JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The contracting director at White Sands Missile Range recently achieved one of the greatest physical challenges only a relative few can ever say they've accomplished.

Finding the time to squeeze in vacation plans in a contracting environment might lend most to consider a tranquil beach where the BlackBerry is replaced with a fruity cocktail. For Bev Stotz, those plans took her to Africa where she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Already active in Pilates, cycling and hiking, Stotz was contacted last summer by a friend whose cousin was planning to climb Kilimanjaro but didn't want to go alone. Knowing Stotz as being adventurous with a current passport, her friend recommended she join her cousin on the once-in-a-lifetime excursion.

"I thought it sounded like fun, and I always wanted to go to the 'real' Africa," said Stotz, referring to her several trips to Egypt. "So I figured, why not?"

They were part of a group of eight that brought together climbers from Cleveland, Canada and Hong Kong on a guided climb, which covered 42 miles with a 12,000-foot elevation change.
Their climbing skill levels were as varied as the group itself, which included adventurers in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

"I fit right in. Some of these folks run marathons, so suffice it to say I wasn't as fast," Stotz said, adding that she was the oldest in the group at fifty-something. "The guides do a very good job of pacing the group; they don't let you go crazy."

The 29-year contracting professional lives at an elevation of 4,000 feet in Las Cruces, N.M., and has hiked many elevations, but can't recall hiking anything higher than 10,000 feet.

"I was a bit apprehensive as my departure date approached," she said, choosing to rely on a fellow church member from Tanzania who has completed four climbs to help alleviate her worries. "He put my mind at ease that I was certainly able to do this."

Arriving in Tanzania in mid-January, she started her eight-day trek of scaling the highest free-standing mountain in the world two days later. Her final ascent to the summit of Kilimanjaro began at midnight in the light of a full moon and took six hours, 40 minutes. She describes it as surreal.

"It was like, 'what did I just do and why?'" Stotz said. "Then thinking the tallest mountain in Africa, the highest free-standing mountain in the world and I'm standing at the top of it; OMG!" Stotz said. "It is still weird to hear the words 'I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro' come out of my mouth. In the grand scheme of things, not many people can say that, nor do they know people who can."

Along the way, she admits to experiencing emotional highs and lows. Having lost her father in 2010, she is confident she felt his presence at many points throughout the climb.

"He was with me up there," she said. "Everyone I talked to that did this has had that same surreal feeling, like you were somehow detached and watching from somewhere else. It's hard to describe."

The toughest part of the climb was the descent. The MICC-WSMR director has had one knee replacement surgery and suffers from the degeneration of cartilage in the other knee, leading to bone-on-bone pain.

"Nothing prepared me for that. It was excruciating. One stretch (of the descent) was nothing but large rocks and stream bed," Stotz recalled. "It took most people about three-and-a-half hours to go down that stretch. It took me over six hours and two meltdowns. At the end of summit day, I was exhausted."

Despite the pain, she most treasures the bonding between complete strangers throughout her entire experience.

"It was amazing to see people from all over the world and from different cultures, religions and backgrounds find one common thread to bind them together. Not just our little group of eight plus guides and porters, but everyone on the mountain at that time.

"All of us with one goal to reach the summit proved that differences can most certainly be overcome, and people really can be kind to each other," she continued. "We all cheered for each other as we climbed and prayed for those being taken down. The humanity was the greatest part of the whole adventure."

Page last updated Tue March 19th, 2013 at 00:00