Lawrence women find new challenge in Mt. Kilimanjaro

Liz Dobbins, left, and Cheryl Denton at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, 19,341 feet. The Lawrence women, who got home Wednesday, spent nine days climbing and descending the mountain.

Cheryl Denton, left, and Liz Dobbins returned to Lawrence Wednesday after a trip to Africa in which they hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro. They spent nine days climbing and descending from the mountain, then went on a week-long safari before flying home.

Finishing an Ironman triathlon versus summiting the world’s tallest free-standing peak?

Both difficult, but totally different, say two Lawrence women who can now compare the two.

Cheryl Denton, 53, and Liz Dobbins, 60, flew home from Africa on Wednesday after climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Denton, an attorney at Petefish, Immel, Heeb and Hird, and Dobbins, a lecturer in the Kansas University Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences Department, have completed Ironman triathlons (a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run) and are regulars at Bikram yoga (practiced in a studio heated to 105 degrees).

But the mountain was a new kind of challenge.

In triathlon you know how far the finish line is and what you have to do to get there, Dobbins said. On Kilimanjaro, they knew they’d be climbing to 19,341 feet, but each step was unlike the last.

“It’s a whole different perspective,” Dobbins said. “I had no idea what to expect — everything was unknown to me.”

Denton started thinking about Kilimanjaro 10 years ago, after someone gave her some hiking poles and a peek at a guidebook. But with kids in college sports, she was spending all her vacation time at their swimming or rowing competitions.

Last year, with kids graduated, Denton got serious about Kilimanjaro and asked Dobbins to go with her.

“She was a person I knew would enjoy that kind of challenge,” Denton said of her friend and workout buddy.

They finalized travel plans last spring. Training included 10- and 11-mile packs-on walks up and down the hills around KU and hiking “fourteeners,” mountains with peaks above 14,000 feet, over the summer in Colorado.

Other mountains reach higher altitudes — like 29,029-foot Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth — and require technical gear and skill. But Kilimanjaro, while more temperate, is no day hike.

Denton and Dobbins took a nine-day guided tour with porters checking climbers’ vital signs daily. Guides carried oxygen, which Dobbins needed on the last day, and a portable decompression chamber, which fortunately they didn’t need. While someone in their 20s might have chosen a cheaper, more spartan outfitter, the women said they wanted to feel comfortable about safety while still tackling a major feat.

They took the Lemosho route, an ascent that allows hikers to acclimate to altitude along the way and that’s also known for its spectacular views.

The clear skies were good fortune, they said. They credit their preparation for making the difficult climb a positive experience.

“Pretty much anything’s possible by just setting your mind to it and planning for the adventure,” Denton said. “It was fun to be able to meet those challenges and achieve the goal you had in mind.”