Janet Ingram-Johnson will try to climb to freedom in late September and early October.
But she'll need a lot of help from the community to do so.
Freedom translated into the Swahili language is Uhuru, the name of the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
Uhuru is where Ingram-Johnson hopes to stand as a member of the Ascent For Alzheimer's team.
Leading up to the hike up Kilimanjaro from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, the 62-year-old semi-retired journalist from Aldergrove is fundraising for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
As a member of the Ascent team, she's raising funds for education and services to support the more than 70,000 people and their families across B.C. who live with dementia.
"They [the Ascent teams] have been doing it [the climb] for a number of years, and the idea is that when you climb Kilimanjaro, once you get above 15,000 feet or so, even earlier in many cases, you are subject to altitude sickness," Ingram-Johnson explained.
The symptoms of oxygen deprivation related to altitude sickness are similar to dementia in some ways.
The air near the peak of Kilimanjaro is so thin, a person can't stay at that height for long.
"Many people succumb to nausea and some even suffer severe altitude sickness, in which they become rapidly disoriented," Ingram-Johnson said. "This disorientation mimics some of the symptoms of dementia, which is why it seems a suitable journey for those trying to help dementia victims."
Altitude sickness, if addressed quickly, can be completely cured by a rapid descent.
At sea level, Ingram-Johnson's ties with the Alzheimer Society of B.C. started locally.
For the past two years, she chaired a small committee that started a Walk for Memories in the Langley-Aldergrove-Abbotsford area of the Fraser Valley, which so far has raised around $75,000.
Ingram-Johnson noted that the $75,000 total is equal to about one dollar for every B.C.'er who currently suffers from dementia.
"The sum of $75,000 sounds impressive until reduced to this perspective, which is one reason I volunteered to try to raise at least another $10,000 for the Ascent For Alzheimer's team," Ingram-Johnson noted in her team bio.
Walk for Memories events are held every January, which is Alzheimer Awareness Month.
"A friend of mine who lived on the North Shore asked me to sponsor her," Ingram-Johnson said. "I had taken some early retirement and I thought, 'Why don't I join a walk?'"
An online search for a local walk proved to be fruitless, however she found ones in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.
This motivated Ingram-Johnson to start a walk of her own in the Langley area. At the time, she didn't know much about Alzheimer's disease. No one in her immediate family has been affected by it, but she does know people suffering from dementia.
The fundraising goal of the inaugural event in Aldergrove was a modest $5,000. The result was beyond her wildest expectations, generating $44,000. The second event raised close to $32,000.
This connection to Walk for Memories has inspired Ingram-Johnson to carry with her to the summit some of the last remains of someone who recently died from Alzheimer's.
"He was the husband of a friend who, with another great local volunteer as co-chair, is taking over the 2014 Langley-Aldergrove-Abbotsford Walk for Memories from me because I'm heading off to Africa," Ingram-Johnson said. "This mission gives me even greater motive to reach the Uhuru peak and scatter the ashes to the prevailing winds."
The next Walk for Memories is set for Jan. 26, 2014.
Looking ahead, the bar set by past Ascent teams is as high as Mount Kilimanjaro itself. That's steep considering that with a peak of 19,341 feet above sea level, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa.
Meanwhile, for Ingram-Johnson, there is another hill to climb, metaphorically, on the flatlands of the Fraser Valley.
Her current fundraising total is nearing $4,000 and she is required to raise $10,000 for the Society by mid-September.
She has already paid her own freight, in terms of travel and accommodation expenses.
"What it is, is a culmination of my efforts as a volunteer for the Alzheimer Society, and a long-held dream to return to Africa and do something positive," Ingram-Johnson said.
To help prepare for the rigors of the journey, Ingram-Johnson joined the Valley Outdoor Association, a group of a couple hundred outdoor enthusiasts from across the Lower Mainland.
She has been hiking with association members, tackling trails of 15, 20, and 25 kilometres in areas including Elk Mountain in Chilliwack and Manning Park.
"I love it," Ingram-Johnson said. "We take for granted so much beauty that we live among. And when you get to the top of somewhere like Elk Mountain where you have almost a 360 degree [vantage point] you just go, 'who would want to live anywhere else?' It's beautiful."
Mount Kilimanjaro is like these trails on steroids.
To reach its summit, hikers take a slow, steady, five-day ascent.
Altitude affects people differently, but it's rare for anyone climbing to unusual heights - 11,000, 12,000, 13,000 feet and more - not to feel some side-effects unless they take it really slowly, or "pole-pole" in kiSwahili, the main language of Tanzania, Ingram-Johnson said.
On the final day, the 10 Ascent team members, equipped with head lamps, will embark on their final climb at 11 o'clock at night.
The group will be led by their guide Sue Oakey, who Ingram-Johnson calls "fantastic."
"She's been guiding the Alzheimer team since it started in 1998," Ingram-Johnson said.
While fitness is key, it isn't the crux to a successful summit. Much of that has to do with attitude and preparedness.
"You can be incredibly fit and still get altitude sickness," Ingram-Johnson said.
Going to Africa will be a homecoming of sorts of Ingram Johnson.
Also in her bio, she wrote, "For me, too, this journey should be the completion of a dream begun many years ago as a volunteer in Tanzania's neighbour, Malawi. I had hoped, like many fellow volunteers in eastern and southern African in the early 1970s, to ascend Kilimanjaro on my overland travels home to the U.K. The sudden death of my father put paid to those plans."
Ingram-Johnson spent a couple of years in Malawi while in her early 20s.
A fundraiser is being held this weekend to help Ingram-Johnson reach her goal of $10,000.
On Sunday, Aug. 11, from 4-9 p.m., a garden party is being held at a bucolic west Aldergrove property with a large pond, grape arbour, croquet lawn and views of Mt. Baker.
There will be food and beverages, live music, courtesy of the trio Braces and Cuffs, and a silent auction.
Supporters are being asked to "fill Janet's hiking boots with cash."
RSVP Robin at 604-856-1984 or email@example.com for the location and more information.
To donate directly to Ingram-Johnson's personal campaign, go to www.alzheimerbc.org/Get-Involved/Ascent-for-Alzheimers.aspx, click on the "The 2013 Team" link on the left side of the page, then click on "Janet Ingram-Johnson" on the right side of that page.
@ Copyright 2013