On a cold, clear morning last fall, Eleanor Raispis watched the sun rise from the top of Africa’s highest mountain. She had hiked over rocky trails in the dark for more than six hours that day to reach the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. And she’d done it to honor her mother, Carolynne Lowrance, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2004.
“Mom was always about possibilities,” says Raispis, 45, who lives in the Mallard Grove neighborhood. “She wanted me to go out and do and feel and try and experience life.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro had been a goal for Raispis ever since she watched a TV special about it with her mom when she was 14. “It looked like a different planet,” Raispis says of the terrain that a 12-year-old girl and her grandfather hiked in the TV show. If they can do it, she thought, so can I.
After her mother’s death, Raispis decided to make the climb as a fundraiser to help other victims of Alzheimer’s, the brain disease that is the most common form of dementia.
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To train for the trek, the Wells Fargo strategy consultant hiked Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain three times each, along with a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. So she was in great shape when she arrived in Tanzania last September with two friends for their journey up the mountain, that is more than 19,000 feet above sea level.
“The trek began in the rainforest,” Raispis says, where she wore a short-sleeve top and walked past monkeys in broad-leaved banana trees. After hiking as much as eight hours a day across ever steeper terrain, she and her group of hikers and guides went to bed early on the third night of the journey to prepare for the grueling six-hour trek to the summit. They awakened shortly before midnight and began the ascent in the dark, their headlamps and a full moon lighting a trail that was nearly vertical.
So many other hikers were heading for the summit that when Raispis looked up, she recalls that “all you could see was headlamps.” In her head she sang songs from summer camp to relieve the monotony. “Put one foot in front of the other,” she sang to herself, “and soon you’ll be walking across the floor.” While Raispis was sweating in layers of fleece and a down parka, the water in her camel pack froze from temperatures below zero. Covered in trail dust, the determined hikers reached the summit in time to watch the sun rise just as the moon was setting in their 360-degree view of the world. “It was beautiful,” says Raispis. “You could see forever.”
When all the money was tallied, she had raised more than $7,000 in donations from friends and family to fight Alzheimer’s disease. Raispis likes to think her mother would have made the trek with her if she were still alive. And in a way her mom did make the trip. All along the way, Raispis felt her mother was watching out for her. Carolynne Lowrance taught her daughter to dream big. Raispis hopes the money she raised will help bring the chance of a better life to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The fight against Alzheimer’sFor more information or to donate to the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, click here or call 1-800-272-3900.