BENSON, Ariz. — Carl Haupt, 78, doesn't let anything get him down, not nearly 30 surgeries that he's had in his lifetime, nor the cancer or arthritis that he battles now. So when he decided to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak — the highest freestanding mountain in the world — there really wasn't any stopping him.
"I like to hike," said Brother Haupt of Benson, Ariz., and a member of the St. David Arizona Stake. "Mount Kilimanjaro is the ultimate hiker's challenge."
One reason that the mountain, which reaches to 19,345 feet in northern Tanzania, seems to beckon hikers from around the world is because here they can reach a special place at the top of the world without equipment such as ropes or oxygen.
However, for Brother Haupt, the allure and challenge of the mountain wasn't his only motivation. He decided to use the experience as a way to bring awareness to the plight of those living in extreme poverty in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, a city southeast of Benson near the U.S.-Mexico border. During the hike, he raised nearly $6,000 in pledges for a health clinic for the community. He paid for the trip to Africa, as well as the trips to Mexico, with his own money.
"I believe that good intentions and words don't do anything," he said. "You have to do the actions."
The previous highest peak for Brother Haupt, who took up hiking in earnest in his 60s and has hiked and climbed in Arizona, Utah, and California, was the summit of 14,495-foot Mount Whitney in California.
To prepare for the six-day Kilimanjaro trek, the retired Air Force master sergeant hiked more than 700 miles on eight mountains in Arizona since March. Six times he made a 50-mile hike in 24 hours or less. "I trained hard for it," he said. "I knew it would be a good hike."
The Africans called him "baboo," which means grandfather.
On Aug. 30, after four days climbing the mountain, after ascending to freezing temperatures, thin air and just minutes after the sun broke over the horizon, Brother Haupt and his guide arrived at the summit at 6:42 a.m.
"I was so excited," Brother Haupt said. "It felt really, really good to be standing there and to know that I achieved it."
He has also received word that he will officially be entered into the Guinness World Records as the "oldest person to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro" at 78 years and 131 days. The previous record holder was Phil Gowing, who climbed the African peak at the age of 75 years and 283 days in September 1998.
Since returning from Africa, Brother Haupt continues to raise funds toward buying a used mobile home for the health clinic. He often travels into Mexico, recently taking a truckload of bicycles for a family with six children.
Brother Haupt became aware of Mexican families living in one-room shacks and barely surviving starvation last year when he made a trip to Agua Prieta, a city of 64,000 people. "There were two of us who went and we took a truckload of things," he said. "I had heard about it, but saw for myself the poverty."
He knew then that he had to help the people there, even in some small way.
"It progressed from that first time," he said.
In a little more than a year, Brother Haupt has made nearly 150 trips with truckloads of donations, including thousands of pounds of food, toiletries, vitamins, and other supplies. He said that many times it was difficult to get the items across the border, but he persisted and was able to reach his destination.
Brother Haupt's wife, Sarah, who often accompanies him to Mexico, said she sees her husband driven by a motivation in which he really believes.
"He really feels that it's meaningful to treat your neighbor as yourself," she said of her husband of 53 years. "And these needy people are our neighbors.
"Besides, we're both retired," adds the mother of five and grandmother of 11. "What else would you be doing? You might as well be doing something for someone else."
The Haupts, who served a mission to Micronesia nearly 10 years ago, have established a non-profit organization and Web site, called "The Starfish Difference" created to help those in Agua Prieta. The group's name comes from the story of a boy who sought to save starfish by returning them to the sea after they were left stranded above the normal tide line. Mocked because he couldn't save them all, the boy continued to save one at a time. "I made a difference to that one," the story goes.
So as Brother Haupt climbed the sloping hills at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and on through steepening terrain and mists of equatorial jungle to the stark ascent to snow and breath-taking views from the summit, he remembered that his efforts were not only accomplishing a dream of his, but would help those for whom he had learned to care deeply.