Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro -- Africa's tallest peak at 19,341 feet -- is no walk in the park.
Tri-Citian Spencer Hayter tackled it anyway, starting March 16 and reaching the summit seven days later.
The experience was intimidating and exhilarating, Hayter said.
"It was the most beautiful and, literally, breathtaking experience I have ever had," he said. "Every day brought a new ecosystem as we gained altitude and each one was magnificent."
Hayter started feeling the effects of the high altitude by the fifth day.
"When we reached our base camp at about 16,000 feet, I was doing well but really feeling the lack of oxygen in every step," he said. "But my body was handling the altitude quite well."
The climbers set up camp, ate dinner and were advised to sleep for a few hours to regain their energy, because the last leg of the trek would start at midnight in hopes of reaching the summit at sunrise, he said.
"As we began the final climb, every single step required a slow and steady conscious effort," Hayter said. "We took many short breaks to catch our breath and tried to keep our water from freezing so we could stay hydrated."
The pain was soon forgotten as he approached the top.
"I felt a huge sense of joy and relief when we reached Stella Point (just short of the summit)," he said. "It was close to 5 a.m. when I stepped onto level ground and was nearly overcome with emotion as the dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had come true at that moment."
The summit, called Uhuru Peak, was another few hundred feet higher and he and his fellow climbers had one more mile to go.
"A mile is a long way to walk at such high altitude, but the sunrise we saw was the most amazing thing," he said. "Surrounded by giant glaciers, thousands of feet above the clouds, we could see many miles into the horizon of Tanzania.
"There was a steady wind gusting around us that bit hard at the little bit of skin that wasn't protected by clothing. When we reached the summit, my thoughts ultimately turned to my sister, my mother and the others I was climbing for."
Hayter lost his mother, Patricia Hayter, to cancer when he was 13. His oldest sister, Lisa, died last year at the age of 43.
He and his fellow climbers placed prayer flags in the snow on the top of Kilimanjaro to honor the loved ones they lost. Then the party began its descent back to base camp.
"Climbing Kili has changed my life for the better," he said. "I have gained insight from climbing that I would not be able to have gained any other way. Climbing a big mountain really gives you a newfound appreciation for the simple amenities we enjoy in life, like water and the act of breathing."
He raised more than $13,000 in donations -- $5,000 more than his goal -- for the Radiating Hope foundation, which runs a cancer center in Tanzania.
Despite the hardships, Hayter plans to summit Mount Rainier in the near future, he said. And he'd like to return to Tanzania and tackle Kilimanjaro one more time.