Fifteen students from Britannia Secondary's Street2Peak team climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this Spring Break after training for over a year by hiking the mountains of the Northshore and running marathons in Vancouver and Seattle. Funds for the project came from 11 months of fundraising, donations, and gear and equipment sponsorships.
"We see the initiative as simply another example of the audacious teaching that occurs within the Public Education sector when teachers and student are inspired, and have the resources to meet their potential," says Street2Peak team member and Vice Principal at Churchill Secondary Andrew Schofield.
After a long gruelling plane flight from Vancouver to Africa, the Street2Peak contingent arrived in Tanzania at the Outpost Lodge. During their morning trek, the teens and their escorts walked the streets of Arusha and haggled for crafts at Curio Hand Craft Industry Shop. Then on March 8, the squad prepared to tackle the roof of Africa - what they'd been preparing for months for.
"But before that could happen we had to make the long journey from Arusha (southwest of Mt. K) to the Rongai Gate - on the northeast side of Kilimanjaro," says Barry Skillin, one of the Street2Peak leaders and a SSW at Streetfront. "Along the way one of our buses blew a tire and we began to see more of how people live in Tanzania, albeit from the seat of a bus."
When they arrived, their first day of distance was 7 km that took three hours and 15 minutes including breaks and gained 638 metres (2,093 feet). The group arrived at Simba camp, which is almost 1,500 feet higher in elevation then the summit of Whistler Mountain.
Each night onwards on the mountain the Street2Peak team conducted full medical checks and interviews with each student and team member, coordinated by the team's doctor, Dr Rod Tukker of Vancouver General Hospital. Additional important components of support was provided by UBC's Dr Ali Cloth, from the Faculty of Education focusing on adolescent and at-risk youth psychology, and Constable Brandon Steele, a police liaison officer who made the trip as a volunteer (in his personal capacity) but offered tremendous expertise and advice.
Schofield says for the Street2Peak team these partnerships were invaluable both practically and symbolically.
"They allowed us to ensure world class student safety by extending our skills, but also illustrated for us the importance of working collaboratively to enhance public education," he says.
Day 2 to Skillin was summed up with the words "beauty, challenge and compassion". For many of the students it was the toughest haul to make their way from Simba Camp to Kikelewa Camp. Fortunately, that morning was also when the Street2Peak crew were first introduced to their personal porters and when everyone got a first look at their target - Mt. Kilimanjaro.
"I witnessed such compassion by team-mates and guides alike," says Skillin.
After a rest and some tasty fish and chips for lunch, the group continued along the Rongai route to Kikelewa camp.
Due to the increase in altitude sickness type symptoms it was decided the group would would spend a second night at this camp, do a day hike to aid in acclimatization, and receive some needed rest before heading to the next camp. During this day at Kikelewa, everyone started with a group meeting to discuss the changes to the plan and go over the documents. Then it was time for some incredible uplifiting songs by the porters and guides.
"To make the most out of this "rest" day we did a day hike to higher altitude to help our bodies adapt to the decreased air pressure," says Skillin. "We hiked part of the trail we would be following to our Mewenzi Tarn Camp the next day."
The next day it was off to Mawenzi Hut Camp. The group was feeling great on this short 4.16 km trail that took everyone a little under 2.5 hours. After arriving in camp and having a rest at 3:30 pm they went on another acclimatization hike for 1.75 km which took about 1.75 hours and followed a trail that crested a ridge to the south of camp.
The next day the troop departed from their camp at Mawenzi Tarn and made the 9.25 km hike - mostly across The Saddle - now heading straight for Mt. Kilimanjaro.
"Generally speaking the group found this hike exhausting with the elevation and the long Saddle crossing where you see your goal for most of the way," said Skillin.
After arriving at School Hut Camp the Street2Peak crew rested for 12 hours and then prepared for Summit Day.
That night, the summit Day began with a 11:00 pm wake-up call the night before. After a midnight "breakfast" and grabbing their pre-packed day bag, the Street2Peak squad started up the trail at 12:30 am only lit by their headlamps.
"It is a different feeling hiking in the dark," says Skillin. "The temperature we were told was minus 15 C."
Skillin says while the pitch black made hiking "mentally tough" it did make it easier to concentrate with the one foot in front of the other.
"When looking up a steep slope filled with individual headlamps the slope looks even steeper," he says. "One of the most common challenges for people going up is trying to stay awake! I had 3 hours sleep and many youth I think had less. Most just want to stop and sleep - staying awake was toughest part for me."
When they finally reached the summit, Skillin says it was profound.
"The summit was glorious and the most emotional place I have been outside of a funeral. Tiredness, relief, exhaustion, victory, the emotional peak of ending a year of training, teamwork, pride for oneself and others all came to the surface!" he says. "What a powerful, moving experience!"
That same day the Street2Peak crew had hiked almost 21 km from School Hut Camp to the Uhuru Peak of Kilimanjaro and then to the Horombo Hut Camp on the downslope. That added up to an 1181 metre (3875 feet) elevation gain and (then!) a 2196 metre (7205 feet) elevation loss as the crew descended. All told that meant 8.5 hours of hiking time and 14.5 hours from camp to camp. Skillin says it was truly an incredible accomplishment.
The Street2Peak team wish to acknowledge the phenomenal support and mentorship that they received from the senior management of the VSB, from Britannia's Principal Geoff Taylor and District Principal for Aboriginal Education Don Fiddler and from their MLA Jenny Kwan. In addition, they say they were constantly inspired by the support and interest shown in the project by teachers and administrators throughout the VSB. This support came in many ways- from loaning the team training weights, asking them critical questions and challenging their thinking, to donations and encouragement, to ongoing interest in the project.
"As we say in Africa- Ke a leboga a maatla: Thank-you all for the power," says Schofield.
Click below or click here to view photos from the entire journey.