Local man and others become philanthropic mountaineers

Group hopes to raise money through climbing Kilimanjaro

by Kathy Blake

Kraig Kern, on Pike’s Peak in Colorado. Kern and several others will climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for a charity aimed at making clean drinking water a reality for all.

Kraig Kern lives near vast expanses of water – Mountain Island Lake and the Catawba River – and thoughts of being without clear, sanitary tap water seem foreign.

But people’s inaccessibility to clean water is a growing obsession for the 41-year-old Riverbend resident. Statistics from countries where safe water is rare or nonexistent, where people walk miles to fill a bucket or make do with unsettling offerings from a murky pond, have pushed him to do his share to fix that.

“You see pictures, and it’s like it’s somebody else’s problem,” he said, “but stop and think: One out of seven people on this planet doesn’t have clean drinking water.”

Kern created Climb for Water, an organization that plans to use mountain climbing as a fund-raiser to help Water for People, a Colorado-based charity that aids developing countries with water resources and sanitation.

On August 25, Kern, three other climbers and a consultant, will travel to Tanzania, to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. He’s collecting donations and hopes to raise $20,000 – about $1 for every foot of the 19,341-foot mountain the group ascends.

“I like to push myself, always have, and Kilimanjaro has been on my radar for a long time,” said Kern, who has been up smaller mountains like Pike’s Peak and will leave behind a wife and 11-year-old daughter for the two-week trip. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so while I’m there, I’ll take in what resources they have and look at the local conditions. A couple of engineers are going with me, and they’ll take a look at things and offer advice.”

Kern works for WK Dickson & Co., a community infrastructure consulting firm in Charlotte, and co-worker Scott Whalen, a water-resources engineer, is one of the climbers. The others are Tasha Lewis, a project manager/hydrologist in Arizona, and Kary Kern, Kraig Kern’s brother, a nuclear specialist for Duke Energy in South Carolina. Veteran climber Macon Dunnagan will go as an advisor. WK Dickson has donated toward the $20,000 goal, as have others in the engineering community and people who have joined the team’s cause on Facebook. The group already has raised half its amount.

“We all have real jobs, so it’s hard to fund-raise full-time,” Kern said.

To prepare for the climb, Kern, who has climbed to 14,000 feet in Colorado, spends several days a week at Crowder’s Mountain, hiking with weights. Lewis hikes the Arizona mountains and his brother takes advantage of South Carolina’s Table Rock State Park. Whalen, who lives in Raleigh, has been biking about 100 miles per week. “We have one thing in common – we do a lot of hiking,” Kern said. “You can’t prepare for altitude, but you can be in good cardiovascular condition. But above 10,000 feet, you will feel the effects, and at 15,000 feet, you feel the changes a lot.

“They say it’s your best day and your worst day at the same time when you reach the summit.”

The group will board a 13-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to the capital of Ethiopia and spend about three days adjusting to the time change and jet lag. Prior to the climb the group has arranged to volunteer at an orphanage in Tanzania. They’ve collected 60 pairs of shoes to donate to the children.

On the actual climb, each member of Kern’s group will have four villagers as guides, who will help carry tents, water, sleeping bags and food. They hope to use battery packs and solar chargers to keep in touch with family and send photos. The guides will help with meals and setting up camps at night. “We’ll be treated like kings, essentially,” Kern said.

They will climb for six days, and hope to reach the summit on Sept. 4.

When he returns to North Carolina, Kern plans to do presentations about the trip to a few organizations and make some appearances.

He’s already got his next big adventure for Climb for Water in the back of his mind after he returns.

He wants to scale Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 22,831 feet.

“There’s so much unknown, and there’s the cost factor,” he said, “but I’d love to make it a place to go. You can’t take it with you, as they say, so I’ll do it while I can.”

Want to know more?
For more information on Climb for Water and Water for People, visit www.climbforwater.org and www.waterforpeople.org.

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