Kilimanjaro record broken for oldest couple 

Guinness record for Kafers, who trained around Whistler and climbed Africa's highest mountain in 2012

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SUE OAKEY-BAKER - Mountain folk Martin and Esther Kafer (front row, second and third from left) and the rest of the 2012 Kilimanjaro team in front of the Tanzanian mountain.
  • Photo by Sue Oakey-Baker
  • Mountain folk Martin and Esther Kafer (front row, second and third from left) and the rest of the 2012 Kilimanjaro team in front of the Tanzanian mountain.

Martin and Esther Kafer, the Vancouver couple who trained for a trek of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro in Whistler and the surrounding mountains, have broken the Guinness World Record for being the oldest couple to climb the legendary African mountain.

Both in their 80s, the Kafers climbed the mountain as part of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.'s Ascent for Alzheimer journey to Kilamanjaro in Sept. 2012.

"It feels wonderful to get the recognition and I'm very happy for Alzheimer's BC because it helps them to get more publicity, which they need," Esther Kafer said in an interview.

Martin Kafer was 85 when he climbed the 5,900-metre mountain; Esther, his wife of 60 years, was 84. The pair has been climbing for longer than six decades and has 75 first ascents in the Coast Mountains, by his estimate. Last year was Martin's 76th year as an alpinist, as he started climbing as a child with his family in Switzerland. While the hike is not technically difficult, the elevation can be.

"Because we've been climbers and hikers and kept it up, that's why we could do it at our age because we do it all the time. We hike three times a week in the summer and in the winter we downhill ski two days at Whistler, and then on Sunday we hike up Grouse (Mountain)," Esther said.

Her husband joined the conversation by saying the only problem they found while attempting Kilimanjaro was not being able to rest over the seven-day hike to the summit.

The couple raised over $20,000 on behalf of Martin's 87-year-old sister, Etta, a former professor who has Alzheimer's and now needs round-the-clock care.

The Kafers have longstanding ties with Whistler and trained with their 12-person expedition team and their commercial guide, Sue Oakey-Baker of Whistler. Treks included a hike to Wedgemount Cabin, north of Whistler, a mountaineering cabin Kafer helped to build in the 1960s.

"It's a wonderful achievement every year, but getting the record this year was just icing on the cake," Oakey-Baker said in an interview. "It was a team effort, it sounds cliché but it absolutely was. We went slow and steady the whole way, it was five days up and two days down."

When asked if they planned to lead a quieter life in 2013, Martin laughed, and said they were going rafting in Alaska for their 60th wedding anniversary in April.

"We can't stop now, can we?" he said.

The Alzheimer Society of BC is currently seeking participants for its 2013 fundraising climb of Kilimanjaro. For more information go to www.alzheimerbc.org.

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