I first connected with Ian Taylor when he was preparing to climb Mt. Everest back in 2008. I heard he was using the climb to raise money to build a school in Uganda and I wanted to help. We stayed in touch and when an opportunity came up to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with a non-profit I help run, I reached out to Ian to lead the climb. It was my best decision of the trip.
We took a small team to Uganda and Tanzania to film a video series that highlighted a number of non-profits working in Uganda. Ian met us in Uganda and took us to the school he helped build. What an experience. The school has become the central hub of the community. To see hundreds of students in rural Uganda thriving because Ian’s efforts was nothing short of amazing.
From there we set off to Tanzania to begin our climb. He had to deal with five very inexperienced climbers who had very little understanding of the journey they were about to undertake. We had our worries, misconceptions and endless questions. Though it all, Ian quelled our concerns and confidently led us into the climb. Our climb up Kilimanjaro started in a lush rain forest, which quickly gave way to a dessert-like landscape with strange cactus-like plants that somehow survived in the high altitude.
By our third day of climbing, we had entered a strange lunar landscape with giant boulders coughed up by the once active volcano. The higher we climbed, the greater our bodies felt the pains of high altitude. Every breath became a challenge. Luckily, Ian prepared us for this and managed our ascent with precision. It felt like we were walking at a snails pace, but it was this slow pace that allowed us to acclimate appropriately and avoid many of the struggles other teams faced.
Before we knew it, we were staring at Kilimanjaro’s peak and preparing for the final ascent. We woke up at midnight and started to climb. Adrenaline propelled us up the initial climb, but quickly temperatures dropped (it was unseasonably cold during our climb). Ian jumped into action and kept us moving forward, limiting our breaks to a minimum to avoid hypothermia. After what seemed like forever, we summited Kilimanjaro during a brilliant pink and purple sunrise “” one of the best moments of my life. A day and a half later we were back at our hotel and utterly exhausted.
The experience was life-changing, largely in part to Ian’s huge heart and expert leadership. I look forward to my future climbs with Ian. I don’t know where or when they will be, but I know they’re coming. And this time, I’m ready.
Andrew Atwell on Kilimanjaro, Mt. Everest Primary School and Kilimanjaro 2013