YUMA, Ariz. — An 85-year-old Yuma man will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, for "a truly worthy cause" this month.
John Parish, a retired pastor, feels ready for the adventure. "I'm in very good health for 85½ years old."
"He's ready. Mentally, physically, he's all ready for this," his wife, Arline, added.
If Parish succeeds, he will be among the oldest men to reach the summit of the mountain with an elevation of 19,340 feet. An 84-year-old man from Washington State currently holds the official record, set it in 2011, according to World Records Academy.
Valtee Daniel, a Frenchman who reached the summit at 87, is accepted by some as the oldest man to climb Kilimanjaro.
However, Parish is quick to point out that setting a record, albeit unofficially, would be exciting, but it's not the reason he's doing it.
Parish is joining a group of 27 adventurers who are raising funds to help AIDS orphans in Africa. Tumaini International Ministries, based in Corona, Calif., is organizing the Kilimanjaro trek. The goal is for the team to raise $100,000.
Parish's goal is to raise at least $4,000 for the orphans. He will be covering his own expenses for the trip.
He noted that this is the organization's "idea of a fun fundraiser." The money will benefit children and teens whose parents have died of AIDS.
John and Arline already sponsor five orphans. They cover their education and everyday necessities such as food, medicine and clothing. Arline pointed out that high school is not free in Africa.
One of the orphans, Cosmas, is now a 22-year-old college student. Their other sponsored children are between 5 and 12 years old.
"What's different (about this organization) is that they don't take the children away from their villages. They leave them with their caretakers. It's better for them to stay there and help the country grow," Arline said.
Stanley Mutunga, Tumaini's president, invited Parish to join the climb. Parish could not turn down the challenge. He's an experienced hiker and mountain climber, having tackled several 14,000-foot mountains in the western United States, including Pikes Peak in Colorado.
Since Arline can't accompany him due to a bad back, Parish invited his daughter. Marilyn Parish, a police officer in Seattle, readily accepted.
"She promised she would take care of me," he said.
"It was my Dad's idea. He invited me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for kids who have lost their parents to AIDS. How could I not go?" Marilyn posted on the Tumaini website.
"Times are tough. But I am blessed. I have a house to live in, food on the table, clean water, and medical facilities should I need them. I feel that raising money for Tumaini is one way I can give back to humanity," she added.
Although already in good shape, John Parish started training for this climb a year and a half ago.
He has been training by playing tennis three or four times a week and regularly hiking Telegraph Pass. He climbs the stairs two at a time at the seven-story Crescent Center with a backpack full of rocks to build the muscles in his legs.
Parish got his doctor's blessing. She checked his heart and body functions and aced the tests. The doctor also gave him medication designed to increase his oxygen intake.
He also had to order special equipment, such as a sleeping bag for camping in 30 degrees below zero weather, a suitable jacket and boots for climbing.
"As you can imagine, there's nothing for minus-30 degrees in this area," Arline quipped.
Parish is looking forward to "making it, of course, and associating with other people who likewise support children. And I look forward to revisiting the kids (in Africa)."
He packed his gear and traveled to East Africa for the 11-day trek on Wednesday. The climb will take six days, and the group expects to reach the summit on Jan. 28. He will return to Yuma on Jan. 30.
The climbers will hike through the days and camp at night. "We have to become acclimated to the high elevations, especially a low lander like myself," Parish said.
However, as a hot-air balloon and single-engine pilot, he's accustomed to being at high elevations. "At 10,000 feet and above, you really should be on oxygen," he noted.
They will walk through the night the last 4,340 feet to reach the summit at daybreak.
"We'll see the Indian Ocean at sunrise, take pictures, then turn around and walk down five miles, rest, then another five miles," Parish explained.
Arline is very proud of her husband. "He is such an example for people. People in their 50s have said they hope they're in half the shape he's in when they're his age."
Parish moved to Yuma in 2000 "after retiring several times," he said, chuckling. He is a retired teacher, pastor and church college president and the father of two daughters and a son with his late first wife.
Parish has set a goal of trying a new hobby every year. So far he's tried hot-air ballooning, piloting a single-engine airplane and glider, kayaking, archery and elk and deer hunting, among others.
He also enjoys gardening on their two acres in Yuma, where they grow citrus.
Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com