Climbing team to journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for clean water

August 11, 2011

Climbing team to journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for clean water
Kraig Kern of Charlotte, NC, and a few of his friends are about to take on a big adventure in the name of clean water for people around the world. On Aug. 25, the team will travel to Tanzania in eastern Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Their organization, Climb for Water, has aligned with Water for People, a non-profit that helps people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Climb for Water's goal is to raise the equivalent of $1 for every foot in elevation they achieve as a climbing team "...which would provide 1,000 people clean water for 20 years through the use of water filtration, aquifer drilling and rain capture devices."

Mr. Kern and his team are "avid hikers," he said and "some of us have tried Tanka Bars in the past - even before Backpacker Magazine's award. It took a while for them to find their way to stores near us, but now that they are here, we can't get enough of them."

"They are one of the perfect trail foods for the type of training we're doing. What's really cool is that we will be taking enough with us to Africa to not only feed our team but also give to local villagers," Mr. Kern continued. "I think it will be an interesting cultural exchange. We also appreciate the fact that your company recognizes the need to protect our natural resources and believes in the preservation of our lands and ecosystems. Those are values that are very important to us as well."

We decided to ask Mr. Kern a few questions about his background in climbing and what kind of undertaking Climb for Water is taking on with its fundraiser.

What was your first climbing experience?

I grew up in a South Florida where the biggest hill was the interstate overpass, so actual "climbing" was not something I had access to. But I was hiking local Florida trails at a young age. My parents enjoyed backpacking and would take the kids with them whenever they could.

What got you into climbing?

As a child, I was fortunate to be able to explore some of the great National Parks and Wilderness Areas around the U.S. during summer vacations. One in particular that left me awestruck was when I was just 10 years old and I climbed about 11 miles to some of the glaciers at Glacier National Park in Montana. From then on, I was hooked and have been trying to finding newer challenges every since.

Have you always had a social conscious?

I have always believed it was better to give than to receive, but I honestly can't say I have always been socially and environmentally conscious. I think my passion for water resources was really born out of my work with WK Dickson. My firm specializes in the design and planning of community infrastructure, and over time I was exposed to the challenges we're all facing with regards to water quality issues.

Even in the United States our infrastructure has been outpaced by population growth, climate change and is continuing to crumble at an alarming rate. If it's that bad here, one can only imagine the challenges facing the developing world or those affected by natural disasters. That really bothers me and the team I'm climbing with. We wanted to take action and help in our own unique way.

What kind of sacrifices have you made for this journey that you are open to discussing?

Well, there are four members of the climbing team today. Scott, Tasha, Kary and myself - and we have all had to give up something to be ready for the journey. To be honest, I couldn't do this without their help and inspiration. I believe they feel the same way. We push each other and find competitive ways to "out do" one another. My family has also had to give up a lot as well.

The Climb for Water team

There's a significant financial burden to all of us climbers. This is a very expensive trip and we have all paid for it out of our own pockets. That causes additional strain back home - especially with the economy the way it is. I have also had to miss some of my daughter's dance recitals and other family related events so I could go on training trips or travel out of town to conferences to help raise awareness of our campaign.

How did you go about choosing the beneficiary? Had you heard of Water for the People before?

When I heard a presentation by Water for People back in 2008 and learned that 80 percent of all diseases on earth are caused by a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities; it was then I realized that was the organization I could get behind. The work they do is so vital yet so underappreciated. All of us on the climbing team made the collective decision to back them.

Another thing that impresses us about Water for People is the fact that they focus on sustaining water projects. There are dozens of charities out there that go in and dig wells or provide water filtration for people in need, and that's great, but what happens when those systems eventually fail - and they all fail at some point? They aren't doing anyone any good then. That's what Water for People focuses on.

Not only do they provide the building of water systems, but they help monitor and maintain them as well, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for many years to come. The generations of people who can be saved is really inspiring. Kids should be going to school to learn, not walking for hours each day just to find water.

What are some other things you have done to raise money?

I was sort of naive about the whole fundraising aspects of this venture. I had never organized anything like this before. I thought people and companies would give freely for such a worthy cause, but I have since realized it is a lot of work and you have to be a good salesperson. We've done everything from writing grant applications, having raffles, begging our friends and family, and even asking people to give up their Starbucks coffee for a day.

Even small amounts can do a lot of good. Ultimately we chose to narrow our focus to asking Facebook fans and companies within the engineering industry to contribute. All four of us have fulltime jobs and it would have become nearly impossible to balance work and fundraise at the same time if we hadn't kept our audience focus narrow. We know that limits us but we're not asking for much. Our goal is very modest.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is quite an undertaking. Are you nervous? Did you decide that if you were going to go after this dream of helping developing countries, you had to do it at a pretty big scale?

Kilimanjaro was a challenge that all four of us had in common long before we created Climb for Water. We have all been planning it for years. We wanted to get people's attention. We felt like the only way we were going to gain better support for our campaign was by creating a one-of-a-kind experience that was both mysterious and dangerous. A climb on Kilimanjaro will challenge us physically, mentally and spiritually - but it is well worth it if we have reached enough people to make a real difference. This isn't a vacation. It's a life-saving journey.

This mountain has been referred to as "everyman's Everest" because it does not require technical expertise with ropes and crampons. It's essentially a very long and challenging hike up a very steep mountain. It is more accessible than other mountains at similar heights so I think that's why it has become a more popular destination for charity climbs in recent years. What makes us nervous is the altitude. At nearly 20,000 feet where the oxygen levels are only 40 percent of those at sea level, not much can survive at that altitude for long. In fact, several thousand people attempt to summit Kilimanjaro each year, but only about half actually make it. Most are forced back by acute altitude sickness.

How do you prepare for such a climb?

You definitely have to be in good shape, but the fact is you really can't train for altitude. It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness. Everyone is made up a little differently. A friend of mine who barely made the summit himself once told me it feels like running a five-day marathon uphill with a bag over your head. I try to visualize that and focus on activities that will condition my breathing and use oxygen more efficiently.

All four of us climbers are doing a variety of things. I hike up steep hills with 30-pound weight vest at least three times per week and I also climb 1,500 of stairs each week wearing a backpack. Scott is an avid bike rider and logs up to 100 miles per week in addition to doing long distance hikes. Tasha is the queen of extreme. Any given week she could be ice climbing, backpacking, running 10 miles, mountain biking or rappelling of steep cliff faces. And Kary takes advantage of the rolling hills near his home to hike, jog and workout with as much weight on his back as he can manage. Like any training, eating well is also critical. We try to limit simple carbohydrates and our discovery of Tanka Bars has made a huge difference in making sure we're getting plenty of protein. The extreme training we're doing can cannibalize our muscle tissue fast if we don't put good sources of protein back.

What is your advice for potential climbers?

Even though this is something I have wanted to do for years, I kept making excuses and putting it off. But every time I read the news or hear about another natural disaster I realize that life is too short to wait for the things you really want to do. Whether you are climbing Kilimanjaro for an important cause like we are, or you are doing it for personal satisfaction, just go out and do it and drop the excuses. It's that simple. Use it as motivation to get in shape like I did. Do your homework and find guides who have good references and reviews. You can Google dozens of companies online who specialize in Kilimanjaro climbs. Also be prepared for additional expenses beyond the costs just to get there. What if you get injured or sick while on the mountain? Some trip insurance doesn't cover evacuation above certain altitudes.

What have your friends and family said about this adventure?

For the most part, all of our friends and family have been supportive and excited about our adventure. The most common concern is the fact that we will be putting our lives in danger voluntarily and that we will be pretty much "off the grid" and out of touch for nearly two weeks in a foreign country halfway around the world. But we have done our homework and it gives them that extra confidence that we're going to be safe. We think we're as prepared as we can be at this point. There is also no better feeling we get than when our friends and family donate to Climb for Water because it tells us they believe what we're doing is the right thing.

Additional information

Climb for water has partnered with Soles4Souls and will be distributing donated shoes to 60 kids at an orphanage in Tanzania while the team is there for the climb.

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