The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Harvey Bertrand

Everyone can set higher goals and reach the top


“Every one of us can do a lot more than we think we can do.” That’s a motivating phrase, especially when it’s shared confidently by Y member Harvey Bertrand. At age 68, he successfully completed the famous climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2015. The Y helped him efficiently train to trek to the summit of the world’s tallest, free-standing mountain soaring 19,336 feet. Specifically, Y personal trainer Chris Matt assisted Harvey to strengthen his back after an injury that would’ve left many to give up strenuous exercise, much less journey to the snowy peak in Tanzania, Africa. He and his wife Suzanne have been Y members for 10 years, and Suzanne also trains with Chris, while preparing for half-marathons and maintaining her great strength.


Although he’s an experienced climber, Harvey says “so much luck” plays into reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, described as the “overseer of Africa” rising in breathtaking isolation from its surrounding coastal scrubland. Admittedly, Harvey’s luck ran out on his first attempt in 2014. He stood 4,000 feet from the top when he developed dysentery, a common problem that prevents many from reaching the goal. He didn’t allow the failure to stop him from trying again. He made the second winning attempt with a group of three other men, climbing a longer but more gradual descent. Luck was on his side this trip, as well as additional physical stamina gained from working with Chris. “The pace we maintained was great; I was feeling good the entire time,” says Harvey. The enthusiastic group included “wonderful, hired porters” who amazingly carried equipment upon their heads. They climbed three to seven miles each day, depending on the trail’s height.


He recalls with excitement the day he reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro: “I was feeling fine, and it was a long hike that morning. It took us six hours, from about 6:30 to 12:30. I was winded sometimes, but I didn’t have to stop. I felt so fortunate.”  So many people ask Harvey why he would climb Mount Kilimanjaro. “I love climbing and high altitudes and achieving a long-held goal,” he answers. “It’s a personal achievement.” While filled with a healthy pride, Harvey almost paradoxically describes the climb “as nothing special because anyone could do it.” In fact, it’s known as one of the world’s most accessible high summits. About 22,000 people annually attempt it; about two-thirds succeed. Although Mount Kilimanjaro marks one of his favorite accomplishments, Harvey has achieved many other more difficult climbs, including Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. “I do it for the thrill,” says Harvey, who enjoys climbing with his adult son. He also has two other adult children. “It may sound weird but I love the feel of granite. And you feel so incredible when you make some tight moves.”


Another “silver lining,” Harvey says, to his travels to Mount Kilimanjaro, was becoming good friends with one of the porters. He asked Harvey to meet his mother. Harvey was humbled not only by the invitation, but also by the simple living conditions. “It was an eye-opening cultural experience,” he says. He studied the country’s native language Swahili for a year. “I wanted to identify more with the people by knowing the basic language. I wanted to be able to make a connection.”  Harvey practiced one of the Y’s causes of “social responsibility” when he bought the porter’s mom a Bible and a songbook, her first ever books, and a solar light. He also took the first ever photograph of the mother and son, along with a daughter, and grandson for them. Anyone can create such memorable experiences, says Harvey, offering this advice: “Set a worthy goal, and go for it! You can do it!”


By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC 2015