Bill Der, Blind due to Glaucoma, Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Tallest Mountain in Africa

Bill Der, who is 95% blind due to glaucoma, embarked on a multi-day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro  in memory of his late wife and in support of two local charities: The Down Syndrome Research Foundation and Alzheimer’s Society of BC. Bill and his son, Spencer Der, who accompanied Bill on the hike, aimed to raise $30,000 for charity and met their goal with ease, contributing $15,000 to both Down Syndrome Research Foundation & Alzheimer’s Society of BC. Bill and Spencer were also join by father daughter duo Salin and Safiya Kamani, who hiked to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society of BC.

When Bill told people that he was going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, many people thought that what he was going to do was out of the question and foolish, but despite that he persisted in achieving his goal. “Since I’m blind a lot of people think that even taking the Skytrain and bus to work is a potential problem, but if I let it be a problem I will be a self-imposed prisoner. I don’t want to live like that. So I take the risk and the challenges because I’ve decided not to be a prisoner”, explains Bill.

Throughout their journey, Bill and his fellow hikers were accommodated by 23 guides, with someone to guide them through each leg of their climb. The hike was scheduled to last 8 days, summiting at Africa’s highest point at 19,341ft and Bill navigated this climb the same as he would any other, holding onto the end of a stick with his son on the other end, leading him through the terrain. In the year leading up to the hike, Bill and his son Spencer dedicated themselves to endless hours of training and hiking in preparation. Bill described that despite his training, nothing could have prepared him for the feeling of altitude sickness.


On September 14th, Bill and his fellow climbers reached the Kibo Hut camp, which sits at 15,420ft and is the last base camp before the summit. The group was scheduled to ascend to the summit of Kilimanjao at 6am the next day, but Bill become overcome with altitude sickness, and discovered that his lungs were filling with fluid. Had Bill continued with the fluid in his lungs, his altitude sickness could have been fatal, so he was forced to stop just 3,921ft from his goal. ‘I had to accept that I couldn’t go up anymore’, explained Bill, ‘but if I hadn’t been hit by altitude sickness I would have been able to make it to the summit’. Although Bill didn’t make it to the top, his son Spencer and fellow climbers Salin and Safiya did.

When Bill came off the mountain he was met by Shawn Ostheimer, long-time friend & President of The Answer Company. Everyone from The Answer Company rallied behind Bill in his once-in-a-lifetime adventure, with partners, clients & staff all helping to fundraise. The company regularly supports the Down Syndrome Research Foundation, Canucks Autism Network, Habitat for Humanity, and many other organizations through their “Answering the Call” community program. Supporting Bill’s hike was a thrilling goal for all of the staff and Shawn was thrilled to be there to support Bill when he descended.

From the beginning, Bill described that one of his main reasons for doing this hike was to pay tribute to his late wife. When asked to reflect on the experience Bill described that “this was a fitting tribute [to my wife] and the fact that I was doing it with my son was doubly rewarding’. Bill also reflected fondly on the money he was able to raise for the Down Syndrome Research Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, as well as the awareness he was able to bring to both causes through the fundraising efforts and media coverage of his inspiring climb.

Climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is a feat that most people will never attempt to conquer but Bill sets an example with his strength and perseverance. According to Bill the answer is simple: “Don’t take no for an answer if you want to tackle something and go as far as you can in spite of obstacles.”

On October 6th Bill was interview by CBC on The Early Edition radio show followed by an exclusive TV interview on CBC’s evening news. Visit CBC for Bill’s story.