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Outdoors: Group Tackles Tall Peak for Cancer Research

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
One summer morning several years ago, Wes Chapman discovered the Prouty and its mission after growing curious about the high number of cyclists gliding past his Hanover home.

“I called out to a group of them, ‘What are you guys doing?’ ” Chapman recalled in a phone interview yesterday. “They said, ‘We’re raising money for cancer (research and treatment),’ and I thought it was a great idea.”

This year, Chapman has been utilizing the Prouty mission — raising funds for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center-based research, treatment and prevention facility — to exercise his passion for mountain climbing.

Following a series of training hikes over the summer and fall in New Hampshire, Chapman’s “Reach for the Peaks” Prouty Mountaineering Program embarks next month on an expedition up the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. With six registered climbers, the 11-day journey to Africa’s highest peak is expected to raise $30,000 for NCCC.

“I’ve always found the juxtaposition interesting, between the horrible hardships of cancer and the beauty of the outdoors,” said Chapman, a 1977 Dartmouth College graduate who is the president at CEO of a Lebanon-based healthcare consulting company. “I’m sure it’s a real sense of accomplishment for those who ride the Prouty to fight cancer, and I think it works doubly so with mountaineering. It’s that much more intense to be high on the mountains.”

With assistance from Kelly Michaelsen, an experienced outdoor guide and student at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, Chapman’s Reach for the Peaks group is set to arrive in Arusha, Tanzania on Dec. 11.

After the Prouty group spends one night in a hotel, a professional guiding company will them lead up Kilimanjaro, the world’s fourth-highest summit and the tallest freestanding peak on the planet.

The first climbing day will have the group ascending nearly 4,000 feet to access the Machame Route, Kilimanjaro’s most scenic — but also its steepest — access path.

A four-hour climb on day three will land them at the Shira Camp, an area above 12,000 feet and home to healthy populations of buffalo and elk.

After passing a 1,500-foot mass of solidified lava — Kilimanjaro is a volcano, after all — the group will make its way past giant glaciers and into the clouds of Karanga Camp, where they’ll spend a day acclimating to an altitude of more than 13,000 feet. The next two days will send the group over the final 6,300 feet to the summit at Uhuru Peak.

“It’s a lot different than riding a bike through Hanover,” said Chapman, who ascended the Machame Route two years ago in his only previous Kilimanjaro climb. “It’s an arduous mountain, but boy, it’s spectacular.

“There are lava rivers at 16,000 feet, giant craters … you can see the Indian Ocean. It’s all pretty breathtaking.”

The Prouty Mountaineering Program began last December with a series of winter hikes, including western Maine’s 4,145-foot Mount Bigelow as well as a two-day February voyage over four peaks in the New Hampshire Presidentials.

Training hikes for the Kilimanjaro trip have included treks up Mount Cube and Mount Moosilauke as Chapman and company have welcomed cancer patients and survivors to join.

Rebecca Gray, the senior program manager for the friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, accompanied the Prouty Mountaineers recently on a hike up Orford’s Mount Cube.

“This group has really helped people understand the glory of climbing while putting a face to the cause,” said Gray, a 15-year survivor of breast cancer.

Walpole, N.H., resident Mark Green, a former Prouty board member and participant who has undergone treatment at DHMC for brain cancer, joined the Reach for the Peaks group in late October for an ascent up Mount Moosiluake, his first climbing journey since receiving his diagnosis in summer 2011.

“I hadn’t done anything like that in over a year, and to be on a 4,200-foot mountain with those guys was so inspirational, wonderful and spiritual,” Green said.

The Kilimanjaro expedition will also carry special meaning for Jeff Goodell, a Newbury, Vt., resident who has several in-laws and close family friends who have undergone cancer treatment. Goodell, a teacher at Newbury Elementary School, is one of the six registered participants making the journey to Africa with Reach for the Peaks next month.

“I’ve done eight or nine Prouty (bike rides), but this trip is going to be a whole new experience,” said Goodell, 50. “I have three generations of in-laws who are cancer survivors and the list of close friends and family (who have been affected by cancer) keeps getting longer.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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