Sunday, January 23, 2011

Climbing for Education

Africa’s highest peak looms large to my left; a full moon dangles amidst the stars to my right. I am breathless, but not because I am hiking at altitude.

Below me, the earth changes constantly. I can’t see exactly what lies under my feet, but the light of the moon reveals the jagged outline of the surrounding terrain. We crawl slowly along a spiny crater rim laden with sharp drop offs and steep cliffs. The heart of Mt. Meru - an eerie volcanic ash cone - lies just below the rim’s edge.

Despite being surrounded by such majesty, the vision of Pascal’s home - a tiny, peaceful hut made of mud - does not leave my mind for the entire climb. Pascal is a 13 year old student at the School of St. Jude’s in Arusha, Tanzania. I had the privilege of visiting his home the day before beginning to ascend Meru, the second peak in our three week challenge. His mother, who is raising eight children on her own, greeted me with open arms and a smile. With the help of a translator, I sat with this Maasai woman and chatted as if we were long time friends.

We learned about each other while drinking a cup of the best tea I have ever tasted. Even though she doesn’t have food to spare, she placed a stack of buttered bread large enough to feed fifteen people in front of me and urged me to eat. The generosity, dedication and kindness of this little boy and his family make most challenges, including walking up a mountain, seem pretty easy.

Spurred by the spirit of this family and the others at St. Jude’s, our entire team pushed past doubt and pain to make the steep and scenic climb. We reached Meru’s summit just in time for Earth’s daily light show. The views were so spectacular that it was difficult to focus in just one direction. Mount Kilimanjaro (our next peak of the challenge) stood strong in front of us, glowing from the fiery sunrise. Behind us, the moon dropped to the other side of the world and Mt. Meru cast its shadow over the lush lands below.

We descended the mountain in exactly the same way we climbed it, however, the light of day revealed a completely new and wild landscape. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder a time or two (or a thousand) at Kili to take in its overwhelming beauty and to ask this incredible peak to be kind to us this week. We’re heading there tomorrow and will climb for health and those living with HIV so stay tuned....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bid for the Summit - Mt. Kenya

It’s an absolutely freezing clear morning. The sky is full of so many stars that I can barely keep my eyes on the ground. However, looking up isn’t really an option. We move as a unit; a line of lights creeping through the dark the way a snake winds through the desert. It’s 3:30 am and we have just begun our bid for the top of Mt. Kenya.

“Slowly, slowly” (or “Pole, pole” as our guides say in Swahili), we climb higher and higher. One breathless step at a time, we seek to reach the rocky summit by sunrise.
Our fingers are frozen, we can’t see, some members of the team haven’t slept in days and others are suffering from altitude sickness…Yet, we climb on - for the environment, for our families and friends, for each other and for ourselves.

It’s tough going, but spirits rise with the sun. When we are just a few minutes shy of Point Lenana, a glowing red orb inches it’s way above the eastern horizon. We push on - scurrying over the last few bits of trail and helping each other up a short, steep rock wall. Tears, laughter, hoots and hollers abound. In front of my eyes, I see self-doubt and uncertainty transform into confidence and clarity.

I am overwhelmed by the determination, perseverance, heart and support present in each of these women. And this is only our first climb. Two more mountains left and I can’t wait to see what arises in the next couple weeks.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

In the Shadow of Mt. Kenya

Two days ago, 11 women converged in Nairobi, Kenya united by one mission – to begin the 3 Peaks 3 Weeks 2011 Challenge.

Already, this team of incredible individuals, ranging in age from 20 to 63 and hailing from various corners of the world, feel like old friends to me. We will likely become family as we spend the next 21 days climbing Mt. Kenya, Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Although we come from different places, backgrounds and experiences, we are joined by a sense of adventure and a desire to make a difference.

Early this morning, we left Nairobi and headed to the Laikipia Wildlife Forum ( – one of the 3 organizations supported by the funds we raise. The mountain deities blessed us with a clear day and we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Kenya – Africa’s 2nd highest peak. We have each been anticipating this for over a year, making the moment even sweeter and somewhat surreal.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we received another gift: a flight over the Laikipia Plateau, 10,000 square kilometers where LWF works to conserve the integrity of the ecosystem.

We piled into the tiny plane and soared over a vast landscape punctuated by dense forest and rocky crags. In just minutes, we were flying in the shadow of Mt. Kenya. We watched golden light dance on the foothills; 11 faces glued to the glass imagining what it will be like to be on this mountain, instead of above it…

We'll start to find out tomorrow...