CLIMBING FOR A CAUSE: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — by far,” said Jerome Griffith, chief executive officer of Lands’ End, recounting his seven-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Climbing the tallest mountain in Africa was not merely a personal challenge for him, his wife Elke, and two friends who were all on the journey accompanied by porters and guides. It was also a mission to raise awareness and funds for combating breast cancer, a cause close to his heart. Last December, Griffith’s 32-year-old daughter Samantha was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
“Climbing Kilimanjaro was something my wife always wanted to do, but she suggested to use it for fundraising for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation,” said Griffith, who returned from Africa last week.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month this month, Lands’ End employees are also involved by making donations and raising funds through activities like walking, running, hiking and biking. Lands’ End will donate more than $100,000 this year to the BCRF, U.K.-based Future Dreams and Germany-based Pink Ribbon charities.
“Just that final stretch, from 16,000 feet to the summit at 19,500 feet was so tough,” Griffith said. “We started at 11:30 at night, with headlamps, walking up a 45-degree incline in gravel. We were shivering. Our fingers were numb. Our toes were numb. It was minus 40 degrees Celsius. But that wasn’t the worst problem. It was very difficult to catch air. It’s so thin and frigid at that altitude. You did the best you could to get as much oxygen into your system. I really couldn’t breathe. I fell asleep about an hour short of the summit. At 18,500 feet, I thought I might not make the distance but you say to yourself, suck it up and finish.”
Asked why Kilimanjaro was selected for the trek, Griffith replied “It’s hikeable. For Everest, you have to be a real mountain climber.”
For some high-altitude training, “We went to Alps for a week in the summer. It was helpful, but the real test is mental, telling yourself to make it up to the summit. You really do want to quit many times. My daughter said, ‘Dad, don’t come back until you get to the top.'”