Article Date: 10/1/2008

Climb For Sight
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Climb For Sight

A VOSH expedition to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro peaked my interest.

KATHRYN BECKMAN, O.D. LODI, CALIF.

In late May, while paging through a professional journal, I discovered a Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) article, recruiting climbers to Mt. Kilimanjaro — the highest free-standing mountain peak in the world at 19,340 ft.

The climb's purpose: to raise money for pediatric eye clinics in Guatemala, so children born with congenital cataracts could receive sight-saving surgeries. The article asked volunteer climbers to raise $10,000 in donations.

Dr. Beckman and her brother arrive at the summit.

Intrigued, I researched the physical preparation, cost of specialized gear and travel, and the commitment necessary to prepare for the trek, which, incidentally, was just two months away. I decided to go for it. This was a great cause, I was in pretty good shape, and I'd had some experience climbing and back-packing. In June, I enlisted my brother, Karl, an elementary school principal, who also has a climbing background, to join me.

Preparations

To train for the climb, I, among other training exercises, spent two to four hours daily hiking steep hills and stadium bleachers wearing a backpack filled with 301bs. to 401bs. of water weights.

When Karl and I weren't conditioning, we were soliciting donations to VOSH via letters to colleagues, friends and relatives. Thankfully, donation checks arrived daily, enabling us to reach our team total of $20,000.

A welcomed distraction

Our twenty-hour flight to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania departed July 28th. Because the only available airline tickets placed us in the country two days earlier than the rest of the volunteer climbers, Karl and I conducted online research before our journey to determine whether we could provide any local help. We discovered the Amani Children's Home — an orphanage located near Mt. Kilimanjaro's base, e-mailed its head and arranged to bring general medical (bandages, etc.) and school (paper, etc.) supplies. The orphans' excitement made us feel so thankful that we arrived a couple days early.

Rising to the occasion

Karl and I, the other three members of the volunteer climbing team, three guides and 23 porters began the seven-day climb to the summit after a few days of adjusting to the time change and getting to know one another.

As we climbed through the five different ecosystems, each day brought new challenges. After hiking through the rainforest's (the first ecosystem) mud, we conquered the mooreland's steep slopes, the high-mountain dessert's vertical rock wall and the volcanic ecosystem's miles of boulders before starting our final ascent at midnight on day five.

The glow of the stars, moon and their light reflecting off the light-blue glaciers guided us through the steepest and most difficult climb of my life. The freezing temperature, physical and mental fatigue and extreme elevation were torturous.

On day seven, we arrived. The view of the stunning glaciers and beautiful and vast land of Africa was the most incredible sight I'd ever seen. Then, I thought of the Guatemalan children, who would soon be able to see the beauty of the world as well. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2008