LAC DU FLAMBEAU
- Climbers usually gather at base camp.
And if the climb is Kilimanjaro, base camp means Africa.
But for one Northwoods woman, the climb started well before that - at a Lac du Flambeau school.
"It started out as sort of my dream," says Mary Poer.
"My dream" became "our dream".
Mary works for the Lac du Flambeau public school.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro became a team effort - with the entire school behind her.
"When I thought of her climbing the mountain, I thought she must have been crazy," says Lilith Schuman, an eighth grader at the school.
Even so, three weeks ago, Mary made it the 19,341 feet to the summit.
The idea started while chatting with her family.
"We started comparing bucket lists for turning 50. Once I thought of Kilimanjaro, I couldn't quit thinking about it, and I decided I had better do something about it," she says.
She started training for the journey last October.
But how do you get in shape for climbing a mountain in dead-flat northern Wisconsin?
"I felt rather sheepish about it. I live near the Bearskin Trail, and I would put on my backpack, and I would put rocks in it, to be a lot heavier than what I would actually be carrying."
The way up Kilimanjaro was far from a smooth ride.
In what's called the Lunar Saddle, her group ran across a plane that had crashed in 2008.
"It was sobering to realize, okay, we're in a high altitude now, and this is serious business," says Mary.
"I was pretty confident she was going to make it. She seems like a person that wouldn't give up," Lilith says.
On February 7th, Mary reached the summit.
"It's bright. It's so bright up there, but lunar-like. Really lunar-like. It was like you were on the moon," remembers Mary.
She knew that thousands of miles away, the students at Lac du Flambeau were behind her for every step.
"Realizing that I had made the summit, I was actually thinking of all the kids here, because at points, I wanted to quit."
Her climb was not only a check off the bucket list for Mary, but an inspiration to grade schoolers.
"That we could make a world record or something," thinks Lilith.
And she returned to the school with a hero's welcome.
"Absolutely grand. I don't know how else to describe it. I'm blessed. I'm blessed to be amongst these young people."