Realtor Richard van Zyl climbs Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, with David, his guide for the six days up and two days down the volcano. Van Zyl and two other climbers were escorted by two guides, a cook and 12 porters in October 2009.
Photos courtesy of Florida Realtor magazine.
SEBASTIAN, Fla. – Reaching for the heights comes naturally for Richard van Zyl, a sales associate with RE/MAX Crown Realty in Sebastian. In his real estate career, he strives for the peak of professionalism. And, he knows how to climb to the top to achieve his personal aspirations, too.
In October of 2009, he accomplished a boyhood dream by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. Van Zyl was born and reared in South Africa; reaching the top of the volcano was one of the goals he set for himself during his youth.
“When I was 12 or 13, I made a book of goals and things that I wanted to do. Along with this, I wanted to do an overland trip through Africa straight to Cairo, Egypt. I wanted to kayak Ten Rivers. And I wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, and date a model, and get married,” he recalls.
To prepare for the climb, van Zyl trained for three months at sea level, 3.7 miles below Uhura Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro’s highest point at 19,336 ft. Of course, finding high ground in Florida isn’t easy, he notes.
“There were a couple of bridges near me in Euro Beach that go over to the ocean, and that was about the highest point that I had,” van Zyl says. “So then I started jogging and swimming and doing some weight lifting, but I mostly did aerobic exercises. And I started going up and down the stadium steps at the high school, but that was a little bit too intense, so I opted for the bridges that were longer and an easier climb. I did this kind of training for about three months.”
On the day of his climb four years ago, all van Zyl’s bridge running and preparation paid off. In the early morning sunshine and below freezing temperatures, he was overcome with joy on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. However, on his moonlit pre-dawn climb to the summit, the then-53-year-old had an emotional panic attack from fatigue and low oxygen, so much so that he hallucinated and couldn’t even take a step.
"I started thinking about how I’ve tried to do this since I was a little kid. I couldn’t breathe, and I thought, ‘Oh, shoot. I’m not even at the summit: Am I gonna die now?"
“You have black volcanic rocks, sand and then white snow and ice all around you,” says van Zyl of the climb on the dormant volcano’s crater. “If you’ve ever seen when they speed up film—the clouds go by real fast and you see plants growing—I was seeing that. I was seeing the clouds move that fast, the ground was making sound, the ice was crackling, and it looked to me like the black volcanic sand was moving.
I somehow pulled it together—probably the hardest moment in the whole [six-day] climb.”
The trip took six days up and two days down the volcano. Van Zyl and two other climbers were escorted by two guides, a cook and 12 porters, who carried the base camp equipment and supplies.
Once at the top, it was all worth it, van Zyl says. “It touched me emotionally and connected to things that have happened in my life. Here I’m climbing this mountain that I’ve been trying to do since I was a kid. It was a fantastic experience.”
Still, at that time, once it was all over … “I said never again – but I’m actually thinking of doing it again with my daughter now.”