Over the past five days, [artist id="2017563"]Lupe Fiasco[/artist] has seen it all: rain, sleet, snow, tropical heat, fog, wind and bone-chilling cold. But just hours before slipping on his boots again for the final 15-hour climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the rapper told MTV News on Monday morning (January 11) that he's feeling really good about the trek.
"It's been an arduous task," said a slightly winded-sounding Lupe about the journey to the top of the highest mountain in Africa (19,340 feet) as part of the Summit on the Summit project to raise awareness about clean water.
MTV's cameras are following Lupe and his fellow travelers — musicians [artist id="1163848"]Kenna[/artist] (who is also the trip's leader) and [artist id="2990655"]Santigold[/artist], actors Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch and Isabel Lucas, along with a number of scientists and activists — on their seven-day, 50-mile journey up the mountain to raise awareness about the need for clean water in developing nations around the globe. The journey will be chronicled in a 90-minute documentary slated to air on March 14 at p.m. on MTV.
Though they've been tweeting, posting video and making sporadic phone calls during their trek, conditions on the mountain have proven more challenging than Lupe expected.
"We're at 16,000 feet, which is higher than any point in [the 'lower 48' United States]," he boasted on Monday. "It's extremely stressful, but the rewards are extremely rewarding and the achievements we've been having are small ones, but they've really unified us as a group." The trekkers have been broken up into two groups and Lupe said he's done a lot of bonding with his crew, who've dubbed themselves Dos Locos (aka Group 2). He's grown especially close with Hirsch, Biel and United Nations activist Elizabeth Gore, who like other experts on the trip, has been talking about the importance of clean water with the climbers as they make their way to the summit.
Lupe said he went hiking and camping with his dad as a kid, but he's never done anything like the Kilimanjaro climb. "Never at this altitude, never this prolonged," he said. "You get every climate: the African hot jungle, then you hit the alpine forest, like 'Gorillas in the Mist' — rain comes out of nowhere, then sleet, wind, then a desert with a snowy plain and heavy wind."
As they finished dinner and rested before packing up to leave for their final assault on the summit at midnight Tanzania time on Tuesday, Lupe said he was feeling good — "around 90 percent," actually, even though he's underestimated how much food he needs to eat in order to offset the massive calorie burn on the climb. "Normally I have an In-N-Out Burger around the block at sea level!" he joked as the mercury dipped below 30 degrees and the wind kicked up again. "I miscalculated how many calories I would burn [early on] and I was under the impression that I had enough food in me to take this powerful medicine [for altitude sickness], and I got instantly nauseous."
Though he's extremely uncomfortable at times, Lupe aid there's no way he's going to quit. "The process of it really becomes how close you stand to defeat," he said. "One little thing you miscalculate or overestimate can send you back down this mountain. You just focus on one foot in front of the other."
Santigold, sounding remarkably chipper, said she's a bit tired, and just walking across the campsite to answer the satellite phone winded her. "You have to move really slow," she said. "I'm scared, because it sounds crazy to get up at midnight and put on your headlamp and walk when you can't see that much in front of you." But just hours later after this call, she'd be gearing up to do just that, as the final 15-hour push to the summit would begin and she'd be steeling herself to burn 15,000 calories in the climb.
Without Lupe's camping and hiking experience in her past, city girl Santi said she didn't really expect to be able to complete the journey, but the laughs she's shared with activist Kit Kennedy and actress Isabel Lucas have helped her stay focused. She's also been amazed at the landscapes the group has traversed on their climb, some of which she said looked like an alien planet out of "Avatar."
"It's been raining and snowing almost the whole time," said Santi, who early on earned the "Best Dressed" designation from Kenna for her fly spray-painted boots with gold laces. "One place looked like another world, like another planet. It had these trees that only grow here, caves, waterfalls ... it didn't look normal Earth to me."
So far, she's been surprised "in a good way" by how she's stepped up to the challenge, and while some portions of the climb have fallen dead silent due to the level of concentration required to keep pushing forward, she's kept an image in her head from day one of the trip to help motivate her.
"The thing that really made a big impression on me was when we went to this Maasai village with no access to clean water and we got a demonstration of the Pur Water system in the village," she said. "This was a place with no clean water, where it was basically sludge they put in — you can't believe how disgusting the water was — and we watched the cleaning process and talked to villagers, which was amazing. That was a great incentive to climb the mountain."
She fully expects to make it to the top on Tuesday, but Santi knows that making it there means turning around and facing an equally challenging descent.
"We get there, then it's down 10 hours straight tomorrow," she said. "We went up and then down a bit to get acclimated, and it was really hard on my knees, because I tore my ACL a few years ago."
But she didn't come this far just to go halfway, and Santi was confident she'll be there when the group summits and she'll celebrate when they get all the way back down.
"If I can make it up there, I will make it back down," she said.
Check back with MTV News for more updates from Kenna and his friends during the climb, and tune in to "Summit on the Summit" on March 14 at 9 p.m. on MTV.