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76-year-old Mormon adventurer keeps hiking, diving and an active lifestyle

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Jonna Palmer, front left, Barbara Stewart Anderson, Lorna and Ross Uibel and back row, mountain guides on Mount Kilimanjaro, during their recent trek.

Barbara Stewart Anderson

SALT LAKE CITY — Barbara Stewart Anderson lives a very active life. She's completed seven treks in Nepal, scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef, and travelled to more than 50 countries, provinces and territories. Earlier this month, she hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro.

But what makes her latest feat so significant is not merely that she scaled the 19,341 feet to reach the summit, it's that Anderson is 76 years old.

Still an avid skier and hiker, Anderson made the climb with her daughter, Jonna Palmer, and her ex-husband's brother and his wife, Ross and Lorna Uibel.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. A dormant volcano, the mountain's slopes are marked by steep climbs and the summit is capped with a glacier. Although one of the world's most accessible high summits, trekkers are required to ascend slowly to acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness.

The conditions during the climb surprised Anderson. The weather was stormy to the point that a man from a group behind them was struck and killed by lightning while crossing the Barranco Wall, which requires a steep scramble.

A lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Anderson relied on her faith to keep her going.

"I prayed a lot," she said. "I kept saying, 'This isn't quite how I had planned.' I hadn't envisioned this kind of situation weather-wise, but Heavenly Father and I are very close and he was able to keep me going."

Anderson's group followed the Machame route to Uhuru Peak, the highest summit.

"We were thrilled, just thrilled," she said. "And we did get some sunshine as we came up to the two summits. … I'm really glad we did it. I don't have to do it again, but it's been a life's dream."

The group came down off the mountain on the eighth day and afterwards Anderson and Palmer took a four-day safari trip in the Serengeti National Park before returning home.

"There's no place I'd rather be than on top of a mountain," said Anderson.

Anderson has always been an active woman. She grew up exploring the mountains, has moved 48 times, traveled to all seven continents and once spent two entire summers rafting from river to river with her children.

"What do you do with three kids and a dog for a summer? We bought an inflatable white water river raft and we rafted from river to river all over the West with the five of us and the dog," she said. "We have had just a very active lifestyle doing things and enjoying life."

Among other things, Anderson has been a swimmer, a roller-blader, a mountain biker, a seamstress, a librarian, a teacher, a skydiver and a water skier. But mostly, she has been an adventurer.

At one point 13 years ago, Anderson took a sign to Rockefeller Center in New York for the Today Show, where she was picked for an interview with Al Roker. The sign read, "In the last three months I have been seven days in Tibet, seven days trekking in Nepal, seven days hiking in western Canada and now seven days in New York."

Today, Anderson spends much of her time in the hills above her home in the Avenues area of Salt Lake. She hikes at least two days a week for two to three hours and on three other days spends time running, walking and lifting weights at the University of Utah's field house. She serves on the missionary committee in her ward, the Ensign 6th Ward in the Salt Lake Ensign Stake. She has previously served in various capacities in Primary, Young Women and Relief Society.

“I'm very involved with my family, my children, my husband and his family,” Anderson said.

She also spends time skiing at Sundance Resort, which her father founded and has written a book on the subject, "Before Sundance: Ray Stewart and Timp Haven." Growing up with a love for skiing, she built a collection of 625 miniature skiers that are currently on display at the Alf Engen Ski Museum at the Utah Olympic Park near Park City.

Anderson hopes her most recent trek will inspire other females to be the best they can be. "I just encourage all females in the church to do what they can to be active and to be what you can be. My motto is, 'Why not? I can do it today. I may not be able to do it tomorrow.'"

Now that Anderson has checked Mt. Kilimanjaro off her list, her next destination is the island of Maui and then Canada for some more hiking next June.

"Due to all that I continue to accomplish," she said, "I can truthfully say that I have never been bored."

Email: ajones@desnews.com

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