FORT POLK, La. ---- Today's Army provides Soldiers with an array of physical and mental challenges but one Fort Polk officer conquered a personal challenge during the Christmas holiday ---- climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Capt. Ricky Warren, a Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital physical therapist with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, spent six-and-a-half days battling the elements of five different ecosystems as he and 13 others scaled to the top of the mountain.

Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, Africa, is 19,300 feet high and known as the world's highest walk-up mountain.

Already an experienced climber, having traversed Pike's Peak in Colorado and other climbs, Warren said this journey allowed him to "get things back in perspective."

Warren's love of the outdoors and desire to make the climb included a 24-hour flight to Africa for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. An avid outdoorsman, Warren trained for two months running up and down the seven flights of stairs in BJACH, with a 50-pound rucksack strapped to his back, 10 times each way.

"Being a physical therapist did help me," he said.

"But so did the daily trips up and down the stairs that conditioned me for my climb."

The national park requires all climbers to use their porter/guide teams. Since Warren did not have his usual partner, his wife, Cynthia, a BJACH civilian pharmacist, along for the trip, he joined a climbing group.

"Cynthia is not a cold weather person," he said. "We scuba drive and have done a number of multi-day back packing trips and enjoy the wilderness, but she opted out of this trip."

The Kilimanjaro climbing season has a six-month window and porter and guide teams work one week on and one week off.

Henry, the chief guide, started out as a porter and worked his way up. "Henry knows the mountain and has been climbing it for 12 years," said Warren. "He watched the group for problems, especially as the air became thinner. You could hear the guides telling us 'Poli-Poli' which means slowly, slowly almost constantly. The climb took six-and-a-half days because they wanted us to acclimatize as we went up. The oxygen at the top is 50 percent less. The guides carried oxygen for those who might need it and three team members did suffer from altitude sickness on the way to the top," he said.

"The porters would leave first and when we arrived at the daily campsite, the two-man tents were up and the cook was preparing a meal of local traditional foods along with a variety of fresh fruits and real eggs, not those reconstituted ones. We were tired and glad to see them, especially after climbing for six to eight hours a day," he said.

"At first, the weather was on our side, but by the fourth day it had turned rainy mixed with a wet, cold snow, which slowed our climb. You start off in a tropical forest and finish in an arctic zone," said Warren.

"Our entire group reached the top, enjoying the victory and our conquest. Although it took six-and-a-half days to reach the top, it only took a day-and-a-half to get back to the bottom. As we descended, the air became more plentiful."

The climb was only one of Warren's lifelong goals, he said.

"I can scratch climbing Kilimanjaro off my bucket list. My goal is to climb all seven summits of the world. Mount McKinley in Alaska is my next goal, but I need to take several more climbing camps in Washington State as well as mastering glacier climbing before I even think about making that climb," he said.

Following the climb, Warren capped off his trip with a one-day safari into the Serengeti National Park. From the back of a truck, he was able to experience the beauty and majesty of giraffes, hippos, water buffalos, baboons and monkeys roaming the plains in their native habitat.

"The animals were magnificent and we were even able to interact with the local tribes in the villages we visited," he said. "The safari was a fitting end to wonderful trip."