British Columbia

Blind B.C. hiker returns from 'fantastic' Kilimanjaro climb

A visually-impaired man from Burnaby travelled to Tanzania with his son to hike the iconic mount Kilimanjaro for his late wife.

Burnaby's Bill Der travelled to Tanzania with his son to hike the iconic mountain

Blind B.C. hiker Bill Der and his son Spencer Der embarked on a challenging climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on Sept. 10, 2016.

When Bill Der decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, he knew there would be some challenges: steep terrain, sliding rocks and high altitudes.

Not to mention, he's legally blind.

But it didn't stop him from making it more than 4,000 metres up Africa's tallest mountain.

"It was a fantastic trip," he said on CBC's The Early Edition. "Both a challenge and at the same time realizing that after all the planning — I am actually on the mountain."

Between his son and some other friends, Der has worked out a system involving a stick held by both himself and his guide to indicate turns and elevation change. The guide describes the terrain underfoot as they go, and Der constantly sweeps the ground in front of him with his hiking pole. (Spencer Der)

Der embarked on the infamous 6,000-metre hike with his son, Spencer, last month. They have since returned home from the climb, an effort that was both to raise money for charity and to honour Der's late wife, who died suddenly of stomach cancer last year.

The father-son duo trained diligently for Kilimajaro, hiking the Grouse Grind every weekend and taking on other local trails. They even developed a system where Der's son would guide him with a stick to navigate difficult turns and elevation changes.

The summit of Kilimanjari is 5,681 metres high (18,638 ft); Der made it to the Kibo Hut basecamp at 4,730 metres (15,520 ft). (Spencer Der)

Their preparation paid off. Local guides utilized the same system to help Der up the mountain.

"It was difficult in certain parts for sure," he said. "The whole mode of climbing was slow — one pace and one step at a time. That really helped."

Altitude sickness

Unfortunately, just a days hike away from the summit, Der found himself short of breath.

They made it to Kibo Hut, an overnight base camp at 4,700 metres that's generally the last stop before the 5,600 metre summit.

"I thought my cardio training wasn't good enough ... overnight, it just got worse. I ended up with water in the lungs."

Der learned his breathing problems were symptoms of altitude sickness.

He made the hard decision to turn back. He hiked down to the previous base camp where he was picked up by an emergency vehicle. His son went on to ascend the summit.

A fresh dusting of snow sits atop the dormant volcano of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, in northern Tanzania, November 22, 2007. (REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)

"Needless to say, I was disappointed but also [I realized] it was really out of my hands — totally unexpected. They do say that altitude sickness hits anybody, anywhere, anyhow — wherever."

But a second go at the iconic mountain isn't out of the question.

"I'm thinking about that — I've met many that have gone up there several times," he said.

But first he'll have to convince his son who's still a little sore.

"It was hard. To do it again would be amazing — but I'd be reluctant to do it again," said Spencer Der.

Bill and Spencer Der began training for the incredible hike months in advance. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Blind B.C. hiker scales mount Kilimanjaro