41 years, Australia
Montannah Kenney, 7, has become the youngest girl to reach the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The girl, who lost her father at the age of 3, wanted to climb Kilimanjaro as a way to get closer to him, her mother said.
Weather conditions were among the worst in 10 years during the climb, adding to the challenge.
For a chance to see her father one more time, seven-year-old Montannah Kenney was willing to do whatever it took. Neither the tallest peak in Africa nor some of the worst weather conditions imaginable were going to stop her.
Montannah, from Austin, Texas, became the youngest girl to scale the 19,341-foot summit when she and her mother, Hollie, reached the peak on March 16. It took them six and a half days to complete the ascent and another day and a half to come down, but for the mother and daughter who compete frequently in long-distance endurance events, the journey was worth every step it required.
Montannah's father died when she was 3, and she has been desperate to see him again.
"We've always talked about her dad being in heaven, and we always talk about her dad being above the clouds – that's where heaven is," Hollie Kenney told weather.com Friday. "And I think mountains are very intriguing to her because a lot of them are above (clouds)."
The journey to Kilimanjaro began years ago for Kenney, when she and her sister decided it was an intriguing challenge. But when her sister backed out, an unlikely climbing partner emerged – her 7-year-old daughter.
Kenney admits it wasn't a total shock to hear Montannah was interested in climbing nearly 20,000 feet. The young girl has followed in her mother's footsteps. Both are accomplished triathletes. Montannah has already won nine triathlons and numerous swimming events, her mother said.
But even though they were in peak physical condition and spent months doing six- to seven-hour practice hikes in Austin, nothing prepared them for the weather conditions they encountered on Kilimanjaro. Originally, the pair planned to do the climb during the dry season in October, but they moved their trip to March during spring break so Montannah could attempt the record during her time off.
"Day 1 was beautiful. Day 2 through Day 8 was absolutely miserable," said Kenney. "It rained every day. It hailed just about every day. It rained enough that everything we had was soaked."
"When I called the Tanzania office to talk to them last week, they said to me, 'We heard you had the worst weather in 10 years,'" she added. "And no one ever alluded to that when we were up there. ... We just figured it was normal and it was something we had to deal with, but the weather was terrible."
Despite the weather, Kenney admitted that she wasn't about to push her 7-year-old daughter beyond her capabilities. She said they met with a doctor before the trip to learn about the symptoms of altitude sickness, and she vowed to stop the climb if anything went wrong.
"For a child with a developing brain, I was not going to risk anything," she said. "If she had any issues, where the average adult probably would have pushed through it, I was going to take her back down (the mountain)."
After her climb, the group Climb Mount Kilimanjaro acknowledged that Kenney, about two months shy of her 8th birthday at the time – was the youngest girl to reach the top of the mountain. And for now, the record is held by a girl who was seeking so much more than just the peak of Kilimanjaro.
"Because she knew this mountain was above the clouds ... she truly did think that she was going to see him because she was above the clouds. It was really cute because she was looking for him, and she waved," said Kenney. "But she knew the higher she got on this mountain, the closer she would be to heaven, and she so desperately wants to see her dad again."
Photo credit: Hollie Kenney
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