Although climbing Mount Kilimanjaro may seem like an extraordinary goal, to Aayush Kumar, a current senior at Ravenwood High School, it was one worth pursuing. “Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had always been one of those bucket list items for me," he says. "My dad and I first got interested in hiking and backpacking together around fifth grade when I began boy scouts. The outdoors captivated us, and my dad ended up suggesting that we climb Mount Kilimanjaro since he had some time off work.”
“My dad and I share a unique relationship because he understands my limits since he was the person who had always been by my side and climbed with me. If I don’t want to do something, he knows when to stop pushing. But even more than that, in my father’s eyes I always want to be someone that he can be proud of. He has worked his hardest his entire life, coming as an immigrant to the United States, and is still working his hardest today. When he asks me to do crazy things like climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I want to do it because it’s with him. The thought of making him proud pushed me to agree. But the thought of one day climbing Mount Kilimanjaro pushed me to continue when I doubted.”
As the father-son duo began training, they worked together to conquer their aspirations of both climbing and serving. “I trained by going to the gym and on early morning hikes, which I saw more as father-son bonding than I did hard work," says Aayush. "But in preparation for the trip, I realized I didn’t want it to only be about climbing the mountain. So before we left, we coordinated with nonprofits in the area and fundraised to bring school supplies and support education. We took time to visit orphanages and schools in the area because it is one of our family values.”
Kumar’s preparation became reality as he began his seven-day hike up the 19,341-foot mountain. “The first few days were nothing out of the ordinary, other than scaling the Barranco wall which was awesome," he says. "There were other rock formations along the trails which I looked forward to climbing but they were also some of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. Then we arrived at base camp completely exhausted. However, the worst part was yet to come.”
“The final day of hiking we left at midnight, got to the top at about 7 a.m. and then hiked all the way down the mountain. Those 17 hours of hiking were very tough and freezing. About 30-40 percent of people turned around.”
The long hours were not the only challenging part of the day for Kumar. “Eventually the rocky terrain with giant boulders and shards of obsidian was replaced with snow," he says. "I grew up in Iowa, so the sight of snow was nice and refreshing even though I did have to wear five layers of pants just to keep warm."
"Another one of the toughest parts was the fact that we couldn’t see the peak until about an hour before we reached the finish line. It was like looking up at a goal that we couldn’t see. Sometimes it was obscured by clouds or the beating sun. Fighting the urge not to quit was a tough mental game. But by the time we reached the top, it was too irresistible to stop staring at. Every time we took a break, I was staring in awe at the nature in front of me. By the time I got to the bottom, I was exasperated. I felt as if I had accomplished a huge goal of mine, but I could barely even lift my hands to celebrate. The whole experience gave me a new appreciation for nature. I got the chance to enjoy outdoors in silence, only interrupted by my dad’s footsteps and my own.”
Nature was not the only thing that Kumar learned to appreciate throughout the process, however. “I had also grown a new appreciation for my dad," he says. "Before the trip, my dad and I didn’t have much time to talk because of our schedules. Once we began training for Mount Kilimanjaro, we had hours and hours of time for discussion. Now we will sit at the dinner table for hours just talking. Not to mention the appreciation I have for our family, that encouraged us to reach this huge milestone. I am so thankful for each of them.”