Some More than Others
For families who enjoy the outdoors together, Kilimanjaro can be a special place to further seal a family bond.
For stereotypical 21st century families where the kids camp in their rooms over computers while mom/dad nest in the living room watching Netflix, the chances of Kili bringing everyone together are not so good.
“They need a solid family relationship before they set out for Africa to make it work,” observes Tusker founder Eddie Frank who has hosted many families during his 40 years of guiding on Kilimanjaro. “If families hike, ski and camp together they will take to a Kilimanjaro climb more easily than if they have never done outdoor activities together before.”
Kids on Kili
Tanzania’s park officials allow children ten or older to hike above 12,000 feet and many kids have accompanied their families to Uhuru Peak. Eddie took the youngest up Kilimanjaro 20 years ago; a 7-year old and her 10-year old sister, with their mom.
But family climbs are less about young egos and more about learning and a chance for families to embrace a “power of the group” concept. Kids today are said to be self-centered, aloof and not all that physical. A Kilimanjaro climb is about being part of something bigger than yourself, and it can be a transformative family experience if everyone buys into that concept while leaving negative family baggage at home. “Some can do it, many can’t,” Eddie said as family tensions can bubble to the surface when the going gets tough after long stretches of uphill walking.
Kilimanjaro’s learning curve is high for children in grades eight through high school. They meet people from all over the world, learn new languages and experience habitats far different from their urban/suburban settings. For many adults, Kilimanjaro has been a life altering experience and teens are even more dramatically impacted. They can develop self-confidence that can carry them through life. They can also rediscover their own family.
On a family Kilimanjaro climb, the roles change. Mom and dad are not in control, the climb leader and guides call the shots. This dynamic breaks the family’s stratified roles. Both parents and kids have a chance to see each other in a different light. Mom and dad can become heroes as they make it to the top while the kids are seen as maturing young people if they stop whining and learn to fight through adversity.
Mom and dad return to their pre-children adventurous selves while the kids can break free from their parental chains and be themselves while bonding with the guides.
“Guides are a key element in making a family climb work,” Eddie says. “Tusker guides are from Tanzania and are very family oriented; they embrace the extended family concept and love kids. The social exchange with the guides leads to a mentoring relationship and the guides can encourage them to go beyond the limits of their comfort zone.”
One of the most beautiful sights on Kilimanjaro, in addition to the incredible sprawling African panorama below, is the embrace of older parents with their middle-aged children on top of the mountain.
When Mike and Frank climbed Kilimanjaro with Tusker Trail last year, it was partially about payback and mostly above love – a love of shared outdoor experiences and each other. Frank at 78 is a runner and ardent outdoorsman. He introduced Mike into this active world at a young age and they saw Kilimanjaro as a way to celebrate and cap that long family tie with being physical in nature. Mike exhorted Frank nearly to the top along with the other climbers, but Eddie had to send Frank down when altitude sickness intervened.
When Mike summited he told the group he did it for his dad. Everyone in the group could understand how Kilimanjaro and families can come together and be as one.