If you’re shivering wherever you are, just be glad you’re not doing it while trekking up the highest mountain in Africa. After the first day of hiking on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as part of the Summit On The Summit project to raise awareness about clean water, singer Kenna called MTV News from his satellite phone on Thursday (January 7). He says conditions at base camp are already more challenging than he ever imagined. “Everything’s great,” said Kenna, who attempted and failed to make it to the 19,340-foot summit of “Kili” five years ago this week. “It was a bit harder than I expected. ... The route we took was more difficult, with more rocks. We had to cross a river a few times, and there were more ups and downs than the first time I did it.”
And that was just the first two-hour hike of a seven-day, 50-mile journey up the mountain that is part of a campaign to raise awareness about the need for clean water in developing nations around the globe. The climb will be chronicled in a 90-minute documentary slated to air on March 14 at 9 p.m. on MTV. In addition to a number of eminent scientists, Kenna is joined on the trek by actors Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch and Isabel Lucas and musicians Lupe Fiasco and Santigold. Along the way, they’ll be posting tweets, photos and video blogs about the climb on SummitOnTheSummit.com.
After leaving a village near the base of the mountain at 5:30 on Thursday morning, Justin Wilkes, an executive producer on the documentary project, said the team took a two-hour ride over bumpy dirt roads to a gate near the base, where everyone had to get out and have their packs weighed to make sure they were all under 20 kilograms. “Then we drove up through a tropical rainforest, where it was in the mid-80s, for another two hours and pulled up around a corner, and there was a huge team of porters waiting for us. It was an unbelievable sight. We’re in this post-apocalyptic landscape and there are dozens of people standing there.”
Wilkes said once they passed through the rainforest the temperatures dropped much lower than the group expected, with daytime highs in the 40s and nighttime lows in the 30s. “There’s quite a bit of snow on the mountain,” he said. “We spent two hours walking across this mostly flat, rocky, shrubbish plateau, and the mountain was entirely enshrouded in clouds until we got to the base camp. And when we arrived the clouds suddenly parted, and it was like, ‘Holy sh–! It’s really high!’ It looks much higher than anyone expected it to.”
All the hikers are carrying personal packs with clothing, water bottles and daily amenities. While everyone did OK on the first day, there were already some issues with altitude sickness, which caused headaches, nausea and dehydration. The stakes will be raised on Friday, when a six-hour day of trekking will take the group up 4,000-5,000 feet. “As far as the eye can see, it’s just an uninhabited nothing,” Wilkes said of the area surrounding the mountain. “You might as well be on the moon. One thing we’re all conscious of is that there’s a lot more snow on the mountain than there has been historically. Usually, it’s just on the cap, but almost three-quarters of the mountain is covered in snow, so we’re nervous about it getting really cold, really steep and the air getting much thinner.”
Kenna said his tent mate, Lupe, is acting like a veteran, even though he’s a mountain-climbing rookie. So far, the rapper is holding up just fine, even though he made the first-timer mistake of trying his boots on just one day before the climb began. “He says he’s a veteran,” Kenna joked. “He went to sleep a lot later than me and trekked as much as I did and drank a lot of water and took some medication [for altitude sickness].
“I think this is a monumental occasion,” Kenna continued, speaking over the sounds of his fellow climbers celebrating the end of an exhausting day. “You have people of all different cultures and creeds and histories on a climb of Kilimanjaro representing other people in the world, including people that can’t represent themselves. You can go on the site and see the excitement of people trying to do something difficult, who took time and energy and put their hearts into it, knowing full well it’s for others.”
Offering his high school superlatives for the first day, Kenna gave Santigold the “Best Dressed” award thanks to her spray-painted boots with gold laces. Lupe earned “Most Likely to Go to Bed Early From Fatigue.” Hirsch got props for being the funniest, Biel for being the most focused, Lucas “Most Likely to Succeed Mother Nature” due to her love of the outdoors and himself the “Most Likely to Summit and Jump Up and Down and Scream Success After Failing Once” designation.
“When everyone summits, that’s the point where we will be able to speak to the world from the top of the world and say, ‘This is the global clean-water crisis. If you’re not paying attention, it will happen to you.’ “Check back with MTV News for more updates from Kenna and his friends during the climb and tune in to “Summit on the Summit” on March 14 at 9 p.m. on MTV.