Dan Adams follows behind Kyle Maynard as they climb to the top of Stone Mountain. Maynard and his team have also climbed No Barrier Summit in Winter Park, Colorado as well as Blood Mountain in Georgia.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free-standing mountain. Comfortably nestled among three of the largest lakes on the planet, it rises to a daunting 19,340 feet near Tanzania's northwest border with Kenya.
Ernest Hemingway once mused about its peak as follows: "Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude."
Kyle Maynard wants to climb it.
Get to know Kilimanjaro
• Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet high, making it the tallest mountain in Africa and the fourth-highest of the Seven Summits
• Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania, near the country’s northwest border with Kenya
• Stone Mountain is about a one-mile hike. The trek Kyle Maynard and his team will take is about 40 miles and will take 16 days
• The origin of Kilimanjaro’s name is unknown
• Kilimanjaro was first climbed in 1889 by German geologist Hans Meyer, native scout Yoanas Kinyala Lauwo and Austrian Ludwig Purtscheller
• As many as 35,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year. It is considered the world’s highest non-technical peak.
Maynard's story is well documented. The description "congenital quadruple amputee" means the Collins Hill graduate was born without arms and legs below what would be considered his elbows and knees. Now 25, Maynard was a successful wrestler and football player before parlaying his life story into a motivational speaking career.
His autobiography was a New York Times bestseller and his journey to compete as a mixed martial arts fighter was chronicled in a film for ESPN.
The next adventure is a mountain called Kilimanjaro.
Maynard called it "the ultimate trek," and for good reason. Unlike other famous peaks like Everest or K2, "Kili" is not very technical. In fact, it's the tallest non-technical peak in the world. It is, essentially, a very long, very unforgiving hike.
"I think we're going to have no idea what it's going to be like there," Maynard said recently at his Suwanee townhome, drinking a cup of tea and idly rolling an orange around a countertop.
Come January, he and 11 compatriots -- old friends, new friends, climbing pros and military veterans -- will find out.
How he'll do it
It began in Colorado with a few hotel towels and a roll of duct tape.
Soon after Maynard was introduced to Dan Adams, now co-leader of the excursion dubbed Mission Kilimanjaro, the duo found themselves out west and trying to figure out a way for Maynard to go "hiking." The only way for Maynard to do it is to essentially bear crawl, leaving the ends of his "nubs" vulnerable.
Thus the towels and duct tape, used to fashion some admittedly ill-conceived protective gear.
"It's definitely not a succeeded-out-of-the-first-gate type of thing," Maynard said with a laugh.
Over time and several trial runs, they've tried a number of different things: oven mitts, "foam stuff" and a "strap system" included. At one point Maynard gave some "fancy" devices made for prosthetics a try. It was less than successful.
"The material wouldn't breathe at all, a tremendous amount of sweat pooled up," Maynard said. "We made it probably 400 meters in an hour and a half."
During a recent trek up Stone Mountain, Maynard used kayaking foam placed inside chalk bags placed inside pieces of mountain bike tires. With a little extra duct tape on his contact points to prevent blistering, it seemed to work well.
Best friend and manager Joey Leonardo, who will also be taking on Kilimanjaro, said the first time Maynard tried the most recent combination of gear it took three hours to assemble. Last week it took only 20 minutes.
"Really the training process has been refining our equipment, finding what works and doesn't work," Adams said. "Each time we've gotten a little more efficient."
This week, Maynard will fly to Arizona for a second fitting for specially molded, carbon fiber "gloves and boots." They too will have a bike tire-type surface on the exterior. The hope is they'll make what's become a pretty comfortable climb an optimal one.
"It's amazing," Maynard said, "because it was so miserable hiking in some of the other stuff. But now it's so much fun."
Challenges he'll face
Kevin Cherilla has climbed Mount Everest, and led the basecamp of Erik Weihenmayer when he became the first and only blind climber to summit the world's highest peak. He's led blind men and a paraplegic up Kilimanjaro. He's the perfect guide to lead Maynard and crew on their journey.
"We wanted the best," Adams said.
Cherilla has allotted a total of 16 days for the group to be on the mountain, far more than the week or so typical for his average climbs. Because Maynard will be bear crawling the entire 40-or-so mile journey, the group will have to move slower along with him. Extra rest days have been built in.
"It's never been done before," Adams said, pointing out there have been attempts at Kilimanjaro by amputees using prosthetics. "It's not like there's a manual, these are the steps you need to follow to do this. That's part of the fun in this challenge."
The main challenge confronting Maynard, Cherilla said, will be preventing blisters, something the guide of 17 years is well-versed in.
"You could have a $30,000 (prosthetic) leg, but the sweat still pools up inside," Cherilla said. "He's going to be covering almost 40 miles on Kilimanjaro, and as long as we can keep the blisters off of his stubs he'll be absolutely fine."
Maynard may actually have what he called "some weird built-in advantages" when it comes to acclimatizing during the climb. Altitude sickness, to oversimplify, occurs when you can't get enough oxygen from the air, and its affects can be made worse because of the body's need to deliver blood to the extremities.
To put it bluntly, Maynard's extremities are less extreme than the average able-bodied person. Body cycle times are a lot faster.
Another challenge: While Kilimanjaro has not had a major eruption in hundreds of thousands of years -- or any activity in at least 200 years -- it's still a volcanic peak. For that reason it's very dry and dusty, covered with a type of ash called "scree."
Because Maynard's face will be so low to the ground, other climbers will have to be particularly aware of kicking up dust around him. Maynard will experiment with bandannas and painter's masks to see which works best.
All things considered, Cherilla expects Maynard to be able to succeed.
"What I find is (people with disabilities have) come up with systems all of their lives to overcome their challenges, whether it's tying their shoes or walking around the house or going to the grocery store," he said. "They have a drive and determination to be successful because they've had these barriers to knock down their whole life."
Why is he doing it?
He's not doing it to prove anything. He's doing it for the experience and, hopefully, to inspire.
"The whole thing comes down to the experience. That's it," Maynard said. "I know once we're standing on that summit, the feeling that's going to come over all of us from what we put in to get there, there will be no feeling like that."
Like everything else in his life -- sports, writing, speaking -- this mission is about pushing himself, doing something no one ever thought he would be able to do. To say it's not for anyone else isn't quite true: It's not a bitter, prove-everybody-wrong mentality that drives Kyle Maynard, not a desire to show doubters what's what.
When he does these things, his life's work, for other people, it's not for them. It's for those who need inspiration, those who need a reason to believe, those who doubt not him, but themselves.
"That's the message that we want to deliver to people," Adams said, "that regardless of any obstacle that you confront you have an ability to overcome it. Nothing can stand in your way."