West Liberty University's nickname is the "Hilltoppers," but its psychology professor Michael Marshall scaled an even higher peak during his holiday break.
The 64-year-old Wheeling resident scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro along with his wife, Mary Kay, and son, Jared.
"It's been a dream of mine ever since high school when I read ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,' by Ernest Hemingway," Marshall said. "I wanted to make it a family trip and invited everyone in our family to go. Only my wife and son were game."
The climb, which included a team of three other Americans, took a total of eight days Marshall described as both grueling and intense.
"Slogging through 46 miles of wet, cold, oxygen-deprived mountain trail was very hard, demanding work — the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, although the greatest experience I have ever had in my life, too," he said. "Everyone fell multiple times. The trail was slippery, we slipped on mud, algae, gravel, shale and ice."
Marshall, who has taught at WLU since 1992, said the climbing group had escorts that included guides, cooks and support staff during the trek. He spent about a year researching and preparing for the trip, and he trained over a course of five months that included running, weight training and wind sprints in the Woodsdale neighborhood.
"The appeal of Mt. Kilimanjaro is that it is the highest mountain in the world that can be climbed without technical climbing skills — but you must be fit and healthy," he said. "Its location on the equator keeps the peak relatively balmy at around 10 degrees Fahrenheit."
Marshall and his family rewarded themselves for the trip with a three-day safari on the Serengeti plain, and the Los Angeles native has plans for several other exotic treks — he wants to climb to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, hike the Machu Picchu Inca Trail in Peru and walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied de Port in France through the Pyrenees mountains to the Atlantic coast.