Shoutout Arizona Interview of Dana Wentzel

Meet Dana Wentzel | Managing Partner of Kilimanjaro Sunrise

See the original Shoutout Arizona Interview of Dana Wentzel article here:

We had the good fortune of connecting with Dana Wentzel and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Shoutout interview of Dana Wentzel

Hi Dana, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business.

My thought process was to build a legacy that I could leave to my son.

First off, I am an avid outdoorsman. I live and breathe the outdoors. So starting a business that revolves around the outdoors was a natural progression.

Over the years I have engaged in numerous outdoor pastimes: hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking, ice climbing, kayaking, caving, etc. But none have kept me as engaged as my favorite hobby: canyoneering. Maybe what sets it apart is the camaraderie; knowing that, like the Marine Corps, your canyon team has your back. Perhaps it’s problem-solving. Maybe it’s just the thrill of it all; the sound of the carabiners clattering, the rush of going where few people have ever gone—the remoteness of it. Whatever the reason, it has kept my interest for close to two decades.

However, at this point in my life, I find it more rewarding to take new people through their first canyon and revel in their enthusiasm and joy. I love teaching them how to use the equipment, watching them overcome their limitations, and finding the same joy and excitement that has kept me going for so many years.

A Brief History

Over the years I have started a few outdoor companies, yet none of them were as close to my heart as Kilimanjaro Sunrise. Like canyoneering, I want to help people experience what I
have. I want them to know the exhilaration and feeling of accomplishment when they reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, to feel the rush while on safari as they watch a lioness teach her cubs to hunt, or to celebrate life with the wonderful people of Tanzania.

It may come as a surprise that climbing Kilimanjaro was never on my bucket list, but once I climbed it I was hooked. For me, it is like the Grand Canyon. I have been below the rim of the Grand Canyon many times and from every direction; from well-worn, popular trails to
remote tributary canyons on a rope. I’ve camped below the rim and pack rafted down the Colorado River to horrendously steep and treacherous exits. Every time I go, I train for months beforehand, but it always manages to kick my butt and I swear it’s the last time. Despite this, I continue to go back because there is a mystical draw to the place. The same can be said of Kilimanjaro. I’ve climbed it a couple of times and each time I couldn’t wait to go back. Just like in a canyon, the pain is temporary. Maybe I just have dissociative amnesia, but I can’t wait to return.

What truly motivates me to continue the work—even though with COVID, the economy, and travel—everything has slowed down, are the people. Not only the people whose life goal is to climb Kilimanjaro but also the people of Tanzania. They live in one of the poorest countries on earth and yet they are happy. They are always willing to help and they do it with a smile.

For all of these reasons (and probably some I forgot), I started Kilimanjaro Sunrise. Tanzania is truly a magical place and I hope you get to experience its wonders at least once in your life.

On top of Shira Cathedral, Kilimanjaro

Alright, so let’s move on to what keeps you busy professionally.

My journey has been an unconventional one. After the Marine Corps, I graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Graphic Design.

I worked as a Graphic Designer—Art Director—Senior Art Director designing magazines and managing the Art Department for many years.

I then moved on to designing websites for many clients, including Tiger Woods, Jerry Colangelo, and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

In my free time, I organized a Hiking Meetup—AHOTE: Arizona Hiking and Off-Trail Explorers (Ahote means restless one in Hopi). We did a lot of hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and of course canyoneering. In fact, I have taught rappelling and canyoneering techniques to many people. I even started a company Shadow Cat Adventures to guide people through canyons. Unfortunately, 2008 hit and wiped out business. We then became an online store for canyoneering equipment. Then Amazon came along and that business slowed.

By running a Meetup I also met a few like-minded individuals who I started a Himalayan Guiding Company with and then ultimately left my website job to work at a Kilimanjaro Company. Unfortunately, COVID hit and wiped out travel.

This leads me to today, where I am running my own Kilimanjaro Company, which was my goal all along.

Guides at the top of the Barranco Wall

Dining tent at Karanga Camp

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?

I have been to every inch of this state. From the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of Mount Humphreys and everywhere in between. I would have to know the person’s fitness level to suggest a day of canyoneering, rafting, kayaking, climbing, and/or backpacking.

I have a person renting a room from me now and she is thinking about moving here. She is from Boston. I have taken her rock climbing on Mt. Lemmon and hiking on South Mountain already. She wants to go canyoneering. Maybe even a side canyon into the Grand Canyon with some pack rafting.

Annual we organize a Bike and Brew, where we ride bikes from brewery to brewery along a preplanned route.

We could also go kayaking on the Salt and Verde Rivers before the levels are too low.

We could travel to Jerome and Page Springs, or south to Elgin and do some wine tastings. Or travel to Flagstaff to see the leaves turning, hike through the Lava Tube, and eat at a local brewery. The possibilities here are endless. So again, it would depend on the person and their fitness level and interests.

Mountain crew at Shira II camp

summit of Kilimanjaro

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?

Taylor Enzweiler—(for all of her support, motivation, and help. Also, Drew Wentzel, my son, hopefully, gets to take over a successful company in the near future.

Our tents at Shira I camp

Summit of Kilimanjaro

Tents at Karanga CampWebsite:

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