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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro


Father and son make it to top

Make it to the top for me, Daddy.” – Emerson Evans, 11 years old Colin Evans had already endured five days of climbing steep inclines, hiking over rocks, dirt and volcanic ash, difficulty breathing in thin air, and getting very little sleep.

But there was one more day to go. The toughest day. Three final miles—which would take more than 11 hours to navigate.

“My last phone call home before we started our summit hike at midnight, my little girl’s words to me were ‘Make it to the top for me, Daddy.’ That’s the only thing I kept repeating in my head — Make it to the top for me, Daddy.”

At 11:15 the morning of Oct. 19, in the South African country of Tanzania, Evans stood at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro—a dormant volcano, Africa’s highest mountain (19,340 feet), and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

He had made it. Colin Evans had made it “to the top” for his daughter.

“I had tears,” Colin said. “A huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. From being able to call home at 2:15 in the morning (Shreveport time) and being able to say, ‘Hey, I made it.’ To tell my wife and kiddo Daddy made it to the top.”

Tackling the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be easier to understand if Colin was an experienced hiker. He wasn’t. He was, however, anxious to escape an uneasy feeling brought on by the pandemic.

“It really started to get under my skin a little bit,” Colin said. “It kind of bugged me. I like to be around people and do things. I like to be active. It was almost like we were in self-isolation.”

So, one Sunday afternoon, Colin, managing partner at Shreveport’s Evans Financial Group, talked with his father.

“I don’t know about you,” Colin said, “but I’ve got to do something truly, truly epic to break this routine — to break this cycle.”

To Colin’s surprise, Dave, president and founder of Evans Financial Group, wanted a piece of the action.

“He and I are really close and have been since forever,” Dave said. “I thought that would be a pretty cool thing for father and son to do — especially at my stage in life.”

But first things first. Colin asked for — and received with little pushback — permission from his wife, Ashley. Dave’s sales job to his wife, Gale, was a little more difficult.

“I’ve only got one of him,” Gale told Colin. “You’ve got to bring him back.”

Final approval in hand, the 44-year-old son and 72-year-old father began five months of training. Inside, they worked on cardio, as well as leg strength. Outside, they tried to duplicate their climb.

“As we got closer, we started rucking (hiking with a weighted pack) with our backpacks we were going to carry,” Colin said. “We put about 30 pounds of weight in them. I would ruck my neighborhood. I spent one Saturday morning going up and down Thrill Hill 30 times, which took about two hours.”

“It was a big, physical challenge,” Dave said.

But father and son persevered. Colin and Dave flew from Shreveport to Atlanta, then eight and a half hours to Amsterdam when their training was complete. After a three-hour layover, they flew another eight and a half hours to Tanzania.

On Oct. 13, Colin and Dave — along with three others and a mandatory guide — began their ascent.

The next six days, Colin and Dave would fight through temperatures well below freezing. But there was no escape from the struggles that come with being that high in the sky.

“Acclimating is probably the biggest key—to be able to acclimate and breathe in the altitude,” Colin said. “It was a little bit tougher in the evening time because you had already hiked throughout the day…What was tough is you would get up in the morning, eat breakfast, and we would go anywhere from 10 to, I think, our longest hike was 17 kilometers (10.5 miles), and to be able to do that day in and day out, it was by no means a picnic in the park. It was tough — really tough.”

“It was the most physically-enduring thing I have ever done,” Colin added.

And being that high, it was best to keep your head up.

“One morning on the third day, we climbed hand over fist for about three hours to get level,” Dave said. “I didn’t even want to think about looking down, because we were using both feet and both hands to pull ourselves up a little at a time.”

After five days, Colin and Dave had climbed 15,187 feet. But there were still 4,153 feet left.

“I’m quoting scripture to myself on the way up,” Dave said of that final day. “I said if we make this, God gets the glory for the trip. It’s certainly not anything I did, or the guide did. I would call my wife and say, ‘I need some prayers here …’ I left a message for a good friend of mine up in Little Rock and said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to your men’s bible study, would you please pray for us, because we are going to be going on this midnight jaunt.’” “I remember a speaker once said, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough’,” Colin said. “This one scared the dickens out of me.”

But on a Tuesday not long before noon — high above the clouds — Colin’s dream came true.

“It was amazing for us to highfive and hug and see how far we pushed ourselves the last couple of days and continued on until we hit the summit.”

But there wasn’t much time to celebrate. There was no popping of champagne. To keep from getting altitude sickness, Colin and Dave only had 15 minutes to take in the view.

“There are some serious things that can go wrong with your lungs and/or your brain because of lack of oxygen,” Dave said. “He (our guide) said we’re not going to stay here long, so take your pictures and go.”

Despite the risks in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Colin and Dave never came face-to-face with any real danger.

“Fortunately, we were blessed,” Colin said. “There weren’t any crazy injuries or anything of that nature. There’s one way off that mountain, and that’s on a helicopter that takes you to a hospital in Nairobi. Nobody wanted to go there.”

What took six days to go up took just a day and a half to come down. But, in reality, it will take much longer — if ever — for Colin and Dave to come down from the “high” of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

“We’re only granted so much time on this planet,” Colin said.

“I wanted to do something amazing. When (Dave) said he wanted to do something amazing, too, that really sparked the fire in both of us, about getting there and getting to the top.”

Only back home a few weeks, Colin is already thinking about his next “epic” adventure.

“I’ve looked at Aconcagua, which is South America’s largest peak, in Argentina.”

But this time, Colin will have to go it without his dad.

“I figure that’s my last hoo-rah in terms of trying to achieve anything physically as demanding, or as challenging, as that was,” Dave said. “And that was significantly challenging.”

And significantly satisfying for both father and son. And a young girl named Emerson.


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