Three days. Five mountains. Six pairs of burning thighs and toned calves.
This Spring Break, David DiMauro, a UF biology senior, will guide a group of five students up five of the 10 tallest mountains east of the Mississippi River to raise $14,000 for a Gainesville-based philanthropy, the Climb For Cancer Foundation, which donates nearly all of its proceeds to cancer patients at UF Health. DiMauro hopes to raise the $14,000 to participate in the non-profit’s Mount Kilimanjaro trip. The students on the Spring Break trip planned to raise $1,000 but have collected $1,200 in total.
DiMauro, 22, was going to complete the hike alone but opened the trip up to other participants when he saw other UF students were interested in a Facebook post he shared Feb. 15.
“It’s like a wildfire,” he said. “These people are getting excited for something that I’m excited about, and that’s really cool.”
Within a week, he had recruits: his brother Thomas, friends Sam Saffer, Grace Plass, Haley Surdyke and Delaney Sagul, who has gone on another trip DiMauro helped lead.
The five peaks are Mounts Mitchell, Craig, Gibbes, Potato Hill and Balsam Cone, which are all on the same ridgeline of the Black Mountains in North Carolina. The trip from peak to peak is about 23 miles on foot. Each peak they reach will yield a view of the taller mountain next in line, DiMauro said.
“I was pretty nervous about doing it,” said Plass, a 19-year-old UF mechanical engineering freshman. “It’s definitely going to push us pretty much to our limits.”
At the start of the trip, hikers can expect a steep incline at Deep Gap Trailhead, said Surdyke, a good friend of DiMauro, who is helping guide on the trip.
“It’s like doing stadiums for five hours straight,” the 21-year-old UF nursing senior said.
Stadiums are actually one of closest ways to mimic the burn of a backpacking trip, she said.
Out in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the group of six stands out from the other athletes. For nearly an hour, the group bounces up and down the stadium steps in hefty waterproof hiking boots they’ll wear during the trip. In addition, hikers filled their backpacks with jugs of water and textbooks — enough weight to set off the seat belt alarm in Surdyke’s car — to emulate the hike’s intensity, she said.
Packing as light as possible with dehydrated food packets is necessary. They will still be hauling 25 to 50 pounds of gear each, including water, supplies and tents.
DiMauro said he has climbed Mount Mitchell and Craig before but never in early spring, when trails are still fresh with snow and temperatures dip easily below freezing after nightfall.
“It’s rough,” says Mount Mitchell State Park employee Shelby Longtrear. “You can get into some trouble if you’re not as experienced.”
Longtrear, 26, has worked the park for two years now and knows the weather is the most unpredictable factor for climbers. Thick fog can roll in quickly and affect visibility.
“There’s no real forecast,” she said.
To keep spirits high over the course of the three days, once the reality of the climb and the pain set in, Surdyke said she’ll be reminding everyone why they’re doing it in the first place.
“You foster a whole different level of strength when you’re climbing for a cause,” she said. “You feel very inspired.”
It’s a metaphor Climb For Cancer’s co-founder Ron Farb has lived by since the organization started in 2003. The foundation has already raised more than $2 million since its founding. Farb, 72, said funding comes from people whose lives were affected by cancer.
“If you ask the 90,000 people on game day at the Swamp, ‘Raise your hand if you haven’t been touched by cancer,’ nobody could,” he said.
Farb said he’s been astounded by the passion for philanthropy among these students, who have embraced using this trip as an opportunity to climb for a cause.
“I’ve done (Mount) Everest, which may seem like something great to you,” Farb said. “But the cancer kids are climbing Everest every day of their lives.”