The Rabbi Comes to the Mountain — Chaplain and Son climb Mt Kilimanjaro for SFF!

By Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot | DVID | | August 10, 2011

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA — Some families take a vacation as a yearly tradition to a nice resort by a beach to relax and soak under the sun. Others might choose a cabin to fish and enjoy the outdoors, yet others might just want to take a few days off to get away from the rigors of work.

Capt Elson photo from DVIDS 441323_q75
U.S. Navy Capt. Irving A. Elson, a chaplain for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and his son Jacob, 19, stand at Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro. Their climb to Uhuru Peak took six days. They climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness about the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Photo by Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot.

U.S. Navy Capt. Irving A. Elson, a chaplain for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and a Mexico City native, and his oldest son Jacob, 19, took a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, on the border of Tanzania and Kenya in Africa, and then journeyed to an altitude of more than 19,000 feet to Uhuru peak July 13-19.

Their “vacation” was not for relaxation. Elson, a rabbi who provides Judaic services to military members and their families, makes annual trips to raise awareness for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Elson hopes that by spreading the word about the fund, potential donors will be inspired to aid wounded Marines.

The two men spent six days climbing the mountain with cold weather gear, camping equipment stuffed in their hiking packs, and an Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund flag packed neatly in Elson’s pack waiting to be unfurled at the top.

Capt Elson photo by DVID441325_q75

“Half way up, you hit this wall. It’s a mental block,” said Elson. “You’re tired, you’re cold, there’s no oxygen at 19,000 feet. Your body is telling you just stop, sit down, but you just have to push through it.”

Their normal hiking day began at 7 a.m., and would end by making camp around 5 p.m., added the captain.

Mount Kilimanjaro’s terrain is very diverse, ranging from rain forests to grass lands and volcanic ash.

“It’s winter in Africa now, so you start at 60 degrees [Farenheit] and then it’s 0 – 10 degrees [Farenheit] at the top,” said Elson.

An ice cap sculpts the top of Kilimanjaro, creating scenery many have not had the privilege to view.

Elson added that the snows of Kilimanjaro are melting, so in another 10 – 15 years the mountain’s white, powdery top may disappear.

“One of the things that motivated me on the climb was kind of thinking about, wow, [Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund] is going to help Marines be able to do this at some point,” said Elson.

The Mount Kilimanjaro climb was the hardest trek Elson has done, but also one of the most rewarding.

“We’re very lucky we’re able to do things like Kilimanjaro that a lot of wounded warriors can’t do yet. Hopefully with some of the work that the [Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund] does, they’ll be able to at some point,” said Elson.

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