Marysville climber summits Kilimanjaro
August 28, 2008 · Updated 10:54 AM
MARYSVILLE When Joseph Spengler retired at 62, he said he wasnt entirely sure what he wanted to do. He was certain of one thing.
I just didnt want to sit down and do nothing, he said.
Instead, Spengler started hiking. One walk took him past a gym where a flyer advertised organized climbs of Mt. Rainier. Spengler said he immediately liked the idea, so much so that he started working out specifically with mountain climbing in mind.
Spengler eventually did take a shot at Rainier and made it up a number of the mountains that border I-90. He even went on a climb in Maui. All those experiences however, turned out to be a warm-up to the morning of Dec. 24.
Thats when Spengler, 68, reached Uhuru Peak, the 19,340-foot-high summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the African continent.
Out of seven climbers who made the trip, Spengler was the oldest, referred to by the head guide, an American, as a tough old coot. The porters who helped carry the teams equipment up the mountain just called him Poppa. At the end of the climb, Spengler said most of them gave him a hug.
So what was it like to be one of the oldest men ever to reach Kilimanjaros peak?
It was just great, said the talkative Spengler, who tells the rest of his story with little prompting and in so much detail that just great seems an inadequate description of the climax of his tale.
You know, I got very emotional up there, Spengler eventually added. Theres really no way to explain how I felt.
Probably somewhat predictably, but in a roundabout way, Spenglers ultimately aborted trip up Mt. Rainier led almost directly to his climb up Kilimanjaro. In June of last year, Spengler made it 11,000 feet up Rainier, just short of the summit. At that point, guides were informed by radio that a serious storm was on its way. They made the decision to take only the five strongest climbers present the rest of the way to the top. Spengler didnt make the cut and those who did ran into trouble, forced to carry one of their party.
I was kind of glad I didnt go, Spengler said, though he still expressed obvious disappointment about not reaching the mountains summit.
A local company, International Mountain Guides, put together Spenglers Rainier trip. For whatever reason, the companys Phil Ershler took an interest in Spengler, most importantly encouraging the older man to continue to stay in shape. Ershler and his wife are world-record holders, apparently the first husband and wife team to summit on all seven of the worlds major mountains.
I cant say enough about him, Spengler said.
Eventually, Spengler received an e-mail from Ershlers company about a climb up Kilimanjaro.
Id been working out pretty hard, Spengler said, and all the bells and horns just went off.
Because of his age, Spengler had to pass a physical and get a doctors permission to make the climb.
I also had to beg, borrow and steal to get the money to go, Spengler quipped, adding what he actually did was return to work at last part-time.
The trip began with a flight to Amsterdam, where Spengler met up with the others assigned to his expedition. From Amsterdam, the group moved on to Tanzania. Spengler said based on what is happening in some parts of the world, he expected some resentment of outsiders, particularly Americans, among the locals.
What I found was the people are quick to smile and faster to laugh, Spengler said.
According to Spengler, there are several well-traveled trails up Kilimanjaro. His party followed the Machame Route, described as one of the quickest ways up the mountain, but certainly not the easiest.
Spengler talked a lot about various camps along the trail, but crossing what is known as the Breach Wall at over 13,000 feet seems to be one of his most vivid memories. The Wall apparently is one of the steepest points along the Machame Route.
You had to climb with your hands and feet, Spengler said, adding the ordeal lasted about three or four hours.
It was what I called a DLD, a Dont Look Down, Spengler said.
Besides that nerve-wracking climb, Spengler also has some vivid recollections of camp Barafu. At 15,000 feet, its the last stop before the summit.
When I walked out of the tent that morning, it was the most beautiful thing Ive ever seen, Spengler said of his surroundings.
Leaving very early the morning of Dec. 24, Spenglers team reached the summit at 8:45 a.m. Guides had them traverse the last stretch of mountain before sunrise in order that the trails covering of snow and ice still would be hard and frozen, making passage that much easier. Incidentally, in explaining the timing of his trip, Spengler said what is Christmastime here in the U.S. is the beginning of the Kilimanjaro climbing season.
After conquering Kilimanjaro, do ones thoughts automatically turn to even higher goals, say some of the other big summits of the world?
Of course, Ive thought about it, Spengler said, adding however that trips to mountains in exotic locations dont come cheaply. For now, Spengler already has signed up for a July trip up Rainier and has every intention of reaching the top this time around.
It feels like Ive got some unfinished business there, he said.