Aiming for new peaks -
an aid for aids
By Lottie Wengelin
Whistler’s Mike Dobbin is a pioneer.
In April he will challenge the 8,848 metre North Face of Mount Everest - without oxygen or a support team. No Canadian has succeeded before.
But the climb itself is not the primary purpose of the Everest ascent. Dobbin, 25, is climbing to raise money for AIDS research and awareness.
Together with his Vancouver partner, Nick Cienski, 27, Dobbin is aiming to raise $200,000 for the cause. The money will be donated to the St. Paul’s foundation in Vancouver, one of the leading research institutes in North America.
"A lot of money is pushed in the direction of treatment for already diagnosed victims — on average $80,000 per patient," says Dobbin. But he feels more funds and effort should go towards research and prevention.
"Medical authorities expect to diagnose 30,000 more AIDS cases in the next five to seven years — in Canada alone. What we see now is just the tip of an iceberg," says Dobbin.
"AIDS is a disease that will do massive world-wide damage within the next decade. Nine or 10 million children in Africa will be orphans due to parents dying of AIDS."
Dobbin’s commitment to AIDS research originated with a family friend in his home town of Cowansville, Quebec, who was dying of AIDS.
"This is no longer a disease of gays and IV users. The number of heterosexuals acquiring AIDS is on the increase," Dobbin says. "It’s spreading throughout the entire population. Now you might not know anyone with AIDS. In 10 years you will. The greater funds spent on research and education, the less people will catch the disease, the less people will die."
The majority of the $200,000 Dobbin is aiming for will be raised during and after the climb. Right now he and Cienski are working on rounding up the funds for the expedition itself, roughly $60,000 — a pittance compared to other Everest expeditions.
"We are climbing out of Tibet. Entering from Nepal requires a $50,000 permit. We want to cut down the cost as much as we can. That way we will be able to put more money towards research," says Dobbin.
Equipment is being contributed by manufacturers, including Asolo which has donated boots and T-shirts that are being sold. A logo Dobbin and Cienski designed for their expedition is on the shirts, which are available locally from Escape Route and Nesters Market for $30.
Dobbin has also been in contact with representatives of the Gay Ski Week in Whistler, to sell shirts and raise money.
Cienski, who is guiding a group of eight up the 7,000 metre Aconcagua in Argentina at the moment, has already challenged Everest once, and came very close to summiting the Polish West Ridge Route in 1989.
Dobbin did a climb of similar calibre in 1993. Together with a Polish expedition he ascended the 8,200 meter Choy-Oyu on the Nepalese-Tibetan border.
Dobbin says the success of the climb "depends to a large extent on the weather. The route we are choosing has an extremely low success rate. Last year nine expeditions attempted the north face. Only one succeeded, but two out of the three people who summited died on the descent."
"We are highly experienced for our age, but we certainly would have higher chances summiting with a larger expedition. In terms of raising money however, we feel that the two of us can accomplish just as much, and maybe bring even more attention to the cause. If we can prevent just one person from getting this disease, the whole thing is worth it."