Clarence Bechter went on his first mountaineering adventure last year.
Now he is preparing to climb the highest peak in the continental United States. His plan is to reach Mount Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit in California as part of a fundraiser to help attain the $350,000 goal for a new church organ at St. Bernard Parish in downtown Akron.
“I certainly don’t expect to raise the entire amount, but whatever I can do will be a help,” said Bechter, 61. “People ask me why I want to climb a mountain. I guess my best answer is because it’s there and it’s an accomplishment to reach the top.”
Bechter’s interest in mountaineering began a couple of years ago, when he and his wife, Mary, were in California. He saw Mount Whitney from a distance and wondered if people were allowed to climb it.
After returning to his home in New Franklin, he began researching and discovered that, with a permit, climbers are welcome on Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada range. The granite peak is located in the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia National Park, east of Lone Pine, Calif.
Last year, Bechter joined local mountain climber Bob Bowling on a summiting adventure in Colorado. There, they climbed Mount Yale (14,200 feet) and Mount Elbert (14,433 feet). Another rookie from that trip, Joe Bird of Copley Township, is accompanying Bechter on his upcoming climb.
The two men have been preparing for the trip by bicycling and hiking about 62 miles per week along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and Sand Run Metro Park. During the hikes, the men carry the 28- to 32-pound backpacks they will need on their two-day climb up Mount Whitney.
Each backpack contains a four-pound sleeping bag, 3.5-pound tent, a gallon of water, a first-aid kit, ibuprofen, trekking poles, a change of clothes and a three-day supply of food.
Bird and Bechter plan to leave the Akron area July 30. They will make two one-day acclimation climbs in Colorado before going to Mount Whitney. During those two climbs, at Mount Massive (14,428 feet) and Mount Elbert, the men will carry 12-pound backpacks.
The hikers plan to start their ascent of Mount Whitney at 4 a.m. Aug. 12. They will set up camp at 11,500 feet and finish the climb Aug. 13. After spending a little time at the summit, they will begin their descent and plan to be back on the ground that evening.
The Rev. Dan Reed, pastor at St. Bernard, said he appreciates Bechter’s effort in raising money to help replace the organ, originally installed in 1805.
“The organ is the No. 1 liturgical instrument in the Catholic Church, and ours has been in disrepair for some time now,” Reed said. “We welcome anything that will help raise some funds to replace it. I have to admit that climbing a mountain is a unique way to raise money.”
Jim Kintz, St. Bernard’s organist for more than 25 years, agrees. The organ fund was launched last year as part of a tribute to Kintz for his service to the parish.
“The organ has been worked on numerous times throughout the years and it is time to replace it. It’s safe to say it has served its purpose,” Kintz said. “It’s really generous of Clarence to dedicate his time and talent to get the ball rolling on the fundraising effort. I think the way he is going about it is going to get people talking. Hopefully that means more awareness about the organ fund.”
After climbing Mount Whitney, Bird and Bechter plan to drive to Death Valley to visit the lowest point in North America at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level.
The church is offering sponsorships of each elevation foot Bechter climbs. Mount Whitney has 5,905 elevation feet, meaning sponsors who pledge a penny per elevation foot would donate $59.05.
For more information or to sponsor the climb, call 330-253-5161 or go to www.stbernardakron.org.