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Fifth Grader Scales Kilimanjaro Tallest Peak In Africa; Masai Spear ‘Really Cool’

Sun., May 25, 1997

Standing on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro may not have stirred Brenton Johnson more than kicking a goal for his soccer team or ripping rebounds in Hoopfest.

But if details are important in life, the fifth grader at Colbert Elementary seems to have an enviable perspective of mountain climbing.

“There were tons of spiders,” he said, when asked about the highlights of his December climb.

“And I caught lots of lizards. One bit my finger and wouldn’t let go until my dad got it off.”

Brenton traveled in Kenya and Tanzania last winter with his father, Jeff Johnson, leasing director for Kiemle & Hagood Co.

Seeing the huge volcanic massif sprouting from the African plain was an irresistible temptation, even though Jeff knew that climbing the highest peak in Africa isn’t kid stuff.

The mountain is reputed to be the highest in the world that can be climbed without ropes and special mountaineering equipment. Yet the trek requires a minimum of five days and a grueling ascent from 6,000 feet to the summit on Uhuru Peak at 19,340 feet.

That’s a pretty serious jump for a kid whose only previous expedition was a scramble to Hunt Lake in the Idaho Selkirks.

The highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro is the continent’s premier trekking destination. The Johnsons used two guides and porters for the Marangu route, a well-worn path. Although it’s known as the trekker’s highway, cold and altitude have foiled thousands of less hardy summit-seekers.

Brenton had to walk 5.5 miles the first day to the Mandara Hut at 8,858 feet near the upper edge of the forest along the flanks.

The next day, he marched 10 miles into a high alpine desert to Horombo Hut at 12,200 feet. The third day, he slogged several miles farther to Kibo Hut at 15,430 feet.

Brenton’s summit climb began at midnight. “We ate weird pancakes (made of potatoes), mushroom soup, lots of tea - too much tea,” Brenton said, noting the guides were sticklers about hydration at such high altitudes.

“I had a stomachache and everything tasted disgusting,” Brenton said. But he had come prepared.

“I had some Air Heads and Butterfingers in my pack. Dad had some Power Bars.”

They worked their way through the darkness using headlamps, the guides encouraging Brenton through moments of fatigue.

The majority of the people who complete the climb reach the crater rim called Gilman’s Point at about 18,800 feet. Brenton was among the minority that pushed another hour and a half to reach the true summit at Uhuru Peak.

The group was on top, mugging for summit photos at sunrise, 6:25 a.m. on Dec. 20.

“I’ve never got up that early before,” he said, referring to the effort that began at midnight. Perhaps he’s never had such a long day, either.

From the summit, Brenton, his father and two guides hiked three hours down to the top hut. They rested briefly, then walked down to the halfway point at Horombo Hut where they ended an exhausting 15-hour day.

Thinking back to the experience, Brenton said the moments he spent on the summit were largely a blur. Memories are keen, however, of eating limes as he would eat an orange, swinging on vines in the jungle, seeing monkeys and Masai camel herders.

“You should see my spear,” he said. “It’s really cool.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

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