Dordt College News

Gritters and Sons Scale Africa’s Highest Peak

May 1, 2008


Written by Dan Breen and posted by permission from
the Northwest Iowa Review

Most people would have a hard enough time spelling Mount Kilimanjaro.

Try climbing the 19,000-foot Tanzanian mountain. The challenge turned into the thrill of a lifetime for 68-year-old Lyle Gritters, the former Vice-President of Advancement of Dordt College who joined two of his sons in reaching the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain in February.

Lyle and sons, Lyndon, a 1984 graduate of Dordt College, and Lance, a 2001 graduate of Dordt College, have made a hobby of venturing to new outdoor places on foot. They have been to the Grand Canyon of Arizona, Zion National Park in Utah and the Boundary Waters along Minnesota’s Canadian border among others.

Lyndon, who does a fair amount of mountain climbing, tossed out the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a couple years ago, but it did not become a reality until 2008.

"It’s a mountain that can be accessed without the technical mountain climbing equipment. This is one that the inexperienced climber can do," Lyle said. "I finally said, 70’s around the corner, so if we’re going to do this, we better do it now,"

In preparation for the adventure, Lyle trained for a couple hours daily on a stationary bicycle and an inclined treadmill.

The Gritterses had little time to mentally prepare for the challenge once they got off the airplane. They arrived at their lodge in Arusha, Tanzania, at 11 p.m. on Feb. 3 and by 7 a.m. the next day they were at the base of the mountain.

Every climber in Kilimanjaro National Park is required to go with trained professionals licensed by the park. A guide and assistant go along with every group as well as three porters who carry all the camping equipment and a cook goes along as well. Nine individuals were in the Gritters climbing group.
Climbers must hike five days to get to the summit.

Because Tanzania is close to the equator, the temperature at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro was about 80 degrees when they left. The first stretch of the trail winds through a lush forest, but it’s not long before that changes. In fact, by the time they reached the summit, air temperatures were about 10 below zero.

"You have to take clothing that helps you adjust," Lyle said.
Although physically challenging at times, the hike up the mountain gave back in its breathtaking views.

"It’s incredible scenery. It’s just spectacular," Lyle said.

He got tired from time to time, but he never got exhausted until the final 4,500-foot climb to the summit on the last day. The group left from its camping site at about midnight in order to get to the peak by the sunrise. Early arrivals are said to get the clearest view from the top.

Although he had no doubts that he would be able to make it to the top, Lyle had to take extra breaks during that final stretch to catch his breath in the thin air.

"I didn’t sleep very well the night before. It was steep, rugged and it was at night so you couldn’t see very well," he said. "The last couple of hours I was glad for every minute I spent on that treadmill."

Getting to the peak was rewarding, but being able to do it with two of his sons at his side was just as rewarding.

"That’s what really made it wonderful," Lyle said. "This was so special because of the location and the height of the mountain."

The hikers made it back down the mountain in two days, and as a reward to themselves, they went on a four-day safari trip to the Serengeti plain after they got back.

Lyle and his wife Muriel are retired and spend their winters in Phoenix. They have five children and 12 grandchildren. Lyndon is a radiologist in Jamestown, NY. Lance is an attorney living in Waverly.

They were not on the plane home long before they began to think about the next challenge the three might be able to tackle.

"We’ll probably come up with something," Lyle said. "It has to be something challenging for my boys, but something I can handle, too. "

They may have a difficult time topping this one.

"Ten years ago I never would’ve imagined I would do this in my lifetime," Lyle said. "It’s going to be hard to duplicate."

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