Faculty Physicians Climb Peru's Machu Picchu

Faculty Physicians Climb Peru’s Machu Picchu

In less than a month, UCF College of Medicine students will arrive back to campus with exciting stories about how they spent their summer. But two faculty members’ South American adventure may top them all. Doctors Martin Klapheke and Mujtaba Husain not only went to Peru in May, but they climbed Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, while there.

“Having this incredible physical challenge, and at the same time, learning all these cultural facts was amazing,” Dr. Klapheke said of the four-day trek through the Andes mountains, marked by the rich history of the Incan empire. The assistant dean for medical education and psychiatry professor is a veteran climber, who has traversed mountain ranges around the world from Iceland to Nepal. “I just got hooked on it years ago, after my brother climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I thought ‘that sounds cool,’ so I did it, and I was hooked,” he said.

Dr. Husain is newer to the sport, but was determined to hit the ground running, preparing for his first major climbing expedition. It was a common sight to see the two doctors scaling the stairs of the College of Medicine after hours, toting a heavy camping backpack and hiking poles. Dr. Klapheke led Dr. Husain through six months of rigorous training, knowing the physical demands of the Andes. “Without that training, I don’t think I would have been able to do it, personally,” Dr. Husain recalled. “You have a goal set, and you have motivation. I used every last ounce of my energy to finish.”

Traveling with about a dozen other climbers in a tour group, the duo was sometimes called upon for their medical expertise, helping fellow travelers with issues like gastrointestinal problems and joint pain. Dr. Klapheke finds that the doctor hat never comes off on his adventures, even when it comes to his spirit of inquiry. “In medical education, you always want to learn new things, and explore new things,” he said. “This kind of travel just opens your mind up to an incredible stimulus of sites and challenges.”

Both Drs. Klapheke and Husain talked about entering the “Sun Gate” as one of the highlights of their adventure. The gate is an opening where hikers see the iconic view of the mountain range, and Incan ruins for the first time. “That’s the moment where everybody was hugging and kissing and crying,” Dr. Husain said of the site revealed after an exhausting day of climbing. “It was such a relief and sense of accomplishment that I cannot describe in words.”

Near the end of the trip, Dr. Klapheke was called away for an emergency back home, leaving only a very steep mountain, called “Huayna Picchu” for Dr. Husain to climb. “He climbed it on his own, in support of both of our wishes, and did so in this incredible rain,” Dr. Klapheke said. “It’s really telling of what kind of friend Dr. Husain is.”

The duo plans to pursue more climbing challenges in the future, and will continue to be a fixture in the College of Medicine stairwells, staying in shape for their next adventure.