Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

A New Mexico man climbs Kilimanjaro on his second attempt

LAS CRUCES, NM – Las Cruces businessman David Hill failed in his first attempt to scale Africa’s highest mountain. His leg broke about 4,000 feet from the summit of Kilimanjaro and he had to be carried down the mountain.

Hill, now 62, is the owner of Ride On Sports, a sporting goods store for biking, hiking, backpacking and other activities. He was determined to return to Africa and take a picture on the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

In December, less than three years after suffering the serious injury, Hill successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet high.

“So many people have said to me, ‘You inspire me to do this and that,'” Hill told Las Cruces Sun-News. “It wasn’t my intention, but I’m definitely glad people are getting inspired.”

First try and rehab

Hill said that when he started trail running — a combination of running and hiking — about five years ago, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro soon became one of his goals. Hiking the numerous trails in the Mesilla Valley was his training.

In January 2019 he set out for the first time to Tanzania with his brother-in-law, who is also a hiker. Hill explained that there are about eight treks up Kilimanjaro, lasting between four and nine days. He and his brother-in-law teamed up with local tour guide group Zara Tours and ventured on the seven-day trail.

On the fifth day, Hill slipped and fractured his left shin. It was pouring rain and he said there was no way for an evacuation team to reach them. Hill said Salim, a hiking guide, carried him on his back to an altitude of about 11,000 feet to meet the evacuation team.

“There I lay instead of peaking,” Hill recalls. He flew home a few days later with a full cast.

At home, he opened an Instagram account to document his recovery and time in physical therapy. After undergoing corrective surgery to repair the trauma to his leg, he ended up receiving a 6-inch metal plate and nine screws. Recovery, along with physical therapy, took almost a year, but in late 2019 Hill said he wasn’t making any progress.

“They went and had an MRI on my knee and I had torn my ACL. So I don’t have an ACL, I had torn my PCL and I tore my meniscus,” Hill said.

Doctors agreed that surgery would not fix the damage, so Hill had to “hug” himself with a carbon fiber brace that now serves as a stabilizer for his knee.

About a year ago, Hill said he attempted Kilimanjaro again with his family. The response was overwhelming support.

“I created a six-month training schedule that included four 3-mile runs per week and one 6-mile run per week,” Hill said.

He also joined a friend’s hiking trail that ran the southwestern peaks and hiked the Organ Needle every three weeks for vertical training. He ventured onto the needle again in mid-November, saying he realized he was physically ready for Africa.

“I did the needle hike all by myself and it was 4 hours and 15 minutes, which is up and down, which is extremely fast. I noticed that I wasn’t tired at all on the ascent. I just did it,” he said.

Second try

Hill began climbing Kilimanjaro again on December 6, with almost the same group of guides who took him on his original attempt. The group followed a four-day trail this time. He said he reached the summit before sunrise on December 9 and was the second person to reach the summit that day.

“It was just one of those moments where I had been working on it for so long. It was such a focus and there was such a relief. I mean I had such a great time and there weren’t any physical issues,” he said.

And now that he’s achieved his long-cherished goal, Hill said he doesn’t feel the need to go back. This chapter is over and he’s ready to take on his next challenges. He and a friend plan to climb Mount Whitney in California in the spring and then travel 40 miles from rim to rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

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