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Bremerton cop tops Kilamanjaro

Bremerton Police Detective Spencer Berntsen (top left with blue hat) stands proudly atop Mount Kilamanjaro with the other members of the Cops on Top expedition. - Courtesy photo
Bremerton Police Detective Spencer Berntsen (top left with blue hat) stands proudly atop Mount Kilamanjaro with the other members of the Cops on Top expedition.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Bremerton Police Det. Spencer Berntsen’s love of climbing has taken him halfway around the world and back again.

Berntsen recently returned from his third expedition with Cops on Top, a multi-national, non-profit organization that honors the lives and sacrifices of officers killed in the line of duty.

Berntsen’s most recent adventure took him to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the African continent.

“It was a great opportunity and it was a unique experience because it was a new environment,” Berntsen said.

Unlike Mount McKinley in Alaska or other more technical climbs, the 16 members of the expedition were able to walk to the summit, he said.

“It is a beautiful country and it makes you appreciate what we have here,” he said. “This was probably the poorest country we’ve visited.”

In spite of their poverty, Berntsen said the Kenyan people were extremely hospitable and committed to ensuring that all 16 climbers made it to the summit in about 10 days.

The expedition was the first one to have full guide support for the duration of the climb, he said.

This year’s climb was dedicated to Isaac Espinoza, a San Francisco police officer, who was killed in the line of duty.

“I think anyone of us has known an officer who has been killed in the line of duty,” he said.

For Berntsen it was a former classmate Steve Underwood of the Des Moines Police Department who was killed during a traffic stop in March 2001.

During that same year, Berntsen became involved with Cops on Top and in 2003 summitted Denali and in 2004 summitted Aconcagua in South America.

“None of this would be possible without the support of my wife and my department who allow me to do this,” he said.

In addition to the challenges of the climbs, Berntsen said the expeditions provide excellent opportunities to network with officers and gain new perspectives on law enforcement.

“You get to see what they’re doing that you’re not doing and bring some of that back with you,” he said.

Berntsen said another expedition is planned for Mount McKinley in May and a climb in Russia is planned for August as well.

“Eventually we want to try to get to all seven summits on each continent,” he said. “However, six out of seven wouldn’t be bad.”

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