'I feel a lot younger': Gurnee man, daughter climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for his 60th birthday

What's on your wish list? Half a world away and eight hours ahead in eastern Africa, Gurnee resident Layne Pollard and his daughter, Jorie, are on the trek of a lifetime.

The hike to the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was planned as an epic trip for Pollard's 60th birthday on June 16. But there's more to it.

Inspiration, determination, time of the year (June to October is the dry season around Kilimanjaro), a sense of adventure and a desire to celebrate a milestone event in a memorable way all contributed to the decision.

Their trip up the mountain was scheduled to begin Sunday. He and Jorie expect to be on the final hours of the descent on his birthday Friday and back in Gurnee two days later for Father's Day.

Last week, Pollard celebrated his 10th anniversary as the franchisee of a Central Bark doggy day care in Gurnee. Before that, he was in product development for a watch business.

Conditions permitting, he'll be updating their progress on Central Bark Gurnee Facebook and Instagram pages. “Conquering Kilimanjaro,” a post on the company blog, explains the background.

Pollard considers himself a regular guy who enjoys a good hike. He also came into 2023 with the goal of getting in shape.

“I needed to get myself off the sofa,” he said. “That's what this has become. I feel a lot younger.”

He and Jorie have been hiking trails and mountains out West for years and last month ascended to 11,418 feet on Twin Sisters Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park as part of their training.

Why Kilimanjaro, and why now? There are several reasons, Pollard said.

The idea began percolating about six years ago after his dad at age 85 attempted to hike to base camp on Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth, and made it most of the way — to 14,700 feet.

“My dad is 91 years old,” Pollard said. “He's probably the biggest inspiration for all of this.”

After that, Pollard said, he and Jorie started talking about Kilimanjaro as a someday goal. The main reason for that choice, Pollard explained, is it's a nontechnical climb versus Everest or Denali, the highest peak in North America, for example.

“It's really just a hard hike. Thousands of people do it every year,” he said of the Kilimanjaro ascent. He said he's prepared for shifting terrain, potential subzero cold, snow at any time and strong winds. “The biggest thing is altitude.”

“It's not so much the distance,” he said. “The air gets thinner; that's the challenge.”

A medication called Diamox to help prevent altitude sickness is in his pack along with water, energy bars, extra gloves, a wind jacket and other essentials.

They're hiking the relatively flat Lemosho Route with seven other climbers as part of a tour group led by skilled guides. The hike began about halfway up the mountain and takes 4½ days. Getting down takes a day and a half along a different path, according to Pollard.

“It's all about (altitude) acclimation going up,” Pollard said.

Jorie, 26, began hiking on a trip West in middle school. After graduating college, she took seasonal jobs in the Grand Tetons and Alaska, and lived in Alaska for six months before moving to Colorado two years ago.

Although she can work remotely, Jorie said it was the perfect opportunity to do more of what she loves — hiking and skiing.

She says she tried to hike 8 to 12 miles on the weekend and a short hike or two after work during the week.

“I feel good physically, and being able to work out at higher elevations makes me feel confident for the trek,” she said. “Overall, really excited to experience something completely new with my dad and share this adventure.”

Layne Pollard has been hiking to some degree most of his life but has never climbed using ropes or gear.

“People tell me I'm crazy, (but) it's not technical,” he said of the Kilimanjaro ascent.

His preparation has included two days a week in the gym with a trainer and a lot of bike riding.

“Everything to keep my body active and build as much strength as I can,” he said.

And what do family and friends think?

“Everyone is very excited for us, maybe a little impressed as well,” he said.

Gurnee resident Layne Pollard with his daughter, Jorie, pose in Breckenridge, Colorado. The pair began hiking the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro Sunday and will celebrate his 60th birthday on the way down, June 16. Courtesy of Layne Pollard
Jorie Pollard at 7 years old in the Grand Tetons. Courtesy of Layne Pollard
Gurnee resident Layne Pollard poses with clients at Central Bark Gurnee, a doggy day care he's operated for 10 years. Courtesy of Layne Pollard
Layne and Jorie Pollard enjoy a beer in Prague in 2018. The pair are hiking to the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and will celebrate Layne's 60th birthday on the way down, June 16. Courtesy of Layne Pollard
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