Viewpoint: Make the most of life's adventures

May 22, 2006

It's one of the things I've always dreamed of doing and Iaccomplished it last October, two months before I turned 60. As anadmitted adventure travel junkie, I reached the summit of MountKilimanjaro in Africa, the world's highest freestanding mountain.

It was a personal odyssey for me. I did it for myself, to prove that I have the grit and determination to scale a 19,340-ft. mountain. I did it as an Eagle Scout, to raise money for scouting programs in my hometown of Lewistown, Pa. I did it for my late father, who was also a pharmacist. He loved scouting, but was one badge shy of becoming an Eagle Scout. I also did it as a tribute to a longtime friend, who had died earlier in the year.

That is an awful lot of baggage to take along on a journey that requires you to carry all the supplies you need for a week on your back. I kept my spirits up during some of the darker moments of the hike by remembering an inspirational quote a friend from Italy sent me before I made my climb: "You are the winner just for the dream; you are the richer just for going after the dream."

Climbing Kili is like hiking from the equator to the North Pole in five days. You go through five ecosystems. The first day of the climb, we were greeted by sunshine and temperatures in the 90s. By the time we reached the summit, temperatures had dropped to almost Arctic cold. Did I mention I hate cold?

I went with several other climbers and their entourage, which included a guide and 11 other porters and assistants. We covered 12 to 20 miles each day. We were repeatedly reminded to "pole, pole," which in Swahili means "go slowly." By the end of the climb, that was the only speed I could manage.

Our days began early, around 5:30 A.M. All meals were prepared by the crew. After breakfast, we would hike until stopping for a packed lunch. We would reach the next base camp by about 5:00 P.M. and have dinner. After dinner, there was time for a few photos, and then it was off to set up the water and gear for the next day. Usually we were asleep by 7:00 P.M.

What was it like to reach the top? It was exhilarating, but you're so mentally and physically shot, it's hard to think straight. We stayed on the summit for 40 minutes before turning around and making our descent. Fortunately, I suffered only some headaches and nausea along the way. I did not experience the more severe forms of altitude sickness.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is something I will never forget. I raised $2,600 soliciting donations before the trip. This contribution will allow many scouts to go to camp. I had linked my climb with a fund-raising effort as a way of giving back to the Boy Scouts.

I have since been asked to join a climbing expedition to Mount Everest in 2007. Will I go? Maybe. Another possible challenge is competing on the TV show "Survivor," for which I have applied and hope I will be picked.