Conquering Kilimanjaro

Staff Writer
The Voice-Tribune 

Dr. Arthur “Art” McLaughlin II didn’t wait until New Year’s to make a resolution to get fit. He didn’t need to. When the Women’s Diagnostic Center physician decided he wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle this past summer, the only thing the 62-year-old required was major motivation, which he found in the 19,341 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“If you don’t really set the time aside doing it, in my case, I needed something really big to keep me motivated and keep me going,” he said. “And, there’s no way you can climb Mount Kilimanjaro without exercising and training for it.”

Sandy and Dr. Art McLaughlin.

Sandy and Dr. Art McLaughlin.

After the son of McLaughlin’s wife, Sandy, mentioned scaling the dormant African volcano, Art had the idea to join in the effort. Following a successful year at his office, Art decided to take some well-deserved time off in order to vacation in Tanzania, Africa and make the
ambitious climb.

Beginning July 8, Art and Sandy prepared for the excursion by visiting the gym every evening at 8 p.m. and met with a trainer three days a week. “He starts his day at five o’clock in the morning, and he would stay (at the office) all the way until he would drive and meet (me) over at the gym at 8,” Sandy said.

The commitment to exercise paid off greatly for Art, who lost nearly 60 pounds throughout the training process. Ready to tackle the challenge of Kilimanjaro, Art and Sandy attended one final training session two days before leaving for Africa. But, a last-second mishap almost put the trip to a halt. “It was the last minute of the last training session with the trainer. Sandy had a misstep and broke her ankle,” Art said.

“We had committed to do this together, and we had made a pact that if one of us couldn’t continue on the climb, the other one wouldn’t go,” Sandy said. “And, so when I broke my ankle I was just devastated, but I said the trip would even be worse if that meant (he) couldn’t go, too. … I really, really, really wanted him to do it without me. Now I wish I hadn’t. Now I’d wished I’d made him stay home with me and go next year,” she laughed.

“There were several times on the mountain I’d wished I hadn’t (gone) either,” Art joked.

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding, experiences of his life, Art began his 8-day trek on Mount Kilimanjaro on New Year’s Eve with nine fellow climbers, including his cousin and Sandy’s son, Justin. His group also included a 70-year-old man, Larry, who figured this would be his last time ascending Mount Kilimanjaro, but, like Sandy, he ran into a bit of bad luck. “The guy that we were all going for, Larry, he broke his ankle,” Art said of the second day of the climb. “He had to keep walking until someone could help.” Once the team reached an access road, Larry descended to have an X-ray taken at the hospital, then joined Sandy, who was staying in a hotel on sea level, communicating with Art and her son via text message throughout their climb.

Broken ankles aside, Mount Kilimanjaro was particularly treacherous due to the unpredictable weather. For most of the journey, Art and his crew, along with about 60 African support staff, battled rain, hail and lightning. Fittingly, however, on the sixth day, when the group reached the summit, the sun appeared and the skies turned a crystal clear blue color.

“You kind of feel like you’ve accomplished the goal, and the views are amazing – the big glaciers – and you’re way above the clouds, and the sky just seems so clear and clean and blue,” Art said of the mountain’s peak, which only 40 percent of those who attempt the climb are estimated to reach.

Following the successful summit came the hardest portion of the climb. “Physically it’s harder going down on your legs than going up,” Art explained. “And more accidents actually happen on the descent than the ascent.” On Sunday, Jan. 6, Art made it safely back to base, though as Sandy pointed out, he was the last person from his group to reach the bottom of the mountain.