Achieving Great Heights
Kendal Resident and Amateur Photographer, Tom Wilson, Became One of the Oldest People to Scale Mt. Kilimanjaro
Meet Tom Wilson, a retired pediatrician from Princeton, NJ, who has made the Upper Valley home base for his many travels. The amateur photographer and his wife, Joan, frequently explore far-flung destinations – he in search of wildlife and scenery, and she preferring locations with cultural and historical significance. Their wander-lust has led them to scuba dive in Papua New Guinea, trek in the Andes, float down the rivers of France, and explore much of Canada.
Between trips, the Wilsons live at Kendal in Hanover, where the couple actively contributes to their community. Tom volunteers weekly at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, doing rounds and assisting medical students on their projects. His wife plays piano for the dementia unit at Kendal. Both Tom and Joan sing with the University Chorus at Dartmouth and enjoy taking classes through Osher Life Long Learning Institute. An avid swimmer, Tom participates in Masters Swimming at White River Aquatics Center. He’s also known to present photographs of his travels to residents at Kendal and for several years at the Montshire Museum’s Magic Carpet exhibit.
Tell me about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
About 15 years ago, we went to Kenya. When I was in some of the game parks, I looked south and saw Kilimanjaro on the horizon. It’s an amazing glorious mountain. Those views whet my appetite for climbing it.
In July 2013, I went with a tour group called Mountain Travel Sobek. Our group consisted of approximately 12 tourists, a main guide, porters, and junior guides. The most common route to take up the mountain is the south-east slope, but our route went up the western breach. Kilimanjaro is a 19,000-foot volcanic peak with a crater at the top. A bit of that crater has come off the western side, creating the breach. We climbed across the crater to the peak.
The most challenging part of the hike was adjusting to the altitude. It’s not technically a difficult climb but many people from other tour groups were forced to drop out because they could not adjust to the altitude. Our group took the hike more slowly, but everyone got to the top.
When we finished our guide told me that I was the oldest man to climb the western breach. The guides felt it was their mission to get me to the top, and they called me the Swahili name for grandfather, “Babu.”
Where are you going next?
In a couple of days, I’m going to Yellowstone. I’ve been there a number of times. Winter time is special because the crowds are down, and the wildlife is more available. The animals come down out of the high hills, and it’s a chance to see the big herds of elk and buffalo. Recently, they re-introduced wolves in Yellowstone, and I will be going on a safari to photograph wolves.
What do you look for when you are setting up a photo?
I love looking for interest groups, especially a mother with her young -- I was a pediatrician. While on a trip to Alaska, I looked from a ridge and down at a mother bear and her three cubs. She was scurrying along eating berries, and cubs were like kids rolling around and playing. She wanted to teach them how to go into the berry patch and feed, but they were too busy playing. It’s that kind of interaction that I like to photograph. I like to tell a story.
All photos courtesy of Tom Wilson.