Ivan McTaggart of Topsham at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Contributed / Ivan McTaggart

Just about a year after completing a coast-to-coast bicycle trip from Oregon to Maine, Ivan McTaggart of Topsham has recently returned home after scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.

Climbing the highest mountain in Africa was something that had always been on his bucket list, McTaggart said, and he thought he “might as well just go ahead and do it.”

His wife, Paula McKenna, said his adventurous spirit never ceases to amaze her and those in their community.

“Once he focuses on something, he’s going to do it,” she said.

Ivan McTaggart said he formed close bonds with the members of his hiking group. Contributed / Ivan McTaggart

He spent six nights and seven days on the 5,895-meter mountain in Tanzania with a group of about 25 to 30 climbers, guides, cooks and porters. It was important that they ascended and descended slowly so as to adjust to the change in altitude.

“It’s very slow and a very difficult climb,” he said, and “the porters have to carry all the equipment up there, and they do a tremendous job of that.”


“You’re ascending a little bit each day so you’re acclimating to the altitude,” he said. “Most climbers don’t have a lot of experience with high altitudes … which is why it takes the better part of a week to do the whole thing.”

McTaggart said that surprisingly, adjusting to the altitude was less challenging than he had expected. “I found out by about day four or five that I’d acclimated pretty well.”

McTaggart said his climbing group traveled anywhere from 5 to 10 miles each day.

Experiencing the change in environment over the course of the trip was beautiful, he said.

“The summit itself is really rocky terrain with very little vegetation,” he said, but “at the lower levels, it’s a lot of dense forest and there’s a lot of wildlife.”

He formed strong connections with his fellow climbers, bonding over taking on such a huge challenge together.


“It was a great adventure to do something like this,” he said. “It’s one of those life-changing things that you’re always going to remember having done.”

He didn’t do a lot of training for Kilimanjaro, but he did climb a couple of smaller mountains before his trip to Tanzania.

“The first thing he did to train was a weekend hike up to Katahdin,” McKenna said. “The week before he went to Africa, he went to Colorado and trained for five days, and climbed up to about 14- or 15,000 feet, and was with one of his biking buddies he did that trip with last year.”

McKenna said she was stunned by how easy it all seemed for him.

“It wasn’t a lot of intensive training, and I was amazed how he did so well,” she said.

He kept in touch with her while on the Kilimanjaro climb, updating her with his whereabouts.

“Every night I would get a text from him or a picture here or there,” she said. “Everybody was pretty impressed.”

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