Reaching the summit: The charity climb to Kilimanjaro


Florence Head (She/ her) speaks to Olivia Woodward about her most challenging and charitable climb yet.

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Image by Olivia Woodward

By Florence Head

Standing at 5,895 metres, Kilimanjaro is the world's highest freestanding mountain. Raising £20,737 for charity ‘Dig Deep’, which works to provide proper sanitation and clean water for Kenya’s poorest residents, a team of seven students from York took on this incredible challenge. I spoke to Olivia Woodward, a third year student at York, on her recent adventure to Tanzania, climbing Kilimanjaro.

Why did you choose this challenge?

I had spoken about Kilimanjaro with my dad before, so I’ve always had it in the back of my mind. I received an email from Dig Deep, advertising a role as team leader - that’s when I became even more interested. It was such an amazing opportunity, I didn’t want to pass up on it. My mum does big challenges like cycling from Surrey to Amsterdam - she is definitely an inspiration too.

Did you not fancy going with her?

Oh god no. People actually found it quite funny when I signed up for this climb - my mountaineering experience was almost nothing.

What did you do to prepare yourself for this climb?

I started by joining the gym. I was never a huge fan of it, but I had to get myself into gear. Since I knew I had to be somewhat physically fit, I had a purpose to be in the gym and had to hop on that stairmaster. As it grew closer to departure day, I was hiking in Ireland and the Alps on family holidays - trying to train as much as I could.

York wouldn’t be the first place I’d think of for climbing mountains.

What do you think was the greatest challenge you faced whilst climbing?

It would have to be summit night. I had read it was hard, but nothing could have prepared me for it. That day we had hiked 8 hours to basecamp for dinner, we had a short nap before leaving at midnight to reach the summit. We were at the summit for 9.30am. Your mind is always focused on getting to the top but once you’re there, you have to battle so many things to get down. Our water bottles were frozen, we hadn't slept, and there was only 49% oxygen at the summit, which made altitude sickness even worse. People started hallucinating thinking rocks were elephants. We were all a mess.

Our journey didn't start the best way either. Usually, you arrive a day before the climb to prepare yourself. Our flight was delayed, resulting in us missing our connections. We arrived a day later than planned, swapped our bags over, and went straight into hiking. Our altitude sickness wasn't brilliant.

Did you learn anything whilst climbing Kilimanjaro? About yourself, or anything else?

I was positively surprised by how physically and mentally fit I was. I kept persevering and tried my best to be positive. The team’s emotions were all so unbalanced, we all worked hard to keep up the team morale. I loved how in the moment everything was. We were all so detached from reality - we didn't even know the Queen had died or we had a new prime minister!

I had never realised how independent I could be. I had gone to Kilimanjaro not knowing anyone in my team and without contact from friends or family. I met so many cool people - including my new housemate!

Since coming home, do you feel the climb has changed your day to day life in any way?

Actually, it has really given me a bizarre amount of confidence. Even with things it doesn’t relate to at all - I now have a sense of ‘I can do this’. If I can climb Kilimanjaro, then I can do things that usually I would feel anxious about. It’s completely changed some of my outlooks in what I’m able to achieve. I didn’t expect it at all but definitely my confidence has improved.

Have you got another big adventure planned?

I’m not great at planning too far in advance. I think after I finish this year, I really would like to go to Asia. I have such a travel bug. I would love to be a nomad one day - just experiencing new things all the time. I would also love to do another physical adventure. Maybe not Everest summit, but I could get to base camp.

Have you got any advice to anyone looking to take on Kilimanjaro?

Definitely don't underestimate how cold it is. Essential items are definitely heat patches and hot water bottles. I’d also say to bring music for the summit night. Try to preserve any phone power and bring earphones. Also make sure to download a lot of songs - I only had 2 hours of music and I think I almost went crazy. In hindsight, it was amazing and I would definitely recommend it.

Three words to describe your time in Tanzania?

Beautiful, blissful, bloody (hard).

It sounds like an incredible adventure!

If anyone is looking to climb Kilimanjaro any time soon, would like more information about Dig Deep or to speak with Olivia, please contact