to let the world know that we had arrived. I knew that people back home had been watching our dotted trail snake up the online map with a mix of excitement and concern.

Not long after reaching the summit we started taking photos. Dr. Graham Sher, who happens to be an incredible photographer in addition to leading Canadian Blood Services (CBS), pulled out his DSLR and fired away. I posed for some individual photos with my fists and poles in the air. I was jacked up from the euphoria of the moment. I meant to write a checklist on my arm of the photos I needed to take, just in case my memory wasn’t 100 per cent. But somehow I managed to get everything I needed, including some additional pictures with my ING DIRECT #OrangeScarf. (ING DIRECT was a sponsor of the climb)

Then I posed for a shot where I held up a photo of my dad from his 60th birthday party – one of the last times our family was together before he died. I started crying uncontrollably while Graham snapped away. I’m glad he was able to capture that moment. It meant a lot to me.

After shooting some group photos with the CBS flag, I removed my outer shell as I was actually starting to get hot. The sun was quite strong at this point in the day.

I managed to complete my final task. I recorded a short thank you video for my supporters, before finally standing back and enjoying the moment.

Jaime Dad Uhuru Peak

Holding a photo of my dad, Dr. Howard Stein, at Uhuru Peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Credit: Graham Sher)

I’ve been asked multiple times how long I spent on top of Kilimanjaro. The trouble with being on the summit is that you lose track of time. I had been prepared to spend about 20 minutes on top before heading back down. That seemed like the average time groups spent up there based on my research. Only recently, using the time stamps on my photos, was I able to calculate that I was up there for about 45 minutes in total.

While I was feeling like a million bucks, other climbers who had exhibited no signs of suffering the entire trip, started to develop some serious headaches. As a result, Urio had to lead these climbers down immediately. I was left with the option of descending with this group or waiting for the next group to arrive and then head down with them.

I was being encouraged by Eddie to head back down with Urio, who had been my guide and saviour the entire trek, but I wasn’t ready to get off that mountain. I wanted more time on the summit and I was feeling great, so I stayed.

Climb4Cord Team Summit Photo

The summit photo of the first group to reach Uhuru Peak on the #Climb4Cord.

The road to the summit can be split up into a few zones. The first is the rocky cliffs from Barafu Camp to Kosovo Camp. From there it is a long and arduous trek on steep and unstable terrain to the rim of the crater, known as Stella Point. At Stella Point there is a quick break for lunch and then a final push on firmer and less steep ground.

My former colleague Chris Cuthbert had climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago. In advance of my departure for Africa, he provided me with some valuable advice for summit day. He had told me that if I could make it to the crater rim, the final hour or so would be easy in comparison. If I was feeling exhausted at this point, his advice was to take a break and regain my energy; not to turn around like so many other people who attempted Kilimanjaro have elected or been forced to do in the past.

Road to Stella Point

Looking back down towards the final incline to reach Stella Point from the edge of the crater rim. (Credit: Robin Hibberd)

So my goal that morning was to haul ass to Stella Point and ensure that I had a legit shot at the summit.

An hour or so past Kosovo Camp the sun began to appear on the horizon and we started to warm up. This was a blessing, because hiking in a parka wasn’t very comfortable. It restricted movement, which in turn made it hard to stay in rhythm while walking in a line with the group.

The entire morning was about rhythm and focus on the next step so that you didn’t lose any momentum. The trail was very steep and the footing was soft – almost like sand.

Eventually, our group split into two because Derek and I were able to go at stronger pace than the others. We charged ahead along with Urio and Christopher towards Stella Point – two steps forward, one step sliding back in the scree.

Eddie had shared with us his dislike for the final couple of hours up to Stella Point because it feels like you will never reach the crater rim due to the illusions of the slope of the mountain. But I felt fresh. All the hours of leg training with Marshall were kicking in – walking stairs in a 40-lbs. weight vest; leg pressing 500-lbs. 20, 30, even 40 times. My time in the gym was paying off.

I was so energized in the final stretch towards Stella Point that I blasted past Urio to get there. I had a huge smile on my face and I high-fived Derek. Some of our porters were already up there lounging on the rocks and they shouted out some cheers of congratulations to us.

We took some photos at the sign (which looks almost identical to the summit sign), but I couldn’t figure out where the summit was. I kept looking across the crater trying to find it. Finally, I realized Uhuru Peak was to my left and it was SO CLOSE!!

On the way up to the summit.

Taking a break on the way up to Stella Point. L to R: Urio, Jaime, “Rescue Boss” and Christopher.

I had been warned by Neal Kushwaha – who served as a mentor to me for this climb – not to make the summit my goal. Not to channel all my energy towards reaching the top. He strongly suggested that I view the summit as a midpoint to ensure that I had enough strength and energy to get back down the mountain. His advice was sound, but it became hard to follow with each upward step and my emotions taking over.

If you read many of the tails of disaster on Everest – which I became obsessed with during my preparations, including Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air – most people tend to die on the descent because they make terrible decisions in pursuit of reaching the summit. Generally, this leaves climbers without enough oxygen or energy to get back down. Not that I’m comparing Everest to Kilimanjaro by any stretch, but I had made it a goal to be conscious that I didn’t push myself too hard to reach the summit at all costs.

Lunch at Stella Point

Eating lunch at Stella Point while chatting with our guide, Urio. (Credit: Sue-Ann Blakely)

We sat down to eat a boxed lunch at Stella Point. It was still just me, Derek, Urio and Christopher.

Urio checked my oxygen saturation levels and they were low. Down to 73 per cent in fact – the same level they were at when I had arrived at Moir Camp on Day 3. He decided to administer oxygen while I ate my lunch. By then, the next group had arrived at Stella Point and we all started cheering. Unfortunately, I was vigorously tapped on the head by an overzealous climber and as a result started getting a headache.

Eddie was part of the second team to reach Stella Point and he told his group that it was better to keep moving and not to sit for too long while eating lunch. Not wanting to fall too far behind the lead group, I had Urio rip my oxygen off. I sprung up and we took off after them. My adrenaline was pumping and I wasn’t going to be denied reaching the top, especially when I could summit with the first group, which would end up having 11 of the 25 climbers together. It was clear, now, that we would likely be summiting in three groups.

The final hour was awesome. The path was much easier to walk on and the scenery was spectacular. To the right was the crater. To the left were ancient glaciers. And if you looked back, there was a sea of clouds with stunning views of Mawenzi, the Kibo Saddle and the plains below. In my mind, I was feeling the satisfaction of having made it to the top of Africa.

Robin and Sydney

Robin and Sydney Hibberd embrace on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

After spending 20 minutes or so on top of Kilimanjaro, the second group arrived. This set off another round of hugs and tears. One of the best moments for me was watching Robin Hibberd and his daughter Sydney embrace on the summit. They were as close to family as I had on the trip. We had spent dozens of hours training together back in Toronto and we generally hung out and ate meals with each other on the climb. That moment also made me wish that my dad was with me.

Soon, it was time for our group, the second group, to make its way back down. More people were starting to feel the impact of the altitude and it was approaching 3pm, which meant that it would be getting dark shortly. We wanted to avoid the last hour of our descent taking place in the dark as we had to retrace our steps over the rocks on our return to Barafu Camp.

It was in the first minutes of our descent that one of the best moments of the climb occurred for me. The third and final group was approaching the summit as we passed them on the way down. Both groups stopped and started hugging each other. That moment of camaraderie solidified what this trip was all about. What a team. What an accomplishment.

Group Hugging

Hugs for everyone! Members of the first and second groups descend from the summit while the third group continues to make its way up to the top.

Neal wasn’t kidding when he said to save some energy to get back down the mountain. Going up a mountain allows you to control your momentum and your pace. On the downhill, you are at the mercy of gravity. Especially when dealing with the sandy scree and steep slopes presented by Kilimanjaro. The hike back to Barafu Camp was exhausting. Quadriceps throbbing with each step. Blisters starting to boil beneath toes.

The battle to make it back to camp was gruelling. Water was running low for some people; snacks were becoming scarce for others. As the sun started to go down, a chill set in. We had been hiking for close to 14 hours and nothing can really prepare you for that kind of day.

Six of our 25 team members – those who had exhibited no signs of altitude sickness on the entire climb – spent the night in the crater. They were the only people in the world on that day sleeping at 18,700-ft (5,600-m). They even played hockey to try and establish a world record for the highest hockey game played on earth.

Hockey in Crater

A hockey game breaks out in the crater. (Credit: Sue-Ann Blakely)

On the eighth day, we headed down to Mweka Camp at 10,400-ft (3,170-m). I figured life was good at this point, but Kilimanjaro has a way of messing with you. Just when I finally felt that I had conquered the mountain, she struck back one final time. With about 30 minutes remaining in our descent to camp, I crashed. Big time. I tried to keep going, but I couldn’t. With the help of a couple of guides carrying me under each arm, I eventually stumbled into Mweka.

“How many lives do you have?” said Dr. Neil McGee as I wobbled down the trail towards camp. This was a fight I wasn’t going to lose.

I collapsed into my tent and nearly passed out. A few moments later, I was jolted back to life thanks to a warm cup of tea loaded with honey. The guides continued to check on me for the remainder of the evening and night. They brought me heaping plates of food and forced me to eat every last mouthful. This helped.

Group at Mweka

One final team photo, at Mweka Camp, on the morning of our last day on Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Credit: Graham Sher)

By daybreak on our final day on the mountain, I was feeling refreshed. The food and the sleep helped a ton. However, all I wanted to do at this point was get off the mountain and return to Bristol Cottages. The four hour trek to the Mweka Gate was beautiful. The gorgeous rainforest helped take our minds off the pain in our legs.


A look back up at the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro from the trail below Mweka Camp. (Credit: Graham Sher)

I mostly hiked with Derek and Dr. Tanya Petraszko – the three of us had formed a strong bond and we shared some laughs on the way off the mountain. I was fortunate to have Derek as my roommate, tent mate and hiking partner. Without him, I’m not sure I would have made it to the summit.

We rounded the bend towards the base of the mountain and the sounds of a band filled the air. Eddie had arranged for a local band to welcome us and it was quite a scene. The band played for what seemed like an eternity and we ate samosas and drank bottles of Coke.

We had accomplished our goal. All 25 members of the #Climb4Cord team summited Kilimanjaro and made it back down to tell the tale. We also raised more than $350,000 dollars – surpassing our goal by more than 40 per cent.

The drive back to Bristol Cottages was about an hour and the band played the entire way while sitting in the back of a pickup truck. Even back at the cottages, the band continued to play. We hugged. We cried. I connected with both my wife and mom through FaceTime to show them the scene. They cried, too.

Band at Bristol Cottages

The party continued back at Bristol Cottages as the band played on and on and on! (Credit: Robin Hibberd)

Since returning home to Canada, I’ve been asked: “What’s next?”

Oddly, I want another shot at Kilimanjaro. I want to do it on my own terms. Not sick, not weak, not with the aid of doctors and oxygen. This is the first time that I’ve shared this on a broad scale and it may sound a little crazy, especially given that roughly 60 per cent of people who attempt Kilimanjaro never make it to the top. This includes plenty of world class athletes.

However, as I look back through the photos others have shared from the trip, I feel like I missed out on too many moments and so many of the little details. I want to go back and experience these moments. I want the full experience.

It was an accomplishment I will never forget, but a small void remains in my heart.

This is Part 3 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 1 and Part 2

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The #Climb4Cord featured a group of business leaders who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in August 2013 and raised more than $350,000 in personal donations for the campaign For All Canadians, which is dedicated to building Canada’s new national public cord blood bank. Click here to donate to the campaign For All Canadians or for more information on the campaign please visit: http://campaignforcanadians.ca/

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#Climb4Cord: Redemption on Mt. Kilimanjaro

This is Part 2 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 1 and Part 3

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Any hope of relief presented by the rainbow was dampened by the fears created by the massive Barranco Wall. It was hard to ignore this looming obstacle as it cast a dark shadow over camp.

It’s amazing how quickly an accomplished individual can change from superhuman to ordinary when exposed to heights. Facing us on the start of the fifth day was an 800-ft (245-m) scramble up the infamous Barranco Wall. It wasn’t a technical ascent, but it did involve using your hands and feet on large clusters of rocks over the course of an hour and a half. This scared the shit out of a lot of people.

Scaling the Barranco Wall on the fifth day of the #Climb4Cord

Scaling the Barranco Wall on the fifth day of the #Climb4Cord. (Credit: Graham Sher)

We woke up on Day 5 to a bitter cold inside our tents. Anything that had been touching the outside walls, like a water bottle, was frozen. By now, I had learned to sleep in the next day’s outfit so that I didn’t have to go through the discomfort of putting on cold clothes in the morning.

Frost on the outside of a tent.

Frost on the outside of a tent. (Credit: Tim Williams)

During our morning medical checks I was informed that Paul and Neil, the two doctors, would no longer be hiking with me. I had been relegated to the final group, alone, to hike with my guide Urio and my shadow porter, Christopher (he was responsible for carrying the satellite communications gear for which I was in charge of operating).

It’s hard to climb a mountain when you are suffering. What makes it exponentially more challenging is that you start to miss out on the social interactions – and for me, that’s generally where I found my energy. Hiking solo means you walk alone, eat alone, and get to camp after everyone has had time to change their clothes and drink their tea. So you do that alone, too.

Fortunately for me, I was paired with an amazing tent mate. Derek Amery, who had already been a huge help as I suffered through the effects of altitude sickness, offered to stay back and join me in the final group so I wouldn’t have to hike alone. For this, I’m eternally grateful, because his calm demeanour and companionship helped me through some of the most difficult times.

Jaime and Derek at the top of the Barranco Wall.

Jaime and Derek on top of the Barranco Wall. (Credit: Derek Amery)

Tusker’s strategy for climbing the Barranco Wall was to let all the other groups go first. By this point, the Lemosho Route had collided with the remaining ascent routes, so a ton of expeditions were champing at the bit to get up and over the wall. While we avoided the gridlock created by other trekkers, we found ourselves caught up in a massive porter traffic jam. This provided for some lighthearted moments while standing around waiting on the wall.

Two moments stick out for me on the wall – the ‘Leap of Faith’ and the ‘Kiss the Wall’.

Andrea, Jaime, Daniel and Urio on the Barranco Wall.

Andrea, Jaime, Daniel and Urio take a break on the Barranco Wall.  (Credit: Mel Kaida)

At one point, you are balanced on a ledge so narrow that the heels of your boots hang out into space. Your only option is to literally kiss the wall while shimmying across the ledge. For those with a fear of heights, this was particularly painful. But by kissing the wall, you also were forced to keep your eyes up and avoid the butterfly-in-your-stomach feeling that takes over and freezes your body in an instant if you had looked down.

The leap of faith came next. This required each member of our team to place their left foot into a crease in the rock and use it as leverage. Stanford, one of our guides, stood on an elevated ledge. On his command, you had to thrust yourself off the rock and reach out and grab his hand. He pulled you up and over the gap, which allowed you to continue on your journey up the wall.

The leap of faith was exhilarating and Derek and I started hooting and hollering and high-fiving anyone in the vicinity once we were safe on the ledge next to Stanford. I excelled at the rock scrambling and also enjoyed it. It sparked my energy and helped get my mojo back for the remainder of the climb.

The final stretch to Karanga Camp via the gorge.

The final downhill and uphill stretch into Karanga Camp. (Credit: Neil McGee)

The remainder of the hike to Karanga Camp was outstanding. Stunning views of Kibo Peak graced one side of the trail while a glance back to the valley exhibited a sea of clouds including Mt. Meru, which poked its head out through the mist.

The flat terrain was a blessing as it helped me continue to recover and acclimatize. However, Kilimanjaro has a way of messing with your body and your mind. Karanga looked close by way of the crow, but as we traversed closer to camp, the route began to reveal itself. We were going to have to descend rapidly on a steep path into the V-shaped Karanga Valley and then climb the exact same distance straight up and out of the gorge to reach camp on the other side.

Everything is further away than it looks on Kilimanjaro – just one of the many torture tests presented by this 19,341-ft beast.

Downhill is often more difficult than uphill because you can’t control the momentum of your body. It becomes more taxing on your leg muscles, especially your quads. Having to undertake this downhill section six hours into the day and moments before having to go straight back uphill was mentally draining.

Similar to the third day, our spirits were bolstered by the singing of our Tusker team. Again, the songs of encouragement echoed off the walls of the gorge as we approached the top of the hill. This gave us strength with each stride and helped us into camp.

It was at Karanga Camp where we took our group photo in our bright red parkas with the sun highlighting the summit in the background in all its glory.

The official #Climb4Cord team photo at Karanga Camp on the fifth day.

The official #Climb4Cord team photo at Karanga Camp. (Credit: Graham Sher)

In addition to Karanga’s stunning views of the summit, it also offered one of the most scenic looks back towards civilization – in this case, the clouds filled the void like water in an ocean. I sat peacefully inside my tent and sipped some tea. My feet hung out the entrance and at this moment, I was in the most tranquil place on earth.

As day turned to night, the sun left a beautiful line of pastel colours across the horizon. All the shades of blue were presented as I tilted my head upwards until finally the blues turned to black. The tableau was capped by the most perfect crescent moon hovering directly above a fading Mt. Meru in the distance.

The sun sets at the end of the fifth day on the #Climb4Cord as the moon rises over Mt. Meru in the background.

The sun sets at the end of the fifth day on the #Climb4Cord as the moon rises over Mt. Meru in the distance.

I woke up feeling much better on the morning of August 11th, our sixth day on the mountain. My outlook was strengthened by the fact that we were facing a short four hour hike to Barafu Camp instead of the usual eight hour days we had grown accustomed to. Nevertheless, it was still an uphill challenge along rocky terrain for a majority of the day.

At 14,950-ft (4,556-m) Barafu Camp is the staging ground for a summit attempt. Based on our itinerary, it would be the final resting place before our bid for the top the following morning, August 12th.

Getting ready to start the sixth day of the #Climb4Cord.

Getting ready to start the sixth day of the #Climb4Cord.

We had been delivered some good news over breakfast prior to our departure for Barafu. Our itinerary had changed. Simon, Eddie’s head guide, was able to secure a special permit for our team to stay at High Camp – or Kosovo Camp as the locals like to call it – that night. This camp is now officially closed, but once in awhile an entrepreneurial park warden will make an exception.

Kosovo Camp is situated at 16,000-ft (4,876-m). This would shift forward about 1,000-ft or 25 per cent of the distance we were supposed to travel on summit day. In addition to shortening the ground we would need to cover on August 12th, this advantage would also help us avoid a tricky rock wall in the early hours of the morning before the sun was up.

Lunch with a view at Barafu Camp.

The Seider Family and Tim Williams enjoy a lunch with a view at Barafu Camp.

The views back towards the valley from Barafu were even better than at Karanga. We paused for lunch and enjoyed a wonderful feast of chicken, fried potatoes, and vinegar soaked veggies. The mood was joyous as we relaxed under the warmth of the strong alpine sun. The day was young and we had plenty of time to hike the additional distance to Kosovo Camp.

But as she always does, Kilimanjaro snapped back once more. Someone on the mountain had gotten wind of our special deal to camp out at Kosovo that night. As a result of “mountain politics” we were informed that we would no longer be sleeping at the more advantageous location. Our day was done. We were staying at Barafu Camp.

High above the clouds in Barafu Camp.

High above the clouds at Barafu Camp. (Credit: Sue-Ann Blakely)

Our porters were regularly an hour or two ahead of us on the trail. They are faster, fitter and better acclimatized to the mountain. Unfortunately, that meant disassembling the camp that they had already set at Kosovo and quickly return back down to Barafu to get our camp built before the sun set.

While this was happening, Eddie gathered the troops and briefed us on what to expect the following morning, summit day. For me, it meant waking up around 3:45am and hitting the trail by 4:30am. Groups were scheduled to depart in reverse order – the slowest people left camp first while the fastest people left last. The goal was to coordinate our day so that all four groups would reach the summit together at approximately 2:00pm local time.

Eddie briefs the team on the evening before summit day.

Eddie briefs the team at Barafu Camp in advance of summit day.

Following the briefing, we packed our bags and made sure that we had only what was necessary for summit day. For me, that included five litres of water, three Ziploc bags full of trail mix, and plenty of energy gel packs. I threw in a Snickers bar, too.

In addition to food and water, I was carrying two iPhones, two DeLorme inReach satellite tracking devices, a satellite phone, a Canon PowerShot G15 camera and a Canon 40D digital SLR with a super wide angle lens. And of course, the essentials including several layers for warmth and rain gear. Even thought the skies had been clear for days, one can never be too prepared on Kilimanjaro.

It was a relief to have everything packed and ready to go before dinner. That meant I could relax before bed time. But nothing felt better than having my strength and energy back. After four days of fatigue and stress from altitude sickness, I was starting to feel myself again.

This is Part 2 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 1 and Part 3

– – –

The #Climb4Cord featured a group of business leaders who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in August 2013 and raised more than $350,000 in personal donations for the campaign For All Canadians, which is dedicated to building Canada’s new national public cord blood bank. Click here to donate to the campaign For All Canadians or for more information on the campaign please visit: http://campaignforcanadians.ca/

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#Climb4Cord: The most mentally draining day of my life

This is Part 1 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 2 and Part 3

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I was about 30 minutes away from reaching Moir Camp on the third day of the #Climb4Cord when I had officially run out of steam – for the third or fourth time.

Moir Camp is perched at the end of a massive gorge which allowed me to hear the songs of our porters, already in camp, echoing off the rocks as I struggled to finish.

Approaching Moir Camp on the third day of the #Climb4Cord.

Approaching Moir Camp on the third day of the #Climb4Cord.

I had already drawn strength from thoughts of wife Jess and our two boys. I had thought of friends and colleagues, childhood moments and months of successful training hikes. I even recreated the awful taste that was left in my mouth from a failed summit bid on Victoria’s Mt. Finlayson back in May. But now, I was out of options to propel me into camp. Getting to camp was the only option I had to buy some valuable rest time – rest that would make the difference on whether I could continue on the #Climb4Cord.

I had been struggling for a majority of the 8-hour day that began at 11,500-ft (3,505-m) at Shira 1 Camp. Thanks to the help of Eddie Frank – the owner of Tusker Trail – and the two official doctors on our climb, Dr. Neil McGee and Dr. Paul Doucet, I managed to drag myself within earshot of that night’s camp. We were now approaching 13,650-ft (4,160-m), but my tank was empty.

I took a knee and closed my eyes.

I’m not religious. I don’t consider myself spiritual (Eddie would disagree). However, I had no other option than to close my eyes and ask my late father, my inspiration for participating in this climb, for help.

I asked my dad to give me the strength to make it into camp and to keep my dream and pursuit of the summit of Kilimanjaro alive.

I’m not sure how long I stayed down on one knee, but when I finally open my eyes I was overcome with an incredible burst of adrenaline. I struggle to recall the final 30 minutes on the trail, except for the moments before we reached camp and Eddie told me that the singing was for me.

This was a bit of an exaggeration on Eddie’s part – generally the porters, cooks and guides welcome all climbers into this particular camp via song and dance. It just so happened that I, along with Neil, Paul and Eddie, were the final group to reach camp.

I don’t remember who took the pack off my back as I approached the massive cluster of singers and dancers. I did dance for a few moments before retreating to a rock to absorb the moment and reflect on the past several hours. The sun was still strong, beating down on my broken, dust covered body.

“Your father was with you,” whispered Graham Sher, the leader of both Canadian Blood Services and the #Climb4Cord.

I cried. Tears hidden only by my sunscreen stained sunglasses. I stared at this incredible scene of colour, song, and dance trying to recap in my mind what had transpired and why months of training and preparation had failed me. With so much on the line, what had I done to deserve this cruel fate?

Jaime Stein during the #Climb4Cord.

Reflecting on Kilimanjaro during the #Climb4Cord. (Credit: Graham Sher)

My day got off to a poor start. We were just two minutes along the trail and I couldn’t get my backpack to sit properly. I continued to fidget with it while I walked, loosening and tightening straps in hopes of finding the right groove. I hadn’t slept well, but I figured I just needed a few minutes to get my blood pumping and everything would return to normal, as it had on each of my 25-plus training hikes.

I’m generally a slow starter when I hike. I take a while to warm up, but once I’m going, I gain strength with each stride. Unfortunately, this was not the case on this day. In fact, things turned from bad to worse.

Uphill section on Day 3.

Uphill section on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord.

After a taxing uphill section of the trail forced me to take deep lunging strides, I finally came to rest on a large rock at the rear of the group. While everyone else started snacking, I couldn’t move. My mind was cloudy, my body weak. I no longer had a desire to talk, Tweet or eat.

I’m not sure how long I sat alone on the rock before Eddie and the rest of the guides in the rear of our expedition reached me. But Eddie instantly recognized what was wrong with me – I had altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness – or acute mountain sickness (AMS) – remains a mystery in the scientific community. While it is widely understood that it is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes, it is unclear what factors lead to people acclimatizing at different rates.

I was feeling fatigued, light-headed, and had little desire to eat. A lingering headache was also among the symptoms of AMS afflicting me at that moment.

Eddie, along with the two docs, helped me to eat and drink. The rest of the group packed up and proceeded up the trail. I stayed behind to hike slower and take more breaks to try and overcome what was now ailing me and potentially jeopardizing almost seven months worth of training.

August 8th, 2013 would become one of the longest and most mentally draining days of my life.

Between Shira 1 Camp and Moir Camp on the third day of the #Climb4Cord.

Between Shira 1 Camp and Moir Camp on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord.

My tears began to flow not long after I called out to my dad for help. They blurred my vision for the duration of the trek into camp.

“You showed a lot of courage,” I recall Neil telling me at the time. He, too, wiped away tears.

It was an emotional time for all of us. Proof that climbing Kilimanjaro was as much mental as it was physical.

Had it not been for Neil and Paul and the stories they shared throughout the afternoon, I’m not sure that I would have made it to camp. This simple act of teamwork disproved any illusions that climbing a mountain was an individual act. At this moment, it became abundantly clear that there was no way I was going to reach the summit on my own.

R to L: Paul, Neil, Derek, Mel and porters on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord.

R to L: Paul, Neil, Derek, Mel and porters on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord.

Despite the climb getting off to an inauspicious start – I slid back down a mud hill only minutes into our ascent, nearly wiping out a half dozen climbers – the first two days on the mountain were fantastic. Our team had been reaching our destinations in “record time”. We arrived at our first camp, a 4-hour hike to Mti Mkubwa, in only 2.5 hours.

The second day was similar to the first. It was our first full day of hiking and a sign that the weather gods would be on our side on this journey. As we raced out of the rain forest and across the Shira Caldera we saw the sun for the first time since arriving in Tanzania. It poked out from behind the clouds just before 10 o’clock in the morning and guided us all the way to Shira 1 Camp.

Day 1: Rain Forest

Day 1 in the rain forest.

I was using trekking poles for the first time and this allowed me to leverage my upper body strength and save my legs. I was feeling great – pleased that my rigorous training and preparation was paying off.

I enjoyed the mist in the rainforest and spotting the odd Colobus or blue monkey up in the trees, but mostly I was excited to finally be hiking after days of sitting around the Bristol Cottages in Moshi eating curry dishes and hydrating with water (and beer).

I was also building a pretty good rapport with the guides thanks to the basic Swahili words I had retained from my trip to Tanzania in 2007. By the time we had arrived at “Big Tree” camp to conclude the first day on the trails, my Swahili nickname had officially stuck. The guides had started calling me Tembo (English Translation: Elephant) because of my size and strength. We even spent time discussing personal bests in the gym, as the guides took pride in their ability to lift weights, too.

With my previous experience travelling to Everest Base Camp (Tibet side) in 2005, which sits at 16,900-ft (5,150-m) and my progress on the first two days, there was no reason to suspect that I would experience such a setback as early as the third day.

Receiving oxygen from Urio on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord at Moir Camp.

Receiving oxygen at Moir Camp from Tusker Trail guide, Urio, on Day 3 of the #Climb4Cord.

The problem with altitude sickness is that all of your strength becomes useless as your body struggles to adapt to its new environment. So leg pressing 700-lbs. 20 times or walking up and down five flights of stairs in a 40-lbs. weight vest meant fuck all at that point in time. In fact, only one stat mattered: My oxygen saturation level.

Each morning and night we were subjected to medical checks by the Tusker Trail crew. They would measure our resting heart rate and our oxygen saturation levels (often referred to as O-Sat) in addition to other variables.

A normal oxygen saturation level is between 95% to 100%. Some of the symptoms of low oxygen saturation levels I experienced at the time included: Shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and weakness, mental confusion and a throbbing headache.

C4C - Arriving at Moir Camp

Eddie and Jaime on the final approach to Moir Camp on Day 3. (Credit: Sue-Ann Blakely)

I sat on the rock watching the singing and dancing for about 15 minutes while sipping some tea with sugar. My resting heart rate was measured at 135bpm, which is what it would be after 30 minutes on an elliptical machine at the gym. My O-Sat was a startling 73%.

This was the cue for Eddie and the Tusker team to take me into the medical tent to see if they could provide a short term fix while my body struggled to acclimatize.

Eddie and his crew are incredibly experienced with health and safety on the mountain. Their solution was to put me on oxygen and stabilize my body so that it could then start to naturally acclimatize to the altitude.

Within seconds of breathing in the oxygen I started to feel more alert and my headache subsided. My sense of humor also returned. I was feeling good for the first time in hours. But I wasn’t out of the woods, yet. I would have to wait and see if my body could adapt overnight.

Preparing to leave Moir Camp on Day 4. (Credit: Graham Sher)

Preparing to leave Moir Camp on Day 4 of the #Climb4Cord. (Credit: Graham Sher)

After a restless sleep, I woke up exhausted. My body was feeling physically taxed from the previous day’s events. My legs felt like Jell-O and my knees hurt. It was like I had just played a contact sport non-stop for a week.

I had expected to feel much better, but recovering from altitude sickness was going to be its own challenge.

I spent the morning distressed because I was facing a difficult decision – whether to continue climbing despite my condition (my O-Sat went up slightly to 79% overnight) or descend knowing I had given Kilimanjaro my best shot. That meant failing to reach Uhuru summit like the 59% of trekkers who attempt this beast, in addition to the pain I would feel from failing myself and all the other people who supported me on this very public journey.

Uphill challenge on Day 4.

Uphill challenge on Day 4 of the #Climb4Cord.

Also weighing on my mind that morning was the fact that Tusker had had a 100% success rate on the Lemosho route in 2013. I didn’t want to be the one to break that streak.

Day 4 was going to be a challenge because it started off with a massive uphill hike. In fact, the goal of the entire morning was to reach the 15,000-ft (4,500-m) Lava Tower for lunch. That meant climbing up 1,350-ft (390-m) before descending back down to Barranco Camp at 12,950-ft (3,950-m).

All I had to do was get to Barranco Camp and I would be in a position to acclimatize at the lower altitude. If the trail was flat, my decision would have been easy. But the thought of hiking up to Lava Tower in my condition was excruciating.

In the end, we agreed that I would hike in the back with the docs and my own guide – Urio – and we would go slowly. Reflecting back on Eddie’s words to us the day before we started the climb, he said, “You go slow to win this race.” As it turned out, he was right.

Urio with a Giant Senecio in the Barranco Valley.

Urio with a Giant Senecio in the Barranco Valley on Day 4 of the #Climb4Cord.

The Alpine Moorland Zone on Kilimanjaro is stunning. We encountered all sorts of unique plants along the route. But as we climbed, the terrain became increasingly rocky. Clouds started to form as the temperature dropped close to zero. Soon, we were hiking through sleet.

By now, the rest of the group had reached Lava Tower, but we were about an hour behind. Given the changing weather conditions, we were re-routed along a porter’s shortcut down towards Barranco Camp. With Neil and Paul keeping me entertained with stories and Urio guiding us slowly, I was starting to feel better.

We descended into the Barranco Valley where we encountered Giant Senecios dotting the landscape. These massive odd shaped trees seemed more appropriate for a Sci-Fi novel than a mountain in the middle of Africa.

About an hour out from camp the sun returned overhead. This was met by giant clouds funneling their way up the valley towards us. The collision of sun and cloud created the most beautiful rainbow archway and welcomed us into Barranco. For some, it was simply a rainbow. For others, it was interpreted as a sign that things were about to change.

Rainbow as we descend into the Barranco Valley on Day 4.

A rainbow appears as we descend into the Barranco Valley on Day 4 of the #Climb4Cord.

This is Part 1 in a series of articles about the #Climb4Cord. Read Part 2 and Part 3

The #Climb4Cord featured a group of business leaders who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in August 2013 and raised more than $350,000 in personal donations for the campaign For All Canadians, which is dedicated to building Canada’s new national public cord blood bank. Click here to donate to my personal page or for more information on the campaign please visit: http://campaignforcanadians.ca/

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Social Climber: It’s Go Time!

26 - CBS FlagWith months of training in the books, there is little more I can do to prepare for the #Climb4Cord other than focus on rest and hydration. The physical game is over and the mental game begins in earnest.

Thankfully, I am able to draw on the 300+ kilometres of training hikes; countless hours in the gym lifting weights; and months of lying on a table getting my aches and pains worked out.

I’m also able to draw strength from friends and family, including more than 225 individual donors who have thrown their support into my corner.

But when push comes to shove, I will draw inspiration from my father, Dr. Howard Stein. He was a gentle soul who spent his life helping others and now it is my turn to carry the torch and do what I can to make the world better for the more than 1,000 Canadians who are currently waiting for a life saving stem cell transplant.

His spirit will be with me as I ascend Mt. Kilimanjaro.

26 - Howard Stein

We all have a chance to leave our mark in this world and if I’m remembered for just one thing, I hope it is for trying to make a difference and making the world a slightly better place.

I’m pleased to share that our team has exceeded our goal of $250,000 raised towards the #Climb4Cord and we now have our sights set on raising $350,000. Thanks to you and my generous supporters, I was able to surpass my initial fundraising goal by more than 100% and now I’m closing in on $25,000 raised.

The campaign For All Canadians also continues to drive forward with its fundraising efforts and we are well on our way towards raising the required $12.5 million to build Canada’s new public umbilical cord blood bank.

26 - Packing

I am days away from departing for Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. I arrive in Tanzania on Friday, August 2nd and we start our climb on Tuesday, August 6th. We are scheduled to summit on Monday, August 12th.

I want to ensure that you are able to follow our team as we climb and there are a few ways for you to do this:

There are so many people I would like to thank by name, but I fear I will leave someone out. Those of you who have helped me know who you are and I’m eternally grateful for your support.

Thanks to my wife and children for their help and support over the past six and a half months. You kept me going when I thought I couldn’t go anymore. Thanks to my immediate family who understood when I missed a dinner or didn’t return a call. Thanks to all of my training partners who worked out with me, ran hill sprints, joined me for a hike or helped me get into the right physical condition for the climb. There were over 50 of you in total.

Thanks to friends who checked in and sent notes of support via email, Twitter or Facebook. Thanks to ING DIRECT for believing in this cause and throwing its weight behind it. Thanks to colleagues who went above and beyond to promote the #Climb4Cord and for pitching in at work to help me out so I could squeeze in additional training.

Thanks to Canadian Blood Services and its incredible staff for taking care of all the details – large and small – on this incredible journey. Thanks to the team at Tusker Trail for organizing the logistics of our trip and to Roadpost for supplying the satellite gear for us to execute the social media component. Thanks to ExecHealth and Peak Centre for ensuring that we are physically ready for the climb.

Lastly, thanks to anyone who has taken a moment to promote or talk about the campaign and the need for a national public cord blood bank. We will only succeed if we do this together.

Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read these posts and joining me on this journey. There’s only one thing left to say: Suck it up, buttercup!

See you on top!!


The #Climb4Cord features a group of business leaders who will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in August 2013 with the hopes of raising $500,000 for the campaign For All Canadians, which is dedicated to building Canada’s new national public cord blood bank. Click here to donate to my personal page or for more information on the campaign please visit: http://campaignforcanadians.ca/

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Social Climber: Laser-like focus heading down the stretch

26 - Top of KiliI’ve never been much of a practice player – I much prefer the intensity and pressure of the big game. In other words, I’m an action junkie.

As the days wind down towards the #Climb4Cord, I’ve found myself sharpening my focus and pushing unnecessary distractions aside (like writing a weekly blog post).

Since returning from a business trip to Atlantic Canada and recovering from the Eastern leg of the Five Hole for Food tour, I have found myself training harder, eating better and sleeping a lot more. Most of my energy – mental and physical – is being directed towards the challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro over the course of nine days.

I’m also spending a lot of time ensuring that my body is just right. That includes stretching, athletic therapy with Erin, another vitamin IV drip with Dr. Dempster and now chiropractic work with Scott. In addition, I’m still getting in two days a week in the gym with Marshall as I build and maintain core strength (by doing activities like boxing).

26 - Boxing

To ensure that I’m ready for the rigours of hiking day after day, I have also increased the frequency of my hikes. In addition to hiking on Sunday mornings, I’ve added more mid-week hikes into the mix.

Robin, who is also training for the climb, and I put in just over 10km this past week in near 40-degree heat while Erin joined me a week ago Friday for a gentle evening walk of just over 7km. If not for the big thunderstorm this past Friday night, I would have logged another 7-10km hike.

To save on time, I’ve moved all of my hikes to the ravines around the Don Valley Brickworks. This is a short drive from home and it allows me to reduce my driving distance while also sticking to familiar terrain in the final weeks before heading off to Tanzania.

26 - Jaime Robin

The past couple of Sunday #KiliHikeTOs have been well attended as support for the #Climb4Cord continues to grow.

A week ago Sunday, I was joined by Robin and three classmates from the Rotman School. It is an ongoing challenge trying to stay in touch with classmates, for a variety of reasons, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to catch up on the trails with Deepa, Deepta and Nina.

This past weekend, we had a record sized group out for a #KiliHikeTO – 11 people in total.

Robin was joined by his wife and daughter, Sydney, who will be climbing Kilimanjaro with us. She’s entering Grade 12 in the fall and will clearly have an awesome story to share when she returns from Africa.

Another Rotman classmate, Mihnea, and his wife Emira brought along their 1 ½ year old son. They were troopers, carrying him for 4km of our 14km hike before parting ways.

26 - Group HikeOne of the side benefits of these hikes is that I get to catch up with people I haven’t seen in years, like my buddy Chris. He and I worked together back in 2008 in Wainwright, Alberta as media trainers for the Canadian Forces. We haven’t seen each other in about five years, but thanks to Facebook, it was like only a few months had passed.

A couple of regulars also joined on Sunday and it is great to have their ongoing support. Romi was back for her second hike. This weekend was quite the difference from our slog through the snow back in February. And Rachel and her son were along for their third hike, which is the most out of anyone not actually climbing Kilimanjaro, if we are only counting Sunday mornings.


The great team from Tusker will be supporting us during the climb, including preparing all of our meals. However, we are on our own for snacks.

IMG_5840Last week, my friend Robyn and I made a trip to Running Room to check out their selection of gels, gummies, etc. I spent the week testing out each of the products and narrowed down my choices for the actual climb.

This past weekend, I purchased all of my gels in addition to visiting Bulk Barn to make some custom trail mix. In the end, I created two types of trail mix. One version is pretty basic while the second version is what I like to call my “Fired Up Mix” and it includes chocolate covered coffee beans.

I’ve been known to be a little obsessive compulsive in my preparation – thankfully, my wife is of similar nature as she kindly worked with me for an hour on Saturday while we created the trail mix and laid out the gels to be distributed into Ziploc bags.

I mapped out the duration of each day of the climb and then figured out exactly how many gel packs and how much trail mix I think I will need to stay fueled up. I then labelled the Ziploc bags by date and day of the climb and put the requisite snacks into each bag.

26 - Snacks

This will make life easier for me on the climb as I will only have to grab the corresponding bag of snacks each day instead of trying to figure out how many snacks I’ll need for the day while worn down and exhausted.


Technology has increased leaps and bounds over the past decade. But one thing that hasn’t changed much since the mid 1990s is batter power. This is the one thing that continues to cause concern for me heading into the #Climb4Cord.

My primary goal is to reach the top of the mountain, but my secondary goal is to deliver outstanding social media coverage of the climb, specifically on our official @Climb4Cord Twitter handle and on the Canadian Blood Services Facebook page.

The biggest challenge we face is battery life. For devices such as the Delorme inReach, which will transmit our location to a map via satellite, this isn’t an issue because we can simply replace the two AA batteries daily. However, for devices that have rechargeable batteries, we are facing an uphill battle.

This includes iPhones, satellite phones and corresponding satellite enabled WiFi modems. Not to mention personal devices like iPods.

We have purchased some HyperJuice Plugs which can keep the iPhones charged – assuming that these don’t lose their power in the cold, too. For the sat phones, we have four batteries, which should be enough to get us through the climb. Unless, of course, they react poorly in the cold. This is the same issue with face with the WiFi modem. It has three batteries. Enough to get us through nine days on a mountain, but maybe not if they stop working when we hit the summit, which could be as cold as -20 degrees.

26 - BatteriesI ran an experiment on Saturday night where I put the batteries in a hard shell Pelican case and added in one of those hand warmers that people generally put in their gloves when they ski. Unfortunately, the hand warmer requires oxygen for a chemical reaction to take place to generate the heat. As soon as the Pelican was closed, it cut off the supply of oxygen, so the hand warmer went cold.

I’m looking into other ways to keep the batteries warm. This includes keeping them in an inside pocked close to the chest or, as my buddy Liam suggested, stuffing them into the finger holes of warm gloves and sticking a hand warmer in the palm of the glove while it sits inside a backpack.

I have also considered putting the batteries inside the pockets of our down parkas – this should be a pretty warm spot to keep them functioning for when we need them most.


We reached another milestone in our fundraising efforts this past week. Our goal was to raise $250,000 in donations towards the #Climb4Cord and we have passed that total. With a couple of weeks to go before we take off to Africa, I’m hopeful that we can push closer to $300,000.

Personally, I’m now over the $21,000 mark. I’d love to get to $22,000 by the start of the climb, but hitting $25,000 would be special.

26 - Rotman Crew


We are just over two weeks away from starting our climb up Kilimanjaro. I’m leaving Toronto on August 1st and flying via Amsterdam. I will arrive at Kilimanjaro International Airport on the evening of August 2nd. That gives me a few days on the ground to sort out our electronic gear and also get myself rested and in the right headspace before we start our ascent.

We start climbing on August 6th and we are scheduled to summit on August 12th.

You will be able to track our progress on this interactive map and also receive updates via our official Twitter feed @Climb4Cord.

It has been an incredible journey over the past seven months. It would not have been possible without the support of so many people and I am thankful to have such a great circle of family and friends. But one person stands out: My wife Jessica, who has sacrificed so much so that I could take on this challenge. Without her, this wouldn’t be possible.

The #Climb4Cord features a group of business leaders who will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in August 2013 with the hopes of raising $500,000 for the campaign For All Canadians, which is dedicated to building Canada’s new national public cord blood bank. Click here to donate to my personal page or for more information on the campaign please visit: http://campaignforcanadians.ca/

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