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For climbing Kilimanjaro, age was no obstacle for Bijou Ganguly


For his 70th birthday, Bijou Ganguly received an unusual gift from his wife, Donna Fontana. She presented him with everything he’d need to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

An avid high altitude climber, Ganguly said he was delighted with the prospect. “It was an interesting challenge,” the Plumstead engineer said, during a recent interview. He soon began thinking of who he might like to join him on his this exciting adventure.

As Dr. Ed Haines, then 77, sat relaxing in the hot tub at the Central Bucks YMCA, where the men met and sometimes worked out together, Ganguly approached him with a surprising question, Haines explained.

“He asked me, ‘how would you like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?’”

The fit, retired Army colonel’s response? “Of course, why not!”

“Ed’s aura,” explained Ganguly, is one of “if it can be done, then let’s do it.”

Haines asked his son, Robert, 55, and his grandsons, Tristan, 29, and Ben, 22, to come along. “I was very surprised when they all said yes,” said the Doylestown Township physician. In fact, Tristan told his grandfather, “If I can’t get the time off work, I’ll quit.”

That was in March. The five men left Philadelphia Sept. 27 and began their 19,341-feet ascent Oct. 1.

For the next 6½ days, accompanied by skilled guides and a small army of porters, they made their way up the Tanzanian peak. Ganguly and Haines were quick to credit the guides and hardworking porters, who carry water, oxygen and other supplies.

Asked if he was ever afraid, Haines, said, “I was exhausted, at times, but never felt I was in danger. I was far more afraid when the Army put me in a helicopter,” he joked.

The “kissing rock,” as the Barranco Wall section of the climb is known due to how close one’s face is to the stone, was the most “harrowing” part for Ganguly. At about 13,000 feet, it poses a significant challenge to climbers.

The men agreed the final 4,500 feet were the most arduous, as the air thinned and the weather turned bitter cold, with fierce winds. As they approached the summit, with dawn on the horizon, Ganguly said, “You walk with headlamps, one foot, then one foot.”

Still, “it was pure, unadulterated wilderness,” said Ganguly. Haines nodded in agreement. “We saw the most beautiful sunrise.”

Reaching the top was quite intense, Haines said. “My son was very emotional …i t was an emotional experience for all of us.

“What better way to spend my IRA distribution,” the doctor added, with a broad smile.

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