Friday, September 23, 2011

Ainít no mountain high enough

Octogenarian training for dream hike in Africa

Express Staff Writer

The Byerleys are an active bunch across generations. When not farming alfalfa in Washington, they stay fit hiking some of the worldís biggest peaks. Richard, 84, and granddaughter Annie, 29, are Africa-bound, taking a trip Grandma Beth took 30 years before. Photo by David N. Seelig

Richard Byerley is going after a goal that his wife says is worth doing—once—and that's why he's going at Mt. Kilimanjaro without her.

"It's a tough hike and I did it 30 years ago," Beth Byerley said Wednesday, enjoying the solitude of her Elkhorn home while her husband and granddaughter were out on separate training hikes. "I think it's great that he's going and especially taking the grandchildren, but I've talked to enough people to know that it is something you do not need to do a second time."

Her husband, an 84-year-old retired Walla Walla, Wash., alfalfa farmer, figures he's in good enough shape for the challenge, barring altitude sickness, "a bug in the food or a hijacked plane or something," and though he could come home to a Guinness World Records title, he doesn't think what he's doing is all that special.

"Anyone can do it—most people don't," Richard Byerley said.

He's excited to see Africa, and glad to be sharing the journey with granddaughter Annie, 29, and her cousin Bren, 25, who decided to join in the trek when the opportunity presented itself.

Byerley and his wife bought the trip through Colorado-based Adventures Within Reach at a charity auction for Galena Lodge last winter thinking it sounded good.

"I didn't have any plans and I didn't know who would go," he said.

The company specializes in personalizing journeys to Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and Antarctica with a focus on sustainable tourism, cultural interaction and social responsibility.

The detail of Byerley's age didn't escape owner Robin Paschall. While making arrangements for him and the grandchildren, she realized there might be a record-breaking moment in the making—that of the oldest person to summit the mountain on foot.

With Byerley on board to at least try, Paschall promised to ensure that all the elements would be in place to document the achievement so it can be entered for record consideration.

"Richard Byerley is an inspiration to all of us," she said. "We are never too old to realize our dreams of climbing Kilimanjaro."

"The ball's in her court," Richard said. "She's sending some cameras and stuff to take along to record it all."

Hiking adventures are nothing new for either Richard or Beth, who've done some grueling local hikes in preparation for his African climb.

Beth was in a party of 13 trying to summit Kilimanjaro three decades ago and one of the two who made it.

Richard has bagged Mount Whitney in California, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,495 feet, and Mount Rainier in Washington, the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states at 14,411 feet.

Splitting time between Washington and Sun Valley, the Byerleys are avid skiers and sailors too, and have traveled from Seattle to Tahiti on their 50-foot boat.

Kilimanjaro stands at 19,340 feet in northeastern Tanzania near Kenya.

Richard said going without his wife is "a bit daunting," but Beth insists she's not worried.

"He's in good shape."

Paschall said "there is always a danger on a mountain as high as Kilimanjaro," but the group will be attended by a highly experienced guide trained in wilderness first aid and backed up by a partnership with Flying Doctors, which can send in a helicopter in case of emergency.

As for where the desire to make such a hike comes from, Beth said, "Probably Hemingway had something to do with it with his book 'Snows of Kilimanjaro,' but also because it's there."

The trio will leave the valley Sept. 28 for Washington and arrive in Tanzania to begin their six-day trek in early October. When they come down from the mountain, they will spend two days on safari to Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater.

"The weather is typically great at that time of year, and the Machame Route is our most popular because of the high success rate," Paschall said. "The route offers a continuous scenic show, but to top it off, Richard and his grandkids will be summiting right before a full moon, which will reveal a brilliant night sky."

Still, Richard said, "I'd feel better if all the news was spread when I get back," though he quickly added that it isn't because of his age, or the pressure of a possible title. "It's questionable any time you try to go for the top, whether you are young or not, there is never a guarantee you'll make it the whole way.

Still, he said, "Whatever happens is all fine. But we'll definitely be here for the jazz festival in October."

Jennifer Liebrum:

The Man to Beat:

According to the official website of Guinness World Records, "The oldest man to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is George Solt (UK, b. 28 Sep 1927), who reached the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, at age 82 years, 289 days on 14 July 2010. Solt made the journey with his son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. It took him from 9-14 July to reach the summit, before descending back to the starting gate on 16 July."

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