Climbing to the top of a freezing mountain, shelter is important. For two Naples climbers summiting Kilimanjaro, thoughts of a shelter were paramount — the Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
Glen Schwesinger and Gordon Kellam used their climb up Africa’s highest peak, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, as a fundraiser for the Naples-based organization dedicated to helping prevent family abuse and violence, and care for its victims. They called their project “The Climb for the Shelter,” and the ascent of the 19,341 foot mountain raised more than $50,000 to help in the Shelter’s mission.
The duo climbed the mountain over eight days in February and March, and several weeks following their trip, they were the guests of honor at a “Shelter Summit Success” reception at Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club. Along with speaking to the guests about their trek, Kellam and Schwesinger showed it to them, premiering a professional-quality video made of the climb. Far from being professional climbers, the pair were “weekend warriors” literally taking their game to a higher level.
“Neither of us had ever climbed seriously,” said Schlesinger. “I hadn’t been in a tent in 15 or 20 years.”
He is 35 years old, and Kellam is 34. The two did not attempt the summit unaided. They were in a party of six, with the other four all women, three from Canada and one from Wisconsin. The group had the assistance of three guides, who summited with them, and “four or five” porters who helped carry gear and supplies, in a crew of 32 total. Unlike some Himalayan and Alpine peaks, Kilimanjaro — or “Killy,” as those who have climbed it refer to it familiarly — features less severe gradients, so the climb is mostly trekking, not ice-ax and piton technical climbing.
That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging and difficult, especially for non-climbers used to the warm, oxygen-rich air at sea level in the Florida subtropics. Altitude sickness is a major concern, and the climbers set a deliberate pace to allow themselves to become acclimated to the rarified atmosphere on the mountain.
The video shows unfamiliar, exotic vegetation, giving way to a Mars-like landscape of rockfields and more and more snow. The climbers’ party was hit by a four-inch snowfall, but luckily, not until they were headed down from the summit.
At 15,000 feet, Kellam reported nausea and headaches, not to mention treacherous footing and 45-degree-plus slopes. Bottled oxygen is available for the climbers, but at a cost.
“Oxygen is there if you need, it, but once you use it, you’re not allowed to climb anymore,” Schwesinger said.
Both he and Kellam work as financial planners, and said the cost for the expedition, close to $10,000 apiece, represented a favorable ROI, or return on investment, for their efforts. As the reception began, they were still almost $3,000 short of their goal, so Shelter supporter Chrissie Paddock, a client of Schwesinger’s, wrote a $1,500 matching check, and donors came forward to put the effort “over the top.”
Kellam’s recorded voice narrates the video, and Schwesinger let his partner do most of the talking for the pair, leading to speculation that if the financial services thing doesn’t work out, he could have a future in broadcasting. “I’m not quitting my day job,” was Kellam’s comment.
The two climbers are both members of the Shelter’s “Next Generation” committee, bringing new blood and new ideas to the Shelter, and Kellam is co-chair. He said he and his climbing partner could not have completed their expedition without all the support they received.
“Look at us,” said Kellam, glancing around the deck at the yacht club, with the sun setting over the boat basin, and live music from Front Page News in the background.
“We’re in a beautiful place, amongst friends, with a glass of wine in hand. These adventures don’t exist without the help of everyone in the room. After doing this, you really appreciate having a safe home and a healthy family,” he said. “I think we’ll celebrate each day more, and complain a little less.”
Schwesinger said he was delighted to have experienced the climb, and made it to the summit, but “I don’t want to do it again,” he said.
To support the work of the Shelter for Abused Women and Chlidren, a 501(c)3 organization, call the Shelter’s donor relations office at (239) 775-3862, or go online to www.naplesshelter.org.