Vegans Take On Mt. Kilimanjaro

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the Warner-Jefferson family

“Since I was 10 years old, I dreamed of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro,” says Sharon Warner. But school, marriage, motherhood, and a career promoting women’s health intervened. Seeking to finally pursue her goal at age 50, Warner came across the Vegan Kilimanjaro Plant Based Nutrition Challenge on Facebook, which read in part:

“On March 1, 2018, a daring group of dedicated vegans plans to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro on the first all-vegan expedition to Africa’s highest peak! The capstone of the trek will be the unfurling of a banner at the foot of the famous Uhuru Peak summit sign promoting the life-saving mission of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) Barnard Medical Center.”

“As a passionate vegan and PCRM supporter, I knew this was the trip for me,” said Warner. “And I immediately enticed my two athletic daughters to join me.”

“My daughters are the reason I am a vegan today. Their passion coupled with scientific research they shared made it a no-brainer for me,” says the proud mom. “The vegan way of life has made many of my relationships with friends and family stronger and raised our awareness level collectively.” Once mom and daughters were on board for Kilimanjaro, dad and son were eager to make it a family adventure.

Dad, Christopher, 50, is a PCRM-affiliated obstetrician and gynecologist. He is also passionate about physical exercise, so he was also easily on board: “The plant-based diet and lifestyle really changed me and my perceptions about not only my professional field but life as a whole. I know I am a better partner, father, and physician because of it,” he said.

At the time the climb was discussed, Sharon’s daughter Alexandra, 20, was enrolled in celebrity-chef Matthew Kenney’s online PlantLab Culinary school. She was the first in the family to become a full-fledged vegan about 6 years ago. Her younger sister, Madison, now 18, became vegan a week later. It was an easy decision for someone who had the foresight and will to stop eating meat at the tender age of 4, because it was “cruel to the animals.” Both girls are high school honor graduates with plans to attend college in New York after gaining real-world experience during their gap years. Inspired by the sisters’ example, the entire Warner family eventually became vegan.

Alexandra and Madison’s brother Jordan, 24, who attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and recently launched a skateboard design company in San Francisco, became vegan due to “encouragement from my mom and sisters, and I’ve never felt better.”

Not to be outdone by their younger family members, Sharon’s vegan mother and stepdad, Deborah and Charles Jefferson, decided to join the team. Deborah, 69, a retired senior executive with the U.S. Department of Commerce, loves to travel and says that veganism has “made me more well-rounded and culturally aware.”

Charles, 70, a retired federal government program manager who still does contract work, has a keen interest in different cultures. “Talking with others about food and awareness of the benefits of a vegan diet has become a passion,” he said.

The Vegan Kilimanjaro Team originated with San Diegan Mike Weinberg who was seeking a challenge for his 65th year, 21st as a vegan. He made arrangements with the company, Ultimate Kilimanjaro, to guide the first 100% vegan team up Africa’s highest mountain. “Initially, I was seeking 6-12 very fit vegans to join me on this quest,” said Weinberg, “But, the plant-based team ended up larger than I dared to dream. In fact, it became an international team that included participants from Canada, Norway, South Africa, Belarus, France, and Switzerland.

the team at the summit

At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, and “I believe it was the hardest thing we each had ever done.” Our trek began on February 25 and 5 days later, March 1, we were to summit under a nearly full moon.  “On our fourth day, after eight or more hours of strenuous hiking each day, all 17 of us reached Barafu high camp at 15,000 feet,” recalled Weinberg. “That’s 500 feet higher than Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower-48 states.”

“With a late dinner and just a few hours rest, we began our final 4000-foot ascent to the summit in the middle of the night in subfreezing temperatures. After an excruciating 7+ hours of ultra-slow, step-by-step effort, legs screaming for oxygen and brains urging us to quit, 14 of us reached the summit!” The team’s stunning 82% success rate was nearly double the 44% average for a 6-day climb. Not planning to take it easy, the group chose the Machame (aka “Whiskey”) Route, one of the most beautiful but challenging paths.

What is even more remarkable is that the group consisted of climbers of varying experience ranging in age from 18 to 70. It was one climber’s very first trek with an overnight outing. Another had never scaled a mountain higher than 1000 feet. But what they all had in common was a devotion to whole food, plant-based nutrition and a vegan lifestyle that avoids animal products of any kind, including in clothing and gear.

The capstone of the trek was the unfurling of a banner at the foot of the famous Uhuru Peak sign promoting the life-saving mission of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s (PCRM) Barnard Medical Center.

To continue to demonstrate to the world the heights of achievement possible on a plant-based diet, Weinberg has begun gathering names for Vegan Kilimanjaro 2. But he will recommend that its organizer book the more “humane” 7-day climb, so that summit day is less of an ordeal.

If you are looking for another all-vegan adventure, Mike is too.  He says that “Vegan Antarctica” and “Vegan Inca Trail” are on the short list. To contact Mike Weinberg and/or see photos and read first-hand accounts of the Kilimanjaro expedition, which took place from February 25 to March 2, visit www.facebook.com/vegankili.

Vegan Kili Team, February 2018

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