At 47, Cyndy Rodriguez Ott's life is peaking. At dawn on Feb. 3, she will be 19,336 feet above sea level, standing on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in the northeastern part of Tanzania, Africa.
"Climbing Kilimanjaro has been a dream of mine for years. Sort of the top item on my bucket list," said the Richland resident.
Ott was bitten by the mountain climbing bug years ago while watching a film about Kilimanjaro with her son, Andrue, in an IMAX theater in Spokane.
"In the film I saw regular people, people like me, going up the mountain. For years I kept telling myself I'd climb it someday. Well, that someday is here," Ott said.
She leaves the Tri-Cities on Friday and flies to Amsterdam, then to Africa. After a single night's stay in a hotel, she and her other eight teammates will meet their two guides and set off for the seven-day trek.
"We'll spend six nights on the mountain, there's camps spaced about every five to six hours apart, to stay in. It's rough, but doable," she said.
The team's climb is made possible by Summit for Someone, run by Denver-based Big City Mountaineers. The program enables urban teens from 14 to 18 years old to go on a weeklong expedition to experience the beauty and challenges of the wilderness, with help from adult mentors. Many of the youths' families live below the poverty line.
Ott agreed to raise at least $8,500 in donations in order to join a Summit for Someone climb. Part of the money goes to pay for the mountaineering guides, an overnight stay at a hotel before and after the climb, and the porters who will carry the climbers' overnight gear, extra food and water.
"But the balance, about $6,000, will go to Summit for Someone. I bought my own plane ticket and gear," she said. "REI and Mountain Gear in Spokane are the only places I've been shopping this past year."
Ott has met some of the youths who've completed the group's expeditions. "The program makes a person dig deep, especially young people," she said. "They come back transformed, with a new look on life. The climbs build their self-esteem."
Summits like Kilimanjaro are reserved for adults. Northwest youths in the program do climbs on mountains like Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Whitney in California.
To train for her trek, Ott climbed Granite Mountain by Snoqualmie Pass numerous times in the past year.
"It has a 4,000-foot elevation gain and is just a six-hour round trip, so it's very doable," she said. "I've also done a lot of hiking this past year and climbed McBee Grade by Benton City pretty faithfully, several times a week. I did Badger Mountain too."
On Mount Kilimanjaro, her team will take the Umbwe Route, a short, steep and direct climb up to the peak.
"My pack only weighs about 25 or 30 pounds, but the air gets pretty thin past 16,000 feet. I'm sure it'll feel heavier," she said.
But she's game for the climb and plans to tackle other mountains in the future.
"Just those in my back yard -- Rainier, St. Helens, Mount Adams, I have no intention of tackling anything like Mount Everest. I don't have a death wish," Ott said.
For more information on the Summit for Someone program, go to www.summitforsomeone.org.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org