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....