Tulalip man’s retirement means scaling Kilimanjaro

TULALIP — Two years ago, at age 66, Joe Spangler was in no shape to climb mountains.

A high-country hiker when he was young, Spangler got busy with his career and family and gave away his outdoor equipment. He did very little hiking for 30 years.

Now, at 68, he’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the 19,340-foot mountain that is Africa’s highest peak.

Spangler, of Tulalip, reached the summit on Christmas Eve. He was the oldest in the seven-member climbing group by more than 20 years.

Spangler was told by his American guide, who has taken seven or eight different groups up the mountain, that he was the oldest person the guide had ever taken to the top. He earned the nickname “Papa” from a Tanzanian guide.

“You are one tough old coot,” his American guide told him.

Kilimanjaro, a volcano, is considered the largest free-standing mountain in the world. There are quite a few taller mountains, but all of those are part of ranges.

Now, Spangler has not only bagged one of the Seven Summits — the highest point on each of the seven continents — but is thinking about another.

“I’m toying with idea of (Mount) Aconcagua,” Spangler said, referring to the 22,841-foot peak in Argentina, South America’s highest.

When came the transformation?

After Spangler retired a few years ago, from careers in advertising, publishing and carpentry, the adventure bug started creeping back.

“What I’d really like to do is climb mountains,” he told his wife, Sheryl, one day.

She was all for it.

“It’s something he really wanted to do and we just support each other in those things,” said Sheryl Spangler, who works as a business coach.

So Joe hired a personal trainer, and together they created a training program tailored to mountain climbing.

“I really started working out hard,” he said.

In July 2006, in his mid-60s, he became a regular at Gold’s Gym in Marysville. An hour on the Stairmaster, sometimes with a 45-pound pack on his back. Half an hour on the treadmill, at a 15 percent incline. About 200 leg extensions at 75 pounds. Three sets of 20 hamstring extensions at 65 pounds. About 100 to 200 sit-ups.

“In my whole life, I’ve never been in the condition I’m in right now,” he said.

Spangler’s at the gym for two hours at a time, five days a week. Last spring, Spangler started scaling local mountains, including Mount Pilchuck and Mount Si. Intending to go up Mount Rainier, he took a mountaineering class and learned how to climb with ropes.

He went up with a group in June, only to be turned back at 11,100 feet by high winds. The guide decided it wasn’t safe, Spangler said.

Then he learned about a December expedition up Kilimanjaro through a company called International Mountain Guides. It cost $7,000 for airfare, lodging, meals and a photo safari, so he went back to carpentry part time to help pay the bill.

Sheryl, who believes strongly in visualizing success, suggested to Joe that he do a visioning exercise on the plane on the way over. He pictured himself standing on the summit and feeling the crunch of rocks under his feet. The end result came out nearly identical to his mental picture, he said.

The group took five days to go up the mountain. It was mostly just hard hiking, and the group did not use ropes, ice-climbing equipment or oxygen. The hikers didn’t hit snow and ice until about 15,000 feet, Spangler said.

The terrain was “very bare, very desolate,” he said.

The hardest part was using hands and feet to scramble over rocks on the Barranco ridge, Spangler said. “It was like 1,500 feet of just straight wall,” he said.

The group started its summit push at midnight Christmas Eve and reached the rim of the crater about 8 a.m. “We had to go around the rim and up.”

They reached the summit about 8:45 a.m. It was a crystal clear day, with the temperature in the high 20s, Spangler said.

“The view was spectacular,” he said.

The group stayed at the top about an hour and headed down. Taking a different route, they made it down in a day and a half.

In retrospect, Spangler said, his conditioning was critical to making the summit — but even more important was his state of mind.

“You have to have a positive mental attitude,” he said.

“I knew he would make it,” Sheryl Spangler said. “I didn’t have any doubt about that.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Things are heating up in Olympia — and not just the weather

Here’s what’s happening on Day 94 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Jesse L. Hartman (Everett Police Department)
Suspect in fatal Everett shooting captured at U.S. border

Jesse Hartman was arrested in California as he tried to re-enter the country from Mexico.

The state House transportation budget proposes $15,000,000 to widen state improving Highway 524 between 24th Avenue West in Lynnwood and 9th Avenue SE.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Who wants a wider Highway 524 between Bothell and Lynnwood?

The project list includes expanding the three-mile, two-lane road between Bothell and Lynnwood.

People on jet skis and boats drive past the Hannah Marie, formerly called the Midas, that was run aground along the banks of the Snohomish River on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett couple writes check to clean up the Snohomish River

Phil and Kelly Johnson have donated $50,000 to the county project that removes derelict vessels.

FILE - This Monday, June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone. While the nation's attorneys general debate a legal settlement with Purdue Pharma, the opioid epidemic associated with the company's blockbuster painkiller OxyContin rages on. The drugs still kill tens of thousands of people each year with no end in sight. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
High court ruling spurs effort to retool state’s drug laws

Meanwhile, the Blake decision has gotten people out jail, charges dismissed and possibly clemency for some.

Gabriel van Winkle, center, struggles with lifting a bag of rice weighing nearly half his weight as he and volunteers help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from their old location to a new one on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Granite Falls, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New digs will give Granite Falls nonprofit room to grow

The small town’s community coalition and food bank have found a home on school district grounds.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
5 wrinkles for lawmakers to iron out in session’s last days

Here’s what’s happening on Day 92 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Randy White helps transport dogs from a Fetch airplane to cars waiting on the tarmac to transport the animals to The NOAH Center and PAWS on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Go, dogs, go! Cats, too — on a charter flight from California

Wings of Rescue, which airlifts companion animals, made a big delivery to Everett for local shelters.

Most Read