Putting One Foot in Front of the Other: Florida Branch Manager Sets Off for Kilimanjaro

Gary Burden with his family on mount Kilimanjaro
Achieving many of life’s milestones comes down to one step at a time. Saving for home? One step at a time accumulating a down payment. Paying down debt? One step at a time toward a zero balance. Getting a promotion at work? One step at a time with successful deals. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? One step at a time to reach the summit.

Branch Manager Gary Burden, located in Trinity, Fl., knows a thing or two about individual steps leading to scenic views beyond description. An avid hiker since his teens, Burden will take on his first climb in the Seven Summit Club in June, beginning with Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa’s tallest mountain at 19,340 feet.

“I don’t do anything halfway. I love seeing how far I can physically and mentally push myself,” he explains. “I don’t want to get old and wish I had tried something that at 90 years old would be impossible to then complete.”

For the Kilimanjaro hike, Burden will attempt what may feel impossible to many – hiking in total darkness. Known as an alpine ascent, climbs begin at 11 p.m. so hikers reach the summit at sunrise. Burden says alpine ascents are his favorite way to experience the view.

“The feeling of reaching a summit is indescribable, but that’s just the halfway point of all summit hiking. The real feeling of accomplishment comes a day or two after arriving home as I flip through my trekking journal and photos. Things that get lost in the moment come rushing back,” he adds.

To reach the departure point for the summit, he must complete 6 days of hiking through the Serengeti and rain forest, then up to Barafu Base Camp.
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Taking in The View

Time spent in Boy Scouts developed Burden’s love of hiking, which only intensified in college as he took longer hikes on the Appalachian Trail. Burden later learned many necessary skills, including wilderness survival, advanced first aid and rappelling, while working a government job after graduation. He still thinks about those early hikes that cemented his love for the sport.

“In 1991, hiking Yosemite National Park led me to some of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever viewed. Often the best view isn’t always from the summit; some of the most beautiful views have been rivers, valleys and gorges though South Dakota and New Mexico,” he says.

Hearing that Burden plans to take on Mount Kilimanjaro likely didn’t surprise his loved ones. Known as a “grizzly bear” for his extreme endeavors, Burden says he simply enjoys testing his physical limitations and leaving no regrets.

“I look forward to proving to myself that I have grit,” he adds. “Proving that I have what it takes to plan and execute the task of climbing, summiting with a crew, and returning home after an adventure.”

The father of two passed on his interest in the outdoors. A family hike to Flattop Mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park remains a favorite memory as it was his children’s first hike over 10,000 feet. Then only 11 and 8 years old, they left before dawn and carried their own packs to enjoy the magnificent view with their parents.

“I often tell kids who hike with us that the summit is only halfway there,” Burden adds. “Enjoy the journey along the way, and if you don’t summit, figure out what didn’t work and come back and try again.”

Funding an Extreme Sport

As any good banker, Burden accumulates hiking gear using responsible budgeting practices and factoring long-term durability. There are ways to cut costs, but Burden finds that buying the best you can afford within your budget makes more sense for those hiking many times a year.

“Would you buy a discount parachute or discount scuba regulator? There is a sweet spot in all quality levels of gear,” he adds.

How much a person plans to use gear is another factor to consider when deciding how much to spend. Take trekking poles for example. A cheaper set is heavier and will last 10 to 15 hikes. For someone who may only hike 4 times a year, that’s enough value. An experienced hiker, however, will want to invest more money in higher-quality, lightweight poles with a lifetime warranty.

For those with a tight budget, Burden advises signing up for gear brands’ loyalty programs and coupon codes and using credit card rewards cash to buy bigger-ticket items. Another option is shopping for used equipment or purchasing more expensive gear through REI’s buyback program in order to recoup some of the cost when selling back gear.

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Preparing for the Journey

When preparing for any hike, Burden takes care of his most important asset – his feet. “If you don’t have good boots and socks your day could be over quickly,” he explains.

If he’s training for a longer hike, also called an expedition, Burden averages 6 months of prep time. He cuts out alcohol and most carbs and turns his attention to building his endurance through cardio exercises.

What a hiker carries is also vital. Burden gradually adds weight to his pack while training until he’s comfortable hiking with a 50-pound pack. Most of what he carries is water and several days of dehydrated food. Experienced hikers learn to factor in their own weight along with their gear to make summiting easier.

“If you can lose 10 pounds that’s 10 pounds you don’t have to carry up a hill. If you can save 10 pounds on gear and lose 10 pounds of body weight, that’s 20 pounds you don’t have to carry up a hill,” Burden explains. “At 15,000 feet, one pound feels like 10.”

In the past couple of years, Burden has found himself is a consistent pattern of training, completing a hike, scheduling his next hike and starting to train again. He commends his branch team for expertly managing their duties and making sound decisions during his leave.

“If each member of the Trinity team was not at the top of their game, leaving for a week or longer would be very difficult and even more difficult to come back to,” Burden says. “Each member of the team is a leader.”

Conquering the Professional and Personal Summits

Burden has discovered many parallels between his financial career and outdoor excursions. For both, it’s critical to understand the goal, consider possible obstacles and alternative solutions, be prepared for various outcomes, train well, and execute with passion.
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You must remember to celebrate every win along the way, and if you’re not having fun, find something that excites you and start over,

Branch Manager; Gary Burden


“You must remember to celebrate every win along the way, and if you’re not having fun, find something that excites you and start over,” Burden says.

Discipline is key in both arenas, too. Burden counts on each member of his staff to pull their weight and support the branch’s goals.

“If I’m able to get out of the office and focus on BLE production or community engagement, it’s only because my assistant branch manager is leading the team on a variety of other daily branch disciplines,” he says.

Burden sees similarities between hiking gear and banking products, in that knowledge of how everything should work can make or break an endeavor. With his gear, he must be familiar with it and understand how to remedy all manner of mishaps. “It’s no different with a banking product. You must understand how it works, the benefits of having it and what can go wrong, and then how to fix it for a customer,” Burden says.

Burden has every intention of climbing all 7 peaks in the Seven Summit Club. But first he must complete Kilimanjaro. After months of training, diet and preparation, he will embark on 42-plus hours of travel to reach base camp where he will meet the trekking crew of porters, cooks, guides and coordinators.

“I look forward to so much of what goes into a long, high hike. We spend days or even weeks trekking through sometimes both awful and amazing conditions,” Burden says.

Whether he’s behind a desk at the Trinity branch or halfway around the world on top of a mountain, Burden puts his whole heart into the task. Who knows where he will end up next?!

Planning to travel yourself? Read our 2024 Guide to Traveling on a Budget.

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