Professor to climb in remembrance of those whose memories are lost

When it comes to mountaineering, Yale professor Joseph G. Manning is a self-described "newbie." But this summer, each step he's taken toward a mountain summit has helped prepare him for a climb in September that he hopes to remember for the rest of his life.

When it comes to mountaineering, Yale professor Joseph G. Manning is a self-described “newbie.” But this summer, each step he’s taken toward a mountain summit has helped prepare him for a climb in September that he hopes to remember for the rest of his life.

As he undertakes a seven-day climb of the 19,336-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, however, some of his thoughts will be of those whose own memories have been impaired — or wiped out entirely — by Alzheimer’s disease.

Manning, the Simpson Professor of Classics and History, is making the trek up Africa’s highest peak in support of a campaign by mountaineer Alan Arnette to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and to support those affected by the disease and their caregivers. As part of his year-long “The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s” mission, Arnette — who cared for his mother during her struggle with the disease — has already summited four mountains: Everest in Nepal, Elbrus in Russia, Aconcagua in Argentina and Vinson in Antarctica. When he completes his goal by summiting Kilimanjaro, Indonesia’s Carstensz Pyramid and Denali in Alaska (where a severe storm forced him to abandon an attempt earlier this summer), Arnette will have climbed a total of 130,000 feet.

Manning had never met Arnette in person when he made the decision to accompany him on the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb; the two will see each other face to face for the first time when they meet in Africa.

“I’m a bit of an armchair mountaineer, and I wrote to Alan some time ago out of the blue because I wanted expert advice on how to pursue the big ranges,” says Manning. “He’s a professional, but he also got into mountaineering a bit later in life. We began a correspondence. During one conversation, he suggested that I climb Kilimanjaro with him, as it is a hard climb but not a technical one. My first reaction was that I’m too busy. But it’s an opportunity to learn from one of the best mountaineers while supporting a really great cause.”

Manning, who is on leave for the fall semester, says he was also motivated by his own experience of Alzheimer’s: His grandmother succumbed to the disease. He notes that Alzheimer’s research is an interest for many Yale scientists, and he is grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate his support for their work.

“Alzheimer’s is in the news a ton, and it’s a big problem as our population ages,” notes the historian. “The ‘7 Summits’ charity drive hopefully will raise a million dollars for Alzheimer’s research while also increasing awareness about the debilitating disease.”

A competitive cyclist and a cross-country skier, Manning has long been a vigorous hiker but, until recently, had never climbed above 10,000 feet. Over the summer, he has been broadening his mountaineering skills while hiking on the famed John Muir Trail in California and reaching the summits of 14,000-plus-foot-high peaks in Colorado, including Mt. Yale — named by alumnus J.D. Whitney after his alma mater in 1869 - located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

“There are some similarities between competitive cycling and mountaineering,” says the Yale professor, who organized the prologue of the Tour of California bike race in 2008 and has cycled with some of the world’s top racers in the sport. “Both require technical skill and mental preparation, and in both sports, you have to know what you can and cannot do. The physical challenges require you to be prepared and fit. In each sport, unpredictable things can happen, but mountaineering is less forgiving.”

Manning faced some of the challenges of being at a high altitude earlier this summer when climbing the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, where winds reached speeds of 100 miles an hour, lasting for about two hours, and the temperature was below freezing at the summit.

“Many climbers underestimate the things that can wrong, even on smaller mountains,” says Manning. “Climbing involves wisdom, patience and knowing your limits.”

Many of those who attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, he notes, are unable to adjust to the high elevation, causing them to experience physiological difficulties. Less than half of those who attempt the climb actually reach the summit.

A scholar of Hellenistic history whose research and teaching focus on the legal and economic history of Ptolemaic Egypt, Manning says the physical challenges of mountaineering, cycling and skiing ultimately benefit his academic work.

“Your heart rate stays pretty low when all you are doing is sitting at a desk,” says the historian, who is also a senior research scholar at the Law School. “That’s a pretty unhealthy lifestyle. The whole routine of training and proper diet brings a balance to my life, and that makes me a better teacher and scholar.”

Less than 300 hundred people have ever climbed the world’s seven highest summits in one calendar year, but Manning is confident that Arnette will meet his goal. The Yale professor hopes that anyone interested in donating to the cause will do so, and has been encouraging friends, colleagues and others to show their support by offering a penny per foot of the Kilimanjaro climb. Donations can be made here: Arnette will also blog about the climb here:

After his ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Manning plans a visit to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. In the longer term, he hopes to climb more of the world’s tallest mountains, but he first wants to gain further experience on “lesser” peaks. To help prepare him for more formidable mountains, he intends to climb in the White Mountains during the winter and will head west again next summer for more treks on Colorado’s “14ers” (peaks over 14,000 feet) and on Washington state’s glacier-covered 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier.

“I really love mountain climbing, but it is not a machismo thing for me,” he says. “I’m not a ‘peak bagger.’ My approach is a slow one since gaining deep experience is really important. I’m more interested in the journey and the process of learning. I know I’ll learn a lot about climbing from Alan on Kilimanjaro, and I’m just happy to be tagging along with him and showing my support of people who have Alzheimer’s.”

Manning writes about his mountain climbing and other interests on his blog, found here:

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