Lance McOlgan’s “summer vacation” was a little different this year, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

McOlgan, a 48-year-old Edwardsville resident, was among a group of people that climbed Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, on Aug. 19 for the eighth annual Climb for the Kids, hosted by the Keep Climbing Foundation.

The Climb for the Kids was created by Ryan Kelley, founder of The Home Loan Expert and Keep Climbing Foundation, who is McOlgan’s brother-in-law. As of Friday, this year’s climb had raised nearly $55,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

This year’s trip to Chimborazo featured seven climbers including Kelley, and McOlgan was one of three to make it to the top of the mountain. He was joined by Keith Austin, executive director of the Keep Climbing Foundation, and Brittany Oligney.

“It’s an extreme altitude at 20,500 feet and we had our highest camp at 17,500 feet,” McOlgan said. “We did the climb in one day and it was about seven hours to get from camp to the top of Chimborazo, plus another four hours on the way back. It was 15 degrees below zero with 30-mile-an-hour winds with 45- to 60-degree inclines, so it was pretty intense.”

McOlgan noted that the extreme altitude made normal activities, much less mountain climbing, especially challenging.

“You just have to move slow and take your time and you’re constantly out of breath, so you have to focus on your breathing,” McOlgan said. “It makes it hard to sleep because your heart rate picks up so fast due to the lack of oxygen.”

McOlgan, who works as an architect for Clayco in St. Louis, is originally from Port Byron, Illinois and attended the University of Illinois. After graduating in 1998, he moved to the St. Louis area and worked in Fairview Heights for several years. He was also the architect for the Edwardsville School District for four years, working closely with former Superintendent Ed Hightower. He moved to Clayco in 2004 and has been with them ever since.

McOlgan and his wife, Stephanie, have three daughters, including Taylor, 20; Alissa, 17; and Isabella, 13.

McOlgan’s first personal experience with “Climb for the Kids” came in 2018, when he was part of a group that climbed the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They were able to climb to the top and raise more than $30,000 for five charities.

After taking a couple of years off, McOlgan returned to Climb for the Kids in 2021 when he was part of a 10-person team that went to Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska.

“We didn’t do the full climb of Mount Denali, which would have been nuts, but we spent nine days sleeping on a glacier in a tent,” McOlgan said.

Prior to climbing the Grand Tetons in 2018, McOlgan had no previous mountain climbing experience.

“I’m an outdoors person and I play golf and I hike and fish, but I had done nothing with that level of technical skill,” McOlgan said. “Over the last few climbs, I’ve learned more about it, but the climb to Chimborazo is the toughest climb that I’ve been part of.”

In 2015, Kelley did the first Climb for the Kids, at Mount Rainier in Washington, to raise money and awareness for Friends of Kids with Cancer inspired by Alec Ingram, a 9-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with bone cancer. Alec fought the disease until 2014, when his heart failed, and he died at the age of 14.

Kelley was joined on the initial climb by April McCoy, who is CFO of The Home Loan Expert and treasurer of the Keep Climbing Foundation.

“Alec’s battle with cancer inspired Ryan to do something with their business to give back to the community and the ironic thing was that Ryan was afraid of heights,” McOlgan said. “They started off small and it’s grown every year and most recently it became the Keep Climbing Foundation. Every year they adjust the charities that they are going to connect with.

“The foundation website connects people to a whole bunch of different charities. I joined the board of directors early this year to help them continue to grow and develop.”

Austin, meanwhile, is doing his part to expand Kelley’s vision in his role as executive director of the Keep Climbing Foundation.

“The Climb for the Kids started in 2015 and was inspired by a good friend of Ryan’s, Alec Ingram, a young boy who was battling cancer,” Austin said. “Ryan didn’t know what to do to raise money for him and he decided to climb a mountain.”

“He walked into the office the next morning and asked if anyone wanted to climb Mount Rainier and ended up recruiting one person, April McCoy, the CFO of The Home Loan Expert. They were both first-time climbers and they didn’t quite reach the summit, but Ryan got within 700 feet. But they did raise $14,000 for Friends of Kids with Cancer.”

The next year, Kelley, bolstered by a year of training and preparation, returned to Mount Rainier solo and this time he was able to get to the top while raising $14,000 for three charities: Friends of Kids with Cancer, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and Alex Ingram.

Every year since, Kelley and other people have climbed different mountains, including Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second-highest summit, in 2019.

Overall, the Climb for the Kids has raised just over $400,000 for a variety of charities since it started in 2015.

“For this year’s Climb for the Kids event, 100% of the funds we raise are going to St. Jude and they have been a great partner for this climb,” Austin said. “Last year was our first full year as a foundation. Instead of just doing this event once a year, we host the Climb for the Kids event and other climbs throughout the year where more people can get involved. Our mountain climb fundraisers benefit  various children’s and veterans’ causes, including pediatric cancer.”  

Like McOlgan, Austin will have lasting memories of this year’s trip to Ecuador, especially being one of three climbers to reach the top of Chimborazo.

“This was an extremely challenging climb for us with Chimborazo being at over 20,000 feet in elevation,” Austin said. “Because of the equator, the Earth bulges out at that location and it’s actually the closest point to the stars that you can stand on.

“There was a minus-20-degree wind chill when we were climbing the mountain and we were basically going straight up because of the incline. At that altitude, your body is struggling with every single step. Sleeping is tough and there was a lot of nausea for our team as they were going up. Many people had to turn around, not just our team but other teams as well. Nobody made it to the top from the other teams that were there.”

Austin noted that the first Climb for the Kids event in Ecuador, at Cotopaxi in 2019, was especially emotional for Kelley and the other climbers because it came at the same time as the death of Alec Ingram.

“That climb was for Alec because he had passed away a couple of days before that,” Austin said. “As our team was reaching the summit, they were having his funeral service back home.”

The location for next year’s Climb for the Kids hasn’t been determined, but the creation of the Keep Climbing Foundation and the addition of other events makes McOlgan and Austin excited about the potential to raise more money for charities.

“We’re still debating where the Climb for the Kids will be, but we have a lot of good ideas floating around,” Austin said. “We had six events this year with one more to go and next year will be similar with events all throughout the year.”

For more information about the Climb for the Kids or to make a donation, go to or visit Keep Climbing Foundation on Facebook or Instagram.

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