It isn’t every day someone climbs a mountain as a fundraiser.
Yet that’s exactly what district residents Brennin Chamberlin and Lisa Loney are doing this month in support of a South African charity.
Chamberlin and Loney will be starting off on their trans-continental journey on July 15 as they depart for one of the most famous mountains in the world.
“We’re off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Sandton SPCA, which is a branch out of Johannesburg, South Africa,” Chamberlin said.
“We do all the hard work and hope people take notice and bring awareness to the charity.”
For Chamberlin, born in Zimbabwe and whose father is South African, the opportunity to help animals, coupled with the allure of climbing Africa’s highest mountain, proved to be an irresistible combination.
For Loney, Chamberlin’s partner and recently retired Fort Frances High School music teacher, the Kilimanjaro climb comes at the right time. For both, it’s just the next in a long line of fundraising efforts.
“Personally, we believe in a global community,” Loney said.
“We’re trying to look at it that way.”
“People may say, ‘Why are we doing something for a South African charity?’ But that’s just the thing we’re doing this year,” Chamberlin added.
“We’ve sponsored a child in Tanzania, we’ve donated to the Fort McMurray fires, we donate to cancer. This is just ongoing.”
The pair have had their eye on this climb for a few years. The chairperson for the Sandton SPCA, Stephanie Brown, happens to be related to Chamberlin through marriage, and when she and the SPCA undertook Kilimanjaro in 2017, Chamberlin and Loney knew they couldn’t take part.
“Lisa was still working so we couldn’t go then,” Chamberlin recalled.
“She retired last year, so now we have the time and energy to go up. And [Brown] just happened to be organizing a climb for this year. The timing just worked out perfectly, so we’re like ‘we’re in.'”
“[Chamberlin] just put the bug in my ear,” Loney added.
“It was initially her idea. It’s exciting.”
The pair join a group of 23 other climbers from around the world who will make the seven-day journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of the Seven Summits.
Each participant attempting the climb was tasked with raising 20,000 South African Rand to support the Sandton SPCA.
“20,000 rand, it seems like a lot but in Canadian dollars it’s just a little over $2,000,” Loney explained.
“So you make a commitment to raise that much money and then you pay for all of your expenses, your climbing expenses.”
Chamberlin said that the cost of the climb itself, minus the fundraising amount, came to $2,400 US per climber.
The group is being led by Sean Disney of Adventure Dynamics International, a world-renowned mountaineer and the first South African to complete the Grand Slam, reaching each of the Seven Summits as well as both Poles.
While climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb like Everest-that is to say not requiring special climbing gear or skills-both Chamberlin and Loney stressed that it’s still a difficult and potentially dangerous undertaking.
“It’s altitude,” Loney said.
“It’s an altitude problem.”
The summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet above sea level, equivalent to ten CN Towers stacked one atop another, or 18 Eiffel Towers.
At that altitude, the air contains an effective oxygen percentage of 10.1 percent.
Comparatively, Fort Frances sits at an altitude of 1,108 feet above sea level, with an effective oxygen percentage of about 20.1 percent.
What this means is that unless a climber is properly acclimatized to the change, spending long periods of time on the highest parts of the mountain will lead to altitude sickness, a condition that can be fatal if not addressed quickly.
It’s also difficult to prepare for altitude changes.
“We’re just trying to make sure we have really strong cardio and we do some of the breathing techniques that we’ve read about,” Loney explained.
“The most fit people have not summited and I know the statistics are anywhere between 65 and 80 percent of the people make it. It’s possible some of us won’t make it to the top, depending on our reaction. They take you back down. They’re very careful about it.”
That being said, the pair explained they’ve both been training hard for months to get as ready as possible to successfully make the trek.
“I think training’s my new part time job,” Loney laughed.
Chamberlin said they’ve been taking hikes, using weights and taking the stairs in order to get into shape for the hours of walking they’re expected to do every day of the climb.
“They get you up around 7:00 a.m., you have breakfast, I think you start hiking around nine,” Chamberlin said.
“First day we’re hiking for four hours after checking in at the gates and signing papers and going up. The next day is seven hours, the next day again I think is four. Maybe get one rest day where you do sort of like a small acclimatization hike where we go up a couple hours then come back down again.”
“You want to go up high and sleep low, that helps your acclimatize,” Chamberlin added.
“The next day, I think it’s four or five, we get there in the afternoon, then you get a few hours rest and then you start at midnight for the next one, which is eight hours up.”
The midnight climb is summit night, the pair explained. The group begins the climb so that as they approach the top the loose gravel, called scree, is as frozen as possible to keep climbers from sliding most of the way back down with each step.
“We’ve been told to expect it to be . . . 10 meters takes an hour,” Loney said.
“So 33 feet [of hiking] essentially takes one hour, and the last night you’re doing that for about eight hours straight. So you go 33 feet, you take a drink and you eat, and you go another 33 and that’s an hour for each kind of section. And it could be -20 with the windchill.”
The climb sounds incredibly difficult, even moreso when faced with the possibility that one might not even make it to the summit through no fault of their own, but the excitement the pair have for the challenge ahead of them is palpable.
“Excited and nervous,” they both said.
“It’s been a long time,” Chamberlin continued. “We’ve been planning since last July so it’s kind of all-consuming.”
“It’s been a full year,” Loney added.
“A full year of planning, full year of training, full year of fundraising.”
A year of fundraising that has paid off. As of this writing, the pair have raised 32,293.08 Rand, just under $3,000 Canadian. With just under two weeks to go before the climb, there’s still time to add to that total, and support has been coming in from across the district.
“They have in South Africa what they call ‘Back a Buddy,'” Loney explained.
“And so what you do is you put your mission on there and then you put a little thing that shows how much you want to raise. So there’s people locally that have commented and donated so far. Friends, family colleagues, former students, so we’ve been really fortunate.”
“Shannon Carlson, from Dimit Bus Lines, through the company made a very lovely generous donation,” Chamberlin added.
“They’ve been a major sponsor, and we’re very grateful to them,” Loney said.
The pair will be flying out of Winnipeg on July 15 and their climb is expected to begin on July 21 and last until the 27th.
Anyone looking to support Chamberlin and Loney’s fundraising effort can find them on Back A Buddy by searching “Chamberlin” or “Loney,” or by going to www.backabuddy.co.za/brennin-lisas-sandton-spca-kili-chall