A Birthday with Altitude

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Sachiko and Jon Pedder of Monrovia pose on the summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, shortly after reaching the peak on Jan. 20.

Rafu Exclusive

Talk about celebrating in high style.

Sachiko reaches Tarn Hut, one of several base camps along the trail.

Sachiko Pedder of Monrovia wanted to mark her 60th birthday in January in an unusual way, and by all accounts, it would appear that she succeeded.

“My husband is a volunteer mem­ber of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team and an avid mountain­eer,” Pedder told The Rafu. “I had to come up with something he will enjoy as well while it being challeng­ing for me.”

Pedder said that she and husband Jon work out five days a week at Crossfit Academy in Monrovia and that she runs on weekends. Before her 50th birthday, she began to train for the 2003 L.A. Marathon and hasn’t slowed down since. She has completed 17 marathons, including Boston’s three times and five ultra-marathons.

“I had never have run before… actually hated the idea, but decided to attack what I didn’t enjoy to see where it takes me,” she con­fessed.

So for the occasion of her 60th, Pedder set her sight on a higher goal, so to speak.

“[Jon] has climbed Mt. McKinley and wants to do all of the Seven Sum­mits, so this was also an opportunity for him to kill two birds at once,” Pedder explained. She suggested they try to ascend the summit of Kili­manjaro, in the east African nation of Tanzania. At 19,341 feet, it is the continent’s highest peak.

“We started saving two years ago to make this happen,” she said. “We flew out on Jan. 11 for our seven-day trek to start on the 15th. We were to summit on the 20th, which was after my birthday, but it didn’t matter to me, as I would be somewhere on the mountain on my birthday.

“We left our camp at School Hut at midnight and reached the summit at 5:40 a.m. on Jan. 20 before sunrise, so we had to hang out and keep warm for 30-plus minutes for sunrise to take good pictures.”

Pedder added the surrounding na­ture was a comfortable environment for the hike, as she normally does her weekend runs through similar terrain near her home.

For good measure, she and Jon embarked on two days of sa­fari after coming down from the mountain.

The team came across wreckage from a 2007 plane crash on Kilimanjaro that claimed three lives.

“Safari should be on everyone’s bucket list! It is entirely different from climbing a mountain, but just as amazing in a totally different way,” she said.

The only glitch in the journey had nothing at all to do with the mountain, but with simply getting to the region.

“I was excited about the Frankfurt to Addis Ababa leg, as it was to be on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner,” Pedder reported. “We boarded and sat on that plane for about four hours, when they announced that there was some mechanical problems with the aircraft and that we will have to disembark.”

At the time, the Pedders had no idea that the entire fleet of 787s was being grounded, due to concerns about battery overheating.

“To make a long story short, our 33-hour trip ended up taking us 60-plus hours with nights spent in two unexpected countries, especially Ethiopia,” she explained.

To train for the adventure, Ped­der, who was born in Tokyo and works for a precision bicycle wheel manufacturer, climbed Mt. Whitney in California. The trek served a dual purpose, to help her acclimate to high-altitude walking and to give her surgically repaired knee a field test.

“I had my second knee surgery in July 2012 (the other knee was repaired in September 2005, but recovered quickly enough to run a marathon in December 2005) so was unsure if I would be capable,” she said.

The Mt. Whitney wound up be­ing easier than she had imagined, so it was full speed ahead to Africa, where the Pedders and a team of support personnel gathered for the climb to Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest point.

The mother of two said in addition to spending plenty of time with her two energetic grandkids, she and her husband are planning their next big adventure.

“It may very well be Mt. Elbrus in Russia for my 65th, to check off one more off Jon’s Seven Summits,” Pedder said. “I’m hoping to get back into running and being able to do a 100K Ultra in 2015 when I’m 62 because 100K is equal to 62 miles. Wish me luck!”

Photos courtesy of Jon and Sachiko Pedder

The Pedders had to take side hikes to acclimate themselves to the altitude. Above, they climb on the mountain called Mawenzi.

The Pedders were aided by a team of experienced porters – and even a cook – for their unforgettable trip.

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