Shanthi Sivendran, M.D., always wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
But it took a 3 a.m. fried chicken feast to convince some friends to go with her.
Dr. Sivendran started hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing at Penn State University, joining a mountaineering club there and while attending medical school in Ireland. She also completed a month-long Outward Bound program in California’s High Sierras.
Now that she practices at Hematology & Medical Oncology, Dr. Sivendran takes short backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail with Dr. Kristina Newport, of Palliative Medicine Consultants, and another physician friend.
Dr. Sivendran and three girlfriends who are lawyers in Washington, D.C., decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro -- Africa’s highest mountain, at 19,341 feet -- while sharing post-party fried chicken early one morning.
“It’s one of the highest nontechnical mountains in the world,” she said. “You just need your two feet and good hiking shoes,” and no special equipment or skills.
Dr. Sivendran got advice from others who had climbed Kilimanjaro, including Dr. Ron Jacob, of The Heart Group. To condition herself for the climb, she trained with a friend who was preparing for a marathon. Her husband Sen isn’t a climber, but he helped her pack.
The four friends traveled to Tanzania just after Christmas 2014, combining their Kilimanjaro trek with a safari and some beach time. Their party included 11 climbers, five Tanzanian guides, porters and a chef. (The food was fantastic, but Dr. Sivendran lost 12 pounds due to the exertion of the climb and diminished appetite from the altitude.)
“I brought a ridiculous amount of snacks, like chocolate and Goldfish crackers,” she said. “But the Combos I brought were the biggest hit with everyone on the trail. I would barter them away.”
The group took seven days to acclimatize and reach the top of the mountain, and two days to descend.
“The climate and terrain change dramatically on the mountain,” Dr. Sivendran said. “At the base, you’re basically in a rain forest, wearing shorts. At the top, there are glaciers and you’re wearing everything you brought.”
Dr. Shanthi Sivendran
The group began the final ascent at midnight, reaching the summit just after sunrise. The altitude left everyone very short of breath and made the climb laborious. Their water bottles and camera batteries froze, but thanks to Dr. Jacob’s advice, Dr. Sivendran had brought a disposable camera as backup.
“We were at the very top for about three minutes to take pictures,” she said. “It was an amazing view. You could see for miles.”
The climb was one of the most difficult physical challenges Dr. Sivendran has ever endured. The altitude’s effect on her stamina made even rolling up her sleeping bag difficult.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” she said. “It was definitely worth it though. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”
The four friends planned to climb in Patagonia, South America, at the end of 2016. But it turns out Dr. Sivendran won’t be joining them. She’s expecting her first child in July.
“I’ll be having a different kind of adventure,” she said.