Climb for a Cause: A Harrowing Mountain Hike for God

(Part One— This is part of a new series called “Thinking Divinely in Action”—people who live with their minds focused on God’s purposes. This series will feature stories of real people doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God on earth.)

Climb for a Cause

In most challenges in life, it’s not all about getting to the top of your mountain, but the lessons you learn during the climb. This was never more real for the non-profit organization, Hope-2-Others, which recently led a team up Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for its cause.

Hope-2-Others team members and guides ready to start the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Hope-2-Others team members and guides ready to start the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“Climb for a Cause” was completed July 1 – 7, 2014, with a group of seven members, six from the United States and one Tanzanian, determined to make it up that over 19,340 feet climb. All members raised money for the mission trip to build awareness for a planned medical center in Kisongo that will serve as a birthing, medical and nutritional facility for over 20,000 in the area. Land has already been set aside, and they have an architect who has designed the building. Now funding needs to come in to begin construction of the building that will help save lives. Karen Klemp, RN, founder and president of Hope-2-Others, reflects on the recent journey that forever changed her outlook on the desperate need for good medical treatment in Tanzania.

“We trained for months with the Prairie Athletic Club (Sun Prairie, WI) before embarking on this climb,” she said, deeply grateful for the trainers who wanted them to succeed, training for 16-weeks prior to this exhausting climb. But only God could prepare her soul for the trial she was about to endure.

Being the so-called “weakest link,” 60-year-old Karen led the team up the mountain with local guides. The slowest hiker sets the pace on a climb like this, and the strongest member is placed at the end. That strongest player was Drew, a strapping, healthy young man, standing over six-feet tall, coming from Colorado, where he was used to heights and had climbed many mountain peaks in his home state.

There were a total of 31-guides helping the Hope-2-Others crew during this climb, as the local Tanzanians have many tourists wanting to make this famous ascent. Guides carry one small oxygen tank and a stretcher with them in case of emergencies. The oxygen levels get thinner as you go higher, and sometimes people get what they call “mountain sickness,” where a person’s oxygen levels deplete to dangerous levels. This is why guides carry an oxygen tank.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. When the team climbed to approximately 15-16,000 feet high, on the fourth day of the climb, Karen and her friend, Amy Martin, both RN’s, noticed that Drew’s expression began to change. He was normally full of smiles, but his demeanor became different as his countenance fell. They kept an eye on him and noticed he was starting to cough, complaining of headaches. He lost his appetite from being nauseous; all signs of oxygen deprivation, or mountain sickness.

Being a trained athlete, Drew stayed quiet, trying to tough it out, but he knew something was wrong. He felt so weak, and was coughing too much. Despite this, he didn’t fully recognize the danger he was facing.

“My whole body was so weak,” Drew explained. “I became really nauseous. I could barely walk. Now I know that oxygen wasn’t getting to my muscles, and I didn’t feel like I could breath enough—like I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart began beating faster than I could breathe.” He felt his heart pulsating wildly, knocking against the walls of the artery in his throat.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Drew was their strongest team member! Karen and Amy began to get very concerned when they realized Drew was now beginning to cough up blood. This was bad —very bad. The guides began to carry Drew’s pack for him, and continued to climb because there was no place on the trail yet for the group to stop. In the distance, as they reached a peak, and got a view of the base camp—down a rocky, steep ravine and across a stream! Drew pressed forward. There was no other choice but to walk another couple of hours to make it to base camp. It was slow-going. Eventually, too weak to even walk, porters had to assist Drew underneath his arms, carrying him to the last camp arriving at 5:00 PM.

Team members praying together on day two of the climb.
Team members on day two of the climb.

“The strongest became the weakest,” Karen said. And Karen, the supposed ‘weakest,’ proved later to become one of the strongest team players on this dangerous adventure.

Once they reached base camp at 5:00 p.m. that day, Karen had fortunately brought an oxygen saturation monitor, and other assessment equipment that the tour guides didn’t have. They measured Drew’s oxygen levels. He only had a 45% oxygen level (you want high 90’s to 100), which will cause deterioration of vital organs and then worse of all cerebral edema and death. This was a very critical medical situation.

Continued in Part 2 – stay tuned for the next posted blog!