Mount Kilimanjaro Hike ‘More Than Just One Student Trip’

A group of GW students are fundraising for charity ahead of plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in May.

Mount Kilimanjaro
A group of George Washington University students are fundraising for a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain more than three-and-a-half miles tall in Tanzania. (Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim)
January 29, 2018

By Kristen Mitchell

George Washington University sophomore Phoebe Elizaga is an avid hiker who spends time in her home state of Washington exploring the outdoors. She loves to go on day-long hikes at home but in May will set her sights on a larger prize.

Ms. Elizaga plans to lead a group of GW students on a trip to summit all 19,341 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania—a peak more than three-and-a-half miles tall. The students will train for months leading up to the climb and raise money for a charity that provides financial assistance for children with cancer.

Ms. Elizaga organized the Mount Kilimanjaro trip through Choose a Challenge, an organization that helps students plan trips centered around charitable giving, after learning about the group from a friend who went on a similar trip at a different university. Ms. Elizaga, a sophomore in biology, reached out to the organization and began seeking out other GW students she thought might be interested in summiting Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I knew I would find people interested in hiking and would think it was a good opportunity. After the first information session at the start of the year, we had a lot of people sign up that night or the next day,” she said.

Each student will need to raise $6,000 to go on the trip, with half of the funds going to the B+ Foundation, which supports families facing childhood cancer, and the other half to cover trip expenses. Seventeen GW students and one Georgetown student are attempting to raise the money by holding local fundraisers and by tapping into their networks with personal fundraising pages.


George Washington University students Julia LeDane (left) and Evan Bennett sell doughnuts in Foggy Bottom to raise money for a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in May. (Photo provided by Phoebe Elizaga)

The fundraising aspect is an important part of the journey, Ms. Elizaga said. Raising money for a good cause will make the experience “so much more than just one student trip,” she said. With the trip several months off, the hikers have been mainly focused on fundraising efforts, but the realities of the physical challenge ahead are starting to sink in, Ms. Elizaga said.

It will take the students five days to gradually summit Mount Kilimanjaro and two to climb back down. They will train for months to prepare for the arduous journey, which will be nothing like anything Ms. Elizaga has attempted before. Even with training, however, the hikers won’t know exactly how elements like the high altitude will affect them during the trip.

“When it really gets down to it, a lot of it is really just going to be about altitude, that’s what I’m most worried about,” Ms. Elizaga said. “You can train as much as you can leading up to it, but you don’t really know what it’s going to be like at the top.”

The hikers could experience altitude sickness, which is caused by low oxygen pressure. This can have symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and headaches that could force hikers to drop back before summiting Mount Kilimanjaro.

Sophomore Casey Sajna said she’s concerned about altitude sickness but is trying to focus on the things she can better prepare for, like the drastic incline of the hike. Ms. Sajna climbed in the Swiss Alps while studying abroad last summer but said Mount Kilimanjaro will be a more challenging, higher climb. This time she knows she has to better prepare for the descent—using the stair climber in the gym just doesn’t cut it, she said.

“Going down the hills really killed my legs. The next day I could barely walk,” she said. “You think downhill, that’s going to be easy, but no. You just need to prepare for that too.”

Ms. Sajna, who is majoring in anthropology and international affairs with a concentration in global public health, has started researching local trails to use later in the spring. For now she has been going to the gym more and taking long walks to train her body.

The hikers will need to pack a range of clothes to accommodate the warm temperatures at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and the below-freezing temperatures at the top. Their guides will carry the food but each student will have to carry their own essentials like sleeping bags, hiking poles and clothes.

The trip has attracted GW students from all different levels of experience and backgrounds, Ms. Elizaga said, and will be an opportunity to form new friendships.

“It’s great talking to everybody and just kind of seeing the reasons why they wanted to do it,” she said. “Everyone in the group is really passionate about the trip and our charity partner as well, so it’s really fun just to get started with them.”

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