In Search Of…Climbing Kilimanjaro

Onalaska senior preparing to climb Africa's tallest mountain

If Harvey Bertrand were the kind of man that liked to brag, he’d tell you all about the incredible challenge he’s preparing for.

“It’s not that unusual,” he said. “I can count 15 people in this area who have done it.”

“Your age?”

“Well, no.”

If he were the kind of man that enjoyed the spotlight, he might give you all the details of the back surgery that delayed this journey for a year.

“There’s a degenerative something or other and they go in there and re-mount the vertebrae. Anyway, I’m perfect now!”

If he were ‘that’ kind of man, he might throw around his age as an excuse just in case he can’t make it. “I last counted 67. But at my age I can’t remember much. No, I’m 67.”

But Harvey Bertrand is not that kind of man. Not even close. “A number of people have done this in our area so it’s nothing new. I just want to make that point.”

Harvey is preparing for the trip of a lifetime. A trek that will take him from La Crosse to Tanzania to tackle the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro.

The mountain is the highest peak in Africa at 19, 341 feet above sea level. “It’s a walk up. If it weren’t for the elevation gain it would be just a walk in the park. Except for a couple of places it’s really just a hike. A trek.”

The little trek Harvey is taking is where the real challenge comes into play. There are six established routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The Umbwe route is widely regarded as the most difficult of all. It’s the shortest, but the steepest way up. Very few people attempt this way. And when they do, six to seven days is recommended. Harvey’s group is attempting it in five. “Yeah, It’s going to be brutal.”

In preparation for the conditions he may face, Harvey has been spending his days hiking the bluffs of the Coulee Region. “So the last one we did was almost 6 hours.”

But nothing can prepare him for altitude dangers he will face. Cerebral edema, pulmonary edema are a few on the conditions others have experienced. But Harvey isn’t the kind of man that focuses on the ‘what ifs.’

“It’s only pain. So if you’re not going to suffer something permanently, you keep going. You crawl or whatever it takes to make it. And I don’t know if I will or not.”

And that brings up the question, ‘why.’  Why suffer the pain? Why take the risk?

“I’m not sure. Mountain climbing…you want to get up there. You want to get to the top. 75% see’s me there and 25% sees me down lower.” 

But in the end it’s really not about the finish line, about whether he gets to the top or not. Because Harvey Bertrand is the kind of man who cares much more about the journey than the destination.

“People should just go for it. You never know what you can do unless you really try and work at it. We will see. We will see, won’t we.”