By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
FROM TANZANIA – For Barbara Jean Morris, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the fulfillment of a promise made to a friend.
“A high school dear friend had decided to summit on his birthday three years ago,” the SUNY Oneonta president said over email. “But he unexpectedly passed away, so the trip was canceled. I decided that it would be special to summit on my 60th birthday.”
On Friday, July 26, Morris, now finishing her first year as SUNY Oneonta’s president, made it to Kilimanjaro’s summit, Uhuru Peak, 19,340 feet. A photo on SUNY Oneonta’s Twitter account showed her in front of the peak sign, holding a cardboard figure of Red, the college’s Red Dragon mascot.
Growing up, Morris’ parents were members of the Sierra Club and often took her and her older sister hiking on trails in California. “My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the Army so he taught my older sister and me survival training before I was 10,” she said.
She hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail, both in California.
She also hiked Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, and then went to Death Valley, the lowest point, in the same day. “It was a bit crazy,” she said. “But it was a nice bragging point.
As provost at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colo., she continued to hike, including doing three “14ers” – the mountains in Colorado with elevations of at least 14,000 feet – in two days.
She left for the trip on Wednesday, July 17, and began the climb on Friday, July 19, reaching the summit in five days.
“I chose to do a solo trek because I wanted to do it at my pace,” she said. “But you have to have a guide to hike Kilimanjaro.”
In the days leading up to the summit, the conditions were treacherous. “It was harder than I anticipated,” she said. “There was a lot of loose gravel, mud and ice, so I was very cautious because I did not want to get injured before the summit.”
The treks to the summit involved a lot of altitude gains and losses, which caused sickness among fellow travelers. “I don’t mind climbing up but the downhills were hard,” she said. “Others that were trekking had headaches, vomiting and other stomach issues. Many were taking oxygen, and there were many helicopter evacuations.”
She started for the summit at midnight. “I was fatigued on the way up,” she said. “But my guide kept me going.”
And she was rewarded for her effort. “I made the first summit at Stella Point at sunrise,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
It was only 220 meters to Uhuru Peak, but it took her another hour to reach it. “It was crazy to me that it took seven hours to go three miles,” she said. “But it was at 19,000 feet.”
During her hike, Morris met other hikers, guides and area natives. “I met many people along the way from all over the world,” she said. “Ot is wonderful how we came to support one another even with language barriers – we build a community over a common purpose! I am still processing the trip but I am stuck by the kindness of my team and the people of Tanzania.”
And if she goes again, maybe she won’t go alone. “The trek covered rainforest, desert, alpine forest and volcanic terrain,” she said. “I wish I had a geologist with me!”