Delano man takes dream hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

May 19, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

When Delano’s Steve Dahlman stood on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa he witnessed breathtaking beauty.

This beauty and the sense of accomplishment he felt after hiking to 19,300 feet above sea level are things he will never forget.

Though it was the first time Dahlman traveled to Africa, it was not his first hiking adventure.

Beginning as an attempt to keep in shape, he started hiking about five years ago, and has enjoyed hikes throughout the United States including five, 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado.

In 2006, he went with a friend to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Omni Theatre and watched a film about hiking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. As they left the theater Dahlman knew that was something he had to do.

Dahlman, originally from Cokato, married his wife, Helen, and moved to Delano in 1978 where they raised two children, Beth and Jim. He is a union concrete finisher by trade.

With Helen’s support, he began the training and preparations to make his dream a reality. Proper attire was a necessity, including synthetic clothing to rid perspiration from the body and repel water, a high-tech coat, which is rain proof but breathable, along with other pieces of equipment.

With the costs of his January trip, guide service, and gear, Dahlman spent more than $5,000 to make his dream come true, but admits it was well worth the expense.

“The summit was very rewarding,” Dahlman said. “The whole thing was a journey, from getting ready, to the hike.”

His brother-in-law Jim Vermilya and friend Rudy Storm went along for the 11-day trip to Africa.

Their journey began in the rain forest, and the three Minnesota men were in a group with five other hikers.

The organized tour through Tusker Trail consisted of three guides and 34 porters to carry tents, food, and gear.

The porters were local people who spoke Swahili, and did not speak English well. These men carried supplies ahead of the hikers and set up camp for each night.

Bathing was made possible by using baby wipes, and water was filtered from melting glaciers for drinking. Because of the effects of altitude, medical vitals were checked twice a day using a pulse oximeter and a stethoscope.

“The altitude effect was amazing,” he admitted. “Here on ground, I have a resting heart rate of 45 to 50 beats per minute (BPM). At 14,000 feet, it was 75 BPM while resting, and after walking 30 feet to use the bathroom tent, it was 120 BPM.”

Traveling at high altitudes can be hazardous, even if one is young and in great shape. One person in their group had to end his hike when he suffered from pulmonary edema, a form of altitude sickness.

Dahlman required a dose of oxygen on his last night up the mountain, but otherwise the only trouble he had was difficulty sleeping.

During the day, temperatures were between 40 and 50 degrees. There were a few times when their water froze overnight, inside the tents, due to dropping temperatures.

There were three hot meals each day, and Dahlman said he was impressed at how delicious they were.

“Three hot meals a day,” he said with a smile. “I remember thinking that’s better than I have at home.”

It took the group seven-and-a-half days to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro where they spent about half an hour admiring the sites and taking pictures.

Only one-and-a-half days were needed to make the trek back down the mountain, and each hiker was presented with a certificate of completion.

The next morning, Dahlman and Vermilya embarked on an African Safari in an open Land Rover, where they witnessed wildlife in natural habitats.

For six days, they stayed in tented villages. Next to their tent they saw hyenas running down the hill after a night of hunting.

A herd of elephants walked about 60 feet from where they stood, and one night they heard zebras eating grass right outside their tent wall.

Many things about this dream trip are memorable to this avid Delano hiker, and last week he gave a presentation to eighth grade science students at Dassel-Cokato Middle School about his experiences.

One thing that concerned Dahlman was the effect of global warming on glaciers.

“They are disappearing,” he said. “I saw two glaciers that had been touching seven years ago. Now, they are a quarter mile apart, and they say in twenty years there won’t be any glaciers left. Many people count on them for water, personal uses, and irrigation.”

Dahlman has no plans to stop hiking anytime soon, and though he will have many hikes in his future, Mount Kilimanjaro will stand out as one of his most memorable.

“I would do it again,” he said. “But there’s a lot of other things I’d like to do first.”

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