Thursday, December 4, 2014

GU-Q Student Becomes FIrst Qatari Woman to Summit Mt. Kilimanjaro

GU-Q student becomes first Qatari woman to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro 

Dana al- Anzy, a Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) student has become the first Qatari woman to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the world’s tallest free standing mountain.

The Culture and Politics sophomore was part of a 12-person team of young Qataris and expats, including 3 guides, working to raise money for the “Elevate to Educate” expedition to build and renovate schools in Gaza through Reach out to Asia (Rota). The team was organised by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah al- Thani, who last year became the first Qatari to climb Mount Everest.
“Dana's climb demonstrates one of Georgetown's core values: "women and men for others". Her selfless climb to raise funds for Rota's Elevate to Educate exemplifies commitment to improving our shared world. The entire GU-Q community is proud of Dana’s achievement, and we look forward to continued leadership from her in the years ahead,” said the dean of GU-Q, Dr. Gerd Nonneman.
When she joined the team, she was asked to commit to raising a minimum of QR 50,000. Instead, Dana raised over QR 200,000. “It was a competition between the climbers to see who would raise the highest amount of donations for our cause. My personal target was 200K, but I had no clue how I was going to raise it. In the end, I passed that goal, so the lesson I learned was really to set your goals high even if they seem unachievable,” explained Dana.

From her university, Dana cites Dr. Christine Schiwietz, assistant dean for Academic Affairs, for her empowering support. “I took her class on gender roles, and when I wanted to back out of the climb, she pushed me to stay, and to take on the challenge,” said Dana. More support came from Heather Kerst, assistant dean for Academic Affairs, Uday Rosario, assistant director Student Activities, and other staff members who helped with funding ideas, social media awareness, and encouragement.
The Georgetown student decided to approach local schools for the bulk of her fundraising. “I went to schools in Doha, I knew capacity was there. Youth are passionate about the cause, and I reached out to them. I told each school that I would carry their flag to the summit, and they were in.”
But fundraising wasn’t the only thing she had to do to prepare for the climb. “I joined a gym 2 months before our trip. We also practised in the fire exit of the Torch building in Aspire, which has 51 floors and over 1000 steps. Plus, the fire exit has low levels of oxygen which was good preparation for the climb.”

Despite her physical preparations, Dana’s climb was not free from challenges. “I twisted my wrist on the second day, endured knee pain, and had breathing problems that led to fainting requiring oxygenation at 4600 metres elevation.” said Dana.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Would You Ride A Hot Air Balloon Over Mt. Everest?

A Hot-Air Balloon Ride Over Mt. Everest Will Cost You $2.6 Million

Seriously?! A Hot-Air Balloon Ride Over Mt. Everest Will Cost You $2.6 Million
The Everest balloon ride would cost two people $5.215 million. (Courtesy: IfOnly)
Is the garden-variety hot-air balloon ride not an exciting enough date for you? Got a few million dollars stashed under your mattress? If so, one man is offering the adventure of a lifetime – possibly a short lifetime.

Chris Dewhirst, the man who in 1991 completed the first hot-air balloon ride over Mount Everest is looking for two passengers for his second attempt: it costs over $2.6 million per person. And lest you get cold feet, the trip is non-refundable, with no guarantee of a successful crossing.

Pilot Chris Dewhirst, who was aboard the first successful balloon ride over Everest. (Courtesy: IfOnly)

Looking down on the frosty peaks of the world’s highest mountain from over 30,000 feet is bound to be worth the price for someone – people are paying $250,000 a head just for the possibility of flying into space with Virgin Galactic. The expedition is being advertised on the luxury site, IfOnly and boasts, “This is not only a remarkable endeavor, it is also an invitation to join one of the most elite fraternities on Earth.”

This isn’t just a joyride, though. Passengers will need to prove they’re physically able to make the crossing, and they’ll need to commit to up to a month of training. No surprise, there’s a detailed liability waiver you’ll need to sign as well.

The original Everest flight.(Courtesy: IfOnly)
The objective is to spend up to several weeks in Nepal, waiting for the right conditions to go airborne for a daylong flight. Himalayan weather is notoriously fickle, and climbing Everest is a dangerous endeavor, and over a dozen climbers were killed in one accident there earlier this year.

Says the ad, “While Chris will make completing the journey a priority, safety is of course the top concern.  If the weather is uncooperative at the time of the attempt, Chris will make every effort to reschedule though this may come at additional expense.”

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Monday, October 20, 2014

World Record Climb Up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Webster resident Robert J. Wheeler becomes oldest person to reach mountain's summit



Robert J. Wheeler and his son Jack at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. photo courtesy of Robert Wheeler (click for larger version)

What do octogenarians do to keep in shape? Swim? Run marathons? Not Webster Groves resident Robert J. Wheeler. He climbs mountains.

Wheeler, 85, recently returned from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak at 19,340, and will soon be listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest person to reach the summit.

Enjoying a well-earned rest in his Webster Groves century home, Wheeler, who returned Oct. 7, said he wanted to "demonstrate to people that they don't have to become couch potatoes just because they're old."

Wheeler gave two reasons for doing this particular climb.

In 2010, he published a book, "Mountains and Minds," that alternates chapters with mountain climbing stories and his work in psychology.

"It has to do with why people do ridiculous things like climb mountains," he said. "I'm preparing a second edition and added chapters so I had to have another mountain climbing story, and that's how I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. That was the first reason.

"The second is that I wanted to demonstrate that elderly, frail old people like me can get to the top of something like Kilimanjaro," he said. "I'm not a special person and I don't have athletic abilities."

Because of osteoarthritis, Wheeler has had both knees and shoulders replaced.

"I'm working on a new set of joints," he said. "My last knee replacement was in January, so I think it's interesting that in nine months, a frail old man can climb to the top of Kilimanjaro."



Robert Wheeler in his Webster Groves home following his trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Kilimanjaro was not Wheeler's first climb.

Some of his climbing experiences include Mt. Fuji in Japan; Mt. Aconcagua, which is the highest peak in South America; Heipori Mount in Tibet; and Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, in California. His son, Jack, who lives in Philadelphia, has accompanied his father on these climbs.

"Dad admitted to me that he had his last hurrah on Kilimanjaro," his son said. "He wants to concentrate on his book now. I'm just glad I was able to join him on his last mountain. Not many get to share those experiences with their dad."

Wheeler learned his mountaineering skills while he was an Army Ranger, or "a gung-ho young soldier" as he described it.

When he was in Japan, he and a companion decided to climb Mt. Fuji.

"Everyone said not to do it because it was November and the weather was bad," he said. "We did it anyway, and as we got toward the top, we started suffering from hypoxia because we weren't acclimated to high altitudes, then we started suffering from hypothermia because it was so cold. We couldn't move fast enough to keep our body temperature up."

They ended that attempt, but Wheeler and his son returned in July 2008 to conquer the 22,398-foot peak.

Wheeler prepared for his Mt. Kilimanjaro climb by strapping on his 10-pound pack and hiking the Chubb Trail in Tyson Park.

The climb uo Mt. Kilimanjaro took seven days – five days going up and two days coming down. Each day they covered 3,000 feet. Normal mountaineering is 1,000 feet.

"The first two days we hiked in a rain forest," he said. "On the way up, we stayed two days in camp at different points to get acclimated to the altitude. After the third day, it was pretty steep. The tradition is to climb to the summit at night to arrive at sunrise, then start down."



Base camp at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Webster Groves resident Robert J. Wheeler achieved a world record climb accompanied by his son. photo courtesy of Robert J. Wheeler (click for larger version)
One would think climbing at night would be a bit dangerous.

"Frequently people get discouraged when they look up and see where they have to go, so it's more comfortable for them to climb if they can't see it," Wheeler explained. "Also, the precipice dropping off the mountain gets scary when you can look down. I personally think that's kind of silly!"

The climb was "arduous" he said. "My lungs were hurting, my legs were sore, my back was hurting, but as long as I could get one foot in front of the other, I went on. It was probably nice to be at night so I could concentrate on walking and not look at the scenery."

After reaching the summit, he said he was "so cold and so tired and hurting, all I could think about was 'Let's get down.'"

For the Guinness record, he had to get two independent witnesses and pictures, and that took some time.

The trek down, he said, was terrible because of the fast pace and having to step around the rocks.

When he is not climbing mountains, Wheeler is a research psychologist at St. Louis University, where he is interested in personality characteristics that contribute to health, well-being and performance.

Now, having conquered the formidable task of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, he will devote his time to writing the second edition of his book detailing his experience and telling oldsters that age should not make a difference in the level of activity.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quadruplets to Climb Kilimanjaro

'I'm incredibly proud' says father of Wembley quadruplets set to climb Kilimanjaro for disabled children charity

Bindya, Vanisha, Urvashi and Vinay, all 17, are setting off for Africa this month and have already raised thousands of pounds.

The four 17-year-old Wembley-based Varsanis who are quadruplets about to climb Kilimanjaro.
Quadruplets are to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for a disabled children’s charity.
The four 17-year-old Wembley -based Varsani’s, named Bindya, Vanisha, Urvashi and Vinay set off for Africa on August 22.

To date, they have raised £2,108 for Friends of Kera, a charity which works to help disadvantaged and disabled children in providing them with wheel chairs, hearing aids, braille and organises events to raise awareness of their needs.

Their father and IT technician Jay said: “I am incredibly proud of them.

“At their age, to go to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro, it is a big challenge.
Big challenge: Mount Kilimanjaro
 “They are not usually all very active, but they have been training hard, running up Harrow on the Hill, so they are becoming well prepared.

“They have been doing running and walking together each day to get ready.

“I am very excited for them, but I think my wife is a bit nervous.
“This is not typical of them to do this sort of thing, it really is a first so it will be tough.”

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, coming in at 5,895 metres tall, and the children’s preparation comes while also revising hard for their A-level exams.

Each of the children attend Preston Manor School, in Carlton Avenue, Wembley apart from Vanisha, who attend Harrow College, in Brookshill, Harrow Weald.

While climbing the mountain is not easy for anyone, there is a 97 per cent success rate, with most people reaching their target after six days of travelling 1,500 meters daily depending on which route is taken, all while acclimatising to the altitude.

“It is very nice because they usually do their own thing,” Mr Varsani added, “but for them to do this together will be a great memory.

“They are doing it with a small group who they did not know before, but they have since become good friends.”

Jay and his wife Jaya will be left with their only other child, the 9-year-old Kareena, as the foursome journey up the mountain over the court of nine days before returning home.

The children are close to their fundraising target of £3,000 before the depart.

You can support them and donate to the charity by visiting

For more information about Friends of Kera , visit

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Untold Story

Tanzania: Kilimanjaro - Untold Story of Africa's Highest Peak

TOGETHER with Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro was named among Africa's new 'Seven Natural Wonders' in February, this year.

Apart from being known worldwide as Africa's highest peak and the World's tallest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro which pumps into the national coffers revenues amounting to nearly 80 bil/- is not usually given its deserved credit of supporting people from poor communities directly and transforming lives of nearly 30,000 Tanzanians annually.

Mount Kilimanjaro apparently boasts more than its legendary astounding height, three gigantic cones and battalion of trekkers who set out every year to conquer its highest elevation at Kibo; Kili is reported to be pumping more than 20bil/- cash into local residents' pockets annually.

Local communities around Mount Kilimanjaro, according to recent studies earn in excess of 1.7 bil/- per month from activities taking place around this giant natural wonder. The money which keeps counting upwards as the number of tourists continue to flow at its base, goes straight into ordinary citizens' pockets.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which is Britain's leading Independent 'Think tank,' studied the activities around Kilimanjaro and documented that local residents earn nearly 30 per cent of the total revenue raised at Mount Kilimanjaro from tourists and other foreign visitors.
Funded by the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), the ODI study concluded that it was the world's highest and most successful transfer of resources from international tourists directly into poor communities in the locality.

"This is the most successful transfer of resources from foreign visitors to poor people living around the mountain," reads part of the ODI study report. This form of direct earning by peasants from any tourism feature has never been documented anywhere in the world be it Europe, Africa or Asia.
And of all the tourists' destinations in Tanzania, including some of the most popular, it is only Mount Kilimanjaro which channels the largest share of its earnings (over 28 per cent) straight into local residents' pockets, thus enriching the local community like no other tourist feature anywhere in the world.

The study titled 'making success work for the poor: Package tourism in Northern Tanzania!' was conducted around Mt Kilimanjaro in Moshi and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) in Arusha, by Jonathan Mitchell, Jodie Keane and Jenny Laidlaw, who interviewed ordinary people, tour operators and other key players in the industry.

Mount Kilimanjaro which is Africa's highest peak attracts more than 60,000 climbers to either its peak or somewhere in between with the earnings from the incountry tourists destined there being averaged at around US$ 50 million (more than 80 bil/- ) per year.

According to the SNVODI study, the around 80 bil/- generated by Mt Kilimanjaro per year, is also a significant economic input in a rural context. The study found that 28 percent of the tourism earnings from Mt Kilimanjaro which is equivalent to over US$ 13 million or 20.8 bil/- is considered pro-poor expenditure, on that it goes straight into the pockets of local people there.

This should be something for the locals to take into consideration bearing in mind that of late there have been cases of people invading the mountain forest reserves, harvesting logs or setting trees on fire. School leavers living around Kili are never the ones to worry about employment because there is always vacancy for porters, cooks, guides and other service providers needed to assist climbers.
The basis for this estimate of pro-poor expenditure, according to the ODI includes all the wages and tips received by climbing staff that are termed to be 100 per cent pro-poor. All guides and porters interviewed at Kilimanjaro were all from poor backgrounds.

Also 90 per cent of food and beverage expenditure by tourists at Kili was found to be both pro-poor and locallysourced, because almost all food consumed on Mount Kilimanjaro is bought from the local market in Moshi, and the suppliers to this market are overwhelmingly local small-holder farmers.
The study indicates that 50 per cent of expenditure on cultural goods and services was pro-poor on that craft shop, retail outlets and curio stalls suggest that poor producers receive approximately 50 per cent of the retail price - a typical retail mark-up for the craft sector.

Around 16 per cent of all accommodation costs were found to be paid in non-managerial wages and are therefore also considered pro-poor. "We estimate that 5 per cent of National Park fees expenditure is pro-poor because although the Tanzania National Parks staff is well-paid, TANAPA still employs local casual labourers for cleaning operations through which significant funds are also distributed," commented the researchers.

Kilimanjaro National Park fees include a US$60 daily entrance fee, a US$ 40 daily camping fee (or US$ 50 daily hut accommodation fee if ascending via the Marangu route) and a US$ 20 rescue fee. The Mount Kilimanjaro climbing value chain has the highest proportions of propoor expenditure as a percentage of total in-country tourist expenditure of any tourist destination studied to date by ODI.
More than 500 guides, 10,000 porters and 500 cooks get permanent employment in the climbing expeditions at Kilimanjaro and these benefits from 60 per cent of the pro-poor earnings. There are also around 30,000 people who benefit indirectly from handicraft business and sales of other tourist targeting artifacts not to mention thousands of local farmers, peasants and traders who supply food and services to visitors.

The total pro-poor impact of Kilimanjaro (US$13 million) is, however, a drop in the sea when reflected in the total tourism earnings from the annual number of tourists (about 700,000) who visit the Northern Tanzania Circuit and who reportedly spend a total of US$ 103 million (165 billion/-) per year, touring mostly Mt Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater.
Other Northern Zone attractions contribute just 18 per cent to the local communities surrounding them. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority contributes US$ 1.2 Million every year to the local Pastoral Community.

"The implications of this are that, if the aim is to use tourism to help lift people out of poverty at scale, then mainstream tourism should be the primary target for propoor interventions," stated the SNV official. Travel experts have also concluded that small, incremental change in the distribution of benefits in a large tourist flow can have a larger pro-poor impact than a large change in a niche tourist product.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cool Surprise!

While attending the Lion's International Convention in Toronto, Canada, I stayed at the Fairmont, a beautiful hotel.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the picture below.  Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mt. Everest signed in as a guest at the same hotel!!  Very cool! 

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Why are people risking their lives to climb mountains?

Everest, Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier ... why people are risking their lives to climb mountains

Just looking at Everest begs the question ... why?
Just looking at Everest begs the question ... why? Source: AFP

IT’S been the deadliest mountain climbing season in history, and it’s not over. With the tragedies on Mount Rainier in Washington and Nepal, one question remains: Why do they do it? Why do people regularly risk their lives to summit a mountain peak or scale sheer cliffs?
“Because it’s there,” George Mallory famously replied in 1923 when asked why he was trying to climb Mount Everest.

The quote caught the public’s imagination, as it expressed both the childlike whimsy of doing something just for the fun of it, and the adult heroic ideal of dedicating oneself to meeting any challenge, no matter how tall.

Although Mallory perished the next year on Everest (and his body was not found for 75 years), his legacy of big mountain climbing remains. Last year, more than 650 people summited Mount Everest.
Coming home, each of them probably had to answer the same question: “Why’d you do it?”
The urge to scale mountain faces is mind-boggling to many.
The urge to scale mountain faces is mind-boggling to many. Source: AFP

They likely answered with one of these three prime motivators of mountain climbers:
Conquering the challenge: Because it’s there
Alpine guide Rich Meyer agrees with the “conquering the challenge” motivation. He told Yahoo Travel: “Climbing offers a series of mental and physical challenges played out in some of the most beautiful places on our planet. Overcoming those challenges, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and learning a little more about yourself is tremendously rewarding.”

But unless you’re the rare extreme climber seeking out a first ascent, the challenge isn’t to conquer the mountain — it’s been done before, by hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people. Climbers on Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, grew from barely a thousand per year in the 1960s to 28,000 in 2003 and 52,000 in 2012.

You won’t get any fame for being the 52,001st person atop the summit. So what’s the point of this “conquest”?

Mallory asked himself a similar question about one of his expeditions in the Alps. “Have we vanquished an enemy?” He answered, satisfied: “None but ourselves.”

And that remains one of the primary motivations for mountain climbers — conquering your own internal challenges, whether that means overcoming fears, pushing your limits, or trying to create a personal best in terms of physical and mental accomplishment.

The mountain is really just an innocent bystander during this process.
It’s the most challenging trek of your life.
It’s the most challenging trek of your life. Source: AFP

Learning life lessons: Because it’s good for me
Serious climbs require diligent training, planning, teamwork, and a step-by-step discipline that can be usefully applied to other parts of personal and professional life.

Jenny Fellows, director of NASTC (which guides rock climbs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains), told Yahoo Travel she sees a lot of families happy with the climbing clinics — and not just because they got from Point A to Point B on a large rock.

“The group dynamics of climbing is a great learning experience — you’re really forced to work together to reach a common goal. I’ve seen some really nice father-son bonding out here.”
The criticism of many of the high-priced expeditions up Mount Everest is that people are buying their way out of the key learning experiences and personal development inherent in mountain climbing.

Having a set of expert guides and hardworking Sherpas basically drag you to the top of a summit offers neither a proper sense of achievement nor any life lessons for dedication, planning, or teamwork. Essentially you’ve just become a really expensive piece of baggage.
Those climbers who tackle the mountains not for glory or bragging rights but for personal development and sheer enjoyment of the moment are those who tend to find the trips most rewarding.
Would you risk your life to reach the top?
Reaching the top to feel good. Source: AFP

Managing risks: Because I can
The availability of hi-tech safety equipment, well-trained guides, and easier global access to climbing sites has made mountaineering more popular than ever. The credo may be changing from “Because it’s there” to “Because I can.”

Climbing has come a long way since Alpinists were hammering nails in their boots to get a better grip on icy slopes. The evolution of equipment into lightweight, super-strong, technically rated tools has revolutionised the sport of rock and mountain climbing in recent years, making ever more extreme ascents possible, and possibly even enabling too many novices to get into situations beyond their capabilities.

Climbers are better-informed than ever about routes to the summit, weather systems, rescue techniques and supply planning. This has made mountain climbing more available to the masses, giving people the confidence to attempt climbs that were previously only available to the climbing elite. Because of this ability to manage risk, the vast majority of climbs are done safely. Despite the recent tragedy, Mount Rainier averaged only 1.4 fatalities per 10,000 climbers over the past 20 years (according to National Park Service data).

But this is no consolation for those who perish, or the families they leave behind.
For regardless of training, equipment and planning, there will always be an inherent danger in mountain climbing. Despite the best forecasting data, weather remains a potentially lethal wildcard for any expedition.

“You can mitigate risks, but you can never remove them,” says NASTC’s Fellows. “But as long as those mountain routes exist, people are going to keep going up there.”
Freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and risks of avalanche.
Freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and risks of avalanche. Source: AFP

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