HSU Athletic Trainer to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro with Christian Sports Organization


“Training to climb a mountain in flat Abilene, Texas, has been an interesting challenge,” said Bertha De La Garza, associate athletic trainer at Hardin-Simmons University, as she gets ready to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in June.

De La Garza, who also instructs classes in the Department of Fitness and Sport Sciences at HSU, has never been to Africa and has never climbed a 19,000-foot mountain.

For the last six months, De La Garza has worked to raise funding for the International Sports Federation (ISF) as she and 23 others prepare for the charity climb that celebrates the organization’s 20th anniversary.

To train, De La Garza has been exercising using the Everest Summit Generator, an apparatus that mimics altitude by decreasing the amount of oxygen. 

“It can be connected to a tent/chamber so you can sleep with it or you can hook it up to a mask to breathe through it while you exercise,” said De La Garza. 

Ken Wheeler, who earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy at HSU and works as a physical therapist at D1 Sports Training in Abilene, provides De La Garza with the apparatus and monitors her progress, which is up to more than 17,000 feet.

“It’s a mask that I wear while I walk on an inclined treadmill. I started training with a bike but have switched to the treadmill since it’s a closer fit to what we will be doing as we climb. It’s really more of a walk because we won’t be using harnesses or what you might typically think of as mountain climbing equipment.”

As a nonprofit organization dedicated to using sports to build relationships in cross-cultural settings, ISF has worked in more than 124 countries around the world.

“ISF volunteers support already established missionaries,” said De la Garza. “Helpers participating in a mission project might do something as simple as throwing out a ball to start a game to get to know people in a community. Volunteers also help with clean water projects, assist with food supplies, and sometimes do medical missions while they are supporting missionaries.”

De La Garza served on an ISF mission in 2007 in Poland and got to know Dr. Cheryl Wolfinger, CEO and founder of ISF. De La Garza said Wolfinger has established several contacts in Abilene including Tim Richardson, university pastor of South Side Baptist Church and an HSU alumnus, and Dr. Samuel Maroney, an orthopedic surgeon.

“Dr. Maroney and Tim have both done short-term missions with ISF and know Cheryl and her commitment to sharing the gospel in all nations,” said De La Garza.

Wolfinger, De La Garza, and the other members of the Kilimanjaro charity climb meet May 31, 2014, at the Atlanta international airport. Most will be meeting one another for the first time. From there they will travel together to Tanzania.

“These are just regular people,” said De La Garza. “They are not mountain climbers, although some may have a little experience, but for the most part, they are just like me, going because it provides a challenge and an opportunity for us to tell other groups we meet on the climb about the work ISF is doing.”

De La Garza and the other climbers were asked to raise $10,000 each, which she has done with the help of friends, some HSU alumni, and the HSU Women’s Soccer Team.

“Every year around April the team has an end-of-the-year banquet. It’s a time to reflect on the fall season and to give the graduating seniors a chance to speak to team members and their families. This year members surprised me with $400 they had raised for my charity climb. This was thoughtful and purposeful. I was humbled by their actions,” said De La Garza.

On June 10, the seventh day of the climb, De La Garza and the other climbers plan to reach the summit. That, after already trekking almost 26 miles by foot and climbing more than 15,000 feet. Putting that in perspective, they have already ascended to an altitude higher than any peak in America’s lower 48 states.

This day, the team advances 13 miles in about 13 hours, reaching the summit after about eight hours. In order to witness sun rise at the top of Africa’s highest peak, the final climb requires a midnight start.

“Right now, the trip feels very surreal to me. I still don’t believe I’m going and I’m not sure when the reality will finally hit me. I am just an average person, but I believe in taking extraordinary opportunities. I want to do things outside of my comfort zone. When I was growing up our family wouldn’t have been able to take a trip like this, but my parents have always encouraged me to explore. I know my mother would be worried, but she would be behind me all the way,” said De La Garza, explaining that her mother died a year ago this April.

“Knowing that my mom would be happy about me taking this opportunity, I said to myself, ‘You should go do this…and it’s for a worthy cause.’”

Below, De La Garza shares the schedule detailing the 8-day climb beginning June 4:


7,742 feet, 3 miles, 3-4 hours

After a restful night at the hotel, we begin our trek from the western side checking in at the Londorossi gate. The trail will gently ascend through the forest until you are welcomed into camp under the Climb Kili banner with tents set up and your personal belongings inside. Tonight’s camp is nestled in the Kilimanjaro rain forest at the Mt Mkubwa, which in Swahili means Big Tree.

Day 2 (June 5):  MTI MKUBWA to SHIRA CAMP

11,500 feet, 4.5 miles, 6-8 hours

Departing the rain forest, we enter the heath and moorland zone. In the afternoon we follow the Shira ridge, the vast high altitude desert plateau where the first views of Mt Kilimanjaro open on the horizon and the landscape is a magnificent contrast from the departed rain forest.

Day 3 (June 6):   SHIRA CAMP to MOIR CAMP

13,650 feet, 6.3 miles, 6-8 hours

Full day exploration of the Shira plateau. Trek east toward Kibo's glaciated peak with the option to visit the ancient collapsed Shira cone, the oldest of Kilimanjaro's three volcanoes. We arrive at Moir Camp situated in a huge gorge at the end of a dormant lava flow.

Day 4 (June 7):   MOIR CAMP to BARRANCO CAMP

12,950 feet, 6.2 miles, 5-7 hours

Today we take an acclimatization trek to the Lava Tower at 15,000 feet. Following our rest at the tower, we descend upon the enormous Senecio forest, reaching a waterfall prior to finishing at Barranco Camp.  Tonight’s camp is in the shadow of the massive Barranco wall with the breeze often carrying clouds from the Barranco Valley.

Day 5 (June 8):   BARRANCO to KARANGA CAMP

13,200 feet, 2.2 miles, 3-5 hours

Today the group conquers the great Barranco Valley and up the Barranco wall; continue the trek on the South Circuit path through the Karanga Valley.  We camp at Karanga Camp.


15,200 feet, 3.4 miles, 3-5 hours

Slowly trek to Barafu Camp where we will have excellent views of Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. Barufu Camp is situated on an exposed ridge providing majestic sunsets ushering in the summit night.  We acclimatize and make necessary preparation for the summit day ahead.

Day 7 (June 10):   BARAFU to SUMMIT to MWEKA CAMP

19,340 feet, 13 miles, 12-14 hours

Tonight is the night!  A midnight start to conquer the highest point in Africa.  This section of the route is considered one of the steepest on the non-technical paths of Kilimanjaro. It is a 6-7 hour hike to Stella Point in order to see the sunrise. From Stella Point it is 1 hour to Uhuru Peak and the rooftop of Africa. We then descend down to Mweka Camp for dinner and celebration.

Day 8 (June 11):   MWEKA CAMP to Exit

Mweka Gate 5,400 feet, 3.7 miles, 3-4 hours

A morning walking to Mweka gate reflecting of the past week’s experience with our Climb Kili vehicle waiting to transfer us to our hotel for a very welcomed shower! Overnight stay at SG Resort.

Learn more about HSU’s Department of Fitness and Sport Sciences at: http://www.hsutx.edu/academics/irvin/sportsciences/




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