Richard Byerley is living proof that you're never too old — not even to set a world record. Earlier this month, at 84, he became the oldest person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on foot.
Not many octogenarians would attempt to climb a 19,340-foot-tall mountain in Africa, but Byerley never thought twice. When he bought the trip in January at a charity auction in Sun Valley, Idaho, he knew nothing of Kilimanjaro climbing records but rather had spontaneously bid on a trip and won it.
His achievement may have gone unrecognized but for the Kilimanjaro specialist who booked his trip. Robin Paschall of Adventures Within Reach said she immediately recognized that if Byerley reached the summit he would smash a world record set last year by an 82-year-old British man. She made arrangements to document his climb so he could be recognized by Guinness World Records.
Accompanied by grandchildren
You'd think that the pressure would be on, but Byerley, a retired alfalfa farmer from Walla Walla, Wash., says he felt none. Had he suffered any altitude sickness, he was prepared to turn around. "It wasn't worth risking my life," he says.
Before setting out, Byerley did not know whether he would complete the six-day trek. But his wife of 63 years, Beth, had faith in his abilities. So did his 29-year-old granddaughter, Annie, who accompanied him along with his grandson Bren, 25. "There was no doubt in my mind that he was physically capable of it," Annie says.
Byerley was well covered if he needed medical attention. Both Annie and Bren are first responders, his guide was trained in wilderness first aid, and the tour was covered by Flying Doctors, which could dispatch a helicopter in case of a medical emergency.
But the only thing Byerley suffered were cold hands when he reached the summit on Oct. 6. He also missed Beth, 84, who had reached the summit of Kilimanjaro 30 years ago, but Byerley did not accompany her on that trip. She didn't go this time "because she said once was enough," he quips.
Next: A climb to remember. >>