It was such a random thing, one of those moments when you shake your head and wonder what it means.
That’s how it was for Dr. Dean Bair, out on a mountain trail in the Sandias with his favorite hiking buddy, teenage granddaughter Chloe Lamb, on a lovely October day.
As usual, Bair was doing most of the talking, ruminating on the world, current events, philosophy, life, a little encouragement, a little grandfatherly humor as they climbed higher into the peace of the peaks.
But they were not alone on the trail.
They heard the voices first, a merry banter of foreign accents – was it British? German?
As the hikers came into view, one woman surged forward toward Bair. Without provocation or salutation, she blurted out a question.
“How,” she asked, “would you like to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?”
It wasn’t so much an invitation as it was an esoteric statement understood only by a select few – and those few didn’t include Bair.
Not right away, anyway.
“Chloe and I just thought, wow, what was that about?” he said after the woman and her companions hiked away. “But then we started talking about identity politics and how that puts us in boxes, closes us up, keeps us from being open to other experiences and how we could have been put off by that woman with the strange accent but how it was better to just be open to people and experiences.”
That, he thought, was that.
That evening, Chloe’s mother, Bair’s daughter, called him.
“So Chloe says you’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro,” she said.
Chloe, apparently, was open to the experience.
So why not?
That’s how grandfather, 71, and granddaughter, 17, – the inverse numbers of their ages not lost on their family – decided to hike outside the box to Mount Kilimanjaro, the 19,341-foot peak in Tanzania, the highest point on the African continent and the tallest “free-standing” mountain in the world.
The two began training, hiking the Sandias and the Sangre de Cristos as often as they could.
Bair was a seasoned climber, conquering a few of the 14,000-foot-plus peaks in Colorado. Chloe had never climbed so high but is in good shape because she’s a star tennis player for Bosque School.
They headed to Tanzania in early July for their eight-day excursion – 6½ days up, 1½ days down.
They were both the oldest and the youngest in their tour group.
(For the record, the oldest climber to conquer Kilimanjaro was 89; the youngest was 6, an exception to the mountain’s requirement that climbers be at least 10.)
Kilimanjaro is considered the easiest of the seven summits – the highest peaks on each of the seven continents – but it is still a rigorous climb through juniper forests, alpine deserts, glacial fields and the treacherous Barranco Wall, a steep and narrow passage along rock ledges. About 30,000 hardy souls attempt Kilimanjaro every year, and about 50 percent don’t make it to the top.
Bair was almost one of the 50 percent, slowed down by a bad reaction to high-altitude medication. Wife Kristie Bair reports that he lost 14 pounds on the trip.
“She sailed to the top,” her proud grandfather said.
Along the way, it was Chloe who offered encouragement.
“She kept saying, ‘You’re doing great,’ but I wasn’t sure I was,” he said.
Summit day began at 2 a.m. in the dark and against icy winds. They made it to Uhuru Peak atop Kilimanjaro in time to watch the sun rise over the clouds.
It was a brilliant morning, an esoteric statement understood by only a select few.
“It was such a rich experience,” Bair said. “It was life-changing.”
Another change: Bair wasn’t the chatty one on the hike – Chloe was.
“I liked talking to everyone at camp, meeting new people,” she said. “I liked finding out about their lives.”
Mostly, she said, she liked spending time with her Papa – her Babu, the Swahili word for grandfather.
It’s been almost four weeks since that day. Bair and Chloe have stayed mostly at lower elevations. They laugh when I ask if they are planning similar grandfather-granddaughter grand adventures.
“No,” Bair said. “But we’ll see how we feel in six months.”
Because one lovely day another random opportunity to be open to people and experiences could arise.
“And then maybe we’ll be off again,” Bair said.
“Me, too,” Chloe added.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.