Outside Online: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Climbing for Causes
A child in a CARE project village
In the 1960s, when the United States was overtly socially conscious, world hunger relief organizations like CARE were top of mind. Then came the "me generation," and media interest in not-for-profits began to wane

"In the '70s, the country turned inward, became more self-centered," explains Peter Blomquist, 41, CARE's Northwest regional director in Seattle. "Unfortunately, now it almost takes an international disaster like Rwanda or Bosnia to remind people of what we do."

Today, CARE provides relief and development to more than 60 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet Union, with annual donations topping $422 million. That's up 370 percent since 1965 and quite a ways from May 11, 1946, when the first little CARE package was unloaded at Le Havre, France, as part of Europe's rebuilding effort following World War II. The term "CARE package" has become generic today. But Blomquist worries that the public, and "especially twentysomethings, the Generation Xers," may not have the same awareness of CARE that earlier generations had. "It's crucial we get them on board for our future growth," he says. Ten or 20 years from now, they'll be the big wage earners--and the CARE contributors--as the baby boomers are today.

So in 1994, Blomquist came up with an idea: Organize a mountaineering expedition to celebrate CARE's 50th anniversary. Sponsors would donate up to $100,000 each to send a climber up a major international peak. Mount Kilimanjaro was chosen because it's high (19,340 feet), but requires few climbing skills and no special equipment. And, being one of the famed "Seven Summits" (the highest mountains on each continent), Kilimanjaro would attract media coverage.

Climbing for causes is not altogether new. In 1993, the American Foundation for AIDS Research raised $428,000 through its "Climb for the Cure" on 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the Alaskan icon that ranks as North America's highest peak. In 1995, San Francisco's Breast Cancer Fund raised almost $2 million by putting three breast cancer survivors on top of 22,834-foot Aconcagua, South America's peak of peaks.

Was the Kilimanjaro climb as successful for CARE? You bet. In addition to pledges for $700,000 and all the climbers reaching the top, stories appeared in publications like Forbes and the Seattle Times, and on the NBC and ABC television networks. The CARE site on the World Wide Web (www.care.org) attracted 30,000 browsers.

Does that mean the climb will become an annual event? "I hope so," says Blomquist, who is now considering a summer 1997 expedition to remote Carstenz Pyramid, a 16,023-foot mountain in Indonesia, yet another of the Seven Summits. Blomquist says he'd like to own the climbing-for-cause franchise and make CARE the organization that comes to mind when you think of mountaineering.

Next year Blomquist also plans to invite some celebrities along to help generate more media interest. "If we could get a Jennifer Aniston (star of TV's "Friends") or (supermodel) Elle MacPherson, that would be great," he says.


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©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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