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the shoes of kilimanjaro HIG H-ALTITU DE FOOTWEAR FETISHES SOMEHOW, OVER THE DECADES, THE WRITERS, PHILOSOPHERS, FILM DIRECTORS AND ARTISTS THAT HAVE WAXED POETICAL ABOUT KILIMANJARO HAVE IGNORED THE SHOES. HEMINGWAY'S "THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO" DOESN'T ONCE MENTION FOOTWEAR. MY ODD RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MOUNTAIN'S SHOES STARTED IN LATE 1996 when I landed a job to write a climbing guide to Kilimanjaro. My wife and I planned our trip as if we were mounting an assault on K2. Never mind that the mountain requires lit­ tle more than some steep hiking if you take its most popular routes. We assembled dozens of lists: things to do, people to call, diseases you can catch. We also made lists of gear: Tents, warm clothes, ropes, accessories. Nearly every item was a simple matter of yes or no. Yes, we need it, no we don't. BUT THINGS GOT FUZZY WHEN IT CAME TO FOOTWEAR. Would river-rafting sandals or sneakers be better in the hot, dry towns? Would sneakers be adequate for walking through the jungles on the lower part of the mountain? Would I need plastic mountaineering boots at the top, or would leather boots suffice? In the end, after much profound soul-searching, I packed one pair each of sandals, sneakers, high-topped canvas boots, and mid-weight leather mountaineer­ ing boots. I also threw in a pair of down booties, for around camp and in the tent. And once my pile of footgear was combined with Ann's flotilla of sandals, boots and loafers, we had 12 pairs-enough to fill one of our duffle bags entirely. On January 2, we began the first of six routes we would climb by walking through the montane forests covering Kilimanjaro's first 1,000 meters. I was wearing sandals, Ann her walking shoes. Our guide William wore a pair of crummy sneakers. They were at least six sizes too big and made him look like he was wearing clown shoes. I later learned they had been donated by a German tourist. Our porters-Michael, Alan, Mohammed and John-wore beach thongs. About as sturdy as a cardboard box in a typhoon. Regardless of the state of their .. . .,.., .,',-.,,"" tree roots, Ann and I tripped hither and thith- er. As they sped along rough slopes below the southern glaciers, we skidded and fell, unsure of ourselves on the gravelly rhyolite. And the porters did all this with 35 kilos on their back. Ann and I used trekking poles for balance and carried only day packs that might as well have been filled with styrofoam peanuts. footwear, none of the porters or William seemed the least bit handicapped. Indeed, while they deftly maneuvered over slick wet That evening I exchanged my san­ dals for camp booties. Ann put on some lightweight hiking boots. As we crept ever higher, Ann and I changed shoes every half day or so. SNEAKERS TO CANVAS BOOTS. CANVAS BOOTS TO WALKING SHOES. As we fussed over our feet, our Tanzanian friends-in their beach thongs­ watched in amusement. When we reached the highest camp, the porters finally changed their footgear. Michael put on a pair of penny loafers, the seams split and resewn with white string, the soles slick as ice. Alan and Mohammed both put on ripped sneakers. John put on a pair of worn leather wing tips. We sat around a small fire the night before our final day of the climb, eat­ ing, laughing and sipping mugs of tea. Secretly, we regarded each others feet. At 1 AM Ann, William and I rose and toiled up five kilometers of frozen grav­ el to the summit, where, predictably, we ran into a crowd milling about in the dawn light, celebrating their few minutes of glory on top of Africa. Three German tourists wearing green neon Koflach plastic mountaineering boots stood side by side with local guides sporting leather street shoes. A British cou­ ple, in $300 leather hiking boots and gaiters slapped the back of an apprentice guide who wore a pair of lightweight vinyl cross-coun­ try skiing shoes. A few days later Ann and I bumped into Mohammed on the streets of Moshi, the small town at the base of the mountain. He was wearing very nice, very new hiking boots. Ann and I politely gril led him. "THESE?" HE ASKED IN RESPONSE TO OUR ACCUSATORY FINGERS. "THESE ARE MY GOOD SHOES. I WOULDN'T TAKE THEM UP ON THE MOUNTAIN. I WOULD­ N'T WANT TO RUIN THEM." As I watched Mohammed walk back across the street to rejoin the porters vying for a week's employment, a reworked version of Hemingway's famous 60-year-old words came to mind. "There, ahead, all he could see, as crappy as any product in all the world, tragic, worthless, and unbelievably flimsy on the trail, were the shoes of Kilimanjaro." '

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