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E

CLOUDS

It was dark when Dr. Tim Merkel ’64 left for

the summit on Feb. 28, and the light from the

headlamps ahead of him looked like a stairway

to heaven.

For a 74-year-old man who had overcome

a quintuple bypass surgery in 1996, it was an

emotional experience as he reached the summit

of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in

Africa, at 19,341 feet above sea level.

On the start of his sixth day on the mountain,

he left camp at midnight with his son, David,

and son-in-law, Chris Peak, along with his

guides at Alpine Ascents International, to reach

the summit. For two days before that, the crew

would climb and retreat from above the clouds,

trying to acclimatize to the atmosphere.

During the fifth day on the mountain, when

they were in their fourth different climate zone

of the trip — an alpine desert — they stopped

at 16,000 feet, made camp and were resting by 4

p.m. They woke up at 11 p.m. and at midnight,

left for the summit, six miles away with two liters

of water in each of their packs.

The weather was cool, about 15 degrees, and it

was dark. Headlamps were all that you could use

to stay on path.

“When you reach the top, it is absolutely

gorgeous,” Merkel said. “We have some photos

of the sun coming up over clouds and it is

incredibly beautiful. You can see glaciers at the

top of the mountain and when you see how large

they are, it is mind-boggling.”

The world traveler has been a part of the

aerospace and automotive industry for more than

40 years. He was at the canonization of Mother

Teresa on Sept. 4, and is in the midst of starting

a new company, Brake Pad Waste Collection

Systems, Inc.

But, even with all of that on his plate, it was

the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro that Merkel

says was one of the toughest things he has ever

done. A trip through five climate zones —

rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert

and arctic — the 39-mile hike is unlike any

other on the planet.

“It got more exciting as we went along,”

Merkel said. “It was a terrific process. There

is so much to learn on that mountain. The

temperature change goes from 70 degrees to

below zero.”

In other words, there was nothing typical

about the hike. The plan for the trip was

eight years in the making, when Merkel and

his wife, Theresa, first visited Tanzania on a

missionary trip with a Lutheran Church to

support schools in the East African country.

After the mission work was completed,

Merkel and his wife did a week-long safari

and on the final day, they visited Kilimanjaro

National Park for the first time.

The visit left an impression on him and in

2015, he signed his son and son-in-law on to

finally make the trip.

“We started to plan this and it got more

exciting as we went along,” Merkel said. “It

was a terrific process.”

The night before they left their hotel

outside Kilimanjaro National Park, every

piece of equipment they would need was laid

out on floor. It was catalogued and packed,

and the next morning, they were off. Even on

a mountain with only a 65 percent success

rate of reaching the summit, at no time

did Merkel feel like he couldn’t make it. Of

course, maybe that is because he didn’t have

the time to think about it.

“I had to think about what was next,”

Merkel said. “Every night, we were briefed

on what the next day would be in detail. I

was exhausted and it’s challenging. If I had

more time to think, I would’ve taken more

photos.”

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