How old are you? Kidding, we don’t talk like that around here or most of us don’t.
Well, since I am trying to inspire others to get off the couch and do something for themselves as they move into their senior years, I have to admit that I was 60 when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Where do you live, and what is your family like?
I live in Ottawa, Canada. For those who may not know, Ottawa is the nation’s capital and is located somewhere between Montreal and Toronto. I live with my wife, Evelyn. We have two sons, Chris and Trevor. Chris climbed Kilimanjaro with me. He is an accountant and lives with his wife and two daughters in Ottawa. Trevor is a musician in Nashville.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I was raised on a farm on the prairies in Manitoba, Canada. I can’t think of a better place to be raised, but my career brought my wife and I to Ottawa in the late seventies. I am an accountant, and I spent over 30 years in the federal public service. Since retirement, I have been consulting off and on, writing books and generally enjoying life. I like to think I can use both sides of my brain as I am an accountant, but also an award winning wood sculptor. The strange thing is that I haven’t done much sculpting since I retired because I haven’t had time!!
I’m like a twenty year old trapped in a forty-eight year old body. What kind of person do you consider yourself to be, healthy, sports nut, like to work out?
I feel I am at a really good time in my life, so I don’t mind being the age I am. I just don’t want to get any older. Ha! I work out three times a week, love to hike, bike and especially play golf. The change in my life that occurred prior to and during the climb and meeting the children of Tanzania has convinced me that it is extremely important to maintain a certain level of fitness, especially as we age. I am convinced that being physically fit may not prevent certain illnesses from happening, but it will help us recover faster. I want to live a long and healthy live and enjoy everything that life has to offer for a long time to come. In my case, it is two wonderful granddaughters and many more adventures to pursue.
What is Mount Kilimanjaro? Pretend we are fifth graders.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. By that, I mean it is not part of a mountain range. It was formed as the result of volcanic activity, and it is 19,385 feet high. It is considered to be one of the world’s seven summits. It still has glaciers at the top but sadly; they are melting and are expected to be gone in the next decade or so.
I know you climbed the Kilimanjaro just after your sixtieth birthday, is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
It wasn’t even a blip on my radar until about two years before the climb.
Whose idea was it to climb Kilimanjaro?
It all started with a visit to my family doctor. He told me my triglyceride levels were elevated, and the only way to bring them down was through diet and exercise. I took him at his word, stopped at a gym on the way home, hired a personal trainer and went from there. My trainer turned out to be a 21-year old girl who thought I should be able to do everything she could do. Eventually, after sessions of wanting, to throw up or pass out, my fitness level started to improve and I started looking for a challenge to celebrate my looming 60th birthday. Chris had mentioned Kilimanjaro about 10 years previously, and it popped back into my head. I asked him if he was still interested, and after many conversations with his wife (he had a small daughter by this time), he decided to come along, and the adventure began.
What was your fitness level at the time?
I had been behind a desk for 30+ years, so my fitness level had deteriorated with my sedentary lifestyle. I had always had an interest in training, but life got in the way for a number of years. I ended up losing 28 pounds. It’s amazing how much more energy a person has with better nutrition and an exercise program. At the time of the climb, I was probably in the best shape of my life.
Didn’t you have some issues with your knee; tell us a little more about that.
It was actually Chris who had the issues. He had two tears in the meniscus of his knee prior to climbing. He toughed it out, but he was in a lot of pain at times. I had no pain until I came down. “They” don’t tell you about that part. Your toes are crammed into the front of your boots for two days, and you are bracing yourself the whole time to prevent yourself from ending up at the bottom of the mountain before you are supposed to. My knees, feet and calves all hurt by the time I got to the bottom.
How long did it take you to climb Kilimanjaro?
It depends on the trail. The one we chose takes seven days up and two days down. There are trails that take less time, but it is really important to acclimatize on the way up.
What was that like, I mean where did you sleep?
We slept in tents that our porters carried for us. We had one of the best trekking companies, so we were as well looked after as anyone can be on a mountain. We had medical tests twice a day to make sure we were adapting properly. We started in the rain forest on Day 1 and slept beside the glaciers not far from the peak on Day 7. Our water bottles froze just before summating and Chris’ movie camera froze on about the 5th day. But it is such a great experience. There were many times I thought if I couldn’t go any further, I would have been satisfied. The last 600 feet are the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. We were breathing 50% of the air we breathe normally; we were dead tired, and the incline is fairly severe. It is very emotional to get to the top.
What was the hike like, were there trails? I suppose you had a guide, right?
There are trails and yes; we had two guides and eighteen porters for three hikers. Well, only seventeen porters made it as one had to descend because of altitude sickness. That was shocking since they do that for a living. The porters carry the tents, water, food, etc. The guides are first responders and watch the weather and kept us motivated. There was one 600-800 vertical wall we had to navigate but other than that it is a long, difficult trek…uphill…with no air.
Did you find anything interesting up there?
Aside from the incredible views, climate and ecological changes and starkness of the mountain itself, there were two things that stick out. One was some elephant bones at about 13,000 feet that no one can explain. No one can understand why an elephant would go to that elevation. The other was a cross that had been erected for someone who had lost their life chasing their dream. It is a sad reminder that the mountain is not to be taken lightly.
Did you have any Indiana Jones fantasies?
The one Indiana Jones fantasy I didn’t want to have was meeting up with snakes. I have his aversion to them. Fortunately, we didn’t see any. Nor did we get shot at, find the Arc of the Covenant or beat anyone up.
Is there volcanic activity on Mount Kilimanjaro?
It is an active but dormant volcano. We went to the rim of the crater, and there is sulfur coming out of it. It hasn’t erupted in recent history, and it would be just bad luck to be on the mountain when it did.
What advice would you give someone wanting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
If someone were interested in climbing, I would say, “Do it!” It is an incredible experience. I would say cho0se the best trekking company you can afford. There are unscrupulous companies on the mountain, and you get what you pay for. It could be your life at stake. Your water bottle will freeze so take an insulated bottle you can keep in your jacket. And practice going downhill. That sounds a little weird, but you can start your training at the top of a hill and practice going down. Finally, talk to someone who has been there…or better yet, read my book!
Tell us about the book you wrote with your son about the experience.
Kilimanjaro and Beyond chronicles my getting off the couch and doing something for myself while moving into my senior years. It takes the reader up the mountain. Chris adds his 30-year-old perspective, which was different than mine. The book also addresses our work to help the children of Tanzania. We used the climb as a platform to raise money for the children and the book speaks to the satisfaction that can be achieved by helping others.
Tell us a little about your charity work and how that all started. I think that’s pretty amazing, by the way.
Thank you! As I said at the outset, if you had asked me five years ago if any of this would have happened, I would have told you were crazy. We decided since we were climbing the mountain; we would do what we could to help the children in conjunction with Plan International. We put donor names on a Canadian flag that we carried to the peak. We had over 200 names on the flag, and we subsequently presented it to the school administrators we were hoping to help. We raised over $38,000, which built a classroom and drilled a well for a community near Kilimanjaro. My wife and I went back in February 2011 to see the classroom and well, and we were treated like royalty. The teachers, children and administrators were tremendously grateful for what we had done. The most satisfying moment was seeing our Canadian flag hanging side by side in the new classroom with the Tanzanian fla P
While we were there last year, we met some young, mostly uneducated, women who are starting small businesses with the help of seed money. We have now committed to this project for the next four years, and we will hold events to raise money. A portion of the proceeds of the book goes towards the project, and the Canadian government is contributing $3 for every $1 we raise. Every cent we raise goes to the projects we fund.
What are your thoughts on longevity?
Longevity is one thing but quality of life is another. I am convinced that we need to maintain a certain level of fitness and healthy lifestyle to enjoy whatever longevity we are given.
Any last thought?
If any of your readers are interested in contributing to our project, they can click on “Donate” on the right side of my blog. We (and the kids of Tanzania) could certainly use the help.
Please list your websites and blog links.
Kilimanjaro and Beyond is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo and Apple Itunes.
I want to thank Barry for taking the time to share his incredible story with us. It’s further proof that just because you “are of a certain age,” you can climb mountains.