Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Laughter. Concern. Insult and incredulity.

People react to three Navy officers’ plan to do a formidable feat with a range of emotions. But indifference isn’t one of them, said lieutenants Chris Kelmis, Doug Szwarc and Jeff De Groot on Friday.

The trio — assigned to Commander Submarine Group 7 at Yokosuka Naval Base — pledged to climb Mount Fuji three times in 24 hours on July 22 to raise money for a local orphanage.

They will start at the fifth station on the Kawaguchiko trail, which is about 7,546 feet high, and hike to Fuji’s 12,395-foot-summit.

“Basically, I know it’s not going to be fun at all,” Szwarc said.

“The first time might seem simple and the second time we’re going to start to feel dumb,” forecasted Kelmis. “The third time, we’re going to need adrenaline to push us up there again.”

The non-command-sponsored idea — called the “Crazy Gaijin Fuji Climb” — came from a discussion between the three friends about their summer plans.

“It started as a physical challenge and asking, ‘Can we do this?’” De Groot said. “Then we decided we could.”

They said they wanted to focus their efforts around the Shunkou Gakuen Children’s Orphanage, where they’ve done volunteer projects.

And so far, although people have told them they are “crazy,” they also have pledged to support the trio’s attempt. Folks have already promised $1,600 to the orphanage — contingent on the trip’s outcome, they said.

To make sure they can collect, they’ve been training on a stairclimbing machine several hours a week at high inclines, they said. All consider themselves “pretty fit.”

To prepare for the mountain’s fickle weather, backpacks will be stuffed with gear for every possibility, a lot of food and water, and a couple gizmos like a GPS altitude trainer and headlamps. They’ll also have friends going up with them to provide support and to alleviate boredom, they said.

They don’t plan to sleep during the 24-hour excursion, and De Groot is looking forward to seeing the sunrise on the Land of the Rising Sun’s iconic mountaintop.

“I’ve been on Fuji twice and have never seen the sunrise,” De Groot said. “And I think it will be cool to see the kids’ faces at the orphanage after everything is said and done.”

But he’s not looking forward to the day after the climbs, he said.

“I’m dreading the day after we’re done,” De Groot said. “That recovery is going to be hard on the legs.”

For more information on the climb and how to donate, e-mail De Groot at

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