Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Mike Griffinger will tackle any challenge for a good cause

Published in 2009 New Jersey Super Lawyers — April 2009

Most guys his age simply write a check to support local causes. Not Mike Griffinger. To raise money for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, the 72-year-old litigator climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Nearly 250 people—many of them from his firm, Gibbons—pledged by the foot a total of $220,000 for Griffinger's hike up the 19,340-foot peak last June. That kept him going when the air got thin. Other hikers much younger than he peeled off as the breathing got difficult.

He also had to contend with his right knee, the one he had replaced eight years earlier. But he and his 41-year-old daughter Kimberly Wachtel forged on.

Griffinger admits to nerves the night of his final 5,000-foot push up the summit. "I just followed in the footsteps of the guide," he says. "If I'd seen how steep the drop-off was, that might have been an intimidation and a deterrent."

Griffinger and Wachtel kept a moderated pace and didn't succumb to sickness. They climbed in the darkness from midnight until 6 a.m., reaching the summit at sunrise. "The sun coming up over the clouds, all over Africa, was exhilarating," he says.

It was also very windy—gusting at 30 to 40 knots—and cold, down to 15 F. The batteries in their cameras froze. They stayed long enough to hug, then headed down.

Griffinger returned home to collect the pledges and share one heck of an adventure with his grandchildren. He and his daughter showed slides to her children, ages 8 and 6. "They were in awe," he says. "They will want to do this with her in 10 years or so. It's a legacy."

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