The view's much better from the top. Just ask Ben Porter, the 16-year-old Rockport resident who just recently came home from climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Through Rustic Pathways, a student travel organization, Porter and 11 other high school students from across the world, some from Australia and Venezuela, reached the peak of Africa's highest mountain, clocking in at 19,341 feet. Only eight made it to the summit.
"I've never been that high before," he said. "And the altitude was crazy. I've never felt anything like that before."
The Porter family — Ben, parents Mary and Gary, and 14-year-old brother Collin — all share an interest in climbing, hiking and the outdoors.
"My dad would always used to take me hiking up in New Hampshire," said Ben. "And I've done that since I was little."
Just last year, he finished the "New Hampshire 48," a challenge for hikers to reach the peak of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are 4,000 feet or higher. This milestone took him three years to complete.
Like Ben, Gary was introduced to hiking by his father. Over his life, he had back-country skiied in South America, but "has never been as high up as Ben has, and he's only 16."
Ben first heard of Rustic Pathways through a coworker of his father's earlier in the year. The Kilimanjaro trip caught his eye, and he signed up without knowing anyone else going.
Mary Porter felt the trip would do her son some good.
"I did think it was important for him to experience something foreign and different, to get out of your little world and experience something much bigger," she said.
Besides, Ben had plenty of physical experience to tackle such a monumental accomplishment. In addition to hiking, he interns with Cannon Mountain Ski Patrol in Franconia, New Hampshire, during the winter months. At Rockport High School, he's part of the tennis team and previously played first base on the school's baseball team.
Ben's first overseas trip didn't just include the hike. After touching down in Tanzania on June 20, the group spent a full week learning about the local culture.
"We went to a traditional village where nobody speaks English, no running water," said Ben. "They live in huts. Very traditional. We were there for two days."
On the seventh day of their trip, the group began their seven-day-six-night hike at around 5,000 feet above sea level.
The first day began with a 6-hour hike through the rain forest. Ben described the 4,000-foot elevated hike to camp one as "long, but not too hard."
The second day, however, is where he began to feel the cold and elevation. Camp two was above the rain forest's tree lines, about 12,000 feet up from sea level.
"That's where it started to get cold and pretty miserable," Ben chuckled.
Ben continued to face the elements, averaging around 5 hours of hiking in temperatures reaching the teens for the next three days. On day five of the hike, he faced his toughest task — the climb to the summit.
Not only was the climb and the cold difficult, Ben said, but the sparse amount of oxygen at 15,000 feet above sea level caused its own hurtles.
"There was so little oxygen in the air that you start to hallucinate," Ben said, mentioning that one of his friends said he saw a fish walking by the group during their climb.
Eventually, by the end of the day, the eight climbers made it to the peak, but not for long.
"The top is so high and there so little oxygen that if you stay there for longer than, like, five minutes you risk getting brain damage, he said. "They call it a 'red zone.' We were there for maybe a minute, took a picture and left."
Right after, the group began their decent: a hike that lasted around 15 hours with periodic stops to rest and eat. The next day, before returning home, the climbers were treated with a day at the hot springs in Moshi, Tanzania.
Since getting back to the states last Wednesday, Ben said he's looking forward to "finding more things to do" this summer before entering his junior year in the fall, such as hiking and rock climbing. As for now, he doesn't have any plans to go on another excursion like one he just completed, but Ben said he's open to the idea of doing something similar in the future.
"It was eye-opening," he said of the hike.
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.