Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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“It’s the Best Feeling in the World”: Local 13-Year-Old Climbs Kilimanjaro

Dilshanie Perera

When Carly King made it to Stella Point, about 30 minutes from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, she said she seriously considered just staying there and foregoing the final steps up to the peak. “My sister and I just broke down at that point,” she conceded.

But the 13-year-old quickly regained her composure, laced up her boots, and headed for the summit of the tallest mountain in Africa. “As you’re hiking, you get more and more excited. You can see the top the entire time, and when you finally get there, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Carly is the youngest girl to summit Kilimanjaro in seven days, a feat that the local Princeton resident characterizes as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but by far the coolest.”

The trek to Tanzania and then up to an altitude of 19,334 feet was a family project. Carly, her mother Judy King, and her older brother and sister, ages 18 and 22, respectively, made the journey together, reaching the summit on June 14.

A student at Princeton Day School, Carly began training in January for what she knew would be an arduous climb. The regimen involved circuit training five days a week, which included running, lifting weights, and other endurance-building activities.

Arriving in Arusha, Carly and her family met the other climbers and porters who would attempt the height along with them. A few days were spent in transit, and then acclimating to the altitude at the base of the mountain. In the interim, they had time for a safari, in which Carly reported seeing many different species of animals, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, gazelles, and baboons. It was an opportunity to test out her photographic skills, and both the images captured and the experience turned out to be stunning.

The time spent hiking on Kilimanjaro, which is also called Kibo or Uhuru Peak and is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, involved a seven-day climb up, and two days of descent. Carly said she felt minimal altitude sickness on the way up, but was troubled by it on the way down until they reached a lower elevation.

The path from start to finish is approximately 50 to 60 miles long, and winds its way up through five climatic zones, which Carly reported exist in sharp contrast with one another. The heather, “between the rainforest and alpine desert,” was the easiest to hike because “the environment hasn’t gotten dull yet,” and journeying upward above the clouds on foot was an unforgettable experience, she said.

A welcome outcome of the trip was “becoming a lot closer with my sister,” Carly noted, citing their nine-year age difference as previously hindering robust conversation. “I was living in a tent with her, and we would always be talking. You just become closer in that intense an environment.”

Upon completing the expedition, Carly tagged along with a few of the other hikers she had met during the climb to volunteer at the Olevolos Project, an orphanage in the heart of Arusha that houses HIV-positive children, and is run primarily by widowed Masai women. She called her interaction with the kids there as “the most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” as well as “very emotional,” and one that provided an opportunity for reflection.

Now back stateside, Carly is getting the word out about the orphanage, and is hoping to go back there next summer with supplies and materials gathered by donations from classmates at PDS and other schools over the course of the year.

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