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Recently, on National Geographic's Beyond the Edge blog, author Tim Ward has been promoting his book Zombies on Kilimanjaro. No, don't worry, this is not the latest zombie fiction that is all the rage these days (note to self: write adventure travel zombie fiction). The zombies Ward refers to are him and his twenty-year-old son, Josh. They, along with about 40,000 other people every year, set out to summit Kilimanjaro, which has been dubbed "Everyman's Everest."
As Ward outlines in his post Ten Reasons to Climb Kilimanjaro, the reasons for the mountain's popularity are legion. Did you know that there are direct flights from various European cities to the Kilimanjaro airport? I didn't. That convenience factor aside, Kilimanjaro is an amazing natural wonder; in Ward's words, "a snow covered mountain on the equator, an ocean of green forest surrounded by dry savannah. Climbing Kilimanjaro is like walking from the equator to the North Pole in a week, providing dramatic changes in vegetation and animal life day by day." And though the altitude effects most people, it is not a technical climb that requires ropes and belays. It is a hike, though a taxing one from all accounts. Here's how Ward describes it: "As you near the frozen summit in the dead of night, sucking in air that seems too thin to breathe, you stagger toward the top looking something like a shuffling, brain-dead zombie. It seems a strange transformation, like something out of the Thriller video. But in fact, the real change hits after you reach the peak."
So that explains the whole zombie theme; it makes quite a bit of sense. But it is the "change" Ward references that was the driving factor in his decision to make this climb with his son. No longer a boy, Ward wanted to do something with Josh that would challenge him and bring the two of them closer together, something that would evolve their father-son relationship. In his second blog post for National Geographic, Ward describes their final push to the summit. Josh had a particularly difficult time with the altitude, but he pushed on, struggling every step of the way. They both made it to the top. Afterward, rehashing the ascent, Ward recognized that his son had made the climb on his own and for himself. "I realized," Ward writes, "as I spoke that two zombies had died that night on Kilimanjaro. A child and a parent. It was just two friends who walked down the mountain together."
It seems that climbing Kilimanjaro forges all sorts of relationships, whether familial, romantic or platonic. Travel with others tends to bring them together, especially if there is some adversity (though much can be said for bonding with someone over cold drinks on a beach). The Ward men had their own reasons for making this trip and that's the best reason for anyone to make a trip.