Daryl Olson is an avid climber who has long clung to an ambition to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Life has had other plans though.
Injury, illness and the death of a close personal friend all conspired to keep Olson, 62, of Centralia, off of that distant peak so far, but an unlikely, and unfortunate, inspiration finally has Olson set to make the epic ascent.
His wife, Janice, has cancer.
Janice was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in April 2014. That life-altering development came on the heels of an extensive tour of doctors and a litany of misdiagnoses. As a result, the cancer had developed to late-stage severity that had Janice nearing kidney failure.
The unforeseen diagnosis knocked the couple for a loop as they struggled to adjust to the new reality.
“My heart goes out to all those who must endure such a wilderness experience,” wrote Daryl in a blog post.
Nearly three years later, Janice has responded well to treatments and is in a state of remission. Just as she is fighting, Daryl is unwilling to be a passive bystander and has chosen to take that wilderness experience to rare extremes in order to reclaim some semblance of agency over the coldhearted force of cancer.
In order to accomplish that goal, Daryl Olson will begin summiting Mount Kilimanjaro Feb. 18 as part of a charity climb organized by Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and sponsored by Takeda Oncology. That sponsorship will allow 90 percent of the funds generated by the group’s climb to go directly back to multiple myeloma research.
In another blog post, Daryl Olson wrote, “We want to be part of the effort to find a cure, what a wonderful legacy to leave to future generations. There have been so many exciting discoveries in just the last couple of years! Initially the doctors only gave Janice a couple of years to live, but she has responded well to the latest drugs and now after two years remains in a very good remission. We will not despair, we will not be overcome by evil, but will continue walking a path of faith and courage regardless of our life situation.”
One gets the feeling that when Olson states an intention to “continue walking” he means it in a painfully literal sense.
The idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was first planted in Dary Olson’s brain in 2003 by his good friend and climbing partner who he referred to exclusively as Bill. Previously, he and Bill had climbed other mountains together, and Bill was so persuasive in kickstarting adventures that a climbing group had been assembled and tickets purchased for a multiple peak trek when Bill suffered an injury that delayed the climbing trip indefinitely. Just a few months later, Bill was diagnosed with cancer and within three years he had died. Olson noted that his friend was never able to climb again after his diagnosis and their grand plans for adventure had been cruelly left unfinished.
No one, and nothing, not even a mountain top, is ever left unscathed by the ravages of time. So too, Daryl has suffered through his own maladies in recent years. First there was the series of three knee surgeries that took him out of commission. Then he suffered a pulmonary embolism, which caused significant atrial fibrillation in his heart. In 2015, he underwent a surgery known as a heart ablation, which relieved most of the arrhythmic symptoms of his condition, but Olson still considers the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a “minor miracle” of sorts.
He expects the trek on the mountain to take eight days total, with six and a half days allotted for the ascent and one and a half days set aside for the trip down. In order to train for the 15,000-foot climb, Olson, who will be 63 when he begins, has been putting in work right at home in the Hub City. He has a particular affinity for a sloping hill behind Stillwaters Estates where he likes to put himself through the paces.
“As part of my training since November, I’ve climbed the 130-foot hill at Stillwaters 241 times for a total elevation gain and loss of 31,330 feet. I also workout on the stair climbing machine and stationary bike at Thorbeckes (and) last May I rode my road bike most of the 650 miles from Astoria to Sea Ranch in California,” wrote Olson in an email.
He noted that the 20 percent slope of the hill “makes a perfect exercise.”
Olson is no rookie to mountaineering either as he has climbed Mount Rainier (three times), Mount Baker, Mount St. Helens (both before and after the eruption), Mount Adams (a “couple times”) and Mount Hood (at least a dozen times). Most recently, in 2016, he summited Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens in June and September, respectively.
Although Mount Kilimanjaro is nearly 5,000 feet taller than Mount Rainier, Olson insists that because of the slow ascent pace it doesn’t require world class stamina to get to the top. Instead, he says that most issues on the mountain are caused by pulmonary edema, also known as mountain sickness, which is brought on by the extreme elevation.
Olson noted that he expects temperatures to reach 90 degrees in the day and then drop below freezing at night with bouts of snow and rain mixed in along the way for good measure.
His climbing team will include 15 other sponsored climbers, six of whom suffer from multiple myeloma themselves and who are working to generate awareness along with funds for cancer research.
“Multiple myeloma affects everybody a little differently,” said Olson, who noted the incredible fortitude of those cancer-stricken climbers who are preparing for the venture.
Daryl Olson says that his wife, Janice, has been very supportive of his decision to hike to the top of the towering mountain in Tanzania and noted that mutual friends will help to care for her in his stead.
“She’s really excited that I’m able to do this. Not only for the benefit of multiple myeloma research but also for my own mental state and my ability to climb,” said Daryl Olson, who plans to climb the mountain both as a means to honor the memory of his late friend Bill and to offer his support to Janice and others still afflicted with cancer. “It was a no-brainer for me to get involved. It’s kind of a win-win you know because it’s doing something that I’m excited about doing and it’s also doing something about something that I care about.”
At last tally, the fundraising expedition had raised $205,000 in pledged donations.
Olson has pledged to raise at least $11,000 total and is hoping to experience a big push as the time to head to base camp approaches.
He noted that the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization as well as the world’s leading private funder of myeloma research. As such, all donations are tax deductible and will be issued a receipt.
“Please take this opportunity to give back and support this game-changing cancer organization,” wrote Olson on his blog. “I believe that history will look back on our present age as a revolutionary time in cancer research, which offered extended life and health to millions of people.”
Additional information about Daryl Olson’s impending journey and a link to submit donations can be found online at https://endurance.themmrf.org/2017MtKilimanjaro/Daryldoeskili.