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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
October 1, 2016
Canadian Excellence


Kilimanjaro climb surpasses fundraising goal

(see November 11 Professional Development newsletter for article about Lea's trip)

At 10 p.m. on January 16, Social Work Professor Lea Caragata quietly came out of her tent, which was sitting just 4,000 feet (about 1,200 metres) from the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Lea was one of 18 people (12 group members, two leaders and several porters) preparing to summit the tallest mountain in Africa. The group had already spent six to eight hours climbing that day, arriving at camp at 2 p.m. and setting up their tents in the bitter cold. After trying to get in a few hours of sleep, they left camp at 11:30 p.m. for their final push to the top.

"We walked through the most bone chilling cold you can imagine", said Lea. "In addition to the cold, most of us were exhausted. We were walking and falling asleep." Walking single file with their head lamps on, the group quietly sang songs and encouraged each other. Lea pulled out her iPod and listened to the play list she'd trained to at the gym back home, giving her the energy she needed to get to the top.

At 6 a.m. the group reached the glaciers just as the sun was coming up and by 8 a.m. they reached their ultimate goal: the Uhuru Peak. Even now, after almost two months have passed, Lea still gets emotional when she describes that magical moment. "It was a very special moment of time in my life. The view was completely breathtaking. I couldn't have imagined ever seeing such a stunning sight. It was so powerful. There are no words to truly describe the experience."

The summit was the highlight, but Lea says that the whole experience was incredible. In addition to the common goal of reaching the top of the mountain, the group was also united in their commitment to raising money for Outward Bound's Women of Courage program. Because of this connection, the group quickly bonded and learned to rely on each other, both for help with the physical aspects of the hike and the emotional and mental challenges.

Lea was in excellent physical condition and was grateful for the hours of training she did before the trek. "It definitely wasn't an easy hike", said Lea. "Many days we were walking for eight to 10 hours a day." The most difficult part of the climb, which she hadn't anticipated, were the weather conditions. "We started off day one in the rain forest. By the end of that day we needed long pants and fleece sweaters. That day it started to rain as soon as we got to camp and it didn't stop until the next morning. It was pouring and the rain was cold and while we could stay dry there was nowhere for us to get really warm."

Despite the challenges, Lea has nothing but praise for the journey and for the Outward Bound program. "This was an extraordinary experience", said Lea. Besides the hike itself, Lea said she had the opportunity to meet a group of incredible people who came together, each for their own reasons, to help women who have been abused. She is very grateful to everyone who supported her journey and helped the group surpass their fundraising goal of $60,000. "We raised more than $127,000", said Lea, "which means that Outward Bound can run six Women of Courage programs across the country– fully funded." That's an accomplishment as worthy as summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.