“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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:
Day 1 (June 4): LONDOROSSI GATE to MTI MKUBWA
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
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.
Day 6 (June 9): KARANGA CAMP to BARAFU 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
Learn more about HSU’s Department of Fitness and Sport Sciences at: http://www.hsutx.edu/academics/irvin/sportsciences/