Mountain-climbing Briton puts problems into perspective

THE OLYMPIANMarch 25, 2012 

Most present-day Americans commute somewhere. There are people every day either driving to Olympia to work in state government, or leaving the capital city to earn their living in places like Tacoma or Seattle.

But you know the world has changed when you meet an Englishman, living in Olympia, who runs a business in Africa.

And that’s not the only interesting thing about Chris Hill. This bloke was born near Kingsbury, a place southeast of London about as flat as Kansas, who somehow fell in love with high-altitude trekking.

Hill has personally lead more than 500 climbers to the top of 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro over the past 15 years, taken groups to the 17,000-plus foot Mount Everest base camp and managed countless trips through the Andes and the Himalayas.

Since his university days, Hill has balanced his day job in communications, website design and Internet technologies against his passion for distant travel and remote exploration, taking more than 70 guiding jobs around the world.

He hopes to flip that around somewhat by representing one of the longest-established Kilimanjaro climb companies, called Kilimanjaro Journeys, in America. Hill is hoping to inspire Americans to take the Kilimanjaro experience.

The world’s highest free-standing mountain holds a special place in Hill’s heart. First of all, it’s a strato-volcano rising up out of the landscape, not part of any mountain range, so it is a uniquely spectacular site, and he’s climbed it more than a dozen times.

But most importantly, he met his future wife on a plane flying to Kilimanjaro in 2007. And that’s how he got to Olympia.

Listening to Hill describe the climb, it’s easy to see he will be successful. He talks about ascending through five distinct climatic zones, from the hot and humid savanna of the lower slopes, through the cloud forest bustling with wildlife into the moorlands around 9,200 feet on your way to the alpine desert at 13,000 feet, where past volcanic eruptions have strewn huge boulders onto a moonscape.

On average, only 60 percent of those attempting the mountain make it to the top, but most get to the fifth, summit zone, an arctic landscape with glacier cliffs hundreds of feet high leading to the roof of Africa.

Kilimanjaro is also popular destination for charity climbs. Hill has led his share of them, including the Captain’s Climb of international sports stars that raised more than $1 million for cancer research and got him personal congratulations from HRH Prince Charles.

Kilimanjaro doesn’t require the technical skills needed on Mount Rainier, but its extreme altitude claims lives just the same. Hill recalls finding a collapsed climber near the top and having to administer oxygen and a life-saving dexamethasone injection in the freezing dark. And he recounts numerous stories about climbers from other groups overcome with altitude sickness that he’s attempted to turn around.

Now active with the Olympia Mountaineers, Hill admits he sleeps better in a tent than he does at home, and that facilitating people to test the limits of their will power generates the greatest joy in his life.

“Succeeding through this seven-day test seems to give people the strength to deal with everyday issues … from 20,000 feet, the world and all our problems suddenly come into proper perspective,” he says.

And he’s betting there are lots of us who want to test our own personal mettle.

ET CETERA

A nationally known percussionist from Los Angeles, Kalani, is performing “A World Of Song” with the Olympia Choral Society during concerts on April 13, 14 and 15 at the Koval Center for the Performing Arts in Lacey. The society donates its proceeds to charities and scholarships … Looking for A Night on the Town? The Thurston County Chamber is planning a party on April 13 at the Capital Event Center to benefit its educational programs.

George LeMasurier, publisher of The Olympian, may be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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