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Reservist's Kilimanjaro climb a mountain of a cause

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders
Most people dream of traveling the world, or conquering large obstacles.

Maj. Lisa Reaver, a reservist with the 477th Fighter Group at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, was able to do both in a trip that took her halfway around the world to climb Tanzania's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.

"A teammate of mine from rugby did the climb a couple of years ago and said it was a life-changing experience," Reaver said.

The fascination of climbing mountains has been around for generations. The thought of reaching new heights has brought people from all around the world to some famous peaks.

Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits, the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.

It is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, with Uhuru Peak rising to an altitude of 19,341 feet above sea level, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Reaver left Alaska Sept. 17 with a group from the Global Alliance for Africa, a non-profit organization that benefits children orphaned by HIV and AIDS.

The group stayed in Africa for 16 days spending their time visiting Global Alliance operations, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, taking a safari and visiting with locals.

"We had to pay our expenses for the trip, and had to raise at least $5,000 for GAA," Reaver said.

Reaver's group raised funds for GAA at a variety of events around Anchorage.

"The fund raisers were a challenge because we are all busy people and finding time, during the summer, to plan and execute the events was difficult," Reaver explained.

"While we were actually doing the events it was a great time and it helped us get to know each other before we went on the trip."

Reaver said, her trip mates and she got a chance to experience African culture in a new light.

"We got to hang out with our porters and guides on the Kilimanjaro climb. Most of them were Chaga people from the area around Mount Kilimanjaro," she said. "They spoke Swahili and we learned a bit from them. East Africa was heavily influenced by Christian missionaries and the British, so we have much more in common than I would have thought.

"On Sunday, there were loads of church services being conducted outside," she continued. "Preachers could be seen addressing large crowds clad in their best attire. It was very basic and a beautiful thing to see so many people and families coming together even though it wasn't a big, air conditioned church.

"In Tanzania, English is taught in schools so we were able to communicate easily with most Tanzanians," she said. "The locals we met throughout our trip were always helpful and kind."

Though the people were kind, some of their customs were strange to the group, she said.

"I think the most noticeable (oddity) was watching people carry large amounts of heavy items on their heads," Reaver said. "Sounds funny, but it really was common both in the city and country for people to carry things on their heads rather than on their backs like we typically see in the U.S.

"Much like the people of Tanzania, the mountain should not be underestimated or overlooked," Reaver said. "The local guides and porters on our trip did not have the high tech gear we are accustomed to nor were they overly muscular looking, but they did the whole climb with 30 to 40 pounds of gear, on their heads.

"They have an inner strength that can't be underestimated," she explained. "In the same way, Mount Kilimanjaro has a rep for being less challenging than other mountains mainly because it's less technical than other mountains that reach its 19,341-foot height."

Reaver warned anyone who would follow in her footsteps not to make a mistake because, "everyone that gets to the top has pushed themselves to their limit."
Only four of Reaver's six-person group were able to make it to Uhuru peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro.

"Mount Kilimanjaro does not look capable of such intensity, but just like the people that guided us up it, you can't judge a book by its cover," she said. "Those men are capable of carrying not just their pack, but yours too, on their head, just as Mount Kilimanjaro is capable of keeping people off its peak. It is harder than it looks."

Reaver said if she had to take one lesson away from her trip it would be, "You don't know what you are capable of until you're put to the test."

"This trip was a challenge on a couple of fronts, mainly fund raising as well as the climb," the major said. "I'm not an expert in either area and was pushed out of my comfort zone to accomplish both.

"I learned that I can rely on my friends and family, myself and my faith," Reaver explained. "Trusting in that, I can succeed at just about anything."