Prairie Village couple reaches peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Leah Wankum - August 2, 2019 11:00 am
Kyle Shipps (left) and Lilian Valdez of Prairie Village climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in five days in July. Photo courtesy of Lilian Valdez

Prairie Village residents Lilian Valdez and Kyle Shipps have just returned from Tanzania after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

With an elevation of more than 19,000 feet, the mountain took the couple five days to climb up and back down.

Valdez said they climbed five hours every day from July 2 to 5. And on July 5, they awoke at 11:30 p.m. and prepared for “the hardest, coldest and most brutal climbs so far.” They climbed up the last five hours on a steep incline in the dark, only seeing the line of lights ahead from other climbers. They dealt with altitude sickness, nausea, headaches and exhaustion, but ultimately reached the summit at 6:05 a.m. July 6.

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“If you time it correctly and you have a good pace, just like we did, the last 30 minutes, you see the top of the mountain and you’re almost there, the sun starts to rise,” Valdez said. “It’s very cloudy; every day the clouds roll in. We got a very good day, so you’re above the clouds. We just see the clouds and the sun starting to rise. It was absolutely beautiful.”

They had trained in the Colorado Rockies to get acclimated to the altitude. And they had their trip booked a year in advance. But even then, the air on Kilimanjaro was still thin at the summit, with about a 15 to 20 percent reduction in oxygen saturation.

“It is like you’re breathing through a straw,” Valdez said. “We still got altitude sickness; we both got nauseated and didn’t want to eat very much. But when we got to the top, we didn’t really have a headache.

“We were both very conscious, very present, which I was very happy about, because I want to go to the other seven summits, and I think we can do some other ones that are a little bit taller because I think we did really, really well.”

Days to go up, hours to come back down

The climb took the couple a few days to reach the top, but only a few hours to come back down. Photo courtesy of Lilian Valdez

After all of the planning and climbing, the duo spent about 20 or 30 minutes at the top, and then they headed back down the mountain at a run. It took them about four hours to get back down the mountain.

They traveled with two guides and nearly a dozen porters who helped carry their camping gear.

The trip was particularly romantic as it commemorated the globe-trotting couple’s second anniversary. Between the two of them, they’ve had stints in China, Mexico, Iceland, Peru and the Philippines. And on this particular trip, added Singapore, Dubai, Qatar, Kenya and the island of Zanzibar to their list.

“For me, it was just a challenge that I thought I could do,” Valdez said, adding that Shipps wants to visit every country in the world.

The couple returned to their Prairie Village home on July 16.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a spelling error. Kyle’s last name is spelled Shipps.

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