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Mom, son climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Joel Feinman and his mother, Peggy, above the snowline on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Joel Feinman and his mother, Peggy, above the snowline on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Name: Peggy Feinman and son Joel Feinman

Age: Peggy, 57; Joel, 29

Job: Peggy, retail sales; Joel, law student at the University of Arizona

Height: Peggy, 5-feet; Joel, 5-8

Weight: Peggy, 97; Joel, 160

Weight before you trained for the climb: Same

Fitness accomplishment: Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), the highest free-standing mountain in the world, in Tanzania, Africa. They did the climb during Joel’s winter break from December to January. They reached 15,600 feet, but because of a blizzard, had to turn back before reaching the top.


Peggy: Healthy all of my life. I used to lift weights, play tennis and teach dance. At present I hike, and do yoga, Pilates and NIA (a type of aerobics that combines dance, martial arts and yoga) at Bodyworks Studio. Hiking is something I’ve enjoyed for a long time. I go hiking about once a week, and I’ve hiked most of the trails in the Catalina Mountains. When I was 16, I hiked Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain peak in Maine (5,268 feet). I hiked the Grand Canyon with Joel when he was 14. I have also hiked Mount Aspen and the pyramids in Mexico. I love being outdoors in the fresh air, and hiking is physical and fun.

Joel: I was born in Tucson and moved to Scottsdale when I was 5. I moved to Chicago for college, lived in Japan for a year and then in New York for two years. I returned to Tucson in 2003 for law school. My health is good. I exercise five days a week. When I was 14, I hiked the Grand Canyon with my mom and my math teacher.

Why did you want to make this climb? What inspired or motivated you?

Peggy: I think just because it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world, and my son asked me to climb.

Joel: My mother and I were at Balboa Park in San Diego about two years ago watching an IMAX (video) on Africa. The IMAX had a scene that talked about the snows of Kilimanjaro, so I turned to my mom and said it would be cool if we climbed Kilimanjaro. It seemed like an incredible experience and the fact that I could do it with my mother, and the fact that we had the time and ability to do it made me think it was something I shouldn’t pass up. It also beat the hell out of spending the weekend in Rocky Point.

What did you do to train for the trip to Mount Kilimanjaro?

Peggy: I love climbing Tumamoc Hill on Sundays. It’s a great short (3.1 mile) cardio. I go up and down within an hour. When I was training, I’d go up and down twice with three gallons of water on my back.

Joel: I was told that if you are in decent shape you don’t have to do any special training because the hike itself is not that strenuous. The difficult part is the altitude. The only thing I did to prepare was switch from the stationary bike to the Stairmaster.

How long did it take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (how many days, hours per day, etc.) What was the weather like during your climb and how did that affect your progress?

Peggy: We were set to climb for nine days. We climbed for six. We hiked about eight hours a day but that included breaks and lunch. We would climb for five hours and then rest, but it’s very slow. You go “poli-poli.” That is Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” The reason they go slow is to acclimate you to the altitude. It rained and snowed all six days that we were on the mountain. There was snow in places that they had never seen snow before. The weather didn’t slow our progress. We just hiked through it. We made it to 15,600 feet. The day we were to summit we woke up to 20 inches of snow. No one on the mountain made it to the top for at least two days.

Joel: The weather was absolutely crappy. After the first day the sun went away and never came back. It was raining the first three days, followed by ice storms and snowstorms. It took us seven days to get about three hours from the top, at which point we got stopped by the worst blizzard (the guides said) in Tanzanian history. The night before we were supposed to summit, our tent was buried under 3 feet of snow and the guides had to dig us out. I was disappointed, but the experience was far more important than actually summiting. We are going to go back one of these days and do it again.

How difficult was it?

Peggy: It’s not a hard hike, although there were some switchbacks. For somebody who is not a hiker they might think it’s very hard to hike. You don’t use any ropes or ice picks, nothing like that. It is pure walking, and you walk very slowly. I would never tell anyone who hasn’t hiked before to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but if you are a hiker then you might enjoy something like this. When things got hard for me I used my breathing from Pilates. We do a lot of core work so that helped me in training for the mountain.

Joel: In good weather it’s a very easy climb if you have any kind of climbing experience. The five-day route has only a 52 percent success route versus the nine day route, which has about a 95 percent success rate. The thing that turns people back in good weather is the altitude. That’s why we took the longer nine-day route, and we didn’t get altitude sickness. The problem for us was the weather.

What did you think of the experience?

Peggy: The experience was amazing. When you hike Mount Kilimanjaro you go through a rain forest. Then most of the way up the mountain is very volcanic and rocky, not much different than the trails in Tucson.

Joel: I loved it! It was fantastic! I’d go back in a second. I loved just being in Africa, doing something that exotic and out of the ordinary. I enjoyed meeting the guides who were uniformly incredible people and very nice men. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” – if it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me.

What would your advice be to others in Tucson wanting to take on this challenge?

Peggy: Pilates really helped my breathing when we were climbing the switchback portion of the mountain. Endurance, cross training and having a strong core is a key. Also, choosing the right company to lead you on this journey is very important. We chose F & S Kiliwarrior (www.go-kili.com/kilimanjaro.htm) and it was by far the best company. The guides, food and knowledge of the mountain were first rate. (You have porters and they carry all the tents, food and your clothes. The only thing you carry is your daypack.)

Joel: The best advice I could say comes from the novel “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. In his novel one of his characters states that exotic travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God. So my advice is when you get an exotic travel suggestion, take it as a celestial ordained dancing lesson and go to it.

What do you normally do to maintain your fitness level?

Peggy: I exercise two to five hours a day at Bodyworks Studio. I eat healthy – a lot of salads. I don’t eat much meat. I take vitamins. I drink a lot of water. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I don’t do fast food.

Joel: I exercise five days a week. I do a half hour on the Stairmaster, a half hour of cross training and about 45 minutes of weight lifting.

What stands out in your mind about the trip? Did the experience change you in any way?

Peggy: You’re in the southern hemisphere so the stars at night were truly awesome. I’m always up for a new challenge and this was great to share it with my son.

Joel: I was surprised by the beauty of the surroundings and the splendor of Africa. I think the trip brought my mother and I closer together, which is a fantastic thing, and it let me explore more of the world, which is always a good thing. We climbed in a group with four other people. It was an eclectic group of people from all over the world, including a dermatologist from Manhattan who was the living image in every way possible of (Seinfeld’s) George Costanza. We called him Kilimanjaro George Costanza. It was hilarious.

What is your new fitness goal?

Peggy: I’m still exercising about two to four hours a day and hiking on Sundays. Joel and I are determined to return to Mount Kilimanjaro sometime in the near future. This time we will do it in seven days in the summer instead of nine days in the winter. I am also training for a three-day 60-mile cancer walk that I will do in November in San Diego with my friend, a cancer survivor.

Joel: I don’t know. We’ll see what the next IMAX movie has in store.

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