In Search Of…Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: UPDATE

Did the 67-year-old Onalaska man make it to the top?

For months, 67-year-old Harvey Bertrand imagined what it would feel like to get to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. He’d pushed himself through hours and hours of training in the bitter cold of this Wisconsin winter so he’d be ready.

Why do he want to do it?

“People ask that. I’m not sure. Mountain climbing, you want to get up there. You want to get to the top.”

He left in late January on a trek that took 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.”

But the little trek Harvey was taking was where the real challenge came 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 attempted it in five.

The first two days went according to plan.

“Perfect! I was a hero. Well not a hero but a powerhouse. I felt good. So the first two days it was just glorious.”

Not exactly a ‘walk in the park.’

“Well I was upright. I was walking.” But Harvey was determined. Unfortunately so was the intestinal infection he developed. “I came down with some pretty serious dysentery. So that’s when things kind of started falling apart.”

On day four, pulmonary edema set in.  A condition associated with high altitude when fluid fills your lungs.  And with that, Harvey’s adventure was over having never made it to the top. This picture was taken right before he started to descend, holding the Lupus flag he brought to support a friend. “It took 11 hours to get 9500 feet down.”

“Initially I was really distraught about not making it, but after I have really accepted… life.  And I try to make the best of it. I’m not sure what I would have done differently. And I have a passion to summit. So I’m still working on it. I’m not sure I’ll get there and I’m not sure I want to.”

They say it’s more about the journey than the destination.

“It was an amazing experience and I want to go back.”

It seems Harvey’s journey may not be over yet.