Flatlanders train to climb a mountain

How do you train to climb a mountain when you live in central Illinois?

“The best way to train is to go hike in the mountains, and that we just can’t do here,” said Lynn Wachtel of Champaign.

Nevertheless, she and Lori Melchi of Savoy are finding ways to prepare for their July climb up 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Their preparation involves lots of walking on treadmills set at an incline, hiking around town with backpacks, and climbing stairs.

The two are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, along with a longtime friend of Melchi’s, to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Melchi decided on the climb after losing several friends to cancer and wanting to do something big to raise awareness and raise money.

She invited Wachtel to join her after seeking help with equipment at Wachtel’s family business, Champaign Surplus. Wachtel thought the climb would be a perfect way to mark her 60th birthday this year, and her 14th year as a breast cancer survivor.

Melchi and Wachtel walked in the Relay for Life last weekend, as Team Mountain Climbers. Their fundraising goal is $100,000, and they’ve raised about $27,000 so far.

Wachtel is an active person who stays fit with Nordic Walking, teaching spinning classes, and other outdoor activities, including hiking. She climbed Mt. Ranier when she was younger, and she has trekked through mountainous regions.

But Melchi said she was never one for working out much, and she’s never been on a mountain.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb, Wachtel said, meaning it doesn’t require any ropes or ice axes or such equipment. It’s a hike, but a very steep and difficult one.

After deciding on the climb last year, Melchi called every gym she could find, seeking a trainer to help her get in shape. Most didn’t take her seriously. One man told her that climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was “too lofty a goal for a woman my age,” she said.

Then the 53-year-old found Darnell Cox at iPower, who enthusiastically helped her come up with training plans. He suggested working out at times wearing a surgical mask, to simulate the thinner air at altitude.

Melchi is also using a device called a power lung, which restricts oxygen flow. She uses it only when resting, not working out, for five to 10 minutes a day.

She started running and has found she enjoys it. She ran the Illinois Marathon 5K race on May 1, and she is planning on running two half-marathons, in January and next spring at the Illinois Marathon. She also plans to do a triathlon in August.

Even with Wachtel’s climbing and trekking experience, she had concerns about getting prepared for the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb.

“Every time you go to altitude, you don’t know how your body is going to react and it’s hard to know how to train,” she said.

She’s done three-hour training sessions on her treadmill, set at a steep incline with a backpack on her back, watching movies to pass the time. But, she said, that doesn’t prepare her for hiking over uneven surfaces or climbing over rocks.

During a winter trip, she hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. She was in Utah on business last week and did some hiking there. And this week, she’s in Telluride, where she’ll be able to do some more training at altitude.

The climbers are using a guiding company, Seattle-based Alpine Ascents.

“Alpine Ascents is very aware of what to do to make it possible for us to get to the top,” Wachtel said, adding the company has a 95 percent success rate for clients summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

And even though Melchi doesn’t have mountain climbing experience, Wachtel said she’s learned how tenacious her climbing partner is.

 

Lori Melchi and Lynn Wachtel will set out for Mt. Kilimanjaro on July 11. You can read Melchi’s blog about the climb and preparing for it at http://thinagainadventures.blogspot.com.

Those interested in donating to the American Cancer Society through Team Mountain Climbers can do so at http://main.acsevents.org/goto/themountainclimber. They’ll be collecting donations through August.

Photo below: Lori Melchi, left, and Lynn Wachtel, right, at Relay for Life.

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