Seven-year-old Montannah Kenney has become the youngest girl to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 5,895 meters, was Montannah's project during a school break last March. The adventure presented her with an opportunity to discover her potential strengths and learn about hiking and foreign cultures.
The Texas native accompanied her mother, Hollie Kenney.
"My sister asked me if I was interested in climbing Kilimanjaro with her," Hollie Kenney recalled. "We started the planning phase, but she had backed out of it. She decided she didn't want to do it anymore. Then, I had been asking a couple of friends if they were interested in going. Montannah chimed in and said, 'I would go with you, Mommy.'"
Montannah also wanted to set a new world record and, more importantly to her, pay tribute to her father who passed away when she was 3 years old.
"I knew that heaven was not that farther up from Mt. Kilimanjaro. So, I wanted to do it," she said.
It took six days to reach the peak.
Montannah said it was exciting reaching the top. "It was pretty warm at the bottom, but it was pretty cold at the very, very top."
Get set, go
Montannah, who is a triathlete, and her mother, who is an endurance athlete, trained for the adventure.
"We started to do a lot of back-to-back hiking," Kenney said. "Fortunately, in the Austin, Texas, area, we've got a couple of big hills that we could go up and down and up and down to get our hip flexers and muscles ready for the big challenge."
Getting ready for the trip meant packing appropriate clothing and researching the mountain and the land — Tanzania. But when the trip started, they had to face the real challenges. For Kenney, one was the fear of Montannah getting altitude sickness.
That's a combination of symptoms ranging from headache, dizziness and nausea to loss of energy and shortness of breath. It's triggered by the decrease of oxygen, due to the drop in pressure at high altitudes.
"And we had make the decision that even if she showed the slightest sign of altitude sickness, we would turn around. We were not going to go," she said. "I was so nervous about the summit. So, I was almost certain we weren't going to make it, but we did it. My daughter didn't have any issues."
Beyond the summit
The most challenging part of the trip came on the night they were preparing to reach the summit with their guide.
"We really didn't get any sleep," Kenney recalled. "And for a 7-year-old, that's very challenging because she just wanted to lay down and go to sleep. Then, to take seven hours and a half to reach the summit. When we finally get there, we have to come back down, which was another three hours. We had lunch, and then another five and a half hours going down even further. So, it was 17 hours total that we were hiking."
Kenney was deeply touched to watch what Montannah did when she reached the peak.
"To see Montannah blow kisses to her Daddy, to know that she was as close as she possibly could be to him in heaven, that was very meaningful for a mom to see," Kenney said.
At that point, Montannah was extremely tired but thrilled about her achievement.
"It was very long for me," she said. "I was really excited, but I wasn't really thinking about when we had to go all the way down. I was glad I did it, but I didn't want to go down."
In addition to the accomplishment of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro and setting a world record, the trip was an introduction to new cultures.
"Not only did we try different foods when we were on the mountain, but we went on two safaris afterward," Kenney said. "We went to Zanzibar. We stopped in one of the towns to see how people in Tanzania live. We went to their local market, met several business owners. We met several families, and that was really exciting. Kids that lived in the town absolutely loved meeting my daughter. That was a lot of fun."