African High

Cheyenne Doig climbed to the summit of Africa’s Kilimanjaro . . . and then came the hard part
Ozaukee Press staff

At 22 years old, Cheyenne Doig has crossed off climbing the tallest mountain in Africa off her bucket list.

But she wasn’t satisfied with just that. Cheyenne and her father Bob Doig, a Port Washington native, signed up to do an obstacle course nearly 19,000 feet above sea level as well.

The pair registered for the World’s Highest Obstacle Course Race, a new venture that has climbers complete physical tasks near some of the most iconic peaks on the planet.

First, they had to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a tall task in itself.

“From the beginning, I was there to summit. Anything else was going to be a bonus,” Cheyenne said.

Cheyenne, a 2017 Cedarburg High graduate who lives in Breckenridge, Colo., trained for the trek for a couple of years by climbing six 14,000-foot mountains near her home on one-day hikes.

Her African adventure, however, was a seven-day climb, and another challenge developed.

“As it got more publicity, it started attracting world athletes,” Cheyenne said of the obstacle course.

Olympians, X Games gold medalists and ultra marathon runners joined the trek.

“I did more training because I knew I was going to be with all these athletes,” Cheyenne said.

Besides climbing, she said it helped to just be living in Breckenridge, which is 9,600 feet above sea level where “you can barely breathe.”

Their group of 42 was one of the largest on the mountain and included people from 26 countries, including a 16-year-old from Russia. Cheyenne was the second youngest.

After six days of hiking, the group reached base camp at about 15,300 feet.

Reaching the summit would take one day, but Cheyenne’s father didn’t join her. Bob couldn’t catch his breath and developed fluid in his lungs, one of the final two symptoms of altitude sickness; fluid in the brain is the other. He had to start descending the mountain immediately. Parting, Cheyenne said, “was very emotional.”

Cheyenne was told her father was nearly fully recovered the next day. “I felt like such a little mountaineer getting a radio message,” she said.

Cheyenne continued on, starting the summit trip in the middle of the night. It was cold and windy, their tents had frost on them and all she could see was fellow climbers’ head lamps.

Cheyenne developed a headache during the final 4,000 feet, but others had worse symptoms. Someone’s legs stopped working and another had her oxygen level dip below 50%, which is dangerous.

At Kilimanjaro’s peak, the air only has 49% of the oxygen compared to sea level.

“You can take a big breath. There’s just no oxygen,” Cheyenne said.

As a result, the body moves at a slow-motion pace. “Your limbs feel really heavy,” Cheyenne said.

The group had a team of 400 porters and cooks, and they were fed large amounts of rice, potatoes and vegetables.

“People were having a hard time finishing meals,” she said.

But loading up on carbohydrates is important. The body’s digestive system slows down at high elevations and stops at 18,000 feet, so reserves are necessary.

Several hours into the final climb, the group got a boost.

“The sun came up, and that was wonderful. It helped morale,” Cheyenne said.

The temperature began to rise, eventually reaching about 70, and the wind started to blow mountain dust around.

Cheyenne and most of the group made it to the top in 6 hours, 15 minutes, which is 45 minutes faster than the average. They had two hours to start descending. What’s known as the death zone, she said, starts at around 18,000 feet, at which point humans only survive for so long.

But Cheyenne and her new friends weren’t quite finished. “We summitted and we still had  the obstacle course to do,” she said.

Cheyenne descended for about 45 minutes before reaching a crater with 10 obstacles. Completing five in a given amount of time is the World’s Highest OCR’s requirement.

“There were people pretty much dropping like flies” and Cheyenne had a “pretty bad headache,” but she made up her mind to do the first five obstacles.

“If your body will allow it your willpower can get you through it if you want something,” she said.

Cheyenne crawled under a net, walked on a balance beam, carried a 25-pound sandbag, climbed over a cargo net pyramid and scaled a low wall.

In normal conditions, she said, she could have blown through the obstacles in five minutes. At 18,885 feet, it took half an hour.

After that, descending was a faster trip. Oxygen levels increased and Cheyenne began to feel better, but it was more technical. The step-and-slide process caused her ankles to become “just trash.”

Back at 5,000 feet above sea level, Bob met his daughter at the gate with a mountainous hug.

Her accomplishment sunk in during the awards ceremony at the hotel. Documentation was sent to Guinness seeking the record for the highest obstacle course in the world.

 “I was so proud of myself and everyone I was with,” Cheyenne said. It was the first time she felt like she was part of an athletic team. She grew up skiing, rock climbing and dancing, but didn’t participate in team sports.

Adventure sports and travel have been part of Cheyenne’s adult life. She has studied in Micronesia in the western Pacific, learned to be a yoga teacher in Hawaii, spent time in Amsterdam, Paris and Portugal, worked as an intern at a surf retreat in Costa Rica and lived in Door County.

She likes tourist towns because visitors “romanticize your daily life,” she said.

Cheyenne is attending Arizona State online and majoring in conservation biology.

Someday, she plans to return to Mount Kilimanjaro, which she descibes as “by far the most beautiful place in my entire life,” and explore other mountains, perhaps base camp at Mount Everest.




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