Most people would grimace, grab their laptops and smartphones, and head for the nearest coffee shop if they discovered the elevator wasn't working and they were required to tackle 20 flights of stairs to get to the office.
Mike Marker isn't “most people.”
The Fort Wayne native and current Indianapolis resident has been intentionally climbing stairs to reach his 20th floor office in downtown Indy. Frequently.
It's part of preparations to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak and the world's tallest free-standing mountain. His six-day journey, which begins Monday, has a goal of raising $19,340 for United Methodist Church camping programs — one dollar for every foot of elevation climbed.
“As a kid, I attended summer camp at Epworth Forest,” Marker explains in an email. “During those weeklong adventures, I built great friendships, grew in my faith and had a ton of fun. I decided to show my gratitude by sending other kids to camp.”
“Our fundraising is being done to support Impact 2818, which is a camping ministry of the Indiana Conference of the UMC,” he continues. “It serves over 3,000 students in Grades K-12 each summer.”
Marker hopes his “Climb for Kids” Campaign can provide full and partial scholarships for 100 campers this summer.
The great outdoors
The middle son of public school teachers, Marker graduated from Harding High School in 1987. A former News-Sentinel paperboy and a freelancer for the paper while in high school, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie and now works in communications and public affairs for VOX Global's Indianapolis office.
Marker enjoys exploring national and Indiana state parks with wife Michelle and children Bo and Ellie, road biking, and taking annual ski trips to Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Canada with fellow BSU alumni.
“Michelle and I honeymooned in Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies,” he says. “I've done a lot of hiking over the years, but this is my first major climb.”
A friend indicated an interest in climbing the iconic mountain last year, and, after doing some checking, Marker agreed to join him.
“We now have a group of 10 going to make the climb,” he explains. “I officially signed on ... last May when I sent my deposit and purchased plane tickets.”
“I've been traveling to do mission work in recent years, with trips to Haiti and Russia to help kids living in orphanages,” he continues. “The appeal with Mount Kilimanjaro is that it is in Africa, and I haven't traveled there yet. It's also appealing that we'll get to go on a brief safari once the climb is over. It will be peak migration season on the Serengeti, so that should be something to take in.”
For an avid hiker, the act of putting one foot in front of the other isn't the issue.
“This isn't a technical climb,” Marker says. “It's basically a very challenging hike at high altitude. As we climb up toward 19,340 feet, we'll have half the amount of oxygen that we're used to having. People have told me it's like breathing through a straw.”
Marker and his crew will meet two other climbers upon arrival in Tanzania. The 12 have arranged for an experienced guide company with a good record of shepherding the majority of participants to the summit, he says.
“I've seen some information saying 30,000 (people) attempt to summit each year, and less than half make it,” he says. “The real wild card in all this is how you react to being at such a high altitude.”
Symptoms of altitude sickness are only alleviated by a retreat down the mountainside.
The destination is Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro's highest summit. Marker's team will traverse the Machame route recommended by their guides. The company provides tents, food and porters to assist the climbers.
Marker estimates his backpack, sleeping bag, cold weather gear and water will weigh about 30 pounds. Trekking poles and sun lotion with maximum SPF complete his equipment — the latter a necessity due to their proximity to the equator and the sun's intensity at that altitude.
“The benefits of going with this guide company is that they essentially stair step you up the mountain,” he explains. “You hike each day and come down a little to camp. By taking a little longer to make the trek, it allows climbers to acclimatize and increases the odds of making it to the summit.”
“Our biggest challenge will be summit day,” Marker says. “On that day, we'll get up around midnight and start a seven- to eight-hour trek to the top, ... hiking in the dark, ... using our headlamps.” Temps of 70-80 degrees at the beginning of the climb will give way to wind chills of 15 below zero at the summit.
“If all goes well, we'll be looking out over a glacier at the top,” he explains. “As long as my iPhone battery holds out in sub-zero temps, I'll get pictures at the summit.”
The day will end with a 10,000 foot descent.
“I feel blessed to have this opportunity, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it,” Marker says. “If we make it to the top, I'll be thrilled to be up there with some of my best friends. ... That will feel awesome.”