Due to the remarkable path his life has taken thus far, Dr. Joel Batzofin writes with a profound perspective, honed by his intelligence, compassion and depth of experiences. He was born and raised in South Africa at a time of racial divide under apartheid; chose a career in medicine partially as a result of his experience growing up with a brother who had a birth disorder; and, currently helps couples fulfill their dreams of growing their families by creating life as an infertility specialist in New York City. Batzofin's Kilimanjaro book takes the reader along with him as he attempts to climb the world's tallest mountain (measured from base to summit), and reach “The Roof of Africa”.
Batzofin was the leader of his team of seven climbers that included his wife, his daughter, three of his daughter's friends, and a co-worker from his infertility practice in New York. His story wonderfully illustrates the thrills and challenges one feels on the mountain and it brought back many of the emotions I felt when I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2004. During my post-climb long return flight from Tanzania back to California, I wrote this poem to document and attempt to mentally process my experiences during my eight days on the mountain:
Serpentine stepping skyward through rain, hail, snow and thinning air
Continual focus on the goal Uhuru at 19,340
Tanzanian support team humbly controls your destiny
Porters charging upward heaving heavy head topped loads
Diuretic Diamox robbing the body of hydration, helping acclimatization
Respect for nature's power, beauty and diversity from rainforest to arctic moonscape
Oxygen deprivation, weakness, headaches, victory is uncertain
Dripping ice descending downward as the team of 24 heads higher and higher
Glaciers, 98% melted, retreating toward their final farewell
Eight days took us above the clouds to the roof of Africa
Planet's tallest mountain is the journey's reward; we came and saw
I had so much admiration for the pure strength, athleticism and thoughtfulness of the support team and porters during my climb. Having grown up in Africa, Batzofin shares a special bond with the team of Tanzanian guides that helped him while on the mountain. Throughout the account of his time on Kilimanjaro, I felt like I got to know these prodigious and talented men as though I was reading about my favorite characters from a well written novel. Batzofin and his team of Americans thanked these Tanzanian expedition members in ways that will warm your heart and remind you how lucky we are to enjoy life's simple pleasures like drinkable water, shelter, access to medical care, food, etc.
Batzofin takes his reader through a journey of understanding the physical, mental and spiritual (his definition of God is a wonderfully unique and powerful perspective) relationships he and his team had with the mountain. He finds inspiration, as well as mental and physical strength from the love he shares with his older brother, Eric, who became severely brain damaged due to complications associated with his umbilical cord depriving him of oxygen during his birth. He is as skilled describing the climb's stunning beauty while hiking through every climatic zone found on Earth, as he is describing the medical explanations of HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Being the leader of his group, he felt the added burden of the responsibility to make sure the entire team reached the goal of summiting and returning safely to the mountain's base. Climbers die each year on Kilimanjaro, and as a physician, Batzofin was all too aware of the many deadly risks involved.
From a more practical standpoint, Batzofin does an excellent job of discussing the do’s and don'ts of preparing for the adventure. He speaks about what he learned from his time on the mountain and gives the reader informative tips for how to best lay the groundwork for a successful climb of “Kili”. For example, Batzofin did not bring a critical item that costs less than $10 and weighs a few ounces. Not having this item cost him dozens of hours of precious sleep. With this loss of sleep, he was at greater risk of respiratory illness, which could be the difference between success and failure.
I will not divulge the outcome of the climb or how many of the seven team members reached the elusive and challenging 19,340 foot summit, Uhuru Peak. You will definitely enjoy the read to find out for yourself. I owe a big THANK YOU to Joel for his expert leadership of this expedition as the safety of one particular member of his team was constantly on my mind during those eight days culminating in January of 2014. One of the seven expedition members was my 25 year old daughter, Mychaela!