Mt. Kilimanjaro climb turns into chance to pay it forward

Posted at 1:22 PM, Oct 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-13 16:46:14-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- What started as a trip of a lifetime turned into a chance to pay it forward to a group of people halfway around the world.

A local businessman created a way to give back to those who kept him and his family alive during their climb of one of the world's tallest mountain peaks.

"Anyone who's trained for something big like a marathon or a big weight-loss, you just want to tell everybody."

At least that's what Vern Jones hoped to do after he and his family reached one of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain peaks, the 19,341 foot Uhuru Peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, "bragging gear" was hard to come by in Tanzania, Africa.

"None of the places even sold shirts or badges or window stickers that said, ‘I just climbed this incredible mountain,” Jones said.

So he and his family created their own line of clothing to mark this incredible accomplishment. But, Jones' mission doesn't stop there.

"The image that was just seared in my mind was, here I was climbing in this incredible clothing that we spent a significant amount of money for: three hundred-dollar climbing boots. Yet, the people responsible for us getting to the top, the guides and porters who were carrying our stuff, they are young men and climbing in canvas tennis shoes and t-shirts.”

With his website Kili Summit Club, climbers can not only share pictures and stories of their adventures, but a portion of sales will go directly to the porters and guides, many of whom only make less than $10 a day.

"Our guides became so important to us, not only did they keep us alive but they knew where to go.”

Giving back to the people who risk their own lives, all to make sure Jones and other climbers experienced the time of theirs.