Scouts tidy up trail on Mount Kilimanjaro

St. Thomas troop scales mountain to haul off trash left by climbers

by Don Faber, Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter


It's one thing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  It's quite another to come down laden with other people's trash.

Boy Scout Troop 8, run by St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor, returned July 9 after three weeks in Tanzania.  The high point of the trip was conducting a cleanup of Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet the highest point on the African continent.

Kilimanjaro, like Mt. Everest, has suffered from the effects of accumulated trash left by climbers on its popular routes.  Eight scouts and three adults each filled about five 30-gallon trash bags and carried them down the mountain.  "We barely made a dent" said Desti Pilon, 18, of Ann Arbor.

Troop members organized the trip, which included a week's hiking, a couple of days of safari, and service work in the remote villages of the North Pare mountains.  They had plenty of local help. Stamos+Travel got discounts on airfare.  Journeys+International supplied discounts on ground logistics.  Bivouac kicked in gear and discounts.

The troop raised money from can drives and general fundraising, but the bulk of the money came from the proceeds of building and installing lofts in University of Michigan dormitories, courtesy of a student-run group in the loft business.

The boys learned some Swahili "to travel appropriately in the culture," said Bob Geier, 37, of Ann Arbor, coordinator of Scouting for the parish.  "We wanted to know enough of the language to be respectful."

On the mountain, the Scouts removed tampons, broken beer bottles, lots of toilet paper (despite the presence of pit toilets) and "every variety of Power Bar wrapper," Geier said.

Troop 8 took eight days going up Kilimanjaro and two days coming down.  They worked the back side of the mountain and camped in designated spots.

"We could have spent three whole days up there cleaning out trash," said Chris Wiseman, 15, of Ann Arbor, who was in charge of planning the trip. 

Why Kilimanjaro?  "It's one of the Seven Summits" - the highest peak on each continent, said Pilon, one of the elder statesmen of the troop.  "We wanted a chance to go out big."  Other Scouts who made the trip were Luke Elliott, Tim Kieras, Shawn Pate, Erik Lyons, Terry Smith and Colin Forgacs.  The adults who accompanied them were Geier and assistant Scoutmasters Russ Todd and Ian Darnell.

Troop 8 is about 60 years old.  The 40-member troop includes Scouts 11-18 years old and is headed by Scoutmaster Jamie McDevitt of Ann Arbor.  It was the first troop in the area to teach environmentally conscious "Leave+No+Trace" camping.

While the Scouts were in Tanzania but not working on Kilimanjaro, they stayed in schools in villages, assisting in cleanup work.  It gave them a chance to relate to natives on a more personal level.  Pilon found the difference in conditions between Tanzania and the United States startling. 

What are the most lasting images of the trip?

Pilon recalled spending a day in a Masai village where tribe members are nomadic herdsmen and seeing flies on children's faces.  "It's considered bad luck to shoo them away because they're associated with cattle, their source of livelihood," he said.

Elliott, 18, of Ann Arbor remembers "the people we met, especially our guide and cook from the Chagga tribe.  And the view of the crater at the top of Kilimanjaro was pretty amazing."

Also, the strain of climbing Kilimanjaro is something he'll remember the rest of his life.  "We had to push ourselves pretty hard to get up," he says.  And coming down with all that trash wasn't so easy either.