Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro at Age 60

November 6, 2011

By Kelly Neufeld

Peak of Kilimanjaro

Barry & Chris Finlay at the Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

When you picture people climbing Mount Kilimanjaro you probably think of fit, young, and experienced lifelong hikers. Barry Finlay would not be the first person to come to mind. Barry is a retired accountant who had only started working out at age 58 when his doctor warned him that his triglyceride levels were high.

Yet on January 16, 2009, at age 60, Barry along with his son Chris, reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. His story is a lesson in pushing your limits, reaching your goals and helping others achieve theirs.

The First Step Towards Mount Kilimanjaro

On the way home from his wake-up call at the doctor’s office, Barry stopped by a gym and became a member. Without knowing it, he had taken his first step towards his journey to Mount Kilimanjaro. He hired a personal trainer to ensure he would start going to the gym and work out properly. His trainer helped him push the limits of what he thought was possible and taught him to track his food and eat multiple smaller meals throughout the day.

After losing 28 pounds and improving his cholesterol and blood pressure levels Barry began to look for a new challenge. Wanting to celebrate his 60th birthday with something physically ambitious, the thought of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania popped into his mind. Barry had attended a lecture on the climb, and his son had remarked once that he would like to climb the mountain, but Barry had not seriously considered climbing a mountain before. He started researching and talking to other people who had climbed the mountain. He soon talked his son into climbing the mountain with him.

His son Chris had previously had a chance to climb Mount Kilimanjaro while travelling, but it never worked out. Now married with a young daughter, and also working as an accountant he had forgotten about his one-time dream. But his own health scare with a non-cancerous tumour encouraged him to live with no regrets. Despite needing to wear a knee brace for most of the hike due to 2 tears in the meniscus of his left knee, Chris also conquered the mountain. Watching his 60-year-old father climb inspired him and also ignited his competitive streak.

Giving Back to Tanzania

Tanzania School

Barry & Chris with Tanzanian Children

On top of training to hike, the Finlays also managed to raise over $30,000 to help supply a Tanzanian village with a clean water supply and another school classroom since the existing classroom was not big enough for the hundreds of students that attended. A clean water supply is not only essential for good health, but also frees up time for education. Believing that education is one of the keys to solving some of the world’s issues, they partnered with Plan Canada to help the children in Tanzania.

The Finlays raised the money through a variety of avenues including fundraising events and through their website. This was another way they were forced to step out of their comfort zone; but they soon hit their first goal and then made even more ambitious fundraising goals.

Training to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

With the trip now booked, Barry added hiking in his town of Ottawa, Canada to his work-out regime. While he trained with a backpack there was no way to replicate the altitude he would face on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania and at a staggering 19,000 feet above sea level it is the tallest peak in Africa. Every year 40,000 people attempt to reach the top but only 50 – 85% of the people will manage to reach the top.

Hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro is not a feat that can be attempted alone. Hikers hire guides and porters who know the mountain and help carry all the necessary gear. Another important aspect is a trained first aid responder who measures oxygen and heart rate levels. Guides also keep an eye out for altitude sickness which involves headaches, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance. Treatment includes slowly ascending and minimizing exertion.

Hikers must hike slowly over several days to allow their bodies to adjust to the altitude. All trekkers experience shortness of breath, and possibly headaches or hypothermia. In rare cases, hikers can suffer from deadly conditions such as high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema and must descend immediately.

Reaching the Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

During the trek Barry & Chris managed to call Barry’s wife, Evelyn, on a satellite phone, and she updated their blog followers. Even at the very top they were able to make an emotional call to let Barry’s wife know they had achieved their goal.

They were elated to have made it to the top, and also secretly relieved not to have let down their 200 supporters at home. Everyone who donated to their fundraising initiative had their names written on a Canadian Flag. At the top of the mountain, they took several pictures of their flag and later donated it to be hung in one of the new classrooms the school was able to build with their contributions.

Continuing Fundraising to Help Build a Well and a School Building

Tanzanian School

Tanzinian School Children with the Canadian Flags the Finlays Brought

Barry met the children after the climb, and saw the optimism in their tiny faces, in spite of the insurmountable odds facing them. He left with a sense of admiration for them, and the feeling that he could do more. Barry was inspired not only to continue to raise enough money to finish the classroom, but also to reach $38,000 to drill a well.

In February 2011, Barry and Evelyn visited the completed classroom. They also saw the site of the new well that will immediately benefit 800 children and 50 households.

One more experience motivated the Finlays to continue. While in Africa, they had the opportunity to attend a meeting of young African women who are starting small businesses.  This is another Plan Canada initiative and with the help of funding from various fund raisers such as the Finlays, these women are able to start businesses and provide education for their families. As the women described their businesses, their satisfaction, sense of self-worth, and joy was so apparent to the Finlays, it gave them chills!

For the next four years, Barry and Evelyn have committed to raise money to help more young women in Africa start their businesses and educate their children. They have seen firsthand the difference it makes. According to them, there is nothing more gratifying than reaching a goal and helping others to achieve theirs.

The Book: Kilimanjaro & Beyond: A Life-Changing Journey

Barry has documented his journey (with Chris’ input from his 30 year-old perspective) from the couch to Kilimanjaro and beyond; he details the physical training, doubts, challenges,fund raising, successes, failures, climb and the immense satisfaction of the journey– in Kilimanjaro and Beyond: A Life-Changing Journey

Besides being a fascinating and detailed book about a challenge most of us would never consider; it also serves as an inspiration to people of all ages to push their limits. Barry writes that “age is only a chronological means of counting where we are in life, nothing more. It is not a measuring stick that tells us how we should be in life.” Barry chose to face his challenge head-on by literally conquering a mountain, and reading the book helps us realize we are all stronger than we think.

Enter to win  a Copy of Kilimanjaro & Beyond: A Life-Changing Journey


Kilimanjaro and Beyond: A Life-Changing Journey is available on Amazon. If you’d like to win a copy, leave a comment under this article or on our Facebook page. One comment will be randomly drawn on December 15th, 2011.

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  • Robert Byers

    Would love a copy.

  • Marg

    Sounds like a great journey.

  • Tom Wong

    I am 55 years old, and hope to reach the summit within the next 2-3 years.

  • emma

    At sub-60 this summer, I’m planning a trip to Kilimanjaro too, and visit a few charitable orgs i’m connected to. would love to read the book in preparation

  • http://www.plankilimanjaro.blogspot.com Barry Finlay

    Thanks to all who entered and good luck to those who are climbing. I absolutely encourage you to go. It is an experience you will never forget. If you have questions about the climb, I would be happy to answer them through my website.

    If you didn’t win, you might want to check the book out at http://www.Amazon.ca.

    Best wishes to all through the festive season.

  • cynthia

    So many groups pay their airfare etc. to get to Africa to climb Mt.Kilimanjaro in order to fund some project in that country.  When I hear of yet another trip to Mt.K for charitable purposes, I wonder why those groups dont save their money (which could be put towards the charity) and climb a Canadian mountain – we do have some.  And why not a charity to put money towards clean water, health, schooling, etc. for our own – the First Nations? 

  • Marian

    Cynthia, yes they could climb a Canadian mountain instead, but why not help the children in Tanzania?

  • Bjfinlay2

    There has been quite a bit of discussion on this on Facebook but I thought I would respond here as well. I don’t want to compare one charity against another because I believe we all choose the one(s) we are passionate about and direct our efforts there.  For us, the mountain came first. But we realized we could make a difference by using the mountain as a platform to raise money. The fact that we were going to meet the children, see the project sites and promised to go back when the projects were done (all out of my son’s and my pockets by the way) motivated people to get involved.  Without doing all of that, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have. Meeting the kids made us passionate about the projects and it was easier to explain to potential donors what the people of Tanzania are up against.  For our donors, knowing where every cent was going made them more comfortable. The result is that we have now raised close to $75,000, including building a classroom, drilling a well that will serve a community of 13,500 and helping young women start small businesses.  Yes, we could have climbed a mountain in Canada, although flying from Ottawa to Vancouver is not cheap either, but I like to think we have received a good return on our investment by doing what we did.  

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