Posted by: Laura Hartstone | 21 January, 2011

Day 11 – An Educational Climb

Mount Meru - Miriakamba Hut (camp 1)

Many of us began this challenge with the idea that Mt. Meru would be an easy, middle ground between Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. However, our guides assured us that this “small” peak would be the steepest of them all.

We had an energizing start with the girls from St. Jude, who tagged along for the first part of day one. The day was long and steep and we arrived at camp dirty, sweaty and sunburned.

Rocky Ridges (Val and Kelly)

Day two consisted of four hours climbing stairs. It was hot and dusty, but we enjoyed seeing baboons en route and striking views of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We arrived at camp for lunch and had a short break to relax, read books, listen to music and toss a football around. As the clouds rolled in, we went for an afternoon acclimatization hike up Little Meru (3801m – 12533ft), a smaller peak on the side of the mountain. We climbed high above the clouds and as we reached the top, we felt as though we were in our own world engulfed in mystical fog. The clouds parted and we were struck with a reality check of the true peak we would face later that night. We descended to camp to prepare for the summit.

Midnight came early – our wake-up call to get prepped for five hours of climbing that would hopefully put us on the summit by sunrise. With a loud knock on the door of our huts, we were up and applying layers for the long morning ahead. After a cup of tea and some biscuits, we began our ascent at 1am. Luckily, clouds had vanished and a bright full moon took their place guiding us up the rocky terrain. As the morning rolled on, we could see Arusha’s city lights below coming to life.

Meru's shadow over Tanzania from the summit

All eleven of us pushed forward consistently, together, as a team, until we reached the summit (4562m -14967ft). It was still half an hour before the sun would rise. With the full moon beaming behind us, we watched in awe as the fiery sun made her grand entrance over a crystal clear view of Tanzania and our next destination…Mt. Kilimanjaro.

View of Kili from the Summit

We were amazed on the descent to see the daunting ridges and cliffs that were hiding in the darkness when we passed them on the way up. After a much needed lunch and rest at the second camp, we continued down to the first camp for the evening. After a long, exhausting day, dinner was served early and many of us were asleep before dark.

Today’s hike down to the gate, in comparison, was quick and painless. The last bit of the trek led us through stands of lush forest with breathtaking waterfalls and provided views of Arusha National Park’s “Little Serengeti,” an open plain full of giraffe, warthog, buffalo and waterbuck. We were welcomed at the base with congratulatory champagne and heaps of fresh fruits, cheese and crackers. Only a short celebration, as the real treat was soon to come.

Assembly at St Jude's

Filthy, sweaty, stinky and burnt to a crisp, we headed directly to the secondary school campus of the School of St. Jude. Upon arrival, we were met by a group of students who showed their enthusiasm by whisking us away individually to give us tours of their beautiful classrooms. Soon it was lunchtime and we enjoyed a delicious meal with all of the students in their huge dining hall. Shortly after lunch, a special assembly was held with all the students in honor of 3 Peaks 3 Weeks. The students had prepared presentations of music and dance that were extremely touching and left us with smiles and tears. Our team was brought on stage and presented with gifts of gratitude, which included a St. Jude’s kanga (wrap), a t-shirt and a live chicken…each! After photographs and many laughs with chicken droppings at our feet, we “donated” them back to the school.


The time spent on Mt. Meru and with the kids from St. Jude gave us a new perspective on our challenge. The intricacy of how each mountain relates to the respective cause is becoming more and more clear. Mt. Meru has been perceived as the “easy” peak, the no-brainer. Similarly, education is often considered the “no-brainer” cause. While environment and health stand tall as huge issues in both East Africa and the entire world, education is still an underdog, taken for granted in so many places. Yet, and perhaps more importantly, it is the foundation for the other causes. Conservation is based largely on educating the public about their impact on natural resources and ways to lead more sustainable lifestyles. Providing information on disease and hygiene gives people the power to make educated choices about their health and the health of their families. So while this challenge may seem to flicker in the glory of the taller peaks, it has proven to be a steep, uphill battle. We’ll never have a better view of Mt. Kilimanjaro than we had standing on the summit of Mt. Meru, and we’ll never truly see the paths to success with environment and health without standing tall on education.

Posted by Kelly Donithan


  1. Beautifully expressed. Thank you Kelly. John’s Rotary club has a strong affinity with School of St Jude and many club members have participated in working bees at the school. Would have loved to have seen the giraffe on the plains!

  2. First of all, thank you Kelly for yet another beautiful and insightful blog. Yes! The goals for health and environment can not be achieved without education. Education is the backbone. You are helping so many children who might never have received this opportunity if this wonderful school did not exist. How great is that! Kaitlyn, I can’t believe you were holding a chicken. Good thing they do not give worms as gifts!!

    Second…See how patient I can be. I did not send out any flares but I did call off the national guard. What nerve you all have to call me a worry wart. You are not out to see a movie. You are way out there living and making one. For all I know Laura sits in headquarters sending encrypted messages to Ema to tell Simba when to give the “mind control potion” that you all think is tea….Just kidding. I have relaxed and have mountains of confidence in the people who are assisting you in this fabulous journey. (Kaitlyn, I envy you the experience, but I could not climb those mts. The top of the stairs makes me dizzy!) And….so you all know, the worry apple fell from the tree and bounced to another continent to climb ^^^.

    Love to the entire team, all your helpers and all the people you meet and help. Just watch and see how many people will join me in commending you for a job well done. My heart is overflowing. XXOOMOM

  3. And while I’m at it, no fair on the back blog while you left us here hanging on a cliff. Nana left a “have you heard from Kaitlyn ” message..”have not been able to get any info since the 20th”. And for your information, those 1,000 visits a day to the web site, 500 of those are mine! (almost) XXOOMOM

  4. oh good, I’m glad I’m not the only one checking the blog 500 times a day!!!! Oh, Kelly, thank you so much for this wonderful update…I was getting anxious! You all just amaze me every day with everything I read. And what a great experience being with those kids, what awesome children they are! Well, rest up everyone, the fun hasn’t ended yet!! And “No Kelly, you cannot bring a chicken home!!!” lol love, Mom

  5. Go Holly!!!

    This blog is so amazing. I read it every day and I’m so proud of all of you – such an amazing feat. My favorite picture thus far is Meru’s shadow over Tanzania. Great. Thanks for posting.

  6. This certainly is the begining of (as they say)a once in a life time experience.The pictures and your daily journals (thankyou Kelly)leave me anxious to read more.
    I’m looking forward to hearing all the ups and downs of this extraodinary trip.
    Can’t wait to see ya, Nana

  7. Yes, Sarah, I, too, check to see if there is a blog update many times during the day. It’s a ‘Mom’ thing. The photos are beautiful… I can only imagine the overwhelming beauty that turns you to tears.
    We are having a real winter this year. We got a foot of snow last night and the temperature is 1* . It’s supposed to go down to -15 this weekend. BRRRRRR.
    Hugs to you,Sarah. Miss you. Safe journey.

  8. Please add my sigh of relief to the others when I found this blog early this morning. Two days and no words make moms, sisters, loved ones very anxious. Kelly, that was beautifully expressed. You Wonder Women continue to inspire and garner more admiration and awe. Thank you for all of your efforts. Lynne, even though you were born second, you are #1 in our hearts and minds and our leader. I love you so much.

  9. Val,
    It is great to follow your exploits day by day. That was an amazing photo of you and your companion on that treacherous looking promontory! It is obvious that you are doing much good while having the experience of a lifetime. We are so proud of you. Good luck to all of you on your final great challenge.
    Love, Dad and Mom

  10. Two down… And tomorrow, Kilimandjaro here they come!!!!
    Courage Sis’, tu n’en feras qu’une bouchée!! On pense tous bien à toi…
    J’espère que tu profites à fond de ton aventure et nous en profitons grâce aux photos du site et aux updates alors merci au staff!
    Bon courage, bisous.

  11. I am in awe of all of you exceptional women. I read today’s blog with tears in my eyes and goose bumps all over. My best thoughts are with you all as you continue on your journey. Super job Kaitlyn, I’m so happy to be following you on your amazing journey!!

  12. Greetings from chilly Minnesota (it’s only -20 today)!!
    Kelly…love your post! Those children and their smiles are precious!! What great work you are all doing in educating all of us!! You gals ROCK!!!

    (Chickens??? LOL!!)

  13. You all look wonderful at The School of St. Jude with your Kongas and chickens! Bravo on Mt. Meru!


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