Couple with no climbing experience conquer Mount Kilimanjaro for Childhood Cancer Canada
As publised by Rita DeMontis, in the TORONTO SUN, November 5, 2022
November 5, 2022 (TORONTO, ON) – Betty Motton and her fiance, Dennis Robinson decided to go climb a mountain. Not just any mountain, but the majestic, if somewhat terrifying Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, considered the highest mountain in Africa, certainly one of the most powerful in the world.
The two Torontonians were on a mission – to raise funds for a charity near and dear to the two of them: Childhood Cancer Canada, an organization the two see as underfunded with most research monies going towards adult cancer.
And there was something else… the two climbed for their grandchild, Oliver, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer) when he was only 16 months old. The little boy underwent chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and hospital stays and today, is a healthy, rambunctious six-year-old.
“We’ve always supported this charity, but we wanted to do something on a bigger scale,” said Betty recently, having just arrived home from their adventures. “We settled on Mount Kilimanjaro, and planning took close to 18 months.”
And they did it – they conquered Mount Kilimanjaro – raising thousands on their p2p.onecause.com/climbforkids website, and establishing memories to last a lifetime.
Here’s the thing: Betty and Dennis, both in their late 60s, are not your average hard-core fitness buffs. If anything, they’re more of a let’s-go-for-a-long-walk-and-call-it-a-day suburban athletes. Save for a dedicated walking routine, the two never really formally trained for such a feat. Betty relied on the fact that she has “always been athletic,” while Dennis admits to being athletic “in high school.”
Training for Mount Kilimanjaro consisted of “walking a lot,” said Betty, while Dennis says he clocked in at “almost 1,900 kilometres in 18 months.”
Dedicated walks throughout Ontario’s scenic countryside are a long way from the brutal realities of climbing what is, in essence, a volcano, the largest free-standing mountain rise in the world, with an elevation of 5,895 metres (19,340 feet), on one of the roughest terrains on earth.
“Let’s just say ignorance is bliss,” chuckled Betty, “and, to be honest, I’m glad I hadn’t researched anything. But I had no idea of the amount of rock climbing, how steep it was, the fluctuating temperatures.
“How brutal it was.”
Dennis says their saving grace was “just how dedicated the guides and porters were. They took care of everything, and encouraged us every step of the way, given we were one of the oldest couples on this particular trek.”
The operative phrase was take it slow and steady: “The porters would constantly tell us to go ‘pole, pole’ meaning ‘slowly, slowly.’”
Strangers became fast friends; the two were honoured with new names: “We weren’t Betty and Dennis anymore, we were Bibi and Babu, translated in Swahili meaning respected village elders.”
It takes five to nine days to conquer this massive beast – and the longer it takes, the better for the climber, given how quickly the dreaded altitude sickness can strike. It can incapacitate the most fit of climbers in moments. And it can kill – Mount Kilimanjaro has had its fair share.
It took the couple six days to get to base camp – but altitude sickness hit Dennis just as they were about to leave the base camp for the last leg of their journey.
Dennis says his disappointment was deep. “It was devastating for me, as Betty had to go the most gruelling part of the climb with only the guides. But, unless you’ve been struck by altitude sickness you have no idea how frightening it is. I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. My oxygen levels were constantly being monitored and I was warned it was too dangerous to continue.”
Climbing the last leg of Mt. Kilimanjaro takes place at night, said Betty. “They get you up at 10 p.m., and you climb all night to get to the summit at dawn, to see the sun come up over the whole African Serengeti.”
Armed with photos of her grandchildren – and the ashes of a 17-year-old young man who had died of cancer – Betty and her guides started to ascend the side of the mountain, a terrifying nine-hour trek through some of the roughest terrain imaginable. “You’re trekking through volcanic ash – think of it as going uphill through sand. I felt numb. I just kept thinking of children’s cancer research. I had my photos, and the ashes of this young man, whose parents had asked us to scatter at the top of the mountain… it kept me going.”
Nine hours later, Betty and her guides, who encouraged her every step of the way, reached the top, and the scene below was profound. “I couldn’t be happier. It was magnificent. We took photos, and I scattered this young man’s ashes.” Fifteen minutes later, it was time to go back down.
Betty admits her darkest moment came when “I realized I couldn’t remember the final three hours of trekking. But we summited at a place called Stella Point. Stella was my mother’s name. I think she helped me make it through the last leg of the climb.”The journey down was shorter – under four hours – and from there, Betty met up with Dennis and they made their way back down, always with the encouragement of their loving guides.
Back home, Betty admits the whole experience has a surreal, almost dreamlike quality. Happy to be back on solid ground, the two admit the whole experience has left them humbled – and grateful for everything life has given them.
“We’re blessed with so much, this climb has given us the opportunity to give back,” said the two.
Help Betty and Dennis reach their goal and donate today at https://p2p.onecause.com/climbforkids