From the top of the Key to the top of Africa

Author: Share:

Siesta Village businessman Mike Granthon makes a mid-life pledge that he finally keeps by scaling Mount Kilimanjaro

By Hannah Wallace

For his 50th birthday in 2020, Mike Granthon wanted to do something spectacular. He was already a successful hospitality entrepreneur — he’d co-owned the Beach Club in Siesta Village for more than a decade — but the late nights in the service industry were wearing on his health. He told himself he was going to revamp his diet and his lifestyle. And he wanted to mark the change with a phenomenal adventure.
He set his sights on the highest peak in Africa: Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
“When you change something big in your life, you want to replace it with something just as monumental,” he said this spring. “I wanted show myself I can still do crazy things.”

Mike Granthon on the climb in Africa. (submitted photo)

If successful, he would make the climb a central part of his memoir—another goal he’d just set for himself. “I thought, ‘I’m going to write a book; I’m going to climb a mountain,’” he said. “Life’s too short.”
Mount Kilimanjaro rises 19,342 feet above eastern Africa, near the border between Tanzania and Kenya. Guided trips to the peak typically take eight days, with everything above 18,000 feet — “the Dead Zone ”— considered extreme. Midway through 2019, Granthon shared his plan with a childhood friend, who hesitated at first. “He said, ‘You’re crazy,’ and hung up” before agreeing to join Granthon on the adventure. Then the Siesta Key resident set about trying to prepare his body for the climb.
“There’s not much altitude training you can do in Florida,” he said. “I did about 20 miles a week, running three to five miles at a time.”
Training wasn’t the only obstacle. By March 2020, COVID-19 had shut down most international travel. The delays would continue until January 2023. Granthon bided time while working on his book. For Granthon, who was born in Peru, traveling long distances against the odds was emerging as a lifelong theme.
“My mom and I came to the U.S. with nothing,” he said. “I’m describing all the ups and downs, my life as an immigrant.”
Finally, in January 2023, the trip to the mountaintop became a reality. Granthon and his friend joined 11 other travelers from the U.S. and Canada, led by two guides from the local Maasai ethnic group, along with porters, cooks, and medical staff. The group quickly bonded over shared experiences, the effort of the climb and the increasing effects of altitude sickness. Granthon exchanged recipes with the cooks and learned about wildlife as they progressed upward through different environments.
One night they were warned that they might be awoken by territorial “locals.”
“Our guide said, ‘Hey, go to sleep early tonight, because the monkeys will be fighting,’” Granthon said with a laugh. “It was very interesting.”

Taking tree-hugging to a new level. (submitted photo)

Two people from the group had to turn back before the week was out. Everyone else completed the trek. But in the end, due to the extreme altitude, they were only allowed 10 minutes at the peak.
Many people were affected by the moment.
“Here you are, you’re working hard toward the top, you spent days in the tent, overcoming whatever medical conditions or difficulties or temperatures. A lot of people were very emotional,” Granthon remembered.
“But once I got to the top, I didn’t get that high. I realized it’s the same kind of metaphor for life. We get to where we need to get, and it’s like, ‘Now what?’ Life’s not about the end goal, it’s about the journey. The different camps have these amazing sunsets, the people we met, the amazing food. Things we thought we would never do.”
Granthon took the lesson to heart.
“On my way back down is where I saw the mountain in a different light, now I was enjoying every step more than I did on the way up,” he said. “If I were to do it over again, I would be savoring every camp day, every story I heard, every picture. Maybe I’d slow down a little more. Take some pictures of some of the birds I don’t get to see here.”
He returned to Florida a mere 14 days after he left and immediately began dreaming of his next feat — this time in the Alps.
“I love the adventure of climbing,” he said. “I’ve got Mont Blanc in my crosshairs.”

Celebrating the arrival at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with climbing partner Luis Ruiz (right). (submitted photo)
Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

Previous Article

Community Spotlight: March

Next Article

For art lovers, this is one fine day in the park