COLUMBIA — “At 3 a.m. we were crossing the Ingraham Glacier (on Mount Rainier) the same way another group had crossed when the largest mountain climbing disasters in America happened.”
Bill Powell sits up in his chair. His thick gray beard shakes a little bit and his voice rises with his story.
“Just when we were crossing the glacier, a large chunk of ice fell and began roaring toward us.”
Powell's office walls at Smith Lewis law firm in Columbia are lined with pictures of him looking out at the wispy white clouds and the rippled terrain from the tops off mountains. His desks are filled with more pictures of him traveling abroad. There are also small and large globes scattered throughout. They dwarf the small stack of legal documents and legal books on his desk.
“Everyone shouted, 'Run,' and we began running across the narrow route.”
Powell has been climbing mountains for 20 years, and has reached the top of two of the Seven Summits, a group of mountains that are the highest point in each continent. Powell has climbed Mount Elbrus, the highest summit in Europe, and Mount Aconcagua, the highest in South America, and plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa on Aug 2.
“When the avalanche came near, it fell into a crevasse we didn't see and no one was hurt.”
Powell, 59, serves as the legal council for the Outdoors Writers Association of America. He says he had always wanted to trek Mount Kilimanjaro but never had the opportunity. After a plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro fell through several years ago, Powell faced back surgery and gall bladder surgery. Powell says the surgeries have prevented him from climbing the mountain since then.
However, after speaking with Lisa Densmore, a member of the Outdoors Writers Association of America, he realized he had another opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They formed a group with two other members of association to climb the mountain.
“Lisa and I hatched the plan when we were in Utah. We both realized we wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and said 'Why don’t we do this,'” Powell said.
Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895 meters high (19,340 feet), and is not the most dangerous mountain Powell will have climbed. The mountain offers several hiking trails to reach the summit, each with a varying degree of difficulty. The trip to the top, which has five different zones of vegetation, will take five days and two days to get back down. Powell and his group plan to take the more dangerous route to the top.
“We are doing the one route thought to have danger. The danger is from rocks falling on you from above,” Powell said. “We decided to do it to get away from the people.”
Wayne Vanzwoll, who will be going with Powell, says the mountain isn’t as tough to hike as some other mountains.
“I look at it as an adventure, but because it is a hike more than a technical climb, on the danger scale, it is relatively low," Vanzwoll said.*
Powell said there have been people who have died on the mountain from falling rocks and from the high altitude, so he is not taking the hike lightly. Powell has been training with a weighted backpack, running and hiking up flights of stairs at the Tiger Hotel to prepare. He is even taking a trip to Colorado in July to climb several mountains to get acclimated to the high altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to climb Mount Everest, went to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and had to be carried off,” Powell said. “People also deal with a lot of altitude problems too, but I’ve been at high altitudes often enough, so I am less worried.”
Despite nearly reaching 60 years old, Powell says that what keeps him coming back to mountain climbing is the sense of adventure he gets from it.
“I’ve always had an adventurous impulse, and I like seeing new things and having new experiences," Powell said. "I admire hard work and work hard to get something, so when you get it, it seems sweet.”
After the trip Powell said he doesn’t know how many more mountains he will climb. He says he would like to climb Mount Cho Oyu near Mount Everest, and wants to climb several other mountains. He says that because of his age, he doesn’t think he will join the exclusive group of people who have climbed all seven summits , but he isn’t dismissing the possibility just yet.
“Time keeps marching on and you don’t know what it will bring. So when you have the opportunity to do inspiring or worthwhile things, delay is not a good strategy,” Powell said.