When Bryson Calvin was growing up, he’d go on a two-week adventure-based vacation each summer with his dad. At age 12, Calvin and his dad took on Washington’s Mount Rainier, and each year Calvin has sought to do something new. He outdid himself this year when he summited Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro July 4.
During college and afterwards, the 2002 graduate of Woodstock High School continued his climbing adventures, regularly adding new summits to his resumé until he bought the Main Street PourHouse in Woodstock in 2013.
“Once I got this place, [climbing] went to the wayside,” Calvin said.
But a college connection he made while working as a trip leader for Outdoor Adventures at Indiana University hooked him up with the Kilimanjaro trip.
He committed to the trip in December 2015 and trained for about 12 weeks, beginning in March. His girlfriend, Yesenia Galarza, joined him in training, which included running 2 to 3 miles three to four days per week and hikes at various McHenry County Conservation District sites, where he also works. During his runs, he often wore an altitude training mask that limits oxygen intake, simulating the atmosphere at an altitude of about 9,000 feet, and he practiced carrying a 40-pound backpack on his hikes.
On June 26 he headed out with 10 medical students from the University of Louisville, bound for Orusha, Tanzania, to climb the largest free-standing mountain in the world.
The actual expedition, a 22-mile ascent, took a week: five days up and two days down. The trek began with four consecutive day hikes, hiking for four to six hours and covering 3 to 4 miles each day. These short hikes were designed to allow the climbers time to acclimate to the elevation. The temperatures in the alpine desert ranged from 70 degrees during the day to 30 degrees at night.
The fifth day the trek began at 15,000 feet, gaining 4,300 feet to the summit. With temperatures below zero, Calvin woke to a frozen water bottle. He said the climbers rested every 25 to 30 minutes, but, because of temperatures that remained below zero for the majority of the day, those rests got shorter so they could stay warmed up.
He was outfitted with a Go-Pro camera to document his trip, which was fortunate since his cellphone completely froze up. Among the contents tucked in his mountaineering pack was an MCCD flag.
The entire trek included 21 local porters, five guides and 11 climbers. Six of the 11 climbers summited July 4.
“It was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done,” said Calvin. “I felt good until summit day. There’s nothing you can do to really prepare for this. It beats you down. It came down to putting one foot in front of the other.”
Aside from the obvious pride in the accomplishment of the climb, Calvin found his visit to the city of Orusha very humbling.
“It’s surprising to see how happy [the residents] there are with what little they have,” he said.
Another reality check came following his return through Turkey when he missed the bombing at the airport by 10 hours.
Just a month after conquering Kilimanjaro, Calvin already is thinking about his next adventure. Alaska’s Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America – also known as Mount McKinley – is on his radar; however, his more immediate plans are to hike the Appalachian Trail, which extends from Georgia to Maine. He’d like to make the trek a fundraiser for a local domestic violence and veterans organization.
“My girlfriend is on board for joining me, and I think she could do it,” he said.