When I meet with the Cole family, Michael (18) just finished his last paper for the matric exam (November 2014). He says he doesn’t quite know how he feels, yet. But typically the young man’s hungry …
Brother, Brandon, still has two years of schooling left, but he does not seem to be daunted by the fact. He too, is hungry. While they enjoy lunch, we speak about climbing mountains.
My first question has to be why? There must have been a considerable incentive for the brothers to choose sponsorship to climb a mountain above birthday gifts? And not any koppie or hill close by, but Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and, at 5,895 metres above sea level, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
“Initially it was mom’s suggestion,” Brandon says, but after he read Mike Hamill’s book Climbing the Seven Summits, inspiration turned to rigorous research. The family’s love for nature and outdoor living seemed to embrace the adventure and their plan started to gain momentum. They also instinctively knew to whom they will dedicate their Mount Kili climb.
The boys grew up with their great uncle who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his late thirties. They never knew him in any other way. But they do know of his bravery and the dignity with which he carried the illness. “We saw him deteriorate” Michael says and Brandon nods in agreement. “We did, it wasn’t nice” he comments. When their uncle passed away in 2010 due to MS related complications, the boys always played with the idea of one day doing something to create awareness of the illness.
As children they often had to field questions about MS. “People seldom knew what my uncle’s illness was about” says Michael. One could see he was ill, but he never complained or mentioned it, he just got on with his life. The Cole brothers knew that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be the perfect way of honouring their uncle’s life.
And so, after a period of planning and training, the boys left for Kilimanjaro Airport, Tanzania (where Kili climbers are generally treated as celebrities). The Cole family could stay in touch via Skype and e-mail and at this point mom Carol became quite nervous about Brandon’s asthma problem. Thankfully Brandon actually found his problem behaved well and the brothers experienced no altitude side effects. They could tackle the last climb to Uhuru and summit Mount Kilimanjaro with confidence.
The youngsters started their last climb around midnight and reached the summit on 11 August, 2014 just before sunrise (at 06:08) and were back at base camp at 07:50.
Michael and Brandon describe the summit as the highlight of their lives. “The exhilaration of completing our climb is a moment I will not forget, ever” Michael said. Brandon commented that the magnitude and reason of their climb only became real at that moment.
To add to the experience the brothers witnessed a phenomenon which occurs only once every 5 years: on a certain date the moon is at its closest position to the earth resulting in an astoundingly bright full moon on Uhuru. Privileged indeed!
And their future plans? Michael has been accepted at the University of Stellenbosch where he will be starting a BSc Engineering degree (2015). Brandon is still playing with a few ideas for future studies, but has already begun research about climbing Mount Everest!
Watch this space!
- Moshi is referred to as the coffin town, the last stop for those living with HIV AIDS, TB and Malaria.
- The weather on the day of their summit: wind 30 knots and temperature -18°
- Their guide, Nelson, has been up and down with people on Mount Kili 200 times! His own personal record.
- Kilimanjaro means white mountain, Uhuru means freedom. (Swahili)
- Ten interesting facts about Mount Kilimanjaro.
- Climbing Kilimanjaro for MS awareness – Facebook Page
- Fast Facts About Kilimanjaro
- Climbing Kilimanjaro for MS Awareness – Article
Author: Madelein du Toit