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Published: Sunday, February 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Father and daughter make the climb of a lifetime to raise money for orphans

  • John Parish, 85, and his daughter, Marilyn Parish, 53, on their journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    John Parish, 85, and his daughter, Marilyn Parish, 53, on their journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

  • John Parish takes his last steps of the climb. He climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and back, about 52 miles in all, in six days.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    John Parish takes his last steps of the climb. He climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and back, about 52 miles in all, in six days.

  • John Parish at Gilman's Point on Mount Kilimanjaro's crater rim, an elevation of more than 18,600 feet. Parish, 85, is the oldest man to reach the rim...

    contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    John Parish at Gilman's Point on Mount Kilimanjaro's crater rim, an elevation of more than 18,600 feet. Parish, 85, is the oldest man to reach the rim.

  • John Parish at a rest stop during the day at Zebra Rocks. The hat was purchased in Moshi before we left, and the "Pole Pole" emblazoned on i...

    contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    John Parish at a rest stop during the day at Zebra Rocks. The hat was purchased in Moshi before we left, and the "Pole Pole" emblazoned on it means "slow slow." "Pole Pole" (pronounced po-lay) is everyone's mantra during the climb. If you want to make it to the top, you go slowly so your body can adjust to the altitude.

  • The trail between Horombo and Kibo Huts.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    The trail between Horombo and Kibo Huts.

  • Marilyn reaches Uhuru Peak.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    Marilyn reaches Uhuru Peak.

  • John and Marilyn Parish at Mandara Huts. One day down, five to go.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    John and Marilyn Parish at Mandara Huts. One day down, five to go.

  • Marilyn Parish on the way to Kibo Huts from Horombo Huts.

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    Marilyn Parish on the way to Kibo Huts from Horombo Huts.

  • A Kilimanjaro flower known as "Red Hot Poker" (Kniphofia thomsonli).

    Contributed by John and Marilyn Parish

    A Kilimanjaro flower known as "Red Hot Poker" (Kniphofia thomsonli).

Early on the morning of Jan. 28, John Parish became the oldest man to reach the crater rim on Mount Kilimanjaro. He did it wearing blue jeans.
Reaching Gilman's Point at more than 18,600 feet elevation, Parish, 85, carried his wallet in back pocket, his dreams spread out over the African plains.
"That's my dad," Everett resident Marilyn Parish said. "My dad hiked Kilimanjaro in blue jeans all the way to the summit."
Before that, the oldest man to step to such a height on the mountain was 75, John Parish said.
"I upped the age for summit accomplishment by 10 ½ years," he said.
The father and daughter shared the moment for a few minutes and then slogged on. The father decided reaching Gilman's Point was high enough. (It's the measuring mark for summit achievement for elderly people, he explained.)
The daughter, 53, pressed on, taking about an hour to climb 600 more feet in elevation to Uhuru Peak, 19,341 feet above sea level. She stood on the top of Africa.
While Kilimanjaro doesn't require technical mountaineering skills, climbing in the thin air at high altitude still presents a grueling challenge. The temperatures plummet far below freezing and each breath does little to fuel the body's muscles.
For John Parish to reach the heights he did is amazing. That he did it wearing blue jeans -- typically climbers avoid cotton clothes -- is unusual, but the retired minister isn't hemmed in by conventions.
He simply didn't know to bring synthetic pants for the climb.
"Next time I'll know," his daughter recalled him saying.
While John Parish isn't planning another summit attempt on Kilimanjaro -- yet -- he may just be brewing up another adventure despite his age, his daughter said.
"He doesn't put those limits on himself," she said.
Fresh from the trip and still battling a bit of jet lag, Marilyn Parish shared the adventure she and her father recently took. John Parish lives in Yuma, Ariz.
The journey brought the father and daughter together in physical exertion and spiritual quest. Like many travelers today, they combined tourism with charity work.
The climb was a fundraising effort for Tumaini International Ministries, a resource for children orphaned in the AIDS pandemic. The goal for the Parishes and the 25 other climbers was to raise $100,000 to help the children. For several years, John Parish has sent checks to help support the children and visited five years ago to see that his donations were being used well.
Before going to Kilimanjaro, the group spent two days at a community center operated by Tumaini near the town of Masii, two hours outside Nairobi, Kenya. The center provides a school, church and community medical clinic.
It was here, before ever stepping foot on a mountain, that Marilyn Parish said she faced true challenges.
People who attend the clinic and pray at the church live in deep poverty, struggling to find their next meal. They walk everywhere; they have no other transportation.
"It took me being there to get it," the abject poverty and the daily struggles of so many people, she said, choking with emotion as she talked.
The stark reality of the people's lives provided sharp contrast to the relatively comfortable existence she has back in Snohomish County.
"I don't even know where to begin to feel how blessed I am in my life," she said.
One of life's treasures, she realized, was being able to spend time with her father, something the orphans she met will never know.
Nearly a year ago, John Parish offered up the high-stakes adventure of the African trip to his daughter.
"Do you want to come?" he asked.
How could she refuse?
After a year of training and anticipation, Marilyn Parish traveled across the globe from her Everett home. She met her father at the airport in Kenya and their adventure began.
From the Tumaini center, the group traveled by bus to Tanzania and onto the mountain.
A prayer for safe travels offered up by John Parish didn't prevent two flat tires, his daughter joked.
Along with a team of porters and cooks, the group started climbing along the Marangu Route to the summit, spending nights in a series of huts.
Rising quickly into high altitude is notorious for causing all kinds of physical ailments. Marilyn Parish said her head felt at times like it would explode and her appetite diminished, even though she was burning thousands of calories each day.
Three decades older, John Parish managed the altitude with ease, avoiding even stomach upset.
When it came time for summit day, the group set out about 11 p.m., hiking with head lamps under an array of stars.
"There's something about the African sky," Marilyn Parish said. "(The stars) just take your breath away."
About 10 hours of slow hiking, pausing to watch the sunrise, they reached the crater rim.
"I was so proud of my dad," the daughter said. "He's an amazing guy."
God's creation made the mountain, John Parish said.
"Our view is to try to reach the top," he said.
She pushed on for the final leg to the summit.
"I knew I had to make it up because I had people believing in me," she said. "Not getting there was not an option for me."
She had stepped on top of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Baker, but this was different.
For eight minutes, she soaked in the panoramic views.
"It was very cool," she said. "It sure was beautiful."
With that, she turned around and headed down.
Thousands of feet back down the mountain, she reunited with her father to celebrate.
They reached their goal of climbing Kilimanjaro and have come close to raising the $100,000 for Tumaini. Donations still are being collected.
Marilyn Parish snapped a photo of her father walking out the Marangu Gate, one of many moments she will long remember.
"It certainly was an adventure of a lifetime," she said.
Although the harshness of the climb took a toll, John Parish said he's not done with new hobbies.
What's next?
"The next bucket list item," he said, "is a free-fall parachute jump."

Learn more about Tumaini International Ministries
To donate money to or learn more about Tumaini International Ministries, a group that helps AIDs orphans, go to www.tumainiinternational.org or call 714-671-3907.







Story tags » TravelSenior activities

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